Caught by the River

To Fish The Burns

5th September 2007

My grandfather was a good fisherman. A good poacher. I suppose my grandfather taught me. To fish the burns. Brown trout. 10 or 12 inches say, wee things. Golden and brown in colour, red spots. First of all, the burns. They are slippery places. The water is fast moving. You better watch out. You kind of move along the water’s edge. Quickly. You carefully drop the line in, feed it out and wait. Three minutes tops. You’ve got a fish? Good. If not, move on. Once I got a salmon! I was fifteen. That was at Langwell Water. I was pleased, as you can imagine.
The places I fished. Ousdale Burn, on the north east edge of Sutherland, Kilpheddir Burn, in the Strath of Kildonan, the Craggie, up Glen Loth. All rough stuff. My bait? Worms. Not any more, since my stroke. I’ll cast from a rowing boat, on the lochs. That’s easy. Not like the burns.

Edwyn Collins

The River Helmsdale at Suisgill in autumn

Edwyn’s grandfather taught me to fish too on my first visit to Helmsdale in 1985. Not on the Helmsdale of course, that’s for the super toffs. Prince Charles comes up most years. Although his grandfather was an expert salmon fisher himself, he preferred the burns that come tumbling down the craggy hillsides and down in to the river. Rough stuff indeed. I spend more time on my arse in the burns than anything else. Edwyn’s description is perfect. It’s not proper fishing. It’s a bit mental really. It’s just rocks and really steep sides and getting your hook snagged in the gorse and the alders and getting eaten alive by the midges. The trout taste great though. I’m better at getting them than Edwyn because I have more patience and also obey the grandfather rules to the letter.

One day when he was little Edwyn and his sister were walking up the Strath with their grandpa and an old tweedy toff was fishing the river with his ghillie. He’s got a salmon on the line and grandpa’s going “Oh dear he’s an old man. He’s struggling, look. He’s too old, you see. He’s handing it over…..” and on and on. They run into him later on and he says to grandpa, “I did so enjoy your running commentary. Would you care for a fish?” And proceeds to show off his enormous haul in the back of the car!

Grace M