My home town of Dumbarton sits on the River Leven, the second fastest flowing river in Scotland, don’t ya know. The Leven is the main outlet from Loch Lomond and flows from the Loch down the valley, through my home town where it joins the mighty River Clyde.
The Clyde dominates the history and culture of Glasgow and the West of Scotland, the shipyards, the Cutty Sark (built in Dumbarton), a working class powerhouse. It’s only now, as a grown man, that I realise the history the river has played in my own life, but it all really starts at the tributary where the Leven meets the Clyde.
At that tributary is Levingrove Park, most often the sight of a hurtling golden retriever, crashing her way from car to water as fast as she could. The park isn’t far from the town centre so throughout my childhood and teenage years I was never that far from it. It has changed over the years but the layout remains the same, border by the Leven and the Clyde.
The Leven flows through Dumbarton, the high street car park sat on the banks and still suffers the occasional winter flood because of it. Lunches eaten by the riverside sound idyllic, but this was a 70s concrete place on the downturn, more often than not the next bench along were the town drunks, getting some fresh air before heading back into the bookies. The upside was the wide churning river, always alive, always moving as it flowed past with a quiet power.
When I was about 14, a friend took me fishing for the first time. That year the summer was dominated by hazy mornings and golden evenings on the Leven, exploring the quieter stretches, finding the hidden sand banks and deep pools, the gentle burble of the river around my waders as I clumsily flicked out a fly. Occasionally I even managed to catch a fish but those successes were few and far between and, looking back, I realise they weren’t really why I enjoyed it so much.
I have a tendency, when I get into something new, to throw myself in to the deep end, learn as much as I can and generally get my geek on – my recent aquarium adventures are an excellent example – so the entire spectrum of processes and gadgets and new things that spinning and fly fishing brought my way were fascinating.
The lurid lures, whizzing reels and the repetitive nature of spinning appealed, a simple and bait free way to fish. Just attach the lure (the spinner), cast it out and reel it back in past where you think a fish might be lurking.
Fly fishing was similar but more technical. The casting requires timing the back and forth of the line, feeling the subtle pull as it pulls out behind you on the back cast, the flick of a wrist sending it unfurling out on to the water, and if successful, to gently place the fly over the spot where you last saw a fish rise.
I even learned how to tie my own flies, practised the various knots and casting techniques, learned to spot good (fishy) water from bad (no fishy) water, and slowly honed down my enthusiastic purchases and collate of ‘stuff’ to a fairly streamlined setup that could mostly be contained in my fishing waistcoat.
A small bag housed a flask of hot chocolate (I was still naive to the wonders of caffeine), some soon to be squashed tuna paste and ketchup sandwiches, a bag of crisps and some form of chocolate bar.
That was all I needed; on weekends my friend and I would meet at the arranged time, hop on a train and travel up river, disembark and slowly fish our way back down until the sun was setting. On the occasional after school evening we’d grab our spinning rods and cycle down to the easier to access parts of the river in Dumbarton and spend the last few hours of sunlight trying to avoid snagging our lures on the logs and detrius accumulated on the river floor.
For me fishing was a quiet, contemplative hobby. Whilst I went fishing with my friend, the nature of fly fishing is solitary and at times, even though we were in a suburban area, the tranquility of the river was a wonderful solace.
The calming effect of water has remained with me through my adult years. Moving down south to a flat on the edge of a man-made lake, holidays to Spain and the rolling Meditteranean sea holding my attention for hours on end. It was the same beach I stood on as I mourned the death of my then mother-in-law, taken too soon.
Home again, the far reaches of the Clyde never far away, and on to a life rebuilt in Glasgow, cycling the (Forth & Clyde) canal path, and taking new partners to revisit the places of my childhood, the park and the Leven, Loch Lomond, the mighty Clyde.