Article - Coarse

Ramblings - Part Two

By Graeme, added on 01/02/2007

In the first article I recounted how my fishing came to a halt around fifteen years ago, and my subsequent re-discovery of the pleasure to be had sitting by a lake or river, becoming absorbed in the sights, scents and sounds of the waterside. At that time my tackle collection was quite modest; a glass Hardy avon rod and a Vortex Aurora carp rod in the same material covered all the options when seeking the hoped-for bigger fish, while a fourteen-footer from the East Anglian Rod Company and an eight-foot Brent of Hailsham fly rod - both glass - took care of float and fly fishing. Reels consisted of a tatty old Mitchell 300, a Grice & Young Avon Royal Supreme and a Rimfly. Armed thus I set out to make up for lost time - something I accomplished quite literally, being unemployed (and pretty well unemployable) for much of that second 'first' summer.

However, needs must, and I realised (with a certain amount of 'encouragement' from an increasingly exasperated mother, aided and abetted by my brother and girlfriend*) that I couldn't go on thus forever. I managed to talk a local handyman into letting me work with him for a week - just to prove that I could be of some use. This soon became two weeks, then a month, and I ended up in gainful employment until Christmas. During this period I became quite a regular visitor to Don's of Edmonton, one of the last great tackle shops. Largely unchanged since the 60's, this haven of commonsense and good advice became my favourite shop, despite the tiresome forty-five minute bus ride to get there.

On one visit, whilst browsing among the rack of second-hand rods, my eyes settled on a honey-coloured two-piece split cane. I turned over the little card ticket attached to the butt ring by a loop of string, and read: 9' salmon spinning rod ca 1946 by J.B.Walker. I took it out of the rack and assembled it. A powerful rod certainly, but with more natural flex than my carp rod - and dead straight. The rings were agate-lined, whipped on with faded gold silk beneath the amber varnish. The cork handle had two sliding dural reel fittings, and the extreme butt was fitted with a tapered brass butt cap, stamped with the makers name and carrying a red rubber button. It was love at first sight. The price was more than I could really afford, but not high enough to dissuade me.

I took it over to the counter and asked to buy it, half expecting the stern gentleman presiding over the premises that afternoon to try and talk me out of it on account of my youth and evident impecunity. However, I was duly relieved of a week's wages and handed a cream-coloured rod bag and rosewood ferrule stopper. He did ask what I wanted it for, and I told him I thought it would make a nice carp rod; he seemed gratified by this and ventured that it would certainly suit lines of around 10lb bs. I think he was glad to see the old rod going to someone who was obviously intending to use it, and perhaps even pleased that someone of my generation should consider a rod from his father's time to be a more worthy tool for carp than any one of the hundreds of carbon pokers available in most other tackle shops.

The next day I grabbed the Mitchell and a few other bits, and set off to the local pond. I didn't catch anything (a not unusual occurrence, as by that time the carp in that water were so difficult an average season saw just two or three fish landed - by all those who fished it combined. That wasn't the point; what mattered was that I was fishing for the carp with a rod that somehow seemed more appropriate, more in keeping with the whole slow, subdued business. More real. A bite would have been nice though.

The following week I was free to fish every evening and intended to make the most of it, as it was mid September and the nights were drawing in fast. Each day as soon as I got home from work I would shovel my dinner down as fast as possible, grab a few bits and set off. The first evening I decided to head for the island pond across the road from the one I usually fished. I knew it held a few carp and tench, though not as big as those in the bigger pond. It tended to be fished quite heavily by kids at weekends, which is why I avoided it, but on a weekday evening it should be deserted - and so it was. I set up the rod, attached the centrepin with its four-pound line and put on a little porcupine quill. Bait was bread. The pond was heavily weeded but a small clearing existed on the open bank, testimony to the weekly crowd that descended on it. I only needed to cast about five yards to the edge of the weeds, which was easy enough even with the centrepin.

The float had been in position for not much more than an hour when it began to get harder to see, owing to the fading light. I had been staring at it for so long I couldn't tell if it was moving or not, but if I looked away it was difficult to find again. Then it disappeared completely. I struck and felt something quite sizeable pulling on the other end. I thought it was either a small carp or one of the many crucians that inhabited the pond, but it turned out to be a roach of about a pound - the first one I'd ever seen from either of the ponds on the common. This was an important moment - I had roach fishing within fifteen minutes' walk from home!

By now it was too dark to see the float, so I took it off and freelined bread, balancing a twig on the line by the reel for bite indication. Half an hour later my twig twitched and I saw the line draw tight. I struck and played in another roach of similar size to the first. Out went the tackle again and ten minutes later a third roach was drawn into the landing net. This one was a little smaller, so even if the first two were the same fish there had to be two roach present. After that it went quiet, and I packed up at ten pm, satisfied with a successful evening's fishing.

The rest of the week passed in similar fashion, though some sessions were disrupted by thunderstorms, which formed a rather irritating habit of turning up at dusk and rattling on until midnight. However a few more roach were caught, along with some small carp on floating crust taken well after dark with the aid of the same streetlight that had started it all off four months earlier. The carp were not more than a couple of pounds but I was quite happy with them - and with good reason. Another milestone event that summer was my first introduction to one of the best fishing writers of all time.

