Book review: Casting Back – Sixty Years of Fishing and Writing by Peter McMullan, Rocky Mountain Books, 2016. $25
PETER McMullan’s book is a treasure trove not just for anglers and those who appreciate a well-written story but for naturalists and environmentalists tracing the decline of our waterways over the past six decades for it provides a unique eye witness account of what we have neglected and lost.
The book offers valuable insight for policymakers in the age of tourism for it places sports fishing in its proper economic context and reveals how progressive legislation in north American has helped save stocks of wild fish. In Canada’s British Columbia it provides employment and wealth in rural areas and offers decent sport for anglers while existing alongside mining, farming and forestry.
In Northern Ireland angling has been undervalued by successive administrations at Stormont despite the goodwill of the EU, many cross-border dimensions and the attention to development shown by governments in the Republic. South of the border there is a national development plan for angling and prime fisheries such as the Galway salmon run and Lough Sheelin trout are managed and protected by the state.
The 80 year old Ulsterman began his career as a journalist at the Belfast Telegraph and recalls the quality of the angling available here in the 1950s and 1960s before he settled in the Canadian province of British Columbia and made another island his home.
“Too much has been lost, has already been ruined beyond recall, but here on the island there is still hope and much that is worth saving for future generations. Few places in the world can match Vancouver Island’s visual appeal and the superb opportunities it offers for those of us who truly love the outdoors.”
His story begins in the days when Ireland’s native trout were plentiful and 30lb salmon and pike were commonplace. He has visited all the great game fisheries in the north of Ireland and recalls his experiences with remarkable detail and great affection. Not just the fish and the scenery but the people and the craic that make angling so enjoyable, whether you want to bring home something for the table or simply tick another item off the bucket list.
His earliest piece is about his schooldays in England where he fished for tench and pike. He first wrote about angling for the Belfast Telegraph in 1955 and in 1956 joined the herring fishermen of Portavogie. In 1959 he reported the proposal for an Angling Trust – modelled upon a similar initiative in the Republic. He then takes us off around the world to locations most anglers only dream of, from New Zealand to the Bahamas, and recalls encounters with magical fish and a few bulls and bears.
The library of good angling books would fill many rooms but McMullan’s splendid memoir deserves its place among the classics of TC Kingsmill-Moore, AA Luce, Thomas McGuane, Negley Farsons and Norman McClean. We can only hope that it does not prove to be a last lament for many of Ulster’s ancient fisheries such as the silver spring salmon of Lough Melvin and the golden autumn dollaghan of Lough Neagh.