David Profumo enjoys a day on Scotland's most literary river and sings the praises of a fly with unsavoury origins.
As his birthday present in October, I treated The Doctor to a couple of days on a prime Tweed beat; the only fly in the piscatorial ointment was that he had to share a rod with me, his son-in-law. In its autumn livery, with fiery leaf-scapes and glowing sandstone ‘scaurs’, this is my favourite river in late season. For years, I was privileged to fish at nearby Mertoun, where once that great Victorian author William Scrope was the tenant. In Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing (1843), he advised never to wade in deeper than the fifth button of your waistcoat and recommended as a fly ‘Meg with the Muckle Mouth’, named after the unprepossessing daughter of a local laird (one chap preferred the gallows to her hand in marriage).
Can Scotland boast a more literary river? Hogg, Lang and Buchan all hymned its haughs, dubs and caulds and these borderlands are still in thrall to Sir Walter Scott. Indeed, it was while rummaging among some tackle in an Abbotsford drawer that he conceived the idea for his monumental ‘Waverley’ novel sequence, which he wrote to pay off massive publishing debts, pacing his prose output against an hourglass. I like his footnote about a baron returning from the Crusades to discover his wife with a baby not of his making: she claimed she was innocently strolling the banks of this river when the mysterious ‘spirit of the Tweed compelled her to submit to his embraces’. They agreed to baptise the boy Tweedie.
I’d had a lean visit here in September, before an Augean spate finally cleared the legacy of lengthy low levels. My eye was wiped twice by other guests Suzie and Richard from Ulster both took salmon from the Bridge pool I’d just flogged. And, although I swam size 16 dressed trebles, hand-lined chunky Frances tubes and even stripped a little Monkey, I couldn’t buy a take. Then, Mrs Reel Life triumphed, landing a grayling of nearly 3lb. At luncheon, I wept into my beaker of Muscadet.
So there was a certain urgency as The Doctor and I tackled up on that Monday morning. The water was steady and clear, running at 1ft, and intermediate lines with a sinking tip were the order of the day. Boatman Rod took the birthday boy up to the Battery pool first thing and I was happy to sit and watch as they worked their way down. Around noon, the fishless Doctor’s boat was hauled ashore and it was my turn to clamber in. ‘That’s a fly I would never use, lad,’ laughed the medico, as I showed him my green-bodied Willie Gunn. Five minutes later, the line drew away through my fingers in fine fashion and
I lifted a fish.
As Rod hoisted the net, I turned to see The Doctor glaring at me like a timber wolf. Struggling perhaps with nominal aphasia in his search for ‘congratulations’, he merely growled ‘unbelievable’. I never got another go in the boat all day.
Next morning, Rod lent him the killer fly of Upper Dryburgh. Secrecy surrounds the exact dressing, but it’s rumoured to incorporate distinctive hairs from a male polar bear’s nether regions, privily combed out at night by its keeper at the Edinburgh Zoo. It has duly been christened the Scrotum.
Down to the hotel stream we headed, and soon The Doc was plying its run with an impeccably long line. Sometimes in fishing, all things seem to conspire delightfully. Sunshine briefly lit the pool and, as his fly played over the central furl of the current, there came a mighty surface convulsion and the cry of ‘That’s me. I’m on!’. A good fish turned and hurtled away in a surging run, the Scrotum bristling from its scissors. Our angler stood his ground and a spirited tussle ensued before Rod finally hand-tailed a 15-pounder from the gravel margins and that timber wolf was transmogrified into a Cheshire cat.
The cock fish was duly revived and released and I was granted a brief stint with my rod while the hero of the hour busily phoned his friends with the news. He then announced: ‘Now laddie, I think I’ll just hook one more before lunch.’ And so he did. On Christmas morn, The Doctor may well have been the only Harley Street gynaecologist to find a brand-new Scrotum sticking out of his stocking.