Caught by the River

Dexter Petley

20th October 2009

Dexter Petley has been a part of Caught by the River from day one.
As dp, in Arcadia, the correspondence between him and John Andrews (ja) has intrigued, baffled and entertained us and our readers on a weekly basis, earning Dexter (and the ‘Letters From Arcadia’ series) a true cult following. It has also played a big part in helping to create the identity of the site (“hairy men holding big fish,” The Guardian).
Landing writing of such individual quality from the off, helped set the template for what we were hoping to create, which was to be a new and unique voice, publishing good, passionate writing about the things that we care about, and hopefully discovering stuff – new writers, new things to care about – as we went along. That, I am happy to say, is being achieved.

As has been documented many times before, it was really important to Andrew (Walsh, partner in crime) and myself, that fishing was a big part of CBTR, as it was the ‘going fishing’ that fired us up to start this in the first place. So therefore to have input from two of angling’s most original voices gave us the confidence we needed to go forward.

Next week see’s the publication of ‘Powerlines – New Writing From the Water’s Edge’ (Two Ravens Press), ‘an anthology of exceptional writing, which just happens to have fishing in it’, edited by Dexter, and described by Chris Yates in his intro as ‘..a collection of unique, superbly crafted fishing stories, which takes the ancient form to a new and fascinating level’. As well as Dexter himself, it includes writing from John Andrews, David Profumo, Andrew Greig and others.

We have a lot to thank Dexter for, so it’s an honour to be able to support the release of this new book and his publisher has kindly given us the ok to run a serialisation of one of the chapters. I have chosen to go with one of Andrew Greig’s. The decision was made partly because it involves fly-fishing – something that we don’t have much of on here – partly because it has introduced me to the Scottish poet Norman MacCaig and wholly because I like it a lot. We’ll run an extract a day for the rest of this week and some biographical info on Andrew tomorrow.

We have also got some copies of the book ahead of publication and you will find them for sale in the shop now.

Jb on the birdtable

First Cast at the Loch of the Green Corrie. By Andrew Greig.

We drop our packs on a little promontory at the north end of the Loch of the Green Corrie and stand there, absorbing our surroundings.
My first reaction: it’s not pretty. Nor particularly green. When MacCaig said it was his favourite place in all Assynt and asked me to fish here on his behalf, I’d imagined some blue jewel cupped in a green setting, a radiant brooch pinned high on the bosom of a great hill, looking out over a monumental gathering of other stellar mountains. But despite the coarse grass that grows among the boulders and bedrock, the overall effect is grey and austere.
We are very enclosed here. On three sides, slopes fall steeply to a rough fringe around the loch. Down the slopes across from us drape shrouds of grey scree, probably quartzite eroded from the summit. Now the sun has gone in, that scree lends the clear water its colour. There are no flowers, no blooming heather, no trees, bushes or bird life. At 1,800 feet, the breeze is strikingly cool. If this is the Green Corrie I’d hate to see the Grey one.
Shrugging on his fleece, Andy hunkers down at the water’s edge, dabbles his fingers in, licks.
‘Perfect alkalinity,’ he pronounces. ‘There are definitely fish in here.’
We get cracking.
It’s a bit like when you meet someone’s new love, I think while tying on a new Black Pennel fly. You look and listen, and wonder what the fuss is about. He or she seems a perfectly ordinary person. This seems another Highland loch, a bit more remote and bleak than most. It must have hidden charms. Or maybe it just has loads of easy-to-catch fish.
I go through my small fly box and pick out a Blue Zulu as the bob-fly, the one nearest to me. I select a nameless dowdy bit of fluff as the mid-fly, aware that Peter and Andy already have their lines out. We all want to be the first person to catch Norman’s fish.
‘If you catch a fish, I shall be delighted. If you fail, then, looking down from a place in which I do not believe, I shall be most amused.
I hurriedly attach the cast to the line. In this cool breeze there is no sign of any bug life above or on the water. Maybe that’s what MacAskill meant by it being no use if the wind’s from the East, the chilly direction. And these flies look like nothing that ever flew or swam. I have to trust that trout, like ourselves, rise to metaphor. Or are instinctively curious.
I stand on a mossy rock beside the promontory and trail the flies in the water to get them wet and heavy. I can see all the stones on the bottom, never clearer. Andy is already working the shore to my right, Peter on the other side. Their lines roll out straight and silent, drop lightly onto the bright choppy surface.
My fishing apprenticeship with Mal Duff had been entirely from boats, where casting is less critical. But maybe I’ll get lucky. At the very least I’ll learn and get better. Hoping Peter and Andy aren’t watching, hoping that the invisible dead aren’t watching, though in my mind they always are, I murmur For you and set the line flying.
(to be continued tomorrow).

“from Powerlines. adapted from a passage in Andrew Greig’s forthcoming book ‘At the Loch of the Green Corrie’ to be published by Quercus in Feb 2010”