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Fire bad, tree pretty...

To understand how I nearly came to be standing next to a padlocked gate, peering down at the nearly invisible numbers on the lock while holding a burning rag in my other hand, I'll need to explain how things had come to this pretty pass...

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The Owl and the Chub

"If a big one bites, it will probably be at dusk."



Funnily enough, I nearly didn't go.

When the man behind the counter in the tackle shop explained that while they didn't have any maggots I could have the last of the dying pinkies for free...
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Pickpockets

Free lining has always been one of my favourite ways to fish - whether it's a large lump of luncheon meat rolled down the bottom of a fast river for barbel or a couple of dog biscuits floating on the surface for carp. There's also something special about free lining on a small river, and something pleasing about using a bait like breadflake, pinched onto the hook and then dunked to make it sink and give it weight for the cast.

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Stripes

Having kissed goodbye to the wind, it was time to try the river again, so I 'organised' a quick evening raid, figuring that I could get down there for 7.00pm and still have two hours plus to fish. The maggots were turning into casters and had a good strong smell to them...

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The River Where?

Well, we've been here before, scrambling through eyebrow-high stinging nettles and strange rhubarby plants with big pink flowers on them trying to find the river. I know it's over here somewhere because even a river can't change its spots that much. Mind you, I didn't manage to fish here at all last season, so you never know...

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Ray and I

Back together again. It's been nearly a year by my reckoning since Ray and I last went fishing together and that's too long. In between we've both had a lot of different stuff to deal with, so it's good to remember that despite everything that's happened we're still the same people, that we share - broadly - the same outlook, and that we'll both still be fishing until we can't...

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Physics

The air is heavy with thunder and the promise of rain, and the river is full of ghosts tonight.


That's what it felt like this entry was going to be about. The first hour or two were hopeless. I was distracted, fishing automatically, unable to get comfortable, put off by other anglers, couldn't park by the bridge, bitch, bitch, bitch...
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The Naked Hippies

So, excited at the prospect of fishing a new stretch of the river I met Sean at 1.30pm and we set off, past a beautiful, newly renovated mill and a private pool that was so full of feeding chub that it was almost comical...

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Last Cast Saloon

No sense in giving this one too much of a build up. A funny old evening. Warm as toast but windy - and the spot we'd chosen, so that we could fish together, was very exposed. Ray and I both used the sidewinder (picture here) a sort of quiver tip that sits halfway up the rod and lets you fish with the tip pointing towards the bait. It's really useful for ledgering in the wind and also gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of positioning and angles.

The real story of the evening? The owl. Or maybe owls. At one point we were convinced there were two of them, floating over the fields in front and then behind us, on the hunt for mice, voles and rabbits.

I saw a pike come up and take a fly at my feet. I missed half a dozen good bites and then, almost at the death, got a definite bite and landed a nice little chub of about two pounds. Five minutes later and Ray caught one about 3-4lbs, which stayed still long enough to have its photograph taken before rolling down the bank and back into the river.

We'd nearly given up, but persevering, making sure to get in that last cast before the light really fades is usually worth the effort. After the sun sank it got chilly enough so you could see your breath, the mist rose and then rolled across the fields, while above us the owl turned and turned again.
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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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