November 25, 2011

A Near Miss

I've had a late afternoon session on the Lugg this week. The river looks so different compared to a couple of months ago - winter is almost here. The trees have shed almost all of their leaves like tears for the summer gone and the countryside is bracing itself for the lowering of temperature which must surely come - eventually. This has the advantage of opening more of the bank to the wandering angler who can drop into swims that were inaccessible before.

I'd made up some cheese paste and had a tin of meat ready cut into strips and flavoured with a special ingredient ;-) Tackle wise, an 11' Avon rod and centre pin is perfect for the little river and, to keep up with the different conditions in each swim, I was using Plasticine as a weight on a free running rig with a size 8 or 10 hook at the end. I was experimenting with a circle hook that I started using in the depths of last winter, my logic being that as bites may be of a premium I wanted to hit any that came my way and circle hooks are excellent hookers. The model I was using are fine wire and although suitable for chub and when worming for perch, I wouldn't usually use them for barbel.

The 'clever' bit of my rig was a bead attached to the hair by one of those V shaped hair stops that buries itself into the hole in a pellet. Using this I could mould paste around it securely and, if I wanted to change to meat, just remove the bead and use the hair stop as normal. Changing weight, bait or method to meet the needs of each swim was simplicity itself and even a lazy angler like me was fishing thoughtfully and diligently.

The Rig but with a better hook

It took a while to find some fish, they were small chub but they helped to keep the enthusiasm up and I was pleased to catch them. I had tugs and pulls from several spots before discovering the culprits when I foul hooked a gudgeon. In one swim a number of small silver fish topped and rolled on the surface, I'd like to have run a spinner through that area - maybe next time.

As dusk approached I made for the swim that I thought would give me the chance of a decent fish and, as the sun gave up on us for another day, the rod jabbed and I had a chub of about 3lbs. I walked well upstream and released it before lowering another knob of cheese paste to the point where two creases met and walked the seven or eight yards back to my chair where I sat back, holding the rod and feeling for bites with my index finger over the line. When it came it was a beautifully solid pull and it fought deep and hard, I was surprised when the chub rolled into the net that it only looked to be a mere four pounder, it had felt bigger in the fast water.

No matter, duly returned I went through the bait lowering procedure again only this time I had removed the bead from my hair and had slipped a lump of meat on. The bite was soon in coming and quite savage as a barbel felt the weight of my line and bolted. However, the contact was short-lived and everything went slack. Confused, I reeled in and found that the circle hook (that I really should have changed), had snapped!

Certain that the swim would be spoiled and lured by the thought of a hot meal I packed and walked the long walk back to the car. A very pleasant session during which I fished well enough but that one lapse in attention to detail cost me the best fish of the day - but isn't that usually the case?

November 17, 2011

The Pond

Joni Michell's 'Carey' played in my head as I walked, full of optimism, along the mile or so of lanes toward the pond. It would have been late July or August – school holidays. I was staying with my grand parents once more, avoiding the boredom of a family holiday to go and stay with my favourite relatives and indulge in some fishing.

The last turn was made and, from the top of the slope, there it lay before me – heaven.
Emborough Pond or, as everybody referred to it 'The Pond', was an estate lake, large, shallow, weedy and full of tench, roach, perch and pike. I say 'full', I rarely caught anything in those days other than diminutive perch but I acquired a catalogue of 'one that got away' stories as a series of slipping knots, snapped lines and just plain bad luck (okay, angling) made me avoid the capture of a tench for many years. It mattered not. It was a 'proper' lake and was therefore the home of monsters and that kept my imagination fuelled.

Maybe I should first take you back to the little terraced cottage in Gurney Slade where my grand parents lived. By the time I was taking my holidays there the outside toilet (a hole in a bench with a bucket below) had been replaced with an inside lavatory but there still wasn't any electricity in the back bedroom where I slept so the night time assent of the steep staircase was done by candle light and yes, there was a potty under the bed.

Each morning I'd be woken by the commuter train coming up the bank towards the station. The sound of the steam engine working hard against the gradient was a magical alarm clock and I would peer out of the window to see the coaches at rest in Binegar station. Sometimes a freight train would pass and of course, I had to stop and count the wagons. The walk to the pond went under the railway bridge and to have a smoking, gasping monster pass overhead was overwhelming; sometimes the driver waved back. That railway bank produced wild strawberry plants, their fruit as sweet and delicious as any morsel can be but we always had to beware of the adders that shared the sunlight.
The main room of my grand parents home was small and dominated by three things. The fireplace, the heart of the house where Edith, my beloved grandmother, always in her apron, would prepare every meal and all of the hot water in the two enormous black kettles. She seemed to be permanently stoking the coals and moving saucepans and kettles to catch the heat, her leather shoes, like little boots seeming too small for a grown up.

