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Safety Net

I'm painfully aware of a pattern that has developed over the last few seasons, whereby I indulge in plenty of fishing-related razzle-dazzle from the 16th to the end of the month, only to tail off badly by the beginning of July. I'm thus determined to go fishing.

However, the weather's been so repellant recently that I haven't felt like wetting a line, so when Sunday dawns bright and cheerful, I reckon I can make a break for it at around tea time. I go off vacation house hunting with my friend George for a few hours in the morning and we pass right by the little lane that curls down towards the farm where the club has one of its lakes. I narrow my eyes meaningfully as we hum by in his Fiat Cordoba - I shall return later and lay waste to your tench.

After lunch I fall asleep reading Sheringham's Fly Fishing Memories and Morals, a wonderful book bought for me by my brother and then set aside because it was about trout fishing. Which goes to show how much I know. I picked it up a week or two back and have been enthralled ever since; what a writer. So, when my wife raises me from my snooze I decide to go - after all, that's what HTS would do. Out with the old cane rod and centrepin reel, grab a few floats, some fuel for the kettle, water, a cup and spoon and - to prove my modernising credentials - a couple of sachets of Nescafe Cappuccino, a fiendish froth introduced to me by my mum. It saves taking any milk you see.

I grab the landing net which has been drying outside, furl it up, and lean it next to the kitchen door while I get my little bait box from the outside window sill. I load up with luncheon meat, get everything together - including a new camera, more of which next time - and almost trip off to the car.

It's an easy drive, past Lewes prison and then down country lanes until I reach the farm. There's a slight moment of panic when I remember that they've put a padlock on the gate, but I've got my club card and that turns out to have the number on the front, so I ease down the track (the 323 seems to sit lower in the field than my old 626) and then coast down to the water's edge. There are plenty of cars there but most will be here to fish the larger of the two lakes, which is where the carp are. I climb out, open the boot, pull out the rod and landing net handle, get my shirt and waistcoat, sling the creel over one shoulder, grab the kettle in the same hand, and reach down for the landing net - which is still leaning by the kitchen door.

I think about it for fully five minutes, but there are beautiful tench here and lovely little crucian carp and they deserve better than me trying to fumble them to the bank with my hand. So I put everything back in the car, connect the iPod again, turn the car round and head on up the field. I wonder whether my fellow anglers noticed me arrive and then depart. I undo the padlock and drive through the open gate, stop the car, close the gate, snap the padlock shut and give the combination a nasty twirl. On the podcast, Melvyn Bragg is talking about Siegfried Sassoon and I'm going home.

Which is why I'm sitting here typing this with a can of Strongbow by my side, instead of enjoying the early evening in the company of tench and crucian carp and a cappuccino. Am I pissed off? Yes. Did I do the right thing? Absolutely.


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Virtual fishing

So Ray e-mails from work to say that he's going to the river the next day. Aiming for a 6.00am start and then fishing 'till midday. I hum and hah and then decide that I'll see how I feel in the morning and take my own car. I've got some work to catch up on and I'm feeling slightly below par.


So 5.00am rolls around and I wake up, roll over, snuffle attractively and then drop back into sleep. I get up, get Marion and our student Anastasia breakfast and then start planning an article about Windows Calendar. About 9.30 I phone Ray to see how he's getting on. I can picture where he is, by the tree down the far end of the stretch we usually fish - had lots of good sessions there before. He's probably out of signal or landing some enormous carp.


About 12.00 the phone goes. It's Ray.


"How did you get on?" he asks.


"I didn't go, Ray. But if you're asking me that..."


There's a pause.


"I didn't go either," he says.


"Didn't fancy it," says I.


"Neither did I," says he.


By which time we're both laughing.


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Can't make wood

Back to the river again. The forecast promises thunder, but after faffing around - and feeling the weight of the umbrella, not used since Ireland three years ago - I decide to chance it and go with the poncho again. I can see I'm going to have make good on my foolish boast to create some sort of lightweight basha shelter that will replace the brolly for summer storms.


Again, the river looks fantastic, but the wind's picked up from the west and our original plan to fish the new big pool which has opened up downstream of where the old tree used to stand is scuppered. Wind blowing one way, river flowing the other - it's a recipe for disaster for stick-in-the-muds like Ray and I.

Instead we amble upstream and take up more or less the same positions as last Sunday. At least I do. Same 'tactics' of course. Same piece of luncheon meat if I'm honest. However, the first cast (into the same spot, naturally) produces a huge chub. Must be four pounds if he's an ounce, flashing eyes and a gob the size of a Big Brother contestant. I reckon I could get my whole hand in there if I tried.

Moving round the swim produces two eels at which point I decide to move. I don't like catching eels, and that's that.

I wander down to the bridge where the fast water pours through a concrete tunnel and there, just in front of the tree, rising and falling in the water, see a dark shape. A nice dark chub. Scurrying back with my tackle a fellow club member pitches up. No tackle, just looking, but he's keen to chat and settles down to watch me catch this chub. I can't do it. I nearly fall in sliding down the bank. The first cast is all wrong. My hands are shaking. I miss the first bite, fluff the second (though something's on for an instant) and then hit the third only to get hopelessly snagged on the bottom. He gives up and wanders off to talk the hind legs off Ray, while I reflect on my performance. I remember a Louis Theroux episode where he was talking to male porn actors and the general conclusion was that the hardest thing to do was to perform in front of an audience. They called it 'making wood'. Another reason I'll never make my living as a porn star then.

