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Newtonmore's fly-fishing enthusiast Terence Clifford-Amos receives glowing reviews for his book written in tribute to his hero and the river Truim

By Margaret Chrystall

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Forty years in research, Highland Stream: A Love Affair Continues – Terence Clifford-Amos’s book on fishing a tributary of the Spey called the Truim – has just netted a glowing review in popular fishing magazine Trout & Salmon.

Under the headline A Good Read, the review refers to the “scholarly good-natured journey” the book takes its readers on.

Terence Clifford-Amos with his book Highland Stream: A Love Affair Continued. Picture: Frances Porter
Terence Clifford-Amos with his book Highland Stream: A Love Affair Continued. Picture: Frances Porter

And it pays tribute to the “extraordinary footnotes” which Terence includes, where he enriches his literary approach to his writing, the review quoting some of his broad sweep of sources, everyone from writer Arthur Ransome to poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and the ancient St Clement.

“Lovers of the Highlands, of wild country and wild trout will find much to enjoy in these pages,” the magazine’s reviewer says.

The book is an “extended conversation” with the late, much-respected fishing writer John Inglis Hall’s earlier book on fishing the Truim.

Talking about his book to me, Terence starts by going back to Hall.

“He was an intellectual and a Commando and had been to the Highlands training to be a commando. He had published lots of short stories in literary journals and he published a book on cats in 1958.

“He had been on the river [Truim] for about seven years when he was approached to write a book about it. It was a scholarly book and it was written with a kind of literary bent. And, unknown to him, people with a similar kind of interest picked the book up – and people like the journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and Sir Geoffrey Cox, once head of ITN news, and the late, great Shakespearean actor Sir Michael Hordern – all fly fishermen – when they read the book, were bowled over by it.

“And they persuaded Penguin to republish it in 1987, and that made Hall quite famous. In fact, he was more famous for the second edition than he was for the first – and equally so in America.

“My book carries on the story, the literary story. In fact, I’ve made it a bit more scholarly with the literary references and the bibliography which has a lot of references Hall didn’t have.

“I’ve intensified the academic approach to fly fishing and I wanted to do that to keep in tune with him.”

The Upper Wade Bridge.
The Upper Wade Bridge.

Terence’s Highland Stream published by Medlar Press is called “beautifully produced” in the Trout & Salmon review.

Just one sign of Terence’s extraordinary commitment to getting his book right comes when he describes the picture of the river Truim on the front cover.

He laughed: “I had to tie myself to a tree to get that shot!”

He grew up in the Wirral, his nearest water the Fender where he came across sticklebacks and in Worcestershire was introduced to fly fishing in the river Teme. Other rivers he has fished since include the Onny, in the Welsh Borders, the river Tern in Shropshire and – while doing post-graduate work in Edinburgh, the Almond at Cramond. In Aberdeen, he explored the Don and the Ythan and on to the Thurso and "Altnabreac waters" in Caithness, before heading to the Spey and quickly after that, the Truim.

He has fished the Truim now for over 40 years and explains that after reading Hall’s 1960 book How To Fish A Highland Stream (The Truim), and just before the reprint from Penguin in 1987, retitled Fishing A Highland Stream: A Love Affair With A River, Terence became friends with Hall.

“I wrote to Penguin when I heard that they were doing his book and they sent my letter on to him. I went down to Sussex to meet him at his home there and we became friends and exchanged letters.”

Terence describes in Chapter Six of his book how Hall excitedly phoned him on the day the reprint of his book was reviewed in The Independent under the title The Secrets Of Reel Men, Jeremy Paxman writing: "I was so engrossed I read it at one sitting, though I almost wish that I had hoarded it, like a fine malt whisky, for warming nips on cold winter nights."

In his first chapter, Terence writes about the decision to write his own book.

“Hall’s legacy and the fact that I was such a keen disciple, gave me the courage … to re-celebrate the ‘love affair’, [with] a new one of my own.”

Already a keen fly fisherman, Terence had first heard about the Truim in 1978 when on holiday fishing on the Spey.

He was lent a copy of Hall’s book by the owner Jack Richmond, of the Badenoch Hotel, where he was staying.

