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Fishing for your Mind’s Sake

Post Lockdown Breaks for Better Mental Health

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Salmon Fishing on the River Tweed in Autumn

2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, in so many ways. Dealing with a pandemic and the seismic shift in our day to day routines were hard enough, let alone being told by an inept government what we should and shouldn’t do. On top of everything, our being restricted to travel overseas, whilst in my view, essential to control spread of the virus, was something that didn’t sit well with many people.

In the UK we work very hard, and our rewards are simple enough, no I don’t mean red wine, chocolate, or binging on Netflix. I’m talking about our overseas holidays, for some relaxation and sunshine. 

A holiday abroad – Pre Covid of course!

Sometimes the pace of life is hectic, and noisy. I mean noisy in the sense we are surrounded by a constant drip feed of communication, coming at us via email, tablets, phones, TV radio and adverts churning out a non-stop conscious babble. The pressure of work too can be overbearing, deadlines, long hours, stress and managing work relationships, can all take its toll. By the time our holiday arrives, We’re knackered. It’s as if we need a few weeks of meditation to help us wind down and prepare us. In the lead up to our escape, frantic tying up of loose ends and working long hours to complete deadlines takes its toll, leaving us totally frazzled, emotionally and physically.

And then escape! The vision of Tim Robbins in the Shawshank Redemption as he emerges from the sewage pipe and holds his hands up to the skies – freedom, TIME OFF! (albeit in the pissing rain)

A familiar Lockdown evenings entertainment

We as humans are super stoked about escaping for overseas holidays and rightly so, we deserve it, life is too short! and it’s great to get a break. A break from not just, day to day life, but the vagaries of the British weather.

Summer was on a Tuesday this year

And then Lockdown. Travel restrictions, and cancelled overseas trips.

Then in July, travel restrictions were eased, and this led to a very busy period through to October for our Orvis Endorsed fishing guiding company Alba Game Fishing in Scotland. What we lost with inbound American/ overseas visitors, we made up for in UK guests looking for a workable alternative to a holiday abroa. There was a huge appetite for people to escape to enjoy freedom, fresh air and a sense of well being on the river. 

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The River Tummel

Nearly all the guests that came fishing post lockdown, confirmed they were indeed substituting a sporting break in Scotland for their holiday abroad. In fact not just fishing, the whole of Scotland was overrun with people escaping the cities. If you were lucky enough to head to the far North and drive anywhere near the NC500 it was rammed! Guest houses and hotels were full as were camp sites and camper van parks. People were sleeping in cars in lay bys and everyone wanted to be outside, enjoying the fresh air and there were very few places left where you could actually escape people.

Overcrowding in Durness – Staycationers

This is where the river and lochs of Scotland were winners. It seemed to me the only place you could enjoy the countryside and escape the crowds. River beats are privately owned so usually free from public access. Yes there is a right to roam in Scotland, but you wouldn’t see a camper van with 6 folk frying sausages and throwing a frisbee in a River Tay beat car park. The Ghillie would send them packing with some solid advice! 

River Tay, Salmon Fishing, Fly Fishing, Spey Casting, Scone Palace, Best Beats, Tactics, Atlantic Salmon, Spin Casting,
Space, freedom, and sanity!

Our days with guests allowed them to really enjoy getting away from it all, with space, freedom, safe social distancing and relaxation. Open space, room to breathe and a place to really disconnect, to reconnect with the real you.

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Simon came to Scotland when the trip to Bahamas was cancelled

A new way to deliver trips – safely

We quickly had to find a new way to deliver trips safely. For the safety and comfort of guests and our guides. All of our guides completed a Coronavirus Infection prevention course with the World Health Organisation and with that in place we then applied common sense procedures that didn’t require much fuss. For example

  • We met guests at the venues to avoid car pooling
  • No handshakes, high 5’s or hugging. 
  • We temporarily stopped serving lunches and guests brought there own
  • We carried bottles of hand sanitiser made by our local Gin company, any time we handle a rod, hands are thoroughly sanitised first 
  • Safe distancing (easy when you are fishing)
  • At the end of a day, all the rod handles and points of contact are cleaned down with alcohol

All of the above measures are carried our without any fuss. There are more layers to it and you can read them here, but for the main part its easy to stay safe and not cause a fuss. Our fishing days carried on pretty much as normal.

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Chris changed plans and caught his first ever Scottish salmon

How did we maximise our time during lockdown?

What an opportunity lockdown was for us. No seriously! An opportunity to gear ourselves up for future success. Time is our most precious commodity and here was a chance to waste not a moment. We managed a fishing tackle audit of the entire stock and purchased 20 new crewsaver life vests. Our fly tyers were kept busy tying some highly effective patterns. This proved to be time and money well spent. John Richardsons Red Francnsnaelda signature tune fly had almost 20 salmon this year. It was a fly to fall back on, when the going got tough. As well as a huge investment in superb salmon patterns, we filled several fly boxes from some of Scotland’s best trout and grayling fly tyers, like Davie Mcphail, Cuillin Rae and Billy Scott.

