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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.


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.


Spoke too soon

So I'm driving my mum home after a very nice weekend when she's come down to see my daughter's musical and we've generally had fun. We're talking about fishing because I've just finished a book and anyway, after dropping her home I'm going to turn straight round and see if I can't prise a chub or two out of the river in Surrey on my return trip.

"Nope, I haven't blanked this season." I look half-heartedly around the car for something wooden to touch but being a modern Japanese thing, there's nothing, so I smile and touch the plastic dashboard instead. Can't mean anything, can it? Five hours later, as I squelch back across the the weir - fishless of course - I am of a different opinion, and I won't make that mistake again.

I've never seen so much mud. The trees were covered in it. Even the passersby were mud spattered. even the German woman and her ridiculous child who stood next to one of England's prettiest stretches of canal and shouted at each other because one of them could see something and the other could not, were covered in mud. (Though some in their mouths wouldn't have gone amiss).

Anyway. No Wellingtons for me. A pair of stout Doc Martins instead, which turned out to be about as much use skates on a frozen pond. Add to that the fact that the path pixies had been out in force creating trails that disappear or wind round in huge loops to deposit you inches from where you started except now you're sweating, scratched to bits and - yes - covered in mud.

It took me an hour to find somewhere to fish. By then I'd negotiated half a dozen 'paths' nearly been run down twice by cyclists on the towpath and almost put my own eye out. I'd also struck up a conversation with a fellow angler with the most bizarre hat I've ever seen (think Multi Coloured Swapshop) and a dog that didn't so much run up and down the banks as stand there vibrating at enormous speed. I thought it was actually going to explode at one point.

Anyway, I found a spot that was marginally less muddy than the rest of the river - i.e. only swimming in mud as opposed to being part of an actual mudslide - and settled down. The usual. Luncheon meat, size four, 8lb line, Arlsey bomb, short trail, 12' Lake Specialist. No bites in swim one (pictured here with the rod) but one or two good knocks further downstream (I'd caught a barbel there about three years previous). A guy turned up, scouting swims and he looked so much more comfortable than I felt - decent wellies, long socks, just neat and tidy, looking like he could sit down on the mud and it wouldn't touch him, but sort of slide off somewhow.

Anyway, I made the mistake of moving on and didn't get another bite until it was almost too dark to see the rod. I felt the fish for a second and then the hook came out. I took it as a sign and packed up.

When I got home the bannisters and radiators were covered in washing so there was nowhere to lay out my rubber cushion which was caked in you-know-what. So I put it over the back of my office chair and forgot about it until this morning when I finished this entry and leaned back in satisfaction. Now my hair is also covered in mud.


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