Lunch with a living legend

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Albert Sullivan was a great Eden Salmon fisherman. He landed a 35lb fish off association waters and his real claim to fame was that he lost 17 (or was it 19?) spring Salmon one after another. I would love to have been there. In those days a Salmon on the bank was worth a good part of a week’s wages. Losing 17 – that would be close to three months wages. The air would have been blue every time. He was there when I lost the first Salmon I ever hooked and a few weeks later he netted the first Salmon I ever caught in 1971. The last time I saw him at the water was around 2010. I was fishing above the weir on the River Eden on the Stanwix side and I saw him sitting on the bench below the North British bridge. It was around lunchtime so I walked across and had my coffee and a sandwich with him. We talked for a good hour and the crack was great – we talked about a lot of things that we had never talked about before. He called me son – which in my experience means the person saying it either likes you or thinks you’re a bit thick – maybe a bit of both in this case. After a while he decided to make tracks and when he headed off up the steps I got in the river right up under the first arch. First or second cast I lifted into a good Salmon so I shouted for Albert to come back. I didn’t need him to land the fish but I thought he might enjoy a bit of frisk. He wasn’t fast in those days and he hadn’t got far up the steps so he heard me and came back. As I played the fish he took the net off my back and when the time was right he proceeded to net it for me. That was a pretty hairy experience because it was really uneven ground by the water’s edge and he wasn’t very steady on his feet. I was glad to finish up with both Albert and the fish on dry land – result! Angler and netsman shook hands in the time honoured fashion and then he headed off home.
It was a fish of about 14lb and it was probably the last fish that Albert ever netted. If it was, that means he would have netted the first Salmon I ever caught and that fish was the last one he ever netted. I quite like that idea. I never saw him again at the river. Soon after, Frank Parker told me Albert was in hospital and I managed to go and see him in Carlisle Infirmary. When I asked him how he was in true Albert fashion he said “I’m f****d”. It tickled me to think of a junior doctor coming up to Albert’s bed, taking his pulse, checking his chart and declaring “We are going to send you home tomorrow Mr. Sullivan but you are f****d” and Albert bellowing round the ward as he usually did, something like “that’s bloody marvelous”. Either way he was right because he was a poorly man, or badly as they say in Carlisle. He went home for a while and I asked him to record a conversation with me but he said no. That was a shame because it would have been a real blast. He died soon after that.
I look back on that last conversation at the river as a real privilege because you don’t get many opportunities to have lunch with a living legend.

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