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Barbless Grayling bugs, nymphs and jigs, Tools of the trade in Scotland.

On the tackle front, we added some new Sage LL trout rods, our favourite being the 9ft 4weight. The new Orvis Mission and Clearwater salmon rods were a superb addition, and guests were able to try before buying these superb rods. The 14ft 9 weight Mission was a particular favourite and perfect salmon fishing on the River Tweed and the River Tay.

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Home made fishing rod section holders

Perhaps the sexiest addition to stock is the purchase of the new Orvis Clearwater 10ft 2 weight nymphng rods. These are the real deal and I am in the process of writing a full review on this rod.

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Orvis Clearwater 10ft 2 weight

This has taken nymphing for trout and grayling to a new level. A superb rod, and well done Orvis.

After a review of our stock of waders, we added 5 pairs of waders and boots to stocks, and now carry 35 pairs of Orvis Clearwater, Encounter and Sonic waders and 36 pairs of Orvis boots. We have various sizes all the way up to few pairs of size 15 boots, that were launched with a bottle of champagne cracked on them, as they slid down a runway to the river, in front of crowds of cheering people. 

Post lockdown fishing for everyone – beginners to experts

When an enquiry comes in to us, often the enquiry is misaligned to what the best fishing is for that time of year. For example we get requests to take groups sea fishing in December when the  sea is souped up and fishing is extremely slow as most of the bait fish have departed and the herring and mackerel are long gone, taking the bigger predators with them.

We also get enquiries from people simply looking to “go fishing” and with an open mind. No matter what category any enquires fall into, we really do try and recommend experiences that will deliver the best according to the time of season, river levels, and ability of the clients. 

Many of the “just go fishing” guests were encouraged to fish for salmon this year. Covid has been cruel in many ways, but a blessing for salmon stocks. With restaurants closed for the main part and commercial fishing curtailed, there were certainly record numbers of salmon returning to the rivers and we capitalised on this and had a bumper year.

For the trout anglers, post lockdown fishing in the lochs was fantastic and it was hard to fail. Catching free rising trout in the rivers and lochs and using nymphing techniques.

For the sea fishing anglers, we delivered some exciting shore fishing and boat trips, fly fishing in the saltwater for Pollack and sea bass. 

sea fishing, near Edinburgh, chartered boat, Orvis guide, pollock on the fly
A Berwickshire pollock

Then of course when the river are too high and the sea too windy, we have fantastic pike fishing on offer, on a private loch (lake) south of Edinburgh. 

Mental Health, the solution is ….

Look lets not beat around the bush, Covid and lockdown affected most peoples mental health. I know being stuck in the house with my lovely family led to some rising tensions and arguments over….well nothing really! 

On a personal note, I decided to stop drinking and exercise more during lockdown and this helped me greatly. But I couldn’t help feeling trapped. The thought of not getting away to new spaces, the outdoors and fishing were taking its toll. There was a palpable air of tension everywhere. 

Land Rover, discovery, River Spey, salmon fishing, fishing guide, Pitchroy
Escape to the tranquility of the River Spey

This all changed, as soon we were all allowed out on the river again in July. I never quite realised how much I missed doing what I do, and how privileged I was. To spend time in beautiful places with guests has to be one of the best jobs in the world. The most rewarding aspect of all of it was helping people relax and get into a good mental space. You could see how grateful our guests were, to be in the outdoors and enjoying the river. No tension, no babble, just the sounds of nature, the calming effect of the water and occasional moments of excitement when a fish was hooked or landed.

Perhaps it’s that fishing taps into the primal “hunter gatherer” instinct that lies deep in our brain make up. Instincts forged by our ancestors and sometimes dormant in many people, due to the pace of normal life. When we fish, we awaken those instincts and I believe this is brain nourishment, exercise and a great stimulant, that results in well-being. It’s easy to become focussed in the moment when fishing, and that by default shuts down the stream of conscious noise. I’ve always understood that fishing for me, is a form of therapy, meditation and promoter of positive thinking. Only when we let go of the noise, and shift our focus into the moment, the nuances of tempting a fish, do we truly disconnect and relax.

As we wind down what has been a weird and wonderful 2020, I know that 2021 will be another challenge. With recent news of a vaccine, it looks positive and hopeful that our American and overseas guests return. We will help everyone to reconnect with nature, space, relaxation, and a sense of well being. The fishing is an added bonus.

Our motto going in to 2021 is to Disconnect to Reconnect! Good health and be safe!