Some days, in the warmth of the Land Rover on the way back from the water, I drop off, only to be jolted awake by the wheels bucking out of a hole in the moorland, and there are many. And for a moment I wake and forget where I am, and fancy it is on top of the Wicklow Hills in Ireland, or on the Isle of Skye, or on Kenya’s Aberdare Mountains.
There are similarities with my actual location – endless moorland, acres of emptiness and fishing and a sense of insignificance in so much natural abundance. But there the parallels end. These are the Falkland Islands, an area about the size of Wales, a population of just under 3,000 people 8,000 miles from London, 6,300 miles from Nairobi and 2,655 miles from the South Pole.
One week ago I touched down after an 18-hour flight from London and drove on a gravel road with occasional tarmac past sea inlets and rivers and wind turbines and emptiness, acres of white grass with confetti sprinklings of sheep. The hotel had a provincial London familiarity about it, and my room looked out on Port Stanley harbor and the craggy hills beyond. I woke to the sound of rain lashing on the windows, and wind whistling about. This is the background music to the Falklands, and March is its summer going into autumn. I bought a furry Russian-style hat in London but never imagined I would wear it, let along fish in it. I pulled it on and met my driver for the day, a non-fishing guide who had been given a map of the Murrell River not far from town. On it the likely spots had been marked with yellow marker. After ten minutes of tarmac he drove onto the moorland. And we bumped all the way to a wide stretch of river with a sign saying Drunken Rock, No Fishing Above this point. He left me there, with a chore to perform. There was no one and nothing in sight, apart from sheep. The wind howled. The Russian hat kept it at bay. Gloves my children gave me at Christmas kept my hands in contact with my brain. Thermal underwear, two layers thereof, maintained body heat under my Sonic waders.I put up my Orvis 9’ Access rod, which served me well in the Puget Sound, and a weight forward floating line. On the end of it all I attached a black Woolly Bugger, having read somewhere that they worked on Falklands waters. And I waded gingerly down the shallows, casting across and down at deeper-looking peat-stained water. No fish were moving. It reminded me of CourtMacsherry estuary in front of my Irish home, a stretch of water through which salmon and sea trout pass, almost secretly, to travel up the Arigdeen River and spawn. The Murrell had that same air of keeping its secrets folded safe in the peaty waves that blew before a chilly wind.
I had read somewhere that kelp was a problem so close to the sea and fancied that the first knock I registered was just that – seaweed. Then there was a second knock and, perhaps, a swirl behind it, although that too might have been the trailing end of a kelp clump rising to the surface.
The third knock was not kelp. It was an uncompromising gimmee grab, and before I knew it a big sea trout was airborne and fighting to get free. I hung on to it when it motored downstream and up, I hung on to it when it ripped line from the reel and the yellow plastic turned into the white of backing. I hung on to it when I finally subdued it and slid it onto the shore for a photograph, heart pounding, all thoughts of chill and wind and rain forgotten in the glow of a magical encounter. Around five pounds of sea trout, probably the biggest of that species I have ever caught. And it was my first fish of a two-week trip. One flick of its hefty tail and it was free, captive only in my imagination and my camera. Not a sea-bright fish but one that had been in the water a week or so waiting on the rains to ascend and spawn. But a fish of diadem colours through which its brown trout livery shone.
Five more came that session, none as big, all as brilliant, all a surprise. I also hooked a Falklands mullet, which are actually rock cod, and fight like tigers. It weighed about a kilo and took ages to be subdued. Another, much heavier mullet took the fly and deigned to get close enough for me to see that it was a double figure specimen before it flicked its tail, snapped by 12lb tippet and was off.
Day one. I noticed that the sun had come out and that I was sweating under the furry earflaps of my hat. The rain had stopped. Only the wind remained driving waves across the incoming tide in defiance of physics. I sat on a clump plant the locals call Diddledee and watched pairs of Upland Geese work the water’s edge where I had walked and gulls and crows wheel overhead for anything to scavenge after the geese had been through. A couple of windswept Grebe came to check my out. We all watched each other, conscious of our turn and our place and our share of it.