I’ve gone fishing for many years. Actually, scrub that, I’ve gone ‘sitting by a lake or river’ for many years.
I started bait fishing when a teenager – ‘coarse fishing‘, although it wasn’t particularly coarse, save for some of the unsavoury brothers of the angle whom I met along the way.
My long suffering father accompanied me and we searched out the fishing beats of his youth. We caught very little through holes in the ice, but those tiny roach and perch fascinated me. I was hooked for life.
I spent the summer holidays practically encamped on the banks the ‘Little Pit’ near my home, a small body of water but seemingly bottomless. I have a particular angle on this characteristic, too, as I sampled its waters first hand one summer afternoon tumbling in head first just near ‘The Point’… or was it ‘The Winter Bank’? All the fishing stations had unofficial, though apposite, names, carefully concocted by my fishing buddies and I during the long biteless hours at the waterside.
These long periods of inactivity were punctuated by high drama and success, though. I stalked a beautiful carp one summer afternoon, caught a 2lb plus crucian in the dark and a 14lb autumn pike, a vicious freshwater predator which scared the life out of me. I also held the lake record for a while: a 20lb 12oz mirror carp, witnessed by the angling club bailiff and still my largest freshwater fish.
University soon beckoned, though, and long days spent beside quite summer lakes were replaced by the hills of Northwest England. The rods stayed in the shed and were replaced by boots and daysack.
I fished again but something had changed. The mass popularity and commercialisation of coarse angling in the UK had robbed it of its appeal. Previously, the idea of going fishing had not entirely been about catching fish, more about spending time alone, at peace, with a simple, solitary focus. The mind would wander… time could become elastic. It’s a very lucky ‘coarse’ angler nowadays who will have a lake to him of herself at the height of summer. If the kids are off school, forget it. The banks will be packed by folk armed the latest kit while others wait in car parks for fishing permits to time out and the angling equivalent of a shift change can take place.
I shifted to game fishing. The art of flycasting continues to elude me (requiring the body coordination and grace of an Onikenbai sword dance) but the fly rod is more aligned to the uplands and, hopefully, the chance of solitude and some zen-like time at the water’s edge once more.
To combine angling and backpacking is the new goal, then… ‘Anglpaking’ I’ll call it. It’s a lightweight activity, too: a few ounces of carbon for a rod, a tiny lightweight reel and some sundries. Minimalists can shave off more grams by going Tenkara.
I draw inspiration from the spare prose of John Gierach, in particular the chapter ‘Headwaters‘ in ‘Trout Bum‘. Gierach’s writing mirrors his approach to trout fishing. He strips away all that is unnecessary and focuses on the rough country beyond the trail, the rod and line, coffee pot, notebook and ‘modest sized bottle of good bourbon’. He catches a few fish from the high water, and keeps one for supper cooked in oil, pepper and lemon juice. He lies out in a down bag, thinking of ‘the hike, home, people, career, the past’ before sleep.
On our small island, there are few opportunities to follow in Gierarch’s footsteps. The best trout streams are manicured and highly-prized (read: expensive) in the lowlands. No room for trout bums here.
Running water is similarly prized north of the border, but Scotland’s access freedoms give some scope for the anglpaker. Fishing is rarely free, but one can buy a permit and fish their way around some upland areas.
Assynt has to be a primary destination for its mix of inaccessibility and excellent brown trout fishing. I’m still to take the fly rod that far north, but I did have a taste of what it may offer in the hills above Loch Nevis last year. Lochans dot the uplands here and purportedly contain small brownies.
By staying at the Kylesmorar cottages, you have permission from the landowner to fish. I may just catch something when I return to this magical place in June, although to share that lonely rough country with the deer is reward enough.