four fisher people and Jimmy the gillie

I went salmon fishing on the famous River Tay in Scotland. There are no nibbles when you fish like this. The prey takes the lure or not. I have very little fishing experience, and am never as interested in fishing as many others who hunt and love the outdoors and can forget themselves and relax in the off-season by fishing, when hunting is not allowed.

This sport is so special there that the rivers and streams are divided into clearly marked lengths called “beats,” and when you buy or lease a beat, you may only have it for certain days of the week, or maybe even for just the morning or the evening. The beat right next to ours was so desirable that people paid around $1600 per person to fish it for just one day! And eight fish have been hooked there all season, while only four of them were landed.

I went with a friend and his wife who fly fish some, have done it in Alaska and other places, were visiting us on their first trip ever to Scotland, and insisted that we all spend a day on the water. None of us caught a fish. I lost my lure (called bait) in the rocks on the very first cast. We all spent hours casting and casting…and casting.

I guess the excitement for those who love it is the hope that each cast will lead to a fighting fish taking the bait. The gamekeeper Craig summed it all up, when he admitted that “I’d strangle my mother, so I could go fishing.” But it wears thin for me. I don’t mind walking for hours to find some birds to shoot at. At least you see them. But fishing for fish who don’t nibble, just hoping they are in the vicinity of your bait as they power upstream and then not being able to see what is going on at all seems random…and it is a hell of a challenge. “It’s a lot of luck,” admitted our fishing guide (called a gillie) Jimmy, a Chinese Scotsman with a real brogue and an encouraging smile.

I didn’t think it would take so much effort to reel in the line, but the strong current created a huge strain on my arm and wrist. I realized how difficult it is, when I learned that people are lucky if they catch one salmon a day. I smiled when Jimmy said that women are better at salmon fishing than men…they have more patience. And after five hours of absolutely nothing, when a two-foot long salmon jumped up about five feet and landed just eight feet from the boat, I was determined to keep casting, keep reeling, keep trying, hoping, believing that if I hooked one—or more accurately, if a fish hooked itself on my line—it would be so exciting that I would keep on coming back for more and more and more…