Berry J, 2011 Beneath the Black Water The History Press ISBN 978 0 7524 5837 3
When I was very young and on holiday in Scotland, my cousin told me about giant trout that lived in small numbers at the bottom of the Highlands’ deepest lochs. They were called salmo ferox, and they were rumoured to be uncatchable.
Quote from frontispiece of Beneath the Black Water by Jon Berry
In his twenties, wholly accidentally, Jon Berry caught one. This led to an obsession that would cost him every pound he had to his name, a few thousand that he did not, a couple of girlfriends and his home. It would take him to Scotland, Cumbria and the wildest corners of Ireland, in the company of a disparate band of fanatics – alcoholics, mountain men, scientists, tree-planting eco-warriors and one genuine soothsayer. Not all of them survived.
So states the book’s flyleaf, and it’s an accurate summary of this compelling account of Jon Berry’s mission to catch salmo ferox
To some naturalists a ferox or great lake trout is simply a large brown trout that feeds primarily on fish. To others it is a species of trout in its own right, the Salmo ferox. But all agree on the main characteristics of the ferox: a big wild trout that is found in natural lakes in Europe; with a big head and grotesquely long, broad powerful jaws that bear some resemblance to the pike’s; a fairly plain silvery or dull brown coloration, possibly with a greenish or olive hue; a fish-eater. To these physical features we must add one other ferox characteristic: great longevity.
Quote taken from here.
Jon Berry’s drive and determination is infectious, and the ups and downs of his life in the midst of obsession is thought-provoking. The madness of obsession is captured, and its cost examined. His journey is difficult. Berry goes into details of his personal life that many of us would hesitate to share. It’s a very private account of friendships and the love of both fishing and the places he fishes.
Yet, this is not just a story of a fish – albeit a cannibalistic giant trout of the glacial lochs; it is a tale of compulsion and escape, of the author’s rediscovery of a landscape and a clan, and of a willing descent into madness.
Beneath the Black Water is the wonderful account of a mad, disrupting, unforgiving but ultimately joyous addiction – an addiction not just to the ferox, but to the truly wild waterscapes they inhabit. No fellow angler could be unimpressed; no ordinary human will quite believe it.Chris Yates
This quest for a sense of belonging comes with dreams of great fishes. Mr Berry has written a beautiful, haunted poem of friendship and obsession. Jeff Barrett Caught by the River
A thought-provoking, engaging and honest read – for obsessive’s everywhere.
The days were long, but that was no hardship. Ricky and I talked of fish, of family and of the landscape around us, and there were other days when we fell silent and just enjoyed being there. Every change in the weather was reflected in the colours of the mountains and the rhythm of the water beneath us, and we could not become bored. We experimented and explored, and eventually we caught.
By the time we did, we realized that the joy was not in the capture but the simple pursuit. There was an unquantifiable sense of peace to be found in the repetition of the method and in the wilderness around us; a serenity in the process itself, but that was hardly the stuff of 1950s’ fishing manuals. Neither Ricky nor I could claim to know how to catch the ferox trout, but we did know how to enjoy it. pg 106-107
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