Reel Life: Ending the year on a high note

David Profumo reflects on a fishing trip to Cuba, a dry year for salmon and a last minute reprieve on the River Tweed.

At the turn of the year, I am prone to piscatorial reminiscence up here in the glen, my feet on the tackle-room fender, a birchwood fire in the grate roaring like a distant motorway although I do miss my companion, Mister the lab, recently laid to rest well into his 15th year, wrapped in a plaid like the ancient Gaelic warrior he was.

Last season’s highlights included the June day my son, Tom, caught his first bonefish during our trip to southern Cuba. This is a milestone for any fortunate angler and, a quarter of a century on, I can still recall my own initiation ever since, I have been in thrall to the unpredictability of saltwater flats and the bonedog’s sudden sprint through the shallows.

Our first morning had proved fruitless: ‘No hungry,’ pronounced Popo the guide laconically, as fish after fish spurned our offerings. Clouser minnow, mantis shrimp and chenille crab were ignored. Then, we found a small cay with bones tailing over hard sand and Tom went wading (‘Thanks for warning me about the stingrays’), his Crazy Charlie plipped nicely ahead of the shoal and his reel was soon sizzling away like a dentist’s drill. Returning to the skiff, both men wore fluorescent smiles. When it was my turn, I was so intent on stalking the quarry that I waded within feet of a salt-water croc skulking among the mangroves. ‘We didn’t like to interrupt your concentration,’ explained my son, later.

In August, I was able to add another photograph to my rogues’ gallery of folk who have landed their first trout here on my Highland lochs, when Magnus brought his younger brother Ambrose over for an afternoon’s casting.

Despite arriving in kilts and deerstalkers, the boys hail from Venice. Magnus sends me postcards detailing the impressive catches he makes from the lagoon there, including mullet that he sells profitably to a local trattoría pretty enterprising for a lad of 10.  We go through his capacious tackle bag salmon flies, a casting manual, a box of dry Daddies and his enthusiasm is a pleasure to share ‘How about this one?’ he asks, picking out a bead-headed nymph. I shrug on my waders and we three clomp off down the lawn.

After a few near misses casting off the Laird’s Stone, Ambrose (aged eight) lifts into his first brownie and hustles it safely to the net. There is a flurry of excitement, before it’s hoisted for their father’s camera. Meanwhile, his brother is into a fish on the far bank it’s dived into a morass of wiry weeds and I wade in chest deep, dredge around and another plump trout is hoisted aloft. That makes a brace of pounders they tote back to the steading for their high tea and I’ve enjoyed a memorable afternoon without even wetting a line myself.

For me, 2014 produced a salmon season as long and lean as a strip of old biltong and, when I finally took the rod clips off my Land Rover in late November, I had precious few fish to my credit. There was one red-letter autumnal day, however, when eight fish came off the Tweed beat where I was a guest, including two ‘firsts’ for a Suffolk couple sharing a rod a notable achievement. My luck was also in and I grassed a 12lb hen fishing a deep Frances through the Battery pool just in time for a bankside elevenses of damson vodka and a square of bitter chocolate.

After lunch, I was pleased to have the streamy Bridge pool all to myself. I must have run it down a dozen times last autumn with no success, but, on this occasion as I mended the little Snaelda tube into that hang just beyond the central boulder my line went thrillingly tight and I was into a sizeable fish.

There ensued some 20 minutes of slogging, head-shaking skirmish against the vigorous current: although confident of my ‘stout gut’, I was fearful for the hook-hold.

Gingerly, I edged shoreward and coaxed the fish in along the gravel. A tawny, battle-scarred cock, thickset across the back and kyped like Punchinello, he measured out at 42in from snout to the inner curve of his tail. Depending on which conversion scale you consult, this suggests a salmon in the 25lb–28lb class my biggest in a long while. Well, that certainly raises the bar for 2015.


Silver sea trout fishing in North Uist

Country Life's Editor Mark Hedges goes fishing for silver sea trout with David Profumo.