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...a sudden hot sharp stink of pike...

Returning to the river with Ray I feel like a footballer who's been injured and thus missed pre-season. He already has two trips under his belt and moves assuredly from the car to the stile, points out the long-rotten but newly broken slats over the little bridge and aims for a path that's been knocked through the long grass of a wild meadow, as yet untouched by the farmer. It's beautiful in a way that's unordered, the very antithesis to those other fishing spots that have been tidied away, knocked into shape so that anglers don't have to engage with them, but can trundle down manicured access ways to permanent swims with numbers, where the banks are re-enforced, where the wooden platforms are new and seasoned by chemicals rather than time.

Not so here. Every year the river changes. Every year there are different swims to fish because the bank has moved or the level's up or down or a tree has slipped in, presenting the river with a new network of roots and sunken lower boughs. It's truly fab.

To celebrate the beginning of the new season I've made bread paste the old fashioned way, trimming off the crusts (guiltily tossed in the bin) and then splashed with cold water and kneaded - being all out of muslin cloth - by hand. Then there's some bread flake and a bit of luncheon meat from my trip in May - so if the bites don't come at least I can comfort myself with a very unpleasant sandwich.

But they do come. Second cast, there's a playful tug followed by something more businesslike and a small chub comes skittering across the surface, gets wrapped round some reeds, unwraps itself again almost as quickly and then comes swinging to the bank. On the way over it shits on my foot. Can't be more than half a pound but it's in lovely nick, lip hooked and slips back, no problem.

I try a couple of casts with paste and then flake but no dice. Switching back to luncheon meat I settle into the swim, trying not to feel my backside going slowly numb (if you see what I mean). After ten minutes I think 'fish and move' so lift the rod and start to reel in. Half a turn and there's a bump. Then another stronger one and we're off. I know it's a pike from the first contact. It's got that bonkers feel to it, a cross between a fish and an eel, slashing around the swim this way and that. I'm aware that I'm only using 4lb line, but it turns out to be hooked just outside of the mouth and all is well. Cynics might say that I've deliberately cut the landing net out of the photo so you have no idea of scale. Let's just say it was a monster. Certainly the biggest pike I've caught all season, anyway. To finish, here's the river and that wild, wild meadow.


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