Photocredit: Fly Fishing nation – @flyfishingnation
Salmon season is over and in general I think it’s been a fair season over most of Northern Europe and the UK. Instead of taking a look at season statistics, huge fish, happy stories, stories of the lost fish, I’ll turn you over to Stephen Carella, who in this nice story takes a look at something important that sometimes happens when you go fishing. Making friends – an important aspect of flyfishing.
Over to Stephen:
I hold a belief that one of the greatest gifts in life is that of true friendship and we should all consider ourselves fortunate to have friends in our life that make our time on this planet all the more enjoyable and meaningful.
In light of what has happened in 2020, this has never been more prevalent as the Coronavirus pandemic has taken away our liberties that we once enjoyed freely. And through various forms of lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation at certain points of this year so far, we have all been forced to reflect on what matters most, and I believe that the experience of this horrific pandemic has forced the fly fishing community into a greater level of appreciation for what we do and why we do it.
The sense of freedom and liberty afforded to us with each trip into the great outdoors and onto our favoured and oft hallowed waters, has taken on a greater importance in our lives.
Connecting with nature has always been a popular reason of why we fly fish but for me I believe that has taken on a whole new depth of meaning.
I’m sure as a result of the events of 2020 we have all experienced a renewed appreciation for our time on the water which is never to be taken for granted, always cherished, and never scorned for bad weather, improper fishing conditions or blanks.
The time spent away from the water for most of us this year, which was longer for some of us depending on where you lived in the UK, also meant time away from our friends.
Friends are special in all circumstances of course but when we fish the fly I believe it allows us to connect with a deep routed natural instinct that not everyone can reach and engage with in their lives.
It’s an instinct so powerful that it draws us back to the water time and time again and when friends just happen to share that same natural drive with us, well then, that is a truly special bond.
As fly fisherman we are an often misunderstood bunch by the majority of people we know, and I absolutely guarantee that we will have all experienced the usual comments that get thrown our way such as “Explain to me again, why is it that you go fishing?”, or “It’s December, it’s -6 degrees outside and you’re going fishing, are you mental!? What is a Grayling anyway!?” or my own personal favourite of…“What do you mean you put it back!?”.
If like me you prize the Atlantic Salmon ahead of all other species then those people, (People that love us dearly of course even though they may not fully understand us), really struggle with the concept of fishing for a species which doesn’t feed when in the freshwater river system, and is nowadays so hard to catch that they really question our sanity of why we do it.
And in all honesty, who can blame them…in the cold light of day we chase these silver tourists with a complete disregard for weather, distance travelled, cost of fishing, cost of tackle or fuel!
We blindly charge on with a feverish determination that from an outsiders point of view could look a bit like madness, but I have come to identify it as that natural instinct driving us on with a desire that we can’t ever truly satisfy.
That’s why when you are lucky enough to have friends who share this then you form a special bond that will last a lifetime, and take you places you never thought you would see as this instinct truly is a powerful driving force.
Photocredit: Peter Birch Christensen
Allow me to give you an extreme example of this.
In March 2018 my friends Terry, Callum, Robert and I had a week of Spring Salmon fishing booked on the upper Brora river. It promised to be a productive week chasing fresh bars of silver in a stunning part of the Scottish Highlands, a true wilderness with miles of river to explore between the four of us.
All I had in my minds eye ahead of this trip was lovely spring sunshine, rolling green hills and fresh running water twisting and turning its way through the highlands…with the occasional bar of silver thrown in for good measure. A productive days fishing would be capped off by retreating to the luxurious lodge for some mouth watering steaks, a few of the finest red wines and a cheese board to die for.
As is often the case with Salmon fishing though, the weather can destroy even the best laid plans and sure enough this happened to us.
The week before we were due to head up to the Highlands, a weather front hit that was so bad it was christened as “The Beast from the East”.
A weather front that was the worst seen in the British Isles for a generation and it brought with it gale force winds, sustained sub-zero conditions for weeks on end and a level of Snow fall unwitnessed in many of our lifetimes in this country.
Scotland had been temporarily turned into Siberia.
Clearly then, in these conditions there is no chance of fishing for anything let alone Salmon…so the sensible decision is to of course stay at home and forget about the whole thing…of course it is….if you weren’t driven by that deep rooted natural instinct or madness.
