My First Salmon

The Duff River in County Sligo was one of my favourite places to spend many leisurely hours. Its
blackened water results in great measure from the prevalence of this boggy land. My father and our
neighbour Tom Gallagher would come here often to fly fish for trout, or if lucky perhaps a salmon. Tom
always enjoyed the company of my father and delighted in our coming from Dublin to visit. They were
fishing buddies for many years.
I would watch Tom and my father study the flies on the water who would then choose one from their fly
boxes and bait their lines. There was almost a mystical reverence in how they approached this sport and
watching them was almost poetic in itself. The discipline that both men had mastered through years of
fly fishing was rewarded when a trout rises to examine its offering and strikes. With split second timing
the rod is lifted, and the battle begun.
The splash of water breaks the quietness as if an unnatural disturbance had just occurred. I would watch
my father plays the fish as it surges and runs, leaps shaking his head to release the hook. Through a silver
shower of water the fish explodes again and again. The line ripping the water sending signals to my
father’s hands, but soon it tires, and I see its meaty flank of familiar spots of black and orange. My father
would reach down to take the fish, holds it for a moment and decides, this one is a keeper.
As for me I did not yet possess the skills as a fly fisher man so I would have to bait my own hook.
I remember one time my father was fishing in a wide pool; I was ten years old at the time and fishing
with a spinner on the bend of this river about a hundred feet away from my father on a wide sandbank.
The river here was very narrow but fast moving and deep. As I reeled my sparkling attraction up the
stream I could make out a large shadowy form shoot out like a missile from beneath the opposite bank
for a visual inspection of my lure? I made a second pass and the same form appeared again.
On the third pass it struck, and my heart exploded with excitement. My reel jammed having let it fall
carelessly earlier in the sand, so the only thing I could do was to grab hold of the line and pull it in. With
adrenalin pumping, I was slipping and falling in the sand barely able to control myself but determined
not to let the line slacken for I knew that in doing so I would surely lose my prize. I did manage to pull
the fish out of the water and the fishing line ended up like a woven bird’s nest. “But I won my prize”
which was a salmon of between 12 and 15 pounds.
With my emotions running high I could barely lift its struggling form as I screamed to get my father’s
attention. When I did, I believed I shocked him more than anything else. I may also have damaged his
pride as Tom and he had fished this river for so many years and never caught any salmon.
In Irish folk belief there is a mythical connection between the salmon and the life force, or soul. Stories
of wisdom and magic of this fish are legion, woven into the fabric of our lives. I like to wish that perhaps
a little of that rubbed off on me.