Then there was the television, still bearing its price tag (quite deliberately), loud and usually showing horse racing although I recall watching Top of the Pops and being scorned for liking David Bowie as he sang 'Starman'.

The last feature was the table, adorned with its floral patterned plastic tablecloth. Maybe this wasn't the last dominating feature as, sat behind the table, facing the TV, was my grand father Charlie. He would always be there when you arrived and would have the racing pages of the newspaper open as he checked his results. He never placed bets though, that would be far too extravagant.

Charlie had worked on his knees with pick and shovel for fifty years beneath the Somerset countryside, digging coal. This entitled him to a retirement certificate from the coal board, a pension and free coal for life. Not the good stuff that the coal man delivered to most of his customers but poor quality stuff that was hard as stone and difficult to light. But, it was free and “I didn't work hard all those years to get free coal so that we can waste our money on electricity”. So, if they were brought home late after a visit to our house, you had to wait for 'Mother' to light the fire and get the kettle on rather than plug in the electric one.

But I was too young to be judgmental and, in my eyes, my grand father could do no wrong as he was the only other family member that fished. I would sit next to him at the table and ask question after question. He would show me his entire tackle collection, held in a couple of tins in his old canvas haversack. There were the peacock quills, and the paper floats he'd been given (and that I still have). His cork, wrapped in lead so as to make it sink slowly and rest on a silty bottom, his assorted hooks and split shot in little tins with sliding lids. His rods were better than mine but not much in hindsight.

An 8' solid glass affair and something constructed from a 2nd world war tank aerial that I could barely hold let alone cast. I always remember his reel with its 'camouflaged' line, wiry multi coloured stuff that was supposed to blend into the background but I wasn't convinced.

In the drawer of the sideboard was one of my favourite items, an old 'baccy' packet filled with comic strip cuttings from the Daily Mirror. These were mainly done by none other than Bernard Venables although there were others, each describing a different aspect of angling, each a gem of information to my hungry young mind. The smell of the tobacco added to the magic that they possessed. I loved that smell. I would have a good lung filling sniff of Granddad's tin, a two compartmented device that held tobacco and papers. He would let me roll his cigarettes, chiding me if they were too loose or too thin but, in a short time I was rolling them to his standard. He once offered me a 'drag' when I was about ten. I refused of course, I didn't want him to know that I was already a regular smoker.

He would take me out into the garden, having first put his cap on (I never saw him outside of the house without a cap), to turn the compost heap for red worms. These in turn would be kept in damp moss in a small tin and turned daily to clean and toughen them. They were certainly lively on the hook and attractive to perch.

He accompanied me out to the pond on many occasions. I was always too impatient like every other small boy that's fished but he would try to instil some sort of discipline into my approach. It was frustrating fishing, the float dithering and bobbing for an eternity before sliding away. The strike was usually met with a diminutive perch, deep hooked but bristling with defiance.

We had a favourite swim in the wooded section, a fallen bough made for a perfect bench where we sat, watching the red tips of our quills in the shade of the overhanging tree. I would be lectured on how I should strike in the opposite direction to that which the float was heading and how I should keep calm and apply gentle side strain. Then, at dusk with the lake alive with rolling fish, his float sank and was met with a wild upward sweep of his rod which was then thrashed this way and that as he hurriedly brought a fighting bar of silver to the net. It was a beautiful roach just a few ounces below the magical 2lbs, he was rightly pleased and excited but came back to earth to tell me off when I said “what about the precise strike and gentle side strain”. I had to turn away and laugh discretely up my sleeve.

But it was in that very swim that we shared his last day's fishing. At the end of the day he struggled to stand up and I had to pull his not insignificant weight from the bough. I thought it was funny but then I saw the look on his face and the slight panic in his voice as he declared that “his legs had gone!” It was a mighty effort on both our parts to get him up the little bank to the path and that was the last time he was to put himself in that position, he was too old to fish.

Not that it stopped me. I would still visit and fish with the lads from the village. We were always there, come rain or shine. I'd fish the morning, return for lunch then go back for the afternoon and sometimes for the evening after tea. This was much easier when I could borrow Granddad's bike but I punctured one of the tyres once and was told that it was my job to repair it. I hadn't a clue how to do such a technical job so I walked along the long, narrow and at times quite creepy lane. I'd have all my gear in one hand and a metal rod rest in the other just in case it was the Bogeyman coughing behind the hedge instead of a cow.