“When I decided to write a book on the Truim, I decided I had to spend a lot of time on it and to know every pool and every twist – it is 15 miles long – and I wanted to know every boulder, every glide, every rock pool.

“To do that I had to go out with a notebook while I was fishing, take notes and study the river as I was doing it.

“So, in the end, I gave up every other river to concentrate on the Truim. It demanded study as much as it did fishing,” Terence explained.

Moving North to live just two miles from the Truim in 1993, Terence wrote his book, following in Hall’s footsteps, but also adding his own experiences of the upper reaches of the river which Hall hadn’t covered. The book also includes a chapter about Torrisdale Bay where Terence's wife's family lived and the house from which his son, Dall, takes his name.

The Distillery Pool on the Truim.
The Distillery Pool on the Truim.

Reading Terence’s book, anyone without a great knowledge of the art of fly fishing – on this stream the dry fly – will learn plenty and there are lots of insights into the natural world the river runs through too. Terence describes it in great detail, almost like a scientist documenting it.

“Yes, it is explored in that way,” he agrees. “The insects that are imitated on the water with flies, for that you need a little knowledge of entomology – of insects.

“You have a knowledge of the water – for example, is it acidic or alkaline?

“The Truim is very neutral.

“Also in the book, I talk about the way in which the Cairngorm Mountains were formed in history and how glaciers came and water and ice withered them down to stumps – they used to be massive Himalayan mountains in this region. There is a little bit of science that I learnt on that as well.

“There is a lot too on the natural history, the animals – deer, the rabbits and the birds.

There are encounters with wildlife throughout Terence’s book.

“I have something in the book on a divebombing tern and a rook that tried to take my hat off when I got too near its nest! Also hares and all kinds of birds, birds of prey – the osprey, for instance.

“With the fishing technique that you have, you bring the world with you, as you see it.”

Spending so much time, quietly fly fishing alone, moving upstream through the days, Terence has seen some things most of us never will.

“Once I saw a trout competing with a pied wagtail for flies. The pied wagtail would take the fly off the surface and then the trout would also take a fly and then the pied wagtail would take it – and I’ve said in the book, I almost felt like an umpire waiting to shout! It would have been lovely to capture that on video.”

If you don’t fly fish, you might be surprised by the energy you need to use to do it.

And for Terence, while working on his book, that included taking many notes in a notebook, recording his experience of each day in detail, later recording on a dictation recorder. So rather than a relaxing experience, it seems pretty action-packed!

“People see fishermen in England sitting under a green umbrella on a canal bank,” Terence said. “But fly fishing is nothing like that because you move up stream and you go from one pool to another pool. You might walk five or six miles in a day and you are casting too, so it can be absolutely shattering.

“There was one occasion when my wife had to send out a search party for me and they found me sleeping in the heather, I was so tired!”

There is also a lot of knowledge to absorb if you are going to be successful. Asking Terence what he would advise for anyone wanting to start to learn fly-fishing, he reels off a list …

“You have to learn how to cast a fly, you have to learn some rivercraft – understanding where the fish lie and where they move – and read some books. And then you have to practise it all by journeying on a river to find where the pools are and how to wade safely and how to fish with stealth so you won’t be seen by the fish and then, if you can cast a fly just a few yards, using the best equipment, the best lines, the best flies, then it comes down to high quality technology!”

And both Hall and Terence make it clear that the Truim can create quite a testing environment. At the back of his book, Terence includes some excerpts from Hall, where he refers to being soaked through – "on at least five days out of ten you will be wet to the skin" – and describes lying in a dip in the heather to get out of the wind.

Terence says: “He was a fanatical fisherman as I am. When his book was written, waterproof clothing was not so advanced and he used to spend a lot of days soaked wet through – and would just carry on fishing! Yes, it is testing.

“There is a lot of wind and rain, and in the summer too, there is a lot of sun. In the summer it’s quite the reverse, you have to escape the sun and get in the shade, particularly at 1,100 feet as it is at Dalwhinnie.

“And it is also testing because there are a lot of boulders and a lot of uneven bedrock, fast-flowing stretches and it can be dangerous in some places to be alone.

