Wish ‘Tight Lines’ a well-earned and peaceful retirement

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LAST week saw something of an end to an era with the sudden passing of Ian MacKenzie, mine host for so many years at the St Leonards Hotel, a keen angler in his own right and a staunch and true friend to the local angling association.

I last spoke with Ian at a Probus Club meeting two weeks ago when the subject inevitably turned to the River Dee and its salmon.

For Ian (and Jack Larnach) were kind enough to invite me for a day’s fishing at the Waterside and Ferrar beat near Aboyne away back in 1987 and towards the end of the day (at 4.55pm on Tuesday, June 9, in fact......there are some events which one never forgets!), I was fortunate enough to hook, play and land a monstrous fish of 35 pounds.

This lifetime-best achievement later emptied every hip flask for miles around as the jungle drums (for there were no pesky mobile phones in those days), brought scores of anglers to the fishing hut to view my catch and share in my good fortune in traditional liquid fashion.

All this took place, I hasten to add, in those days before “100% catch and release” was ever thought of, or indeed required as a stock management tool).

Many angling folk will have fond memories, too, of the often legendary and immaculately run annual SDAA dinner-dances at Ian’s establishment! We anglers offer our sincere condolences to Signa and family on this sad loss.

This is, however, not the only curtain call, as your correspondent had decided some time ago that the conclusion of the 2013 fishing season on the River Cowie on October 31 would be an appropriate time to call time on over 25 years of penning this column.

And so, this is my last.

Looking back fondly over the three quarters of a million or so words which have filled these daft weekly ramblings on angling, natural history, planning matters and anything else which might even vaguely fit under the “by the waterside” umbrella, I can think of various highlights.

The magnificent 11.5 pound Cowie sea trout caught in the 1980s by the late Bob Cheyne and an 18 pound salmon taken by the late Jimmy Donald stand out. Man, those guys could fish that wee river!

Cultivating an interest by the younger generation in our rivers and their associated wildlife, was also a priority in this column and I particularly recall reporting on a hugely worthwhile visit to the River Carron with Miss Doney’s class of P3/4 terrors from Mill of Forest school back in 2000, and the many annual casting, fly tying and river walking events which the local angling club have organised each year for its own vital junior membership.

Then there were the stories. Stuart Smith’s monstrous brown trout which literally towed three anglers around Loch Leven in their boat until coming to the net. The seal pup which would not leave the Dam Dykes pools despite being put back to sea three times by we anglers.

The Black Beast of Ury which I encountered one dark night by the Manse Pool.

The more recent “frog and adder” tale which had Jane Gourlay falling off her chair in laughter.

The starving juvenile Osprey which crash-landed in front of Stuart Wright at Crossley Quarry last year and which I captured in my landing net (readers may recall that despite our best efforts, it sadly died later at the SSPCA’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Clackmannanshire).

You just couldn’t make it up. But these were all true tales - honest!

Among local wildlife seen and described over the years were otters (many times, on all SDAA waters), roe deer, foxes, badgers, a ferret, water voles, hedgehogs, peregrine falcons, eagles, buzzards, red kites, kingfishers, a muckle pike, miniscule minnows plus frogs, toads and newts. Then there were the angling club’s attempts – some successful and some not - to control those interloping INNS (“Invasive Non-Native Species”) Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam and American Mink.

Battles along the way? Aye, there’s been one or two, but nothing worthy of even a passing mention to spoil this final offering, other than to say that fishies who cannae speak for themselves, deserve a champion who can.

But arguably the highlight of my entire writing career came a few years ago when I was innocently strolling across the road at the crossing outside Robertson the bakers, and a tiny old lady who I never saw before or since, grabbed my arm as she passed from the other kerb and exclaimed, “You are Tight Lines.......I just love your column”.

That will do for me, as I finally lay down my pen with a big thank-you to all readers for bearing with my lows and highs over the years.

As those wonderful Maori who inhabit the second-best small island in the world would say, “Haere Rā.”

Editor’s note: We’ll miss him, but wish ‘Tight Lines’ a well-earned and peaceful retirement.