Monday, 4 September 