Early memories

Funny how some memories come back to you without any invitation. What makes the human mind decide to delve back into the past for no obvious reason? I can think of no ‘trigger’ for suddenly and unexpectedly thinking about Ord Dam the other day. I was not reminiscing about my angling past, nor my Scottish upbringing at the time. Just out of the blue I mentally leaped back to my formative years and a small pool of water by a back road just beyond the outskirts of Aberdeen. I can place the time of these recollections quite accurately as they coincided with one of life’s seminal decisions – I wanted (and received) a fly rod for my birthday. Ord Dam was to be one of the first places I used this weapon which was going to serve me so well as I took my first faltering steps learning the gentle art of fly fishing.

I don’t know what Ord Dam was built for, the ‘river’ feeding it was little more than an agricultural drain and in summer the flow over the concrete spillway was a tiny trickle, easily negotiated by young teenagers in wellies. I guess it was intended to impound water so that the fields would be well watered. There was a good path around the whole loch except for a bay on the Northern end near the road which was heavily overgrown with brambles. And, most importantly, it was stuffed full of wild brownies. That inconspicuous puddle held an inordinate stock of fish, way beyond what would have been imagined or dreamt of. On summer evenings as the light faded and the creatures of the night came snuffling out of their dens and holes, the surface of Ord Dam became pock marked with the rises of countless fish. It was that mental image, seared into my memory banks, of the darkening skies and the frantic rise which flashed back to me across the years.

The rod was a glass fibre made by the Clan company in the Trossacks. Nine and a half feet long (all the better in case I hooked a sea trout George in Brown’s tackle shop earnestly informed me), you could nearly tie a knot in it, it was so soft. It was my present on the occasion of the celebration of my arrival on this rocky planet 13 years earlier. I loved that rod. Isn’t it funny how we become so attached to crappy tackle just because it was our first? Perhaps the same could apply to motor bikes, cars or even girlfriends but let’s not go there right now. Over the years that rod suffered an immense degree of physical abuse and by the time I gave it away to a young lad many years later it was a couple of inches shorter thanks to an unpleasant argument with a car boot and sported two very obvious extra joins where the normal two-piece set up was increased to four pieces when I fell off a bicycle while cycling home from the river Don one day. These days we would say it had ‘character’.

Back to Ord Dam…………… I probably blanked more often that I landed fish there until I discovered the nefarious joys of float fishing maggots for trout. Perhaps I should feel deep shame admitting to this foul deed. Maybe there is help for reformed maggot drowners who hold meetings in drafty halls to support each other as they struggle to come to terms with the enormity of what they did. The thing is, trout are suckers for maggots and young lads who go fishing simply want to catch as many fish as they can, regardless of methodology employed. So floats and maggots became part of my armoury for fishing Ord Dam until the nine foot six fly rod entered my life. The timeless joy of watching the brightly coloured top of the float was replaced virtually overnight by the physical challenge of learning to cast a fly. Simple decisions such as one maggot or two were rendered obsolete when I was now confronted by the bewildering choice of artificial creations. In short, Ord Dam became a fly fishing classroom for me and while my fellow maggot drowners (yes you, Mickey Gibson, Alan Robertson, Bobby and Callum) stuck grimly to the float fishing slaughter I would wander the banks casting, getting caught on weeds, bushes, trees and very occasionally small trout. While my first fly-caught trout was taken on the Kintore beat of the Don most of the next few dozen were landed in Ord Dam. These fish were small, one or two of them might have made 12 ounces but most weighed half a pound or less and I longed to catch something bigger but in those days access to good water was beyond my reach so the tiddlers in the dam suffered my inept attentions instead.

I wish I could go back to those day of innocence and wonder when every trip to the dam was exciting and joyous. I can fish any number of first class lakes and rivers these days but that sense of unbridled fun I experienced as a thirteen year old learning to cast on the dam has long gone. Exactly when and how it slipped out of my life I can’t pinpoint, maybe it was gradually eroded like a pebble in a stream.

Many years later I returned to Aberdeen to visit family and as I was driving out the back road to Banchory I took a notion to look at the dam again. Something like 25 years had elapsed since I had fished there so I wasn’t expecting too much and unfortunately I was right to prepare myself for disappointment. The water level was considerably lower than before and the whole loch was a mass of weed with no clear water to be seen. I didn’t linger and drove off feeling chastised for even stopping there in the first place. Childhood fishing spots are, like old motorbikes and girlfriends, best left in corners of our memory rather than seen again in the harsh light of reality.

Footnote: All may not be so bad at Ord Dam after all. A quick google search has revealed that the dam is now under the control of Aberdeen City Council Countryside ranger service. The photo accompanying this post is the property of the service and it shows the water back to a good level and free of the weed.

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