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A Wee Heavy Orkney Odyssey
Clive Gammon
December 02, 1968
A lingering fog, a frustrating fishing festival and a little redheaded woman were enough to drive strong men to drink—especially the occupants of Rooms 5 and 6
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December 02, 1968

A Wee Heavy Orkney Odyssey

A lingering fog, a frustrating fishing festival and a little redheaded woman were enough to drive strong men to drink—especially the occupants of Rooms 5 and 6

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"Halibut are not very plentiful where we are going," he told me severely. For Hamish, that was a screaming, derisive negative. But I rigged my halibut gear. If I was going to be run down in the fog by a Russian trawler, it wouldn't be with minnow tackle in my hands.

Mike was fiddling with his gear also. "Halibut?" I called over to him. He looked up furtively. He was tying on a set of small feathered pollack lures. He must have sneaked through the fog over-to Sinclair's tackle shop when I was pulling my boots on. "Right," I said, "I'll remember this. So much for the sailfish king."

Hamish knew his way along the coast, I'll grant him that. We left the low harbor skerries behind and punched into the wind under black cliffs that reared far out of vision. Strange pillars of sandstone reared out of the sea. "The Old Man of Hoy," I said, pointing one out to Mike and astonishing Hamish with the extent of my local knowledge. "I saw it on television when they were climbing it," I added, not wishing to astonish him too much.

An hour after we left Stromness Hamish slapped the motor into neutral and declared that it was here we would fish. When he saw me hooking on a small codas bait he said. "You will catch nothing on that. And you will be beaten by a wee lassie!"

He was entirely correct, as it turned out. I fixed the bait so that it would drift a fathom or so off the bottom. Big halibut swim along very close to the rocks and swing up to take a bait. At least that is the opinion of myself and other experts, none of whom have ever actually caught a halibut. Down there, I soon learned, were jagged pinnacles of rock. I lost three sets of terminal tackle before I settled back to watch Mike, the scourge of the pollack.

He was getting them all right, three at a time, and Hamish would deftly unhook them and throw them into his fish box. By lunchtime he was using my box as well, and by midafternoon he had clearly passed the 120-pound mark.

Thereafter it was going to be sheer strength of arm. Could Leith-Smith operate at twice the rate of the redhead, who was undoubtedly out there in the fog someplace trying to increase her lead? It was going to be a tense time at the weighing.

At 5:30 p.m. Hamish announced it was time to go in, and by then I could see that the sailfish king was slowing up, his face very red from the wind and his exertions and the sweat running down from under the baseball cap.

"You might just make it," I said. The two boxes, holding maybe 100 pounds of fish each, were full, and there were plenty of fish in the spare sack also.

"Do you think so?" said Mike eagerly.

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