Monday, 25 August 2008

After Whatever Comes...

Everything that happened today, would be at the very least, the first for some considerable time. I had grown up in Essex, lived all my life in the county and Essex is a county of trickles
. It has the Roding, the Chelmer, the Suffolk Stour along its Northern border, innumerable streams that never quite make the grade of river and that is pretty well all it can boast. There is not a River in the entire county where a freelined maggot cannot find itself tangled in the bushes of the far bank unless you count the mighty tidal Thames, which is a river, but estuarine and saline, and contains rather more in the way of bass and flounder than the barbel, chub and dace that for me are river fish, true, and proper.

And now, due to irreconcilable interpersonal difficulties with one woman and the moving in with an altogether more agreeable new model in Coventry, I had genuine rivers to dabble with. Lots of them. Truly an overflowing of riverine promise, genuinely a riparian wonderland and the more I looked, the more I found. They were everywhere, and they were big. And often deep...

We went down to Evesham on the Warwickshire Avon, to a day ticket stretch that I'd found and I trotted a float for hours in slow moving water without a bite. Not nearly so easy as I'd thought it would be. Eventually we packed up and decided to head for the stretch between the Saxon Mill and Leamington Spa. I decided to fish in a lovely swim opposite the mysterious ruins of Guys Cliffe House. Casting into two fathoms of what seemed at first, to one raised on ponds and lakes, an unpredictable torrent of water that just never stopped moving, my lovely new float of hand crafted cork and stick, bought especially for the occasion, refused to stay still for even a moment. New territory indeed. At first I could not tell bite from snag but as the evening progressed the subtle difference slowly emerged and I began to find my way with it.

I had the first magical river fish. A beautiful fish. Iridescent scales sparkling silvery blue and purple in the molten pool of sunlight caught in the palm of my hand under the dappled shade under the alders. A greedy fish. Its diminutive mouth having attempted to engulf a bait that would have choked it quite to death if it had succeeded. A welcome fish. I had not caught a specimen of this particular species since my last boyhood expedition to the shallow murky waters of Romford's Raphael's Park where I would freely spend the hours of summer casting single maggots on a spade-end twenty-two for them. A big fish. It only occurred to me how big after I'd slipped it back, a personal best for sure, possibly a world record. I dwelt on this for some time until another bite snapped me back and small but incredibly perfect chub responded to my ever more accurate baiting of the swim with mashed bread and then slipped up on my hookbait cocktail of flake and pellet. I had another, a tad larger than the first, and thought of shoals.

Then I cast badly, once again, with the brand new pin. First time out with such a free running reel was proving to be an alarming experience and a curt reminder of other long forgotten ineptitudes with fishing tackle. Not since mastering a multiplier at sea had I encountered such seemingly inexplicable tangles. The overun reel caused coils of line to wrap around the reel, and themselves, and my precious float ended up in the alders overhanging branches, low down near the water.

Now, I'd handled this situation before, many times. The solution was to hang off the nearest convenient largish branch, pull the offending frond around in an arc by whatever means and reclaim the tackle. The trick was to plan ahead and do the job neatly, swiftly, stylishly. As my eyes bobbed back up above the ricocheing waves bouncing back and forth from both banks I saw that I had remembered to keep hold of the offending frond that had snapped away from the tree with the float still attached. The water was warm, pleasant. I think I touched bottom. I had plumbed my swim and found that it was indeed far deeper than I was tall. I had lost my fishing hat and all dignity but as I dragged my sopping self out of the swim I knew the truth. A fish may well understand that she breathes water only when she is on the riverbank, but a fisherman truly understands that he breathes only air when he hits the riverbed.

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