My first salmon – with Lucy Halford
Lucy Halford glances back over the years and remembers her first salmon.
Stocked lakes, chalkstreams and casting on the lawn were home for me from the age of eight through to my late teens. The feeling of a wild Scottish salmon on the end of my line had eluded me, until an unforgettable weekend for any 17-year-old.
Late September, and I ventured on a long journey from the south of Kent deep into the hills of Scotland, whizzing up the motorways until they turned into a track wide enough for only the odd Highland cattle to pass through. Eventually, I turned up at my destination where I was to stay for the next three nights. What I hadn't been informed of was that I was to be the only girl...
Four men greeted me, each with signet rings the size of a fist and snorting laughs to accompany - I felt a little out of my depth. But I had one very major reason to stay there: the hallowed Spey.
The next morning, like a child at Christmas having had very limited sleep, I threw on my fishing gear, flew like Superman down the stairs and met everyone outside. Raring to go, I tackled up and suddenly realised that the rod was a little larger and heavier than my normal. After thrashing the water with a 15ft salmon rod as if it was my 7ft fibreglass trout set up, I conceded that some guidance from the ghillie was needed.
After half an hour of tutelage in the basics of Spey casting, my line tightened. A FISH! It snatched at my line like a terrier. I managed to get the beast in; my first salmon... Well, a 1?lb grilse. Not hugely impressive, but my first Scottish grilse nonetheless.
Retiring to the house everyone changed and convened downstairs for drinks. The men mulled over their day's fishing - their general consensus being that there weren't any fish in the river. I stayed silent until one of the rather ruddy-faced men eventually asked how I had got on. I excitedly replied with the story of my grilse, to which their patronising answer in a round about way was: 'it's good to see a girl having a go'.
The next day on the river was quiet, no action in the way of salmon - the silence only broken by a slight cough I'd acquired from passive smoking the men's Romeo y Julietas being puffed in the drawing room the evening before. Dinner that night was distinctly muted.
The last day. My final chance. By now I had honed a vague Spey casting technique, as well as my new favourite, the snake roll. I had also been taught the 'fisherman's stance' by the ghillie: a vogue-like posture with the rod hooked through the arm on one side, with your other hand on your hip. As a stereotypical teenager, I was nattering away, completely oblivious when my line was suddenly being stripped to the backing. I ran down the riverbank like Usain Bolt in pursuit of the fish, which now felt like an elephant on the end of my line. After half an hour of grappling, he gradually tired. A lovely, modest 10lb cock salmon. I was delighted - my fishing trip was complete.
I wondered back up to the house, salmon in hand, feeling rather chuffed with myself. As the men stood outside, puffing on yet another R&J, they looked at my fish. 'It must be the pheromones,' one muttered.
What can I say? I'm happy to be a woman in a fisherman's world if the myths really are true.