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First review

My new book, 101 Golden Rules Of Fishing got its first review last week on the Fishing Magic web site. Graham Marsden (who's written more than a few words in his time and probably caught more fish) was very generous and gave it eight out of ten - even though it was clear there were things in it he neither cared for, nor agreed with. Sadly the review is no longer online, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Angler's honour and all that.
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I remember now

The phone rang. I opened my eyes and looked at my watch. A quarter to four. The Seventeenth of June. It's the first time in years I've not been able to fish on the opening day of the season and I don't like it. I don't like it for lots of reasons.
I don't like it because it's been more than six months since I last fished. In between then and now I've written a fishing book. This is a big deal for me, and I wonder if spending all that time thinking and writing about fishing has taken the gloss off of it for me. I worry that I'll get to the bank and not know what to do. Worse, that I might not want to fish.

So I nearly don't answer the phone. It is 3.45 after all, and that's early by anyone's standards. At this rate we'll be at the banks just before tea time and as it doesn't get dark until about 10.00pm that'll give us about five and half hours to fish. What if I can't do it?

Forty minutes later I'm ready and watching out the window for Ray's car. Various bits of tackle have been retrieved from stowage (bait box from the window sill outside the kitchen, home to many spiders for the winter, fishing rod from underneath daughter's bed, landing net from shed) and emptied into the creel, along with the poncho - a last minute addition this, courtesy of superstition and a conviction that the BBC weather site isn't always reliable. Luncheon meat. Size six hook, quarter ounce Arlsey bomb, line of indeterminate strength (probably 5lbs) and a hat. Ready? I was born ready.

The river has almost disappeared underneath the weight of the lilies and bullrushes but thanks to recent rain there's a good head of water going through and just by looking at the banks you can tell it's not as low as it was even a day or so ago. We heft our gear and cross the style into the field. This is a marvel. A genuine meadow of wild flowers and grasses that hasn't been cut this year yet. It's alive in a way that cut grass isn't. Every so often half a dozen butterflies burst into the air in front of us. I'm getting the hang of this and we haven't even reached the river yet.

We fetch up at the bank and notice that soemone's been cutting swims. They're a bit big for my liking - need to accomodate those seat boxes, trolleys, poles, umbrellas and other paraphernalia y'know, - but they've done a good job and it means there are spots in the river that can be fished again for the first time in years. We meet a husband and wife who've been there since lunchtime and caught lots of small ones along with a good perch and a couple of jack pike. My fingers by now are actually twitching. We stave off the moment a little longer, ambling further downstream through the long grass to the bend where I notice something is missing. The tree that's been a feature of this swim for the ten years I've been with the club has gone. At first it's a shock, but then I really start to appreciate the result. The tree had half slumped into the river like an old drunk, all alone at the end of the evening, and was silting everything up. Now there's a large, open pool where all the clog used to be and it looks very tempting.

In the end we repair to the willows swim, back towards the bridge and set up within yards of each other. It only takes a few minutes and I'm back, sat on the inflatable cushion, a bit of luncheon meat in the bait box, knife at the ready, tightening up to the ledger that's sitting nicely just on the other side of the flow.

It takes 15 minutes for my first bite of the season, but even I can't miss it. A chub of about a pound, lean and hungry with signs that a pike's been after it. I let it go in the swim upstream from Ray.

Next cast, and it's a bream. A huge bream, or it would be huge if it had been eating anything. Fish this size are usually known as 'slabs', but this is more of a slice. Still, lovely fish and another unmissable bite. Unfortunately, so is the next bite - an eel of about a pound.

Ray comes round the tussock for a chat. He hasn't had a bite yet. We share a cup of tea and then it starts to spit with rain. I say that I don't think it's going to settle in but Ray disappears back to the car for waterproofs and a brolly. After a minute, I get the poncho out as the rain settles in.

It's actually quite cosy under this thing. The rain continues to fall. I re-arrange the material to cover my legs, move the creel behind the small of my back so that's covered too and then slide the bait box next to my side. We have another cup of tea and I'm able to retrieve it from the creel and take it out of its case while remaining inside the poncho. This is great. We drink the tea. I miss a sitter of a bite.

I re-bait and re-cast. The rain gets heavier. I become less cosy. I am, after all, just sitting on a blow-up cushion under 25 quidsworth of waterproof material on a wet bank. It slowly gets darker. There are no more bites. Somewhere around 9.00pm it occurs to me that I stopped fishing about half an hour ago and since then, have just been sitting in the rain.

Ray elects to pack up and since he's the designated driver, I'm not arguing.

I've negotiated the first day of my season successfully, even if I missed the first day of the official season. By the time we get back to the car, we're three times as wet, courtesy of that lovely, wild field. Strangely, neither of us cares.


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