The tug is the drug, says this fundraiser for the Atlantic Salmon Trust, who works to safeguard this exhilarating sport for future generations
As a fundraiser for the Atlantic Salmon Trust, Tiggy Pettifer aims to inspire the next generation. When a keen, young angler returns to the river, she knows she has achieved her goal.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, vet Aoife Bakonyi Byrne is renowned in hunting circles as a side-saddle sibling. And for Julia Mitchell, sporting adventures across the globe have taught her the value of good company.
The sun is shining, the Usk valley is that vibrant lime green you only get in spring, bluebells and milkmaids surround the house, the orchard is in full blossom and the much-needed rain has finally come, so the smell is sensational. I was brought up on the Usk and am incredibly lucky to have had sporting parents. My first trout at four, perched on Mum’s knee in the middle of the river; my first day’s hunting at eight; first bunny at 12; first grouse at 14 – a Welsh one; first stag at 15; and my first salmon at 16 on the Spey. Mum and Dad encouraged us to have a go at everything.
I hunted with the Beaufort for 28 seasons but stopped when I had our boys and then my back was chopped open. Fishing was always there but now, in my fifth decade, it is the love of my life. I hope somewhere here you will find the inspiration to pick up a rod and find not only sanity, peacefulness and calm but also huge excitement. The Tug!
In 1994, my best mate, Pedro, asked me to come and fish the Spey. The water was low and it was boiling hot but the river was heaving with fish. I had 11 salmon in three days, of which two were 21lb. We had had 53 fish by the Wednesday night when I had to go back to work. While wading the river one could poke the salmon with the end of your rod to move them out of the way. Pedro and I decided to break away from the floating line and Ali shrimp to experiment. We tried everything we could to see if it would work. Dry flies, hitching, trout rods under bushes; just the best fun in the world. As I left the Spey with a heavy heart I thanked the river gods for such a wonderful time. I wish I had known then what I know now.
Two years ago, I got the dream ticket, the invite to Mecca: the Alta in Norway, the place to catch the fish of a lifetime. It was quite an adventure, staying in a tent on the riverbank on ‘The Association’ water. It was 30 degrees the night I arrived. Could this be possible within the Arctic Circle? Thermal vests and waders were rejected for a T-shirt and we started fishing at midnight, surrounded by majestic mountains and forests, huge shingle banks with a powerful current even though the river was ‘empty’. Norway was experiencing a drought and all were despondent – not a fish caught for two days.
But not this old bag. I had dreamed about this place. Having waited my turn (we were in rotation with the other 16 rods camping) I grabbed my chance about 5.30am as everyone else was having a kip. My big Dee Monkey swung beautifully under the bridge and wallop, I was hit by something big. Never in all my years fishing have I felt anything so powerful. Off went my reel at Mach 10. Half an hour later, with me fighting tooth and nail, my first Alta salmon was in the net. It was the most stunning salmon I’ve ever seen, almost translucent blue with a silvery tinge and black spots around its head, At about 24lb it was ‘a minnow’ to the Norwegians but the largest fish I’ve ever caught. I thanked him and waved him off, total elation running through my veins. Over the following 48 hours I landed two sensational sea-trout and then a 23lb hen took my whole reel off, with me running down the bank like a lunatic. I netted her in front of a group of camping Norwegians, who raised their coffee cups and cheered. I then sat on the riverbank with them and had a long chat on salmon conservation and why I had released her.
Iceland holds such incredibly happy memories, too. My beloved and I celebrated our 50th birthdays five years ago with a family team on the Laxa in Kjos, from our youngest aged 12 to Grandpa, 85. Everyone caught a fish. The magical moments were getting one person her first three fish on night one and watching the boys help Grandpa to a place where he could cast a fly, having not fished for 20 years, then cheering like mad as he played one. There is something very special that fishing does for all.
When clients come and stay, I know that screaming reels are the end goal, otherwise it’s just ‘dull’. But to get a seven-year-old watching the kingfisher fly past, the dippers bobbing about in the riffles, to hear the plop of a trout taking a fly off the water and to feel the water rushing through your waders is pretty special. If they return to the river I have achieved my goal. To feel that tug is really the best drug in the world.
TOP TIPS: As fundraiser for the Atlantic Salmon Trust my job is to inspire. There is much we can do to protect and preserve our salmon and ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the sport we have been so lucky to be a part of. We need new members and your support, so please call the Atlantic Salmon Trust on 01738 827200 or go to website (atlanticsalmontrust.org) to see the work we are doing.
Email Tiggy at: firstname.lastname@example.org