Caught by the River

Caught by the Blantyre Weir

2nd November 2013


by Ken McCluskey.

One fine crisp October morning in 1983 I was making my way from my hometown of Bothwell in darkest Lanarkshire , across the David Livingstone Suspension Bridge which spans the River Clyde to Blantyre where I would regularly catch a train into Glasgow to rehearse with my band The Bluebells. Being a keen fisherman since childhood and having a fascination for all things watery, as usual I had my eyes looking downwards at the fast flowing Clyde under the bridge and across to the weir where I swam with members of the Young Bo-T in the summer. To my astonishment and delight I watched as a Salmon hurled itself at the weir only to be knocked back by the torrent which ran over the lip of the weir, the river being in spate. There had been no salmon in the River Clyde for over 100 years due to the pollutants emanating from the heavy steel industries that up until the late 70’s had been the main source of employment locally and upstream in the larger towns of Motherwell, Hamilton and Wishaw.

I focussed my eyes on the weir as one after another of the great fish threw themselves and attempted to slither up the steep slope of the obstacle and head to their hereditary spawning grounds in the higher reaches and tributariesof the great river.

Rehearsal can wait for another day I thought and justifying in my head that “the other guys can work on their pop chops” I headed back home to equip myself with my angling kit. Favouring an old spinning rod and reel and looking out a couple of medium sized bronze and silver “Toby” spinners with orange tips and a “MEP” (AKA the poachers friend), I excitedly headed to the home side of the bank and started spinning while still mesmerised by the salmon taking on the weir.

The Clyde here is fairly wide, possibly 100 yards across and as I endeavoured to catch a fish I became aware of a bush moving unnaturally on the opposite,Blantyre side of the bank. The bush settled and a huge zoom lens became apparent slowly protruding from the now steadied bush. I immediately sensed a presence in my close vicinity. I turned my head slightly. It was indeed two of Lanarkshire’s finest policemen, one either side observing my technique.

After furnishing the “Polis” with my name and address the conversation continued.“And what are you fishing for mate?” asked one of the Plod
“Perch” I replied knowingly.
“Do you know there is salmon in the river and from now on you will need a permit.”
“Really?” I gasped “that’s amazing! Where do you get the permit?”
“The authorities and the landowner ?“ guessed the second cop.
“Don’t want to see you down here again without permission“ added the first cop.
“Oh well, thanks for the information” I continued nervously.

I broke down my rod and headed homewards once again, too late for rehearsal but the feeling of euphoria and realising what I had just observed was a real buzz.

To think that the river was now clean enough to hold the king of fish: the salmon.
I had witnessed their majestic leap of love.
I had not been cautioned by the police.
To give them their due the cops were very amenable and as they bade me farewell I got the feeling that those guys were just as excited as me. Of course no one believed me and an irate Bobby Bluebell scolded me on the phone for being unprofessional by not turning up for rehearsal in a “pikey, pikey do as you likey” way.

Next morning I set off as usual to get rolls and a newspaper from the local shops. On entering his shop Mr Darroch the local newsagent and my former employer remarked “I see you made the papers again Ken” as he handed me a copy of the local broadsheet The Glasgow Herald. What is this?…………… It was my photo flanked either side by the cops spread across the front page of the newspaper with a headline, “ First poacher caught on the Clyde for 100 Years”.

In retrospect I reckon that the Polis had been aware of the press photographer in the bush opposite and they probably couldn’t believe I had walked into the story. Never believe all that you read in the press.

The salmon are still running I’m pleased to say and I often go for a walk by the river and watch them leaping in the pool below the weir before they head up the new purpose built salmon ladder to the spawning grounds.