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Splendid isolation

Social isolation from coronavirus is the perfect fit for fishermen


Fly fishing in splendid self-isolation.
Fly fishing in splendid self-isolation.

Yesterday’s news that coronavirus had reached Tayside was a sobering thought. It was whilst contemplating what we would do in the event of having to isolate the office that a mate of mine suggested, “Well, I suppose, in that event, you’ll just go fishing for three months…” It actually hadn’t crossed my mind, but when you think about it, what better option than to spend your days by a river, wandering the banks of a reservoir, adrift in a boat, or in the wilds of Scotland, with a fishing rod, enjoying your isolation whilst avoiding ‘the Plague’?

Initially, I had thought that ‘social isolation’ would inevitably mean locking yourself in the house, working from home, not visiting any shops, and living off whatever supplies that might be is the cupboard. Now, I wouldn’t go hungry here, as my partner has possibly the world’s largest store of rice, pulses, beans, polenta, dried fruit, nuts, piccalilli, jam and porridge in her larder to last a good few months of solitary lockdown. Although, as son, Callum, has already observed, after the first few weeks then the remaining meals comprising the remaining sacks of lentils and split peas would “be a bit gnarly”.

However, my idea of any good fishing day is getting away from civilisation … and people, which is exactly what the government’s recommended self-isolation policy for coronavirus focuses on. If you have returned from an infected area then you are expected to stay at home, and not go to work, or college, public areas, and not to use public transport or taxis until you have been told that is safe to do so. So what do you do? Luckily, the fly fisher could sit at home for two weeks and tie flies, but we’ve all been doing that all winter. However, where I go fishing I can guarantee I’ll never meet anyone from the moment I leave until I return. In fact, most of my trips to river or loch are made with a view to avoiding human contact, rather than meeting anyone. If I see a car, I drive on; if I see a figure on the loch shore, I walk to another loch. I’m pretty good at self-isolation, and I imagine that a lot of other fishermen are. Disease-wise, it’s a healthy option; you are outside, and if you ever encroach within that dangerous personal space of ten feet distance of another fisherman, you are going to get short shrift, whether you are virally infected or not. If you fish like me, then there’s absolutely no chance you are going to infect anyone, and there’s absolutely no chance anyone is going to infect you. Anyone who is alone, in the middle of a wilderness, is unlikely to pick up coronavirus, or infect anyone else.

When I worked near Inverness, I’d sometimes get three days off and I’d pack up the car with rucksack, rod and tent, drive west across to Lochinver and hike, fish and camp my way across miles of wild terrain and fish dozens of lochs. I’d take just bread and butter with me, and eat one of the trout I caught each evening. I’d swim in the loch in the morning, then pack up and move on. Sometimes, I’d head for the coast and fish for sea trout in the sea ( I could get nostalgic here, and talk about the pristine, silver, leaping wild fish I caught in the sea – up to six pounds – but please don’t get me started on salmon farms and the associated plagues of sea lice that accompany them).

Anyway, during these excursions I never saw another person… apart from just one memorable occasion. It was a bright day, and as I towelled myself dry after my swim, a Mayfly drifted over the loch and fluttered over my head. Then another, then another… by the time the fifth Mayfly had sailed over, I was back at the lochside, armed with my fly rod, which lay at the side of my tent. The dry fly action was continuous as the huge Mayflies floated over the water on the light breeze. I was having a ball (dry Greenwell’s for those of a more technical persuasion) until I looked up and saw a figure heading straight towards “my” loch. Astonished, I watched him head straight towards me. Horrified, I realised that he was carrying a spinning rod.

I think the uniqueness of this chance meeting on the moor meant that he could do nothing other than continue to walk towards me and say hello. I made sure my fly rod was prominent as we passed the time of day, and then he remarked, “Do you know, I’ve been coming up here for 20 years and I’ve never met another person.”

“I can beat that”, I replied “I’ve been coming here for 25 years, and I’ve never met anyone, either.”

With that he waved cheerio and – to my relief – walked away from the loch and set off across the moor, knowing full well that he’d reach another loch to fish all to himself within five or ten minutes. Because he carried a spinning rod, he kept his distance, just as if he carried a disease, so I imagine a chance meeting during a coronavirus outbreak would follow the same routine.

So, suddenly, self social-isolation doesn’t seem such a bad option. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to it. If only this infernal disease can hold off until the trout fishing season actually starts…

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