Monday, June 18, 2007 Filed in: rivers
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.