A day on the river offers many benefits, just ask keen angler and business women Jennifer Ramsay who credits the peaceful art of fly fishing for restoring balance in her life and her son’s life. Country lover and mother of 5 from Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire found fly fishing to be pivotal in helping her through a difficult time when she separated from her husband. Fishing was also responsible for transforming the life of her son and for creating a new countryside based business.
In 2011, Hugh, Jennifer’s eldest son, had been heavily involved in drugs and alcohol, he was a constant source of worry for her and needed urgent assistance. Jennifer said, “My son needed help and support on a one to one basis. There were not enough people to go around in social care and a child needs to be in crisis before they get the help they need.” Jennifer, who has been a nurse and a child minder, wanted to get her son help right away.
One of her friends suggested she get in contact with Paul Chisholm who came highly recommended as he had many years of experience in working with troubled young people. Jennifer said, “The services out there for urgent support for parents and teenagers are very limited and at the time I needed my son to see someone as soon as possible and not 3 days later in a centre in Aberdeen because he just would not go. I called Paul and he arrived at our home a few hours later to see my son.”
Paul, a keen fly fisherman, had been developing an idea to help troubled youngsters by using outdoor activities to positively influence their lives. Recognising the benefits, Jennifer enrolled Hugh in one of the programmes developed by Paul. The programme was based in Norway and an element of the course involved outdoor activities including being taught to fly fish.
Jennifer said, “Before Hugh went away his self esteem was very low and he did not think he was any good. His conversation was basic, usually a yes, no or a grunt, he shuffled around and was not sleeping very well. When he returned from the course he was a changed boy and an inch taller with a huge grin on his face. We had one to one conversations and he had the self confidence to ask a family friend for a job interview. This would never have happened before.”
Jennifer is very passionate about working with children and helped Paul out with a group of local children who went fishing. She said, “they all had such a great time and I could see the benefit all children were getting from spending time fishing. Some of these kids were autistic or had behavioural problems at school. They all behaved perfectly and wanted to go again even though it was snowing and very cold by the time we left.”
Seeing the benefits fishing gave to youngsters Jennifer wanted to get more involved. She liked the idea of trying fishing but did not know anything about it. Later on in 2012, she and Paul decided to enrol on a fishing course. The course would improve Paul’s casting skills and Jennifer could learn to fish. Very quickly she discovered she loved fishing and found it to be a great relaxation aid. Determined to advance her limited knowledge, Jennifer also spent a few days with fly casting instructor Glyn Freeman which greatly improved her casting and confidence on the river.
Inspired by the positives surrounding fishing, she and Paul put their heads together to create a business called ‘Switch Intl Ltd’. Jennifer said “It is important to get out there and help other children. Salmon fishing therapy can influence the lives of young people and create an environment for them to gain new skills and build confidence without the pressure of every day life. I know from the experience with my son how it can transform lives by giving them tools to deal with the likes of peer pressure and how to make informed decisions. We work in partnership with fishing schools in Norway so youngsters also have the opportunity to experience and learn about a new country.”
Fishing has also helped Jennifer on a deeper personal level by easing the stress when she separated from her husband. She said,“I totally lose myself when I out on the river salmon fishing. It is not just about catching fish, it is the whole experience of the entire day out in the countryside. I just want to put my rod together as quickly as possible then get out on the river to cast. I switch off and do not think about anything, it is an amazing feeling. As soon as I get into the river I can feel the relaxation and a sense of peacefulness taking over. I always come back completely rejuvenated and re-focussed. It is as though I have processed my thoughts, regained my clarity and solved problems.”
Fishing offers the angler a great view of the riverside landscapes and its local inhabitants. “When I am casting, I love to look around me and enjoy my surroundings. I see beavers swimming, hear birds tweeting and watch Ospreys flying overhead. There are no car sounds, no rushing about so you just switch off and relax.”
Jennifer fishes 2 or 3 times a month, she says her ideal would be to go fishing at least once a week. Keen to progress she recently enjoyed a day’s tuition with Casting Instructor Tom Brown on the River Tay at Meikleour. “I went on the casting course with Tom because I wanted to fine tune and improve the skills I had. I knew I was making basic errors but did not have anyone to explain what they were and how to correct them which Tom did.”
Mother and son are very passionate about salmon fishing. Jennifer says Hugh wants to put something back and take up fishing as a career to help other youngsters.