I don’t remember when I first read about Miss Ballantyne’s record 64lb salmon that she caught on the Tay in 1922, but I do remember thinking, ‘Good for her. Everyone needs a bit of luck!’
Over the years, I’ve read most of the theories about why lady anglers catch bigger and better fish than us chaps. Frankly, I dismissed these scribblings as a series of poor excuses invented by men who wanted to prove that they were at an unfair disadvantage, when outfished by the fairer sex . . . Akin to some new kind of bait mix or mystical fly, how could they possibly compete if they were lacking this mysterious ingredient? If I’d had the sense to pay a little more attention to detail, I would have realised that this research was, in fact, based on an irrevocable truth.
Nearly twenty years ago I met Gelly, the lady who is now my wife. I was attracted to her for all the obvious reasons but I soon discovered a bonus benefit . . . she was about to produce John Wilson’s first fishing series being filmed around the world!
Naturally I asked permission to tag along, but was told firmly but with a smile, “No darling . . . I’m working!” Undeterred, I took her to a private carp lake in the hope that my skills as an angler might impress, and that I would be recognised as the ideal companion to accompany her on this worldwide trip. I explained the intricacies of the fixed-spool reel, showed her how to rig the bait and even allowed her to cast her own rod. It wasn’t the greatest cast but it didn’t go into the bushes on the opposite bank or fall on the ground behind her!
I was answering the call of nature about an hour later, when I heard the bite-alarm and Gelly’s call, “It’s all right darling. I’ve got it!” When I returned she was in the water wearing my waders and giving considerable sidestrain to a carp that weighed in at 17lb. The first of four that day!
I didn’t accompany her on her shoot, but since that outing we have fished together whenever we can and organise our own ‘round the world’ fishing adventures. Our holidays are the best of times and until recently I have chosen to ignore the fact that my wife usually catches the biggest fish. There was the 80lb tarpon and the 60lb cobia in Florida. The 8lb bonefish in the Caribbean. The enormous ray, and the shark that took nearly an hour to bring to the boat. I would always offer my congratulations but still secretly believed that these catches were more to do with luck and the skill of the guide. Undoubtedly these were contributing factors, but it was not until a couple of years ago when Gelly decided to take up the fly rod that I started to have my suspicions that all that research into what we’ll call the ‘Ladies’ Advantage’ might have some merit.
We had been invited to spend a day on the river Itchen and, towards the end of the morning, I was proudly having my photograph taken with a brown trout of just under four pounds that I had caught on a nymph. I was convinced that it would be the fish of the day. Not a chance! Gelly appeared with a fish of 4lb 2oz! I’ve now had that fish set up in a bow-fronted glass case. It gazes down on our dining-table as a constant reminder that ‘mine was bigger than yours . . . darling!’
More recently we were the guests of Chris and Christine Patrick in Sarasota, Florida. An hour south of the city is Charlotte Harbour where we fished for snook in the mangroves. Chris and I did quite well with fish of around six pounds. Gelly’s best was 10lb! We then travelled on to Nashville, Tennessee, to stay with our good friend Peter Collins. We fished the J. Percy Priest Lake at dawn for hybrid striped bass. Peter and I had good fish to seven pounds but when my good lady decided she’d ‘have a go’, she landed, at 14lb, what our guide Jay Clementi described as a ‘hog’!
Believe it or not, there are over twenty species that will take a fly in the rivers and lakes around Nashville, but our most interesting outing was for the buffalo carp. Our guide was Jim Mauries who runs Fly South, an excellent fly shop in town and highly recommended. He’d invited us to try for these strange fish on our last morning but asked if he could bring his son along. I imagined a lad of about twelve years old. Thomas turned out to be three and rode in a harness on Jim’s back for the duration of the fishing. ‘Buffalos’ are tricky to catch. The fly must be presented about two feet in front of the fish as it ‘grubs’ along the bottom. When they take, it’s an explosive experience and you’d better have enough backing on your reel. Jim and I caught some memorable fish and in case you are wondering why Gelly didn’t catch the biggest one, the answer is simple. That was the morning she decided to have a lie in!
My book A Wellie Full of Water is available from www.MedlarPress.com