July 31, 2014

A Short Stay

July 29th was a day like any other but, when I woke on the morning of the 30th, something had changed.

I see the good part of the year as a bit like watching a hot air balloon being inflated. It starts with a flat, empty pocket full of nothing but potential. Then, with a gust from the gas bottle and a waft or two of the edge of it's canopy, there appear little bubbles and bumps like the first blooms of spring.  Nothing much happens for a while then, with an impatient rush, there is colour and movement and a great rising orb that can carry the souls of many with it as it ascends into a clear sky. It is as beautiful to observe as it is to fly and those on board must look down upon a sea of smiling faces. It is an event.

Then, the fight between the hot air from the tanks and the cooling air outside indicates a point of no return and from that moment, although the flight may continue for some time, it is doomed and classed as a somewhat protracted descent.

That is what happened on July 30th 2014.

It has always happened around this time of year although my memory tries to convince me that it used to be much later. But I keep an eye on such things and come the end of July each year and the swifts depart. One little moment in a world of animal migration and wonderful animal happenings and one that always saddens me.

It may be that from your current location you can still see and as importantly hear swifts as they wheel around the sky in the continual pursuit of food. There will be a number of birds still over the UK for a month or two yet and indeed just last year, with its painfully late Spring, they were here for at least another couple of weeks. But not usually. Not now. They have gone.

Their departure means one thing. Summer is now in free fall and everything is sliding inexorably toward autumn. You can't stop it and goodness knows this has been a very good summer with balmy evenings where I've sat outside absorbing the warm, thick air whilst listening to that exciting high pitched scream as groups of swifts soar effortlessly above. But from now on there will be just that little chill in the air. Air that will begin to feel decidedly thinner during evenings that will feel decidedly shorter.

So a lament to the swift. The bird that never stops flying and even sleeps on the wing. A bird that has to wait two or three years after fledging for its first rest if rest is the right word for nesting. A bird that has been recorded at twenty one years of age would you believe, which means that particular creature would have flown some three million miles.

Hearing the first swifts around the full moon at the end of May is a red letter day in any year, their departure is most certainly a grey one.


By the way, I've made a decision. Its my last physio session tomorrow so win lose or draw I'm going fishing at the weekend. Well I have to, haven't you heard? Autumns coming.

July 22, 2014

Fifty Not Out

Accompanied by his mother, the trip to the tackle shop had been thrilling, a first step into new world. His little eyes peering to see over the counter where, with great determination and an air of knowledge (passed on by Bob, an older boy), he asked for his hooks. Six size 14 and six size 10’s were slipped into a paper envelope and he clutched them in his little hand like they were jewellery. Those together with his very first rod licence made July 18th 1964 a very special day.

The actual date of his first trip have been lost along the way but it followed close to that fateful day just mentioned. Bob, some four maybe five years his senior accompanied him on the mile long trip on their bikes with rods strapped to crossbars to the weir. As they approached the roaring rush of water the silty, ionised air entered his nostrils and engaged with a deep part of the brain, he would never smell such water without a reference to this hallowed place, he was at last born an angler.

Hands shaking with anticipation and with fumbling fit to try the patience of his tutor for the day, somehow a three piece rod, possibly of greenheart or some inferior wood, was put together and the line from a diminutive bakelite centre pin was threaded through the rings. The tutor asked where the float rubbers had gone? He replied, with due embarrassment that they had been discarded as he was sure they were of no use. A remedy was found and the little porcupine quill was attached by threading a loop of line through the eye then passing it over the float and so, with brand new size 14 hook and a little squeeze of bread, his first cast was made into the water below.

Looking on in admiration he saw Bob catch minnows with consummate ease, his words of “There see, its easy”, did little to assuage the boy but eventually and after reducing the bait size by a considerable amount, his float at last slid to one side and he was attached to a living creature. The throbs and pulses of that tiny minnow were transmitted though line and rod, it was the realisation of a dream he’d had for so long in his short life, this is what he had always wanted and he was hooked for ever.

