They are born as Brown Trout in streams and rivers where they fit in naturally to their surroundings. But at some stage and for reasons we still do not understand, they decide to follow the river down to the ocean and to set out to sea. Here they are transformed from delicately coloured river-dwellers waiting for the next morsel to float downstream into silver-bright chunks of fighting flesh – they become Sea trout. They live at sea, returning only once or twice to their rivers of birth to spawn before setting out to the ocean again.
They become Expats. I feel an affinity with them. When we meet, on an Irish riverbank at night or American shoreline by day, I am aware of an echo of spirit. There is a connection that runs far deeper than line to fly to fish.
I was first introduced to them in Ireland in the 1990s when I visited County Cork and stood beside a river whose Irish name means little piece of silver. It runs through farmland to a pretty estuary, under old stone bridges and in sight of lichen-painted churches. It is a shallow river, but when the Irish climate yields its summer waterings, the fish know the time is right to move upstream and reproduce, and they make their way several miles up to spawning beds concealed beside fields of pasture and plenty.
Night time is the only time they will take a fly, usually something with a little blue and silver in it like a Teal Blue and Silver, which sparks a memory of their ocean habitat and food. They are too nervy and intent and aware to take a fly by day usually. They lie at the head of pools in the day, their radar identifying man and otter and swan and taking precautionary dives. At night they move to the tails of the pools and splash and sport in the frisky anticipation of sex. Anglers wait until night falls fully, then take up positions on the pools, casting into the darkness for things they cannot see but only sense and occasionally hear. There have been few more beautiful moments in my life than casting beneath a sliver of moon on a warm Irish summer’s night The river murmurs, owls hoot, fish splash, and the countryside smells like a woman at sleep. . All senses are at play.
As night deepens the air chills and the fish “go off” and move or rest. The anglers too pack rods away for another night. You can hear their car boots and doors close, motors turn, and they are gone, their headlights occasionally flashing across the river or the estuary. These are wonderful moments for me to stay, to sit on the bank and glimpse swans and goslings cruising down river like deportment teachers with their students; or to watch the otters parade their train of young in an arc of moonlight on the water; or just to see the interplay of moon, cloud and tree shadow on the ever changing water surface.
Real peace flickers in these moments; in the knowledge that I am part of something I may never understand but will always marvel at and feel an atomic and privileged part of. My daughter – and grandson – and son have also navigated their way in the world to find a place they love in Ireland. For me it all started at the pool in the picture below, one magical summer’s night, and it continues.