Swing the Fly Issue 2.4 Spring 2015 - Page 54

Country House, Isle of Skye. Raining.

The hotel was a white Victorian pile whose chief attraction was that you got a beat on the river with the modest price of your room. "This looks like a frickin' Dewar's ad." he said to himself as he walked out the back door and down the narrow, rocky sheep path to the river. To the north and east, he could make out long treeless runs from the ridgelines to the sea. Unlike the hillsides of his home in southern Oregon, these were vast stretches of heather and gorse broken up by rock escarpments. The July rain drove sideways, in broad bursts, on a wind that hurled itself from the North Atlantic, down an ocean loch to the bank of beat #2 behind the hotel.

 

He rearranged the ear buds of his new Ipod, ran his finger over the wheel and selected, ‘Fisherman's Blues’ by the Scottish band The Waterboys. Mike did not clue into the irony of his musical choice as he surveyed beat. This is a long way from Grants Pass, he thought. The river was in full spate or in other words at a flood stage. Typically, it would be a waste of time to fish the North Umpqua or the Rogue if either river looked like this. The water had the color of tea stain. It was miserable and blown out. "Fuck." he said out loud, and pulled a duty free cigarette out of his pocket and struggled in the wind to get it lit.

200 hundred yards downstream, presumably on beat #1 of the hotel, a man in his late 60s, wearing hunter green, knee high rubber boots, a ripped, muddy Barbour jacket and what looked like an inflatable British Navy life vest was calmly dissecting a roiling stretch of water that tailed out directly into sea. Mike thought the guy looked like a bum and was a bit of an idiot to be out in these conditions but he was intrigued by enormous 14ft rod he was holding. He took a drag off the cigarette, exhaled, and said to himself, "Shit, looks like a Spey rod…."

 

Two handed Spey rods had started to appear few years before, on the bigger rivers of the Pacific Northwest, like the Deschutes, Skagit, Stillaguamish and the Hoh. He thought two handers were just a fad being played out by a small group of fanatical steel headers and honestly he had never given them much thought. Now he was curious to learn a little something about them, seeing as he was now in the country where the Spey rod was born.

 

When you travel for the first time, you have the tendency to compare anyone and everything to what is familiar at home

The older man stepped back and as he took a cigarette break himself Mike got a good look at him. He had a medium build, a ruddy, tough weathered face and white hair that stuck out from under a tweed cap.

Every bit of what he imagined a Scottish fisherman should look like. But there was something else. The way he walked and held himself in the wind, there was a confidence and a power in in his stance despite his age. He had seen this in some of the teachers at West Point. Mike took the opportunity to wander over to say hi and to find out more about the rod. He pulled an ear bud from his ear, waved his hand to announce himself, and yelled into the wind, "Any bites?"

 

The older man did a once over on Mike, exhaled and just said. "Oh Aye…"

Expecting a follow up comment and getting nothing from the old man, Mike pressed, "Do you think this weather will let up?"

 

Exhaling again. "Eh, no."

Mike was used to a more outwardly friendly people in the west but he pressed on.

"Is that a Spey rod? I have only seen them a few times back where I come from."

 

The old Scot hesitated. "Eh no, technically it's not…" Mike looked more closely and the 14ft rod was really a giant salmon rod rigged with a spinning reel. On the end of the line, the old man had tied a giant gold spoon on a swivel clasp.

 

"And what do you have yourself there?" The old Scot asked.

"Ah. It’s an Orvis Western series 9 foot 6 weight. It's great in the wind…"

 

The old Scot livened up a bit, tilting his head into the gale and gave

aMike a look of amused pity typically reserved for Americans who are clearly out of their element.