Having moved swims a few times he found himself standing tip toe to reach over the fence rail but it was uncomfortable and his rod pointed up and into the leaves of the Horse Chestnut tree above. The solution came by way of a damaged section of the fence where he could fish through and lean out to gaze down into the shady water below the great tree. Here he watched his bread sink only to take on a life of its own as it popped from side to side as minnow after minnow attacked it until it was small enough for one to swallow and again the shaking, spinning form came alive as it spun up through the water etching an image that remains as vivid today as it was fifty years ago. His keen eyes spotted larger fish, some as much as six inches long and this sent the boy running to find Bob to breathlessly describe the ‘monsters’ he’d nearly caught. Bob shrugged it off, he was talking to some bigger boys who were using one of his minnows as an eels bait. The boy was dispatched to catch more ‘bait’ and, filled with a sense of importance at being entrusted with such a task, he ran back and resumed his fishing with glee.

The next two fish were duly taken to the lads sat hunched over a rod cast under the overhanging trees on the far bank of the backwater section. This water was entirely different to the lively, fresh water of the weir and was dark, deep and foreboding. But the boy felt inflated with the praise and exclamations at his efficiency at catching minnows but felt uneasy that they were being left to expire on the top of the wall. His gaze was observed and they were dispatched by stamping on their heads ‘to release the flavour’. It was a mixture of emotions that the boy had yet to understand and which would crop up time and again though out his angling career.

His confusion was ended though when an urgent call made him run back to those boys and he watched as a mighty beast of the deep waters was reeled to the bank. It was an eel, probably about a pound and half in weight and the little boys eyes grew wider and wider as the older kids dispatched it and set off home with their meal. Any moral debate was dispelled in that instant, at least for the time being, there were monsters here to be caught and one day he too would conjure such leviathans at his bidding.

And you know what, on occasions he did just that. Its fifty years on and the excitement of that first trip is still bubbling away just below the surface like a well shaken bottle of champagne, a bottle that I have uncorked on countless occasions and one who’s taste and head spinning effect never lessens. I doubt I’ll make it a hundred years of fishing so I will celebrate my bicentennial and wish all of you as much pleasure as I have derived from this wonderful fishing life.

July 07, 2014


I am not happy. I've had a few evening sessions and have taken plenty of chub including a couple of scraper fives. They were probably well over the magic figure but I have a knack for underestimating chub weights and am frequently amazed when I do take the effort to lift them on the dial. It matters not, I only get excited by those that near the next step up the numeric ladder nowadays, I'm not being flash its just that we have a lot of big chub in the Wye. But that's not what is getting me down, I'll never tire of chub they are wonderful fish and I am still looking to improve my best each season. No, its the result of fishing for them that's got to me.

I have only had a single barbel to date, a poor return you'd say but the river has been difficult apart from a slight lift in the level that I didn't fish - typical. Rain brought a similar rise a couple of days ago but I was unable to join the fun. You see, I'm grounded.

The dodgy back (oh here we go again!), has been receiving some pretty intense physiotherapy in recent weeks, compliments of my impending insurance claim, yet there has been little improvement. One session sent me back a notch or three but it was soon back to bearable but after an evening sat watching a static rod I found myself in agony. I know I can handle the occasional blank so the pain was purely down to a buggered back, neck and shoulder - I was in bits.

Going cap in hand to the Physio he looked at me with a somewhat miffed expression. "You don't have to fish you know", he scowled at someone not taking his efforts seriously. I tried explaining the compunction felt by us afflicted with the fishing virus but he merely explained that 'even professional sportsmen have periods of rest'. Check Mate. I lowered my eyes and muttered a weak "Okay". So I am now on an enforced abstinence during a perfect summer when the rivers and lakes are all looking temptingly wonderful and my eagerness to put a bend in my rod has rarely been higher. Bugger!

I shall return - soon I hope and I shall doubtless find something to wax lyrical about in the meanwhile but if you not a hint of grinding teeth and frustration in my prose please forgive this grumpy fellow, I am certain you will know how I feel.