The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Never Mind The Luck, Give Us The Theatricals!

By Roderick Wilkinson © 1986

Issue: June, 1986

Editor Note: In the spirit of proving that a fisherman (or woman) is the same the world over, we present this story from Roderick Wilkinson of Glasgow, Scotland, for your reading enjoyment.
Susan Thigpen, Editor

To hear some anglers talking you'd think there was no such thing as luck. You walk into the cocktail bar of one of those fishing hotels and say, "Whose salmon is that on the tray out in the hall?" and then some red-faced man in a tweed suit will say, "Mine."

"It's a nice fish. What weight is it?"

"Oh - not all that big. Ten pounds."

"Where did you get him?"

"Down at the graveyard pool."

"On a fly?"

"Yes. Took a Cinnamon-and-Gold."

You might think that's that. Don't you believe it! He's going to feel cheated if you don't carry on with the questions. He wants to give you a blow-by-blow account.

"What size of fly?"

"Quite big. Number 3. I had it tied locally by old Bamber in my village. He ties them superbly - not too much body and he gets the wing-hackle back at an angle just right."

"When did he take it - what time?"

"Three-thirty-two. Not much sunshine and there had been a smir of rain an hour previous. Then I got that breeze at my back and, although I say it myself, I got that fly right where I wanted it to be - into the white water - because I knew he was there, y'know."

"In the white water?"

"No, no - not with that water temperature. I knew where he was - down in that run beyond the big rock. I'd seen him turnover. So I let the fly drift in the current and drew in line just at the right pace."

"To avoid drag."

"Right. To avoid drag."

"Then what happened?"

"He came right up for it. I saw him. 'Let him get it properly,' I said to myself. 'Don't strike too soon or he'll just spit it out,' I said. And I was right! I did it all in one complete movement - retrieved line, raised the rod up and got that hook properly imbedded. Lovely job, although I say so myself."

"Did you have to play him long?"

"About ten minutes. And I'll tell you, he gave me a run for it - went like hell for the next pool downstream. But I could read him like a book. I knew what he was up to. I managed to turn him and then I knew I had the better of him when he bolted for the white water again. After that it was just solid fight."

"What breaking-strain of nylon did you have?"

"I'm glad you asked me that because that was the real problem. Eight pounds."


"Eight pounds. You see what I mean? I couldn't give him his head, could I? One crack and - bang! - he'd have broken me. I'll tell you - it was a delicate business. Delicate. But I got'm half on to the pebbles then got the tailer on him and that was that."

One of these days I'm going to walk into the cocktail bar of a fishing hotel and say to somebody. "Any luck today?"

"Yes," this fellow will say. "I got a walloping big salmon down by that pool at the bridge."

"What kind of fly did he take?"

"I haven't a clue. A big yellow thing."

"Where did he take it?"

"Damned if I know. I was just throwing that line into the water all afternoon and before I knew what was happening there was this whacking great salmon thrashing about all over the water. So I just turned the crank of my reel and that was that. Nothing to it. I don't know what all this fuss is about salmon fishing. I think I'll go back tomorrow and catch another one. The wife's very fond of a bit of salmon. Makes a change from kippers."

This 'luck' business is something fishermen don't like to talk about. I suppose it's the same with football fans - they don't like to think that the wind or the weather has anything to do with plunking the ball at a certain spot at a certain time. Being 'lucky' in a sport isn't counted these days. And I suppose you've got to have the right equipment and use it the right way if you're going to have any success. Being lucky at free-fall parachuting isn't going to do you much good if you forget your parachute or don't pull the rip-cord.

But I'll tell you this - about half the fish I've ever caught have been lucky ones. Oh, yes, we natter on about upstream casting and sink-and-draw wet-fly techniques and flies and spinners and plugs of all shapes and sizes and colors'. I'll tell you plainly in many cases nobody's more surprised than I am when there's a fish banging away at the end of the line. And if most of my fishing pals told the truth that's been their experience.

But - let's face it - fishing wouldn't be fishing without these picturesque, dramatic theatricals in tackle shops and cocktail bars of fishing hotels. Catching a fish by using a Thomson's Number Three Spoon Wobbler expertly cast upstream and retrieved on the downward glide of a cross-current trout-run makes far better listening than a chap saying, "Well, I've no idea what I was doing. Maybe I was just lucky."

After all, if people in fishing hotels are just interested in fish all they have to do is read the daily fish prices at Aberdeen or Grimsby from the newspaper.

Who needs fish? It's the theatricals we want.