The Inglorious Sixteenth.

The lake water is as tepid as a cup of tea that has been left to stew. A cacophony of birdsong fills the air, a chorus of excitement and expectation. The air is heavy with the heady smell of spicy hempseed and the strawberry flavoured sweetcorn that has stained your fingers blood red. The odd morsel of which has fallen into the bankside reeds and become a welcome early breakfast for a family of mice. All this you take in whilst staring through the mist at a scarlet tipped quill that twitches amidst the cauldron of pinprick bubbles that the feeding tench are creating; right next to the bed of waterlilies where the coots and moorhens squabble over the stray free offerings from your wayward rusty catapult technique. With every dip and sway of your float your hand tightens on the cork handle of your rod. Your throat has gone dry; but dare you reach for the flask in your basket? Your rapidly increasing heartbeat sounds as loud as a bass line on a subwoofer in a passing car. You subconsciously click the line a little tighter with a wind on the centerpin. The raucous noise scatters the feeding mice. You watch them as they scurry beneath the fallen willow. At that split second the quill rises and lies flat on the surface. A classic “lift” bite. You strike…

June 16th. Hallelujah. The long torturous months of waiting are over. You’ve spent hours or even days over the past months; hidden away in the shed or garage checking over tackle, muttering to oneself about wether the line on those reels needs replacing. Rods are checked, repeatedly (unless like me they are stacked against the wall from their last outings.).

Reels are spun in earnest, just to hear that satisfying sound of staccato from the ratchet; akin to a Barbel tearing across the river, or a carp on the run having snaffled your piece of floating crust. Tackle boxes are tidied. Shopping lists are made. “Do I need any more float rubbers? ”The answer is no- you have packets going back for the last five years! You’ve even disposed of the foul smelling tub of liquefied lobworms along with the even worse cling film wrapped stinky ball of cheese paste that you made with all the cheese that was left over from Christmas a couple of years back. You’ve been so long in your hideout that a search party’s been sent out to see what you are up to. They retreat to the house shaking their heads, almost disappointed that your hideaway secret is nothing more sordid than that never lost childlike enthusiasm for fishing. Back in doors, instead of watching the endless repeats on the tv, you are pouring over maps, looking for pinpricks of blue that may just be “that” water. The one that contains the monster fish that everyone else has missed. Fishing forums are searched on the internet, sometimes long into the night. Scanning through photos of smiley faced camo clad anglers holding specimen fish whilst trying to work out where they are by the background scenery. A word of advice here is to never “click’ off a page, when someone comes down the stairs to see why you are still sat in the dark, staring at the laptop screen. No explanation will cut it- even though the reality is as innocent as the time spent in the garage. Once more, retreating heads are shook and the words “bloody madman” are aimed your way. The close season has its merits; even if it’s only for all of the reasons above. I know that for many anglers the close season is a thing of the past and if that is their want then so be it. I’ve always felt that fishing for coarse fish out of season is akin to scrumping someone else’s apples, though from personal experience I can assure you that the punishment is not nearly as painful!

For me; the barren months are spent on a different set of waters. Small streams stalking wild trout and trying to deceive them with some dreadful home tied imitations of aquatic fly life that don’t even fool me let alone a wily trout. In my head I am thinking “size 14 hook with a pinch of bread flake would empty this river in twenty minutes.” But that would be game fishing blasphemy.

Other distractions include sea fishing. Being lucky, the coast of East Devon is only a fifteen minutes drive away and here I can throw lumps of plastic and metal at the uninterested bass that frequent these waters; or cast a fly at the hungry shoals of mackerel that almost beach themselves as they chase the tiny baitfish ashore. Unlike the burly men that hurl out great strings of gaudy feathers and reel in a helpless half dozen at a time, I am happy to hook one mackerel at a time, marvel at the spirited, reckless fight that it gives and let it go. The saltwater is a refreshing change, not in taste obviously, but the push of the tides, the energy of the waves, the ozone tingle is good for the soul. And then, should the desire to drive myself to complete and utter madness during the coarse fishing void, I can head for an Estuary and fish for mullet. Personally though, I have discovered that staying at home and banging my head against a brick works equally as well.

Of course, all the preparation in the world won’t compensate for your human failings. In past years I have managed to forget reels, nets, bait and refreshments. I remember once having to trudge through a muddy swamp to reach an estate lake in a fine pair of brogues because my boots were still in the porch.

Weather will always throw in a curve ball. One yearI had set my sights on the large tench in a canal. I’d set up in a quintessential misty dawn; only to be driven back to the car by a torrential hail storm that lasted for an hour. Golf ball sized hail stones pounded the earth , my brolly and me into submission, and breached the water like depth charges.

Diaries show that I blank more often than not. Red letter days are few and far between. But to call this failure would be folly. H T Sheringham wrote about angler’s excuses for failure in his book “Fishing. It’s Cause, Treatment and Cure. He wrote “There are blanks, blanks and blankety blanks. All I will say is that “there are many reasons for not catching a fish; but not one for not being there.

An edited version of this post is available to view in the excellent online publication The Piscators Journal which is available here

Published by simon

Chief bookworm at Foxed Finds vintage store on Etsy and in situ at The Antique Village near Hele Devon. Traditional angler, terrible surfer and prone to bouts of unprovoked stupidity.

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