By Bill Drew
There are no flies on Billy. One of natures gentlemen Billy has an embarrassment of skills balanced by modesty and a pawky wit. He is never slow to poke fun at himself or others nor to muse on the rightness of things. Above all he is a man of passion in his convictions, his poetry, his woodworking his gardening and his fishing.
There are no flies on Billy for he is an upstream wormer. He wades a little now although often over the years he would winkle out plump brownies with the aid of a long greenheart rod whilst wearing socks and shoes. He says he belongs to a blessed generation. Fortunate enough to have been too young to have faced the onus of service in World War Two but yet old enough to received the benefits of the post war era in health,working conditions, earnings and of course time to fish.
The pursuit of "troots" has always been part of that blessing for Billy. I was privileged to share his continuing delight in fishing when we spent an evening together on the local river. For all his life Billy has walked or biked to the water sometimes even grabbing 40 minutes during a lunch (dinner) break to "see what was doing".
I love the optimism of the pursuit of "troots". The confidence in the plural and the certainty that only the number is in doubt and the denial of the possibility of a blank day. Of course when you fish with Billy you can see where the certainty comes from. First the skill is there but ultimately it is the local knowledge of, as the local song writer put it these " Bonnie Border Burns".
Billy was converted to catch and release in his sixties. In days gone bye (and the record books show it) competitions amongst the local trout fishers frequently produced 10 and more fish per head. These were then distributed literally down a food chain which also saw the odd salmon disappear into the communal pot. It had always been so. In the 70s and 80s more access and the dreaded miners buses over fished the water. The miners released from underground would be dropped off one every half mile along the Borders burn stream or Tweed tributary. A steady days fishing by 40-50 men and all trout killed, 10-15 times a year and the native stock began to shrink in number.
Billy is of course philosophical. He talks of fishing in terms of generations and natures cycles. Ten to fifteen years of poor fishing will frequently lead to a gradual restocking over another ten years he believes. If the water is damaged then we must accept new levels of fishing whilst fighting for environmental improvement. Given half a chance Billy believes that the wild will redress the damage of our frantic modern ways. Call me an optimist but there are no flies on Billy.
I however, as well as being a duffer, can also be a bit of a twit. On Friday I decide to visit my favourite pool. It is as pretty as it is populated by the finned fellows. My soul sings when I slip through the unmarked trail in the trees and part the head high overgrowth to see and hear its perfection. On route I encountered the Poacher. In "deep throat" fashion he passed on the overheard whisper from the snug in the pub. The next batch of stockies were out. Thousands (well a thousand anyway) of the daft devils were sloshing about enroute to my previously picked fishing venue." Catch me please" they whispered. Like an idiot I abandonned my previous plans and caught stocky fever. On reflection greed and stupidity were my reasons. Hauling out five or six half pound stockies in a half hour is exciting but is no substitute for stalking and outwitting the wild devils upstream.
The outcome was inevitable. I caught nothing as half the town had already had the whisper. The evening was not wasted but next morning I headed up the valley. This of course was equally daft. It was scorching, the last day in July and every mothers son knows that no God fearing trout ventures out until the cool of the evening or the dawn. Technically they were correct as the number of rises were few and far between. I had fun though and some sport and the sun on my face and solitude. I dropped off at one of Billys favourite spots where the trees grasp each others branches overhead and you disappear into a tunnel of green and sprinkled sunlight. I only took and shook off parr and fingerlings. As Billy would say they are the future and in five/ ten/ or twenty years who knows what fine troots that stretch will hold, and there are no flies on Billy.
© Bill Drew 1999
This article has also been published in the UK Flyfishing Magazine: FISH AND FLY: www.fishandfly.co.uk
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