Glorious Gentlemen

The Grand Cascapedia River: A History, Volume Two
5th June 2017
Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree
5th June 2017

Glorious Gentlemen

  • TaskBook Review

by Bruce Sandison, published by Black and White Publishing. Price:£16.99

THESE are the days of sequels and prequels, where an initial success invariably generates a film, show or book on much the same lines. Bruce Sandison had a mild success with The Sporting Gentleman’s Gentlemen, published in 1987, and he’s repeating the formula here.

It’s a simple idea: talk to Scottish ghillies about their lives, memories and clients. This might not sound that exciting, especially as Sandison asks basically the same questions. But he’s a decent writer with an ear for a good yarn, and that’s what makes the book so readable. After all, the best stories always seem to come from the ghillies, who see things that anglers rarely notice.
Sandison knows many of them, which helps a generally dour breed to open up, though his profiles occasionally edge a bit close to hagiography. Then again, these “glorious gentlemen” are happy to tell tales against themselves, like the one who met a doctor on the Thurso after 20 years and was asked: “Does that little bastard who lost my wife’s big salmon still work here?”
The author has a tendency to use his subjects to hammer home his own prejudices on issues like female fishers, catch and release or salmon farming, There’s a fair bit of Bruce in this book, but maybe we can forgive him that. His knowledge and the respect he commands probably persuaded most to chat openly in the first place.
There are many many great yarns, from sight of a 100lb Tay salmon, a heron landing on one ghillie’s head and another disturbing an elephant seal (in the Falklands, not Scotland!). Many ghillies reveal other talents: fly tyers, musicians, even inventors. Spey guide Bill Drury, for example, has created several lines for better casting and played a key, if less publicised, role in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. (The fishing scenes were filmed on the Spean, a tributary of the Lochy.)
It’s a substantial read (nearly 250 pages) and an entertaining one, though some extra care on proof-reading wouldn’t have gone amiss. (What’s a guy net? And how about: “Father slammed on the breaks.”?)
It will often leave you thinking. As the Tay’s Michael Smith remarks: “They say money is the root of all evil but I think salmon fishing runs it a close second. It seems to bring out the best and worst in some people.” And who better to see this than the ghillies?