Time moved forward and both of my Grand Parents had to leave their house and enter retirement homes. Gran succumbed to a stroke and Granddad's memory lapsed as he suffered dementia. He died, ironically, on March 14th, the last day of the season.
But, when I started working in Bristol I again rose early in the morning to fish the Pond. I arrived one day with just a few slices of bread for bait. Two anglers were already in my chosen swim so I fished on the other side of the dam wall but it was weedy and I was not getting on very well. I went to talk to the other guys, one of which had taken a tench. To my surprise, I was invited to join them and even given some maggots by the affable Chris Newton. I later caught my first ever tench and was elated that it should come from the Pond, the location of so many mishaps and lost fish of my youth.

The next time I visited the Pond was almost a year later when Nicky and I happened to be driving by as the season approached. I just had to have a look and who should appear from the undergrowth, camera in hand, than Chris. He'd been photographing fritillary butterflies, another passion we would share in subsequent years and it was also the first time he'd been back since we last met. Such serendipity would follow us through the years as I would walk into a tackle shop for the first time in literally years only to find Chris on a rare visit there too. We were destined to fish together and having arranged to meet up that opening day, have fished together ever since although less so over recent years due to Chris's lust for sea trout and women - but that's another story.

Having broken my duck I found the tench fishing much easier and caught regularly. Chris dropped in on me one day as I had my best catch there of sixteen tench and a couple of roach. Oddly, the next trip saw me catch eight tench and one roach. This day became a very special one as I left the Pond mid morning with Paddy, my lifelong fishing buddy, and we drove to the Bristol Avon where I caught my first ever barbel, what a journey that fish started.

Several years later I returned to the Pond and was horrified by what I saw. It had been taken over by a club obsessed with match fishing and, as I walked through the woods to my special place, huge painted peg numbers scarred the trees and the swims had been made 'comfortable' for those with a mountain of rods and tackle. The lake looked soulless and cheap, I quickly left, choking back my emotion and I have never returned.

November 01, 2011

A hectic weekend

Traditionally, I used to start my pike fishing on October 1st and would target them for much of the winter. Over the last ten years or so this has changed and there have even been years when I haven't lifted a pike rod in anger. This year has been like that so far. Yes, I know where a big girl may be laying up and yes, I have miles of wild river and a large lake to explore but I can't get into pike nowadays. I'm certain that will change when the frosts arrive but, for now......

Anyway, October 30th - normally an early start in the fog or frost was, this year, mild and sunny. It was my birthday and despite ruing the passing of yet another year and being painfully aware that the number left are heavily outweighed by those that have passed, I set off to the river for an afternoon session with Neil.

I knew that he planned to visit the love of his life during the evening and that would effect his concentration, making an early finish likely but I only wanted to have a dabble - a little birthday treat if you like, a fish would just be the candle on the cake.

I dropped into a swim that had potential and Neil dropped downstream into a spot that usually produces as the river is rising as it was on the day. It was an uneventful first hour or so and I wandered down to see how the boy was doing.

As I got to him I could see that he was intently touch legering. He recounted several missed bites when distracted by rolling cigarettes or looking at yet another text message from the little lady. He was now determined to hit the next caller. I strolled a bit farther downstream, checking out the prospects and returned after a few minutes. Neil was rebaiting and muttering under his breath about fishing like a plonker. I left him to it.

Back at my spot I put some feed in, sat back and relaxed. I was disturbed by simultaneous noises in front and behind me. To the front a screeching reel from behind, a dejected Neil dropping his packed gear in disgust. He soon rallied and netted by birthday fish, a small but perfect specimen that had scrapped well. A quick picture and we left, it felt good to be alive.


Halloween is a fun day. I remember, as a kid, the excitement of hollowing out a suede or mangel wurzel (a field beet grown as cattle feed) to put the candle in. We used marbles for eyes and hung the finished 'heads' by a string, carrying them to hopefully scare the neighbours. I don't remember many treats coming our way but we all had fun especially if we'd been given an old sheet to make us look like ghosts.

Nowadays, Halloween is a much bigger deal and we still enjoy taking part. Nicky and I like to decorate the porch with a variety of skeletons, bats and the obligatory pumpkin etc. The local kids love it and word gets out that someone is up for a spot of 'trick or treating' and we have a succession of callers throughout the evening. This year I rigged a large spider to descend on callers as the door was opened - that caused a laugh or two :-) Neil carved the pumpkin, I think you'll agree he did a good job.


Today is Nicky's birthday so, quite a busy weekend all round. We've had a day out, a meal and I'm now sipping champagne, like I said earlier, it feels good to be alive.