So we went fishing…in the worst weather front for a generation, but we went fishing anyway.
To get there would be a 5 hour drive under normal conditions and we were no doubt putting ourselves in harms way and it proved to be a journey that we couldn’t even complete at the first attempt.
The snow blizzards were so bad that we had to abandon the trip and find a hotel to put us up for the night before we set off again in the morning! And when we finally arrived, we found a river that was frozen and clearly not fishable but what we also found was one of the most stunning places you could wish to see.
Hills that were covered in snow making for the most epic of natural landscapes. A river that was moulded into a frozen work of art by Mother Nature’s true ferocity with herds of wild deer literally surrounding us at every turn as the snow storms forced them down from the hills in pursuit of food.
It was genuinely stunning to witness and experience these harshest yet most beautiful of conditions.
The lodge we stayed at was also sensational with a log fire and plenty of luxury to soften the blow and as we salmon fisherman are ever the optimists, we were praying for some breaks in the weather and for some sections of river to melt so that we could cast a fly anyway.
And that we did. We literally put a fly into any section of river we could find that wasn’t completely frozen over and although we didn’t catch a fish between us, because the Salmon were more sensible than us, that was genuinely one of the most memorable trips I have been on.
We had such a laugh for the time that we were there, plenty of drinks and even more banter I honestly didn’t stop laughing and we all still talk about that trip and i’m sure we will for the rest of our lives.
This is something that as friends we have shared together, a common memory created not because we wanted to head out in those conditions by choice, but because we were driven there by a shared passion and desire that united us as friends in a common pursuit of one of fly fishings greatest prizes.
As you can imagine, the earful we all got from; those that love us dearly but don’t quite understand us; upon coming home from that trip was quite the dressing down. And to be fair again, I can understand why as this was genuinely stupid of us all to make that trip in the midst of a weather front as bad as that was.
For me though, this is what it means to have friends that share that common fire in the belly to get out on the water and chase dreams. The only people in the world that trip made sense to was us.
So why do we do it?
I have often had to answer that question and what I try and explain to people is that fishing for the Atlantic Salmon is one of the most rewarding past times you wish to partake in.
As a species, it is simply awe inspiring, majestic and mysterious. The nature of its lifecycle is simply miraculous and its sheer determination and doggedness to survive is, for me, in itself life affirming.
Despite the threats thrown at the salmon from every conceivable angle, global warming, predators from above and below, pollution and exploitation as a harvest. It still puts its nose down and completes its journey, determined to ensure the survival of the species.
To cross paths then with a wild animal as incredible as this is a privilege and an an honour, to hold a sparkling fresh Salmon is for me and my friends one of the greatest gifts of our sport.
I honestly don’t think anything within fly fishing comes close to that anticipation you feel when you send a nice cast across a river and allow your fly to swing around in the flow, knowing that at any moment you could feel that thudding take of a salmon which has just reacted out of pure instinct and natural aggression.
To then fight that fish with adrenaline coursing through your veins and your heart stopping every time it makes a lunging run or leaves the water will leave you exhausted by the time you have landed it, if you’ve been fortunate enough to hold on that is! But you will also feel truly exhilarated by the whole experience after you have watched it swim away safely to continue its journey up river.
The whole scenario made even more special by the fact that your mate was there right beside you through it all, your mate who just netted your prized fish for you and even captured the moment for eternity on camera after a quick photo.
That is why we do it.
As friends, we have been there for each other’s first fish, we have celebrated personal best’s we have consoled each other in those moments of a good fish lost and we have created some of the best memories you could hope for, memories which make you smile unconsciously when you recall them over a wee dram.
I suppose my point is that for me, fishing for Salmon has not only been a past time to savour but it has been an embedded part of my life that has nurtured friendships that I have come to cherish.
When you find people who share exactly the same passion as you though, and you actually like them as a person and as a human being as well, then my word you are in luck.
All friendships are forever to be cherished, nurtured and never taken for granted…especially if it’s a friendship forged in silver.
Thank you, Stephen, for this fine story. Remember to check out Stephen’s website: www.steviecarellaflyfishing.com