Life After Lockdown
A lot of anticipation and excitement in fishing corners when the First Minister announced last week that we should be seeing a partial lifting of lockdown at the end of this week, lagging just a few weeks behind those of you in England already experiencing this first step towards renewed freedom. Amongst the first wave of permitted activities is fishing. Whilst the benefits to mental health are well touted there is no denying that for many of us being allowed back to the river cannot come soon enough. The sound and movement of the river, the sound of the wind in the trees on the bank, the therapeutic swish of the rod with each cast, the beautiful unfolding dance of the loop of line as it touches the water, the company of friends and the great gulping breaths of fresh air are all so beneficial to our mental health. I can’t help but wonder though how are we going to adjust to this brave new world when fishing will not be fishing as we knew it before Covid?
Having to maintain social distancing on the river bank is one thing, not being able to enjoy the company, craic and fishy tales in the confines of the fishing hut is quite another. For many of us this can be one of the highlights of the day. A welcome respite from flogging the water for those who have yet to make contact with a fish or a chance to give a gleeful detailed recounting of every detail of how a fish took/played/made it to the net/released itself at the last moment, to discuss tactics, fly choice, tackle talk, sharing experiences and companionship in the murky midst of a hut. For me this is a vital part of a day’s fishing. Throw in a reeking smoky fire adding to the ambience and that particular aroma of steaming wet waders mixing with the warming scent of drams of Speyside’s finest together with a wayward canine companion or two and I’m in heaven. (We’re a strange breed us fisher folk and I, for one, am easily pleased by the most simple pleasures in life!) Of course, weather permitting, we can enjoy socially distanced picnic elevenses or lunches outside but let’s be realistic, this IS the North of Scotland and the climate is not always kind even at this time of year! Plus there is always the dreaded Scottish midgie to contend with!
How will this social distancing malarkey change our sport? Distanced netting of fish, no congratulatory hugs or handshakes, no setting up of someone else’s rods or tying on leaders or flies, the life of a ghillie and guide are changed indeed for the time being. As for the silent head nod and hand shake at the end of the day as the tip is exchanged, how do we now do this? Ask for bank details in order to facilitate a tip via internet banking?! Hardly correct form as we know it! Even my young son learned the technique on his first outing to the river though, as is so often the case, the ghillie refused the tender and told him to put it towards some more flies for his box!
Amongst the minutiae of this lockdown first stage phasing was the announcement of a 5 mile radius in which we are allowed to venture in order to exercise. Obviously this prohibits all but locals returning to the river. It will be interesting to see how the beats adapt to this as we are now into prime time on The Spey, a time when historically day rods are rarer than hens teeth and prices are such that they will prohibit all but the most ardent of locals. Will we see a realistic reduction in pricing as a glut of availability hits the market? Lets not forget that there is no accommodation option available, just access to the river. The 5 mile restriction is, currently, however a guideline and not mandatory. The important aspect is, I believe, taking responsibility for ones actions, don’t travel too far so that, god forbid, anything should happen to you that you become an added burden on an already overloaded healthcare unit. Fundamentally remain within the jurisdiction of your own current NHS area, tempting though it is to bend the rules. . . . I’ve already received a VERY tempting offer to fish an alternative river next week but with a 3 hour drive each way it doesn’t seem realistic to drive there and back each day. I also suspect that claiming the milometer on my vehicle is faulty might wash a bit thin at that distance if questioned by the boys in blue!!
With no boats to cross the river or work a pool, no lifts allowed to other pools further downstream or sharing cars to get to the river in the first place, we’ll need to be self sufficient fishers. Any tuition will be restricted to social distance rules and kept hands free so this means that anyone accessing the river in the imminent weeks will need to be fairly proficient. At a time when Speyside should be bustling with visitors, fishing lodges full and beat log books filling up with catches it’s heartbreaking to see it so quiet.
But, looking at the positives, the river has been well rested and any fish that have entered the system won’t yet be canny to every fly in your box. I recall chatting with a very experienced fisher who was well into her late 80s (and fished right up to her 90th) who told me with great delight how she had married during the second world war when obviously a honeymoon far afield was out of the question. She and her husband decided to set out to the lochs and rivers of the Highlands. The water had hardly been touched and they had in her words “an absolute bonanza” landing more fish on that trip than she would on any other trip ever again her lifetime. Let’s hope that the legacy of lockdown is that we not only get to reconnect with nature and a way of life that as anglers we all have such a great passion for but that nature rewards us with bountiful fish in our rivers and happy visitors back in Speyside before the end of the season. Wouldn’t that make all these months of lockdown so much more bearable in hindsight?
NB. It has taken a few weeks to get this blog churned out, I’ve watched with interest as various friends have spouted forth over their newly learned skills acquired with so much spare time on their hands. With young children and suddenly no childcare I’m afraid the opposite has been the case for me, I’ve found myself wondering in bewilderment where the hours of the day have gone! I have, however managed to find enough time to complete a World Health Orgaisation training course on Infection Prevention and Control for Novel Coronavirus (Covid 19) and hope that this, together with stringent hand hygiene (I was a total germaphobe before this pandemic and always had a healthy stock of antibac gel and wipes in the car, every jacket pocket and tackle bag!!) and the most excellent bespoke mask (see pic below) made for me will give my clients, friends and fellow fishers the confidence to meet me on the river bank, albeit at a 2 metre distance (I make that almost to the mid section of my 15ft rod or one and a half wading sticks 😉) and enjoy once again the sport that we all love and all the benefits that enjoyment brings with it.