I found my old hip flask yesterday. Nestling in the bottom of a bag of outdoor clothes, it required only a rudimentary clean to restore it to useable condition. I cannot for the life of me remember buying this flask and I suspect it was given to me as a present at some point. It had fallen out of favour when I moved to Ireland but before then it was a permanent fixture in my fishing kit. Many a fine salmon was toasted with the contents of this glass bottle over the years. Finding it again got me thinking about the relationship between angling and liquor.
As a child, my elders rarely drank. Devoted to us three kids there was no thought of going on the lash for my dad. My father was a seaman and rarely home but when he was on shore there were house parties and visits to my parent’s friends and relatives where drink was taken by the adults (not by my mother, she has been tea total all her life). Drinking was always associated with a good time in my young mind. Maybe I was just very lucky but I never once saw any hint of verbal or physical violence resulting from alcohol as I grew up. On the contrary, plenty of singing and laughing and general merriment seemed to be the order of the day when the beer or whisky was passed around. Later, in my teens when I started imbibing, I witnessed the other side of what drink can do. I myself have been very fortunate in that while I enjoy a wee dram I can take drink or leave it. A glass of wine with a meal, a cold lager on a hot summer’s day or a whisky on the riverbank are treats to be savoured in my book. Drinking until inebriated is not my idea of a good time.
My old hip flask has contained different beverages over the years. Usually it was filled with malt whisky, exactly which one depending on my particular whim at the time. Powerful Islay’s or sweet tasting highland malts, it could be either. Sometimes, not often but now and again, it would be dark rum. I hated the stuff for many years but found a liking for it in my 30’s. It is another drink that I think is best enjoyed in the open air. In the autumn I would switch to sloe gin sometimes. It somehow felt ‘right’ having a shot of sloe gin amid yellowing leaves on a cool autumn day on the river bank. I can’t forget the wonderful concoction called ‘Nelson’s Blood’ which I made after seeing a recipe somewhere back in the 80’s. Based on fermented plums, I made a couple of batches. The first batch was opened after a year and it was very good indeed! The second batch was forgotten about and was only discovered in a demijohn under the stairs of my old house in Fife when hunting for something or other three years later. Holy Moly, what a drink! Strong yet sweet, it had a depth and roundness which was awe inspiring. I swore I would make some more – but never did. Maybe next year……………………
Irish lough fishers don’t bring much in the way of drink with them. Food yes, but not much in the way of drink. I know many anglers here who come for a days fishing armed with a small stove and frying pan which they use to create full blown dinners in the middle of the day. Big fat steaks, diced potatoes, mushrooms etc are all cooked up and greedily consumed. A bottle of wine sometimes makes an appearance too but more often than not a simple mug of tea is the preferred drink to wash the meal down with. I think this is a shame. a glug of a robust red drank on a marl shore of the western loughs matches the finest wines in a posh restaurant in my book.
It must appear to you dear readers that I consume vast quantities of strong liquor but in fact the opposite is true. A single nip, maybe after landing a good fish or shared with a companion after a bite to eat was the norm. A small flourish, an addendum to the day. There was never any thought of going on the sauce. Not so with others.
I recall fishing one of the best beats on the Dee, this must have been in the late 1970’s. I had been asked to fish for the week, the intention being that I would catch as many salmon as possible to keep the beat numbers up. Back then I was very dedicated and very successful. A week on the Dee in May, what could possibly go wrong? Well everything went wrong that week. I rose fish, I hooked fish, I played fish to the net – every single one of them came off! The ghillie even hooked a salmon, handed the rod to me and that one fell off too! Then came the worst part. The estate stalker was sent down to the hut on my last day. This poor fellow had an unhealthy liking for the bottle and he spent the whole morning in the hut doing his best to make a bottle of whisky disappear. We broke for lunch and the ghillie shooed the stalker, who was by now very unsteady on his feet, out of the hut, thrust a 15 footer in his hand and helped him to the edge of the river. I was watching out of the window and can confirm the stalkers casts all fell in a glorious heap not 3 yards from the tip of the rod. That was where the fresh ten pounder grabbed his fly. Unable to do anything with the fish the ghillie dashed out to assist the stalker and played the salmon out in fine style. I fished on that afternoon but my heart was not in it anymore. It was nearly enough to turn me to drink!
I have shared a boat here in Ireland with someone who had the same love of the bottle. As we tackled upon the shores of Lough Carra I was impressed with the huge tackle bag this guy had brought along. We set off in a nice wind and started a drift from the twins back up to Moorehall. Soon my partner reached into the bowels of the cavernous bag and pulled out a tin of beer. I declined his offer of one and kept on casting. Soon the tin of beer was gone. He reached back into the back and pulled out another one. This continued for the whole morning and he was well into double figures by the time we stopped for lunch. By then he could barely cast at all so I figured the break might do him some good. Alas, the bottle of wine which he produced from that damn bag put paid to any thoughts he would sober up. I told him we would finish early as the fishing was poor and he seemed delighted with that idea. I have never fished with him again!
I could regale you with tales of monumental drinking sessions of past years when laws were not so rigidly enforced here in Ireland. The days when boat fishing trips from Achill were cancelled due to bad weather so the lads would go on a pub crawl home, stopping off at each watering hole on the way. Those days are, thankfully, behind us.
On reflection, I think I might refill my hipflask and start bringing with me again. There is some whisky in the house to be used up. The notion of a snifter to warm me on a cold day or to toast a heafty trout after he has been released appeals to me. A wee dram is after all one of life’s pleasures. Slan!