“There’s a few things I’ve said about that in the book and in a few ways it is not a place to be alone, but fishermen tend to do it on their own – one’s company, two’s a crowd.

“You have to be careful at certain places like the Falls, and the dam at Dalwhinnie. These are dangerous places to be when you are alone. But as long as you have common sense and realise that you are alone, and don’t take too many chances…

“And the other thing, and I have learned this over the years – I first stepped on the river as a young man of 28 – is that it is a young man’s river if a young man wants to try all of it.

“But it’s not a river of someone senior in years, save if that person knows it well.”

Terence proudly reveals that his own son Dall is a veteran of the Truim, having started fishing there when he was just eight.

“He comes up – he lives in Cambridge now – but he finds it hard. You cast your line a lot, you walk a lot, and you fall over a lot, and you might catch three or four decent fish in a day. It’s heavy duty, it’s high on input and relatively low on output.

“But it has great beauty – it has searing beauty, so you keep going.”

Attitudes to catching fish have changed massively since Terence first started out on the Truim.

“A few years ago you could take two and in the days before that you could take as many as you like, but today the general policy is catch and release – and the same applies to salmon as well, in the interests of conservation.

“I’ve written in the book about being a hunter, and trout fishers are hunters.

“But I think that, definitely, the right thing to do is return them, provided that the fish is not damaged in any way.

“I like to be a hunter and at one time, I remember years ago coming home with a great basketful of fish, maybe 20 or 30 pounds, but now you don’t bring any back and you feel good for that.”

The Truim's Cuaich Pool.
The Truim's Cuaich Pool.

There were fears that with the reprint of Hall’s book in 1987, that the Truim would become much more popular, with bus parties turning up.

But it hasn’t happened.

“It has remained isolated, even though there is a bit of a hum from the new A9,” Terence says. “But there is still a lot of isolation and not many people fish on it.

“It’s not so easy to get permits for it, the landowners don’t allow too many people on it, which is good.

“It remains as it was during Hall’s day, a beautiful, pure stream with good trout in it and it hasn’t altered since then.

“Over my 40 years, I’ve only ever met four people.

“It has its splendid isolation which is wonderful. It is a great place to escape from this world if you want to go into another world.”

With a lifetime devoted to fishing the Truim, Terence’s book offers valuable insights for a new generation.

There is all the practical advice, such as the warning on page 104 to beware "low-strung, high-voltage" electricity cables, cutting right across the pool, also mentioning there are more to beware at Crubenmore and at the higher reaches of the Truim, onwards its source at Drumochter above you as you cast.

But in Terence’s book, the act of fishing the Truim is almost a metaphor for life and how you respond to its tests – from someone who has walked there, fished it, lost and found his footing in the riverbed, and moved on with hope of finding a fish.

As he writes: “Whether the Truim ultimately rewards you with the pinnacles of perfection or your ‘heart’s desire’, depends on your impulse, commitment, expectations, but inevitably either possibility will be accompanied by arduous toil and mostly insurmountable obstacles.”

There are many good things too, as he goes on to describe.

Hall’s idea that even the most dedicated angler is embedded in his place between the past and the future and that inevitably you become too old to test yourself against the waters forever, was an early impulse for Terence to write his book, he tells us on the cover.

Near the end of the book, it’s with the devotion of a true disciple – and maybe one who knows his own experiences on the Truim won’t last forever but will always be remembered and shared for those who come after – that Terence describes the river as a kind of heaven, with its “wilful, winding, wondrous waters”.

Highland Stream: A Love Affair Continued (Medlar Press, £25 in hardback) by Terence Clifford-Amos.

The Trout & Salmon review by Chris McCully is in the February issue: troutandsalmon.com

A review from John Inglis Hall's son Peter can be read on the Medlar Press website: https://www.medlarpress.com/code/bookshop?store-page=Highland-Stream-A-Love-Affair-Continued-p334453444 From this link you can also buy copies of the book here: https://medlarpress.com/code/bookshop?store-page=Highland-Stream-A-Love-Affair-Continued-p334453444

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