Thursday, February 11, 2010

That Special Relationship

I will get to real fishing when we thaw. Meantime, I wanted to capture some simple thoughts on what it’s been like to be a fly fisher on two continents. The simple answer is damned lucky, but here goes:

*It’s far cheaper here. In the UK you often pay-as-you-fish. Trout fishing $40 a time, anyone? Much of the fishing, particularly salmon fishing, is privately owned and expensive.

*Ergo, in New England we have considerably more access to more fishing. The grass is greener for the omnivore angler who likes brookies, stripers, carp, trout – you name it.

*All for $50 a year.
*In Scotland trout fishing largely means drifting in a boat on still water. These are called lochs (loughs in Ireland) and pronounced with as much spittle as you care to generate. This is a wonderful and highly developed branch of fly fishing; from the wet fly loch-style of the north (long rod, 4 flies), to the nymph disciples of the south’s rainbow reservoirs.
*In CT our trout are mostly in rivers.
*In the UK streamers are more aptly called “lures”.
*There are thousands of “put and take” trout fisheries throughout the UK. Some are puddles in the ground, others are beautifully landscaped oases. One can catch large triploid rainbows there, typically on lures. I once caught a 10.5lb rainbow in one such place. It had half a tail and was probably happy to meet my priest (poor beast).
*A priest is a blunt instrument for the dispatch of fish. If you didn’t know this, good for you.
*One pellet hog rainbow does not equate to one 6oz wild brown in my world.
*In Scotland, if I wanted to escape the rainbow stew ponds, I had my choice of wild brown trout, brown trout, or maybe some wild brown trout. A point labored, perhaps; I also had wonderful Atlantic salmon rivers, and I miss them terribly, but they were pricey, and it’s a very fickle end of our sport (pay thousands of pounds in advance only to find the river dry? Hard cheese).
*Spent brood-stock salmon are like stockings filled with mulch by comparison to their fresh run cousins. Think steelhead.
*When I arrived in the US I caught new and wonderful creatures: carp, sunnies, 3 species of bass, 3 of trout, salmon (by accident), creek chub etc etc. The UK has a long list of “coarse” fish too, but not usually caught by the fly angler.

*Sea robins. Weird.

*There are pike and other coarse fish in Scotland, but more so in the richer chalk waters of England (these are 9 hours drive from Edinburgh. The Country’s not that small).

*There’s a whole separate angling genre in the UK and it is practiced by several hundred thousand people. It is called “coarse fishing” because these fish were thought to be inedible at one time. Beautiful fish like dace, chub, zander, perch (the same yellow variety), carp (same), tench, bream, roach, pike (same). They are angled with bait and spoons.

*Trotting maggots under a float is dreamy. Try it.

*I miss Thymallus thymallus, the beautiful Lady of the Stream.

*The UK also has some saltwater angling, but we are blessed in CT/RI/Maine with stronger stocks of stripers and blues, neither of which inhabits UK waters.

*In southern England a saltwater mullet (a “thick lip”) might take your fly. If is does, hang on as best you can.

*A sunfish is a thing of wonder to a grown man who has had brown trout coming out of his ears since the age of 12. It is from the same Martian world as the Sea Robin.

*I saw my first brook trout at age 35. I am having an affair with brook trout. I’m wedded to browns.

*The greatest trout fishing in Scotland is in the wilderness areas and typically requires a stint of vacation to sample (most of the populous live in cities). In CT our streams are on the doorsteps of our rural townships.

*Wearing tweed and drinking whisky is obligatory on all Scottish salmon rivers (it’s my blog, my fantasy).

*The River Spey is in Scotland. Spey rods are American.

*A trout rod in Scotland measures 10’ long. A better bet than 9’.

*Witnessing a 20lb river pike attack a live bait is only bettered for sheer scare-the-tuna-salad panic by the prospect of dealing with the beast once grassed.

*Last year a 5lb bluefish tried to crack my knuckles then eat me. More please.

*In recent years salmon fishers in the UK have taken a leaf from Yankee brethren and instituted catch & release. The same cannot be said for our treatment of wild brown trout, where a culture of kill and eat still prevails.

*This is fine in the acidic lochs of northern Scotland, where tiny trout compete for limited food. An ecologist would tell you that harvesting fish is healthy in this scenario. I believe that.

*I learned good fish handling in America.

*Cuba’s famous export is available in Britain. But there are good options here.

So, some vague generalities, some of them true. The experience of fishing these two countries leaves me grateful for their vast differences and wonderful similarities. I’ll catch a trout on Connecticut's Farmington River this spring on a fly that last saw the waters of Loch Leven when I was age 15. That’s pretty cool, but of course the trout will be none the wiser.

I hope it’s a brownie.



  1. I think we've got it better right up to the point at the end re: Cuban exports.

  2. Joe in The Owl reckons that other countries have caught up to the Cuban standard, rather like some good sparkling wines are on a par with some champagne.

    Okay, now I sound like a tit. But don't take my word for it (The Owl Shop, College Street, New Haven - a place worth going.)