The old priest wrote the letter to Aunt Peg by hand. “You are of Clan Ian Roudh (Red John),” the letter starts. The direct family line in America went through Ian Liath (Grey John), who emigrated from the Highlands to Canada in 1786. He was a Gaelic poet.
The script is still strong on the faded photocopies, made of the original sent by Father Ewan to Aunt Peg in 1955. “He came from Knoydart,” the letter continues, “on the west coast of Scotland.” It’s part of an area known as the Rough Bounds.
I remember viewing the rugged, empty hills from my own trip to Scotland, on the way to the Isle of Skye. The land looked muscular, with protruding rock and muted vegetation and dark, cold waters. The rolling clouds and chill wind added to the sense of untamed foreboding. And emptiness.
“There are few if any of our people in the Highlands,” wrote Father Ewan. “You know why.” He was speaking of the Highland Clearances, when the British Lords drove the people out of the hills and replaced them with sheep.
True, our clan migrated down from Ontario into the States, overtly retaining their Catholocism and, maybe subconciously, the imprint of Knoydart.
“Our people did better in this country,” wrote Father Ewan. And that sentence stuck. We are here now, in cities and towns and interconnected. Are we meant to seek areas away from comfort? Sometimes it’s necessary to put the laptop down and find out.
At this moment, there are exactly 113,347 fly fishing blogs in existence. Twice that many have come and gone. (Where are you, Blanco Honky?) But of all the blogs that are, were and will be, none can make the same claim as the the Urban Flyfisher: World’s First Fly Fishing Blog.
His name is Alistair, he fishes in Scotland, and this is his story.
You are recognized as the first fly fishing blogger. With no real contemporaries at the time, what compelled you to start a fly fishing blog?
Essentially I wanted to start a diary that I could update easily involving photos. I did not know any html so found this new fangled thing called “blogging” and it looked like it would suit my needs. At the time there was no other dedicated fly fishing personal blog. There were a few blogs I identified with and we would link to each other and pass visitors on – one was called “A View from the Bridge” about a chap whose job took him to the waves on large industrial ships – his photos were amazing.
And a blog about urban fishing, hip before its time. What gives?
To be honest it is just circumstance – my local river is a true urban recovering river full of Trout and Salmon that runs through the heart of Glasgow. At the time I did not drive so it is was the easiest river to walk to – additionally I was a student at the time (not one of those students that the whole experience was wasted on as I was a mature student who could embrace stupidly long summers involving fishing and cheap wine.) The blog actually started out as “Urban Fly Fishing on the Kelvin” and then after a while morphed into “The Urban Fly Fisher” as I realised pretty much all the rivers I fish are within a stones throw of the city. However my soul still resides underneath bridges with buses thundering over them.
Even though urban fishing may be seen as “hip” there are still not a lot of guys actually doing it – it appears to be the same old die hards rather than new folk. A lot of people go fishing to get away from the city not actually go into it. Saying that, now I have a couple of young children my fishing is now solely once more on the Kelvin as it takes me a few minutes to get there.
How long did it take before you had any readers?
Within a few weeks I had around a dozen unique visitors per day and it stayed that way for a few months. Over time it grew and grew.
Were you surprised from the response from across the pond in the States?
The majority of my readers are from outside the Scotland and the UK. I get a lot of emails from folk who have emigrated to the States and Australia who are homesick and want to check up on Glasgow – they are amazed that there are now fish in the river. I am still amazed that people enjoy what I write about the Kelvin – I assume they enjoy the Glasgow chat.
Nine years is a long time to be churning out content on a regular basis. What compels you to keep going?
It is a diary so I am never without content – during our close season sometimes content can be a bit difficult to think up so the whole blog slows down until the season starts and then it is back to being about trips. Of course now that I am Vice Chair of the River Kelvin Angling Association I do not get to moan at them anymore I now get people shouting at me at meetings – I then get to write about them instead.
Has blogging about fly fishing helped your actual fly fishing?
Without question yes.
I can honestly say that every fishing buddy I have now is because I started the blog. The majority of knowledge that I have gained through chat and observation of my fishing pals has made me a better fisher – not a particularly good fisher if the truth be told however certainly above half assed (just).
I reckon most of the guys I have fished with would not have fished with me if it were not for the blog – not saying I am a big celebrity or anything more of recognizing a kindred spirit type of thing. It opens the doors to new opportunities that’s for sure.
Any insane celebrity stalking stories arising from your blog?
I have good stories and bad. I am constantly surprised that people recognise me and when it happens I am still taken aback. Just last week I was at the swimming baths with my son and this huge gent with tattoos all over his body kept glaring at me. I thought it was because my son was splashing him and edged away, he edged closer and stared into my eyes and asked if I was Alistair – after confirming that this was the case he nodded and began to move away – “I read yer site” he said before swimming off without another word.
Another time I received an email from a guy who told me he was standing behind me in Ikea the night before – we now fish together regularly.
I have had guys over the years who send me loads of emails however sometimes I just find it difficult to email back regulary and I think this annoys them.
I do actually have some bad stories as well, up until quite recently there was a guy who was internet stalking me as I banned him from my wee local forum. It all got a bit serious to be honest.
Do you think the rest of the fly fishing blog community should present you with a certificate or something? A watch? (I’ve got an old Timex.)
I think there should be a minimum payment of ten flies sent to me by any new fly fishing blogger – also an open invitation to stay in their home and fish with them.