I had wandered into the local library - before my leisurely ways were disrupted by the onset of work - and discovered amongst the rather limited fishing section a small green and white covered volume with a lovely illustration on the cover of a carp rising beneath willow fronds, a round-bodied bob-float cocked nearby. Confessions of A Carp Fisher by 'BB' immediately became my favourite fishing book; I renewed it every three weeks for most of that summer until one day the librarian informed me that some other user wished to borrow it and that I would have to return it. I vowed to take it out again as soon as it re-appeared on the shelves, but it never did. Whether it was sold off by the library as out of date, or whether it was stolen I do not know. I do know that's the only time I ever considered doing an underhand thing, as I had considered telling the library I had lost it and offering to pay the cover price. I didn't and as a result it was lost forever, probably to some other, less scrupulous individual.

The other significant event of that year was the first showing - on BBC2 - of the best angling programme ever. Somehow I missed the first in the series, but I caught the second - even packing up early to get home in time. That programme was A Passion For Angling and the first episode I saw was the Redmire one; I still think that was the best of the six; outstanding as the others are, Redmire Legends seemed to encapsulate everything about fishing - carp fishing - that attracted me. Not just enormous fish, but beautiful, overgrown, ancient lakes, the sight of carp cruising around in the water, early morning mists, golden sunsets and late evening shadows. Best of all, Chris Yates was using a cane rod not all that different from mine.

With the end of summer came the end of my carp fishing; at the time I could not relate the chill of the dying year with the pursuit of carp - something that to my mind should be done amid lush vegetation, on hot steamy days or long, warm evenings by calm pools, the surface broken by the cruising and basking carp. Leaden water, fallen leaves and cooling temperatures meant perch and roach, chub and pike. Not having transport of my own my fishing became more erratic, opportunity taken where it arose to hitch a ride with friends to the rivers around Watford (a mere twelve miles by road, yet requiring a three-hour tube journey, via Kings Cross, to get to by public transport, there being no bus service any more). Even on these rare trip I couldn't resist using the cane rod in preference to the more suitable fibreglass float or avon rods.

One day in particular remains clearly in my mind. The Teflon Kid had invited me to join him on one of our favourite streams. He had been given leave to borrow his employer's car on the condition he took her son fishing. We arrived about lunchtime and I soon found a likely run which, although I had not fished it before, looked promising; slow steady water between eighteen inches and two feet deep as the stream backed up above a weir. My friend and his charge were above the bridge about a hundred yards above me. I set up the salmon rod with a little Intrepid Black Prince (found on the bank of the local pond) and three-pound line. Crazily I attached a twelve-inch hooklength of one and a half pounds bs, to which I tied a size 16 hook. The float was a home-made cork-bodied crowquill in miniature; rather less than three inches long with a tiny body of cork, taking just 3 No 6 shot. With the float set at just under two feet I cast out to midstream and began to swim the bait down towards the weir. Despite feeding half-a-dozen maggots each cast it was nearly an hour before I had a bite. I had decided to try a tiny redworm that had crawled out of the soil next to me and, first cast, the float dipped halfway along the swim. The strike met with the kind of solid resistance that you only get with a chub - and it was a good one by the feel of it. I played it extremely carefully, aware that a two-pound test curve rod and one-and-a-half pound line do not make a balanced combination. Fortunately, whatever faults can be found in K.P.Morritt's cheaper reels, the clutch on the Black Prince was perfect and I was able to slowly tire the chub against moderate pressure, the lightly set spool tension taking the place of the rod's spring. Eventually I drew a chunky three-pounder into the net.

I put it in the keepnet and scratched around for another redworm, without success. Throwing in another few maggots I rebaited with two and cast out, hoping there might be another chub around with more catholic tastes. Past experience on this little river had taught me that, unlike most small streams, if you catch one chub there are usually others nearby. You were also far more likely to catch chub with fine lines and small hooks and baits than by more conventional chub tactics; in all the years I fished it I never caught a chub on a bait bigger than two maggots or casters, though bread would catch you plenty of big roach if you could locate them. Anyway, the float dipped again and I was attached to another chub. In fact I caught six in as many casts, the fifth being chased by a pike of around ten pounds as I was about to net it. After number six the swim went completely dead.

When the time came to pack up I wandered upriver and across the bridge to see how the Kid and his pupil had fared. The boy had caught several gudgeon plus some small roach and perch on the short pole, fishing caster over the edge of some dead reeds. TK had been trotting caster down the far side against another bed of reeds and had quite a netful of roach, perch and three chub between two and three pounds. We returned his fish and walked back to my swim. I was keeping quiet about what I'd caught, pretending I hadn't done as well. My rod had understandably been the focus for some odd looks at the beginning of the day. I lifted my net out and revealed six fat chub, the smallest a shade under three pounds and the biggest two well over four. I don't know what was better, the look on my friend's face or the one on the youngster! Clearly the latter felt he should have fished with me. Still, it's not often I get one over on the Teflon Kid, so I felt I deserved a spot of good fortune.

*Now my wife. I may have lost my freedom, but it was a small price to pay.

To be continued…

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