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|A Learning Curve|
How Vince Smith became hooked for life
Bearing a famous biblical name, a row of whitewashed cottages stands quietly in the heart of the old County of Angus. In the early 1950’s modern conveniences such as running water, electricity and flush toilets were things that only Townies enjoyed. Paraffin lamps, candles, firelight and the sun and moon were the only illumination available to the small community of about 30 men, women and children.
The old men would sit outside their homes on warm sunny evenings, smoking vile smelling pipes or skinny Woodbine fags, blowing the smoke into rings which floated up into the still evening sky while enthralling the youngsters of all ages who would sit nearby, never uttering a word, while tales were told, tall or otherwise, of derring do, practical jokes, (always followed by hearty laughter and bouts of coughing and spluttering) and life in general.
The children heard stories of poaching, how to dodge the gamekeepers, how to skin rabbits, the quickest way to get the feathers off a pheasant and a myriad of illegal methods of ridding the local estates of their game, as well as stories that maybe those of tender years should never be privy to.
But to one wee boy the tales of fishing were the ones that captured his imagination. Old Sam was the acknowledged master fisherman and his understanding of the local streams and rivers was unsurpassed. The wee boy would listen to tales of brown trout and grayling of monstrous proportions being hooked, played, and eventually landed after only the longest, hardest battle one could imagine. Silver March Browns, Sooty Olives, Invicta, Hares Lugs and Greenwells were shown and excitement and awe were fired in a receptive mind at the sight of these beautiful creations nestling in a bed of pure white cotton in a well-worn walnut brown wallet.
Old Sam soon saw he had a prisoner in the 7 year old and took him under his wing. The first lesson was to respect both water and its many residents and the introduction to water was right on the doorstep.
Across the track in front of the houses was a small burn, really little more than a ditch, which never, ever, ran dry. It began its life high on Haystone Hill and ran northwards for about 4 miles where it met the areas main waterway. As the burn passed the row of houses the locals had taken advantage of its bounty and in front of each house a dam had been created by digging out an area of some 3 to 4 ft wide and between 18” to 2’ deep with the dam wall being old railway sleepers dug into the banking.
The main function was to enable the women to dip their pails into the burn to get water for the washing and as the water was crystal clear it was ideal for the purpose. Sam showed his protégé the dozens of small fish in the dams and soon the youngster was able to tell the difference between the darting minnows and the aggressive sticklebacks. The sticklebacks nests were pointed out and hours were spent watching the cock fish take on the world to protect his nest and babies.
Water beetles, boatmen and hatching flies, of which there seemed hundreds, of different kinds were identified by the mentor, oh if only his pupil could remember half of them.
As with most youngsters, curiosity was a trait that would lead Sam’s young apprentice into many scrapes and almost as many groundings throughout his informative years. This curiosity lead him and his best friend Fred to follow the burn down past the cottages and into what seemed to them to be a huge forest but in later years and through older eyes, was seen to be little more than a small wood of birch, beech, alder and a few Scots Pines. The burn meandered alongside the wood picking up other small ditches and streams as it went on its way to meet its big sister. Parts of the stream as it had now become, were about 3ft wide with overhanging grasses, shrubs and bramble bushes. Long, flat stretches of water rippled and sparkled in the sunlight.
As the two explorers pushed and wrestled their way through the undergrowth the calm water in front of them was rent asunder by a monster rising from the deep and returning to its sanctuary with a resounding splash. All thoughts of continuing their safari were halted there and then. Stock still, hardly daring to breath they watched the water. A tiny bug of some sort landed on the grass overhanging the water then blithely skipped onto the water where it skimmed about as happy as any bug could be, then wallop, he was gone but not before the boys could see its captor. A fish, what a fish, at least 2ft. long with huge red and black spots on its gold and silver sides and belly. At least that was what they told Sam they had seen. (The first of many fishy stories)
Sam listened to the excited boys and after administering a rollicking to them for being where they were without permission, he accompanied them back to the den of the monster. Sure enough, another almighty splash confirmed the boys’ story and as a result, so began their first fishing expedition, although hardly legal.
Back to Sam’s they hurried and stood impatiently while Sam busied himself in his shed, a place of mystery and magic that he would reveal to his student on another day. Emerging from the shed he had an old khaki haversack and a walking stick and was now wearing wellies. Back to the home of the whale as it had now grown into, the haversack was opened and a piece of chicken netting was produced, folded several times into the shape of a funnel then tied to a piece of willow branch cut from a nearby tree.
Into the burn went Sam, down under the water went the chicken netting, a few pokes and prods with walking stick and behold, the monster was caught, a beautiful 6” brown trout. Into the haversack again and a big glass jar was produced, quickly filled with water and the fish deposited therein.
‘Home as quick as you can now’ were the instructions from the venerable Sam whose credit rating had gone from being just a superhero to a being the equal of the highest god in the universe.
On arrival back home the chicken netting had taken on a new shape and was placed about 10 yards upstream of the dam outside the Tyro’s house, thus barring the escape of the wee trout which was gently deposited into the dam and into his new home.
Over the next few weeks the amount of minnows in the dam seemed to be decreasing but the splashes of the wee trout seemed to be getting bigger and noisier. Small pieces of bread thrown into the still water would float for a few seconds then a mini torpedo would shoot from its lair and the crumbs were gone.
Sam took great delight at the pleasure both he and his young charge were awarded by the now almost tame trout, which they could entice from its lair under a big stone that Sam had strategically placed at the head of the dam by throwing in almost dead flies and the aforementioned bread crumbs.
Then the fishing lessons began. A piece of garden cane with about 5ft of catgut tied on was the tackle. A tiny black spider with the barb filed off was the fly of choice and then they were ready.
Crouched down at the wide end of the pool, Sam demonstrated a cast, landing the fly at the top end of the dam, like he said, as gentle as an angel’s fart. The fly was drawn slowly towards him. Suddenly, nothing happened. Two, three, four times the fly was cast, each time with the same result. Then it was the apprentice’s turn. A flick of the wrist and the fly landed on the water like a brick, the trout shot from under its stone like a rocket and the fly was gone and both boy and fish were hooked. A few dives, pulls and one upward leap resulted in a little trout earning his escape and returning to his den a little wiser and one little boy sitting wide mouthed, heart going like a trip hammer and forever destined to enjoy a lifetime of working the angle.
Vince Smith was brought up in Angus where his formative years were spent in and around the burns and rivers of the local area. A retired policeman, his time is now spent on looking after his grandchildren, golfing, fishing and going to Station Park to support the mighty Forfar Athletic.