“The way to a man’s heart is through his fly.” I read that on a bathroom wall in Stanley, Idaho.
You can’t get closer to heaven than fly-fishing in Scotland between drams. It was my first time fly-fishing there on the River Dee, one of the finest places to fly-fish on that side of the planet.
I stayed at a gourmet B&B just outside of Aberdeen that offered a gourmet dinner in addition to breakfast. They arranged a ghille, a guide, and presented me with a deep red velvet-sheathed fly rod with a leather and lamb’s wool fly patch with my own set of flies. The next morning, my ghillie, Robbie, stepped right out of central casting: in tweed knickers, fishing boots, tweet vest and coat with a matching Sherlock Holmes hat. The warm greeting and big smile did not look rehearsed.
Robbie had access to two one-rod beats, about a 50 meter swath of land on the river bank designated for a single fisherman (and his ghille) to fish. The first was on the River Dee, opposite the Balmoral Castle, the holiday home of the Royal British Family. Prince Charles and his friends had exclusive rights to the other side of the bank. It had rained the day before and the river was running high, fast and murky. Not ideal fishing conditions, but I was about to have a dram good time.
All morning. Nothing. But my casting was getting better. The salmon rods are longer and heavier than my Helios trout rod. We kept switching flies regularly—nothing is ever certain in fly-fishing, but the high-water conditions made it less so. One nice thing about having a ghillie along is you do the casting and he does the tying, and he knows when to hold them, when to fold them, when to change them, and when to walk away.
Lunch time. Dram time. Or as he put it, a wee dram. The first time I heard it put that way. It was a non-descript roadside place, but a fairly well-stocked Scotch whisky bar. I don’t recall what we had because my attention was focused on the afternoon castings.
The new beat, also on the River Dee, was more removed, a walk up the river bank to a spot on the river called the John Brown Pool, named for Queen Victoria’s Faithful Servant who we know was more than a servant, or put another way, a servant with special duties. But what does that have to do with my favorite whisky experience?!
The afternoon turned out to be the morning three hours later. Nothing. I was beginning to lose hope and the Robbie knew there would be no tip unless I landed one. We switched caps to see if that would change my luck. No one was there to see how ridiculous we looked: a tweeted Scotsman in a baseball cap, and an Orvish-American in a Sherlock Holmes hat. Finally, later in the afternoon, Robbie paused and reached in his back pocket and pulled out his personal wallet-size fishing pouch. He carefully selected a foxford shrimp fly and said, “Why not you be trying one of these.”
I swear Robbie was a salmon-whisper. One cast. One salmon. One catch. Two happy guys.
My brother David, who came to Scotland to golf at St. Andrews, had caught up with us and just at the right time for two reasons. One to document the experience and the other was to prevent me from releasing it.
We took it back to the B&B. Our hostess thinly filleted the salmon and set it in its final resting pool, an aquavit pool. Several hours later, all the inn’s guests has one of the best appetizers of their life, and I celebrated with my first 10 year-old Ardbeg.
I’ve polished off a bottle of whisky in one sitting with two friends, but, this time, drinking by myself, I put a big dent in this bottle that is now my personal benchmark. It was the best whisky experience I ever had. I remember the day well: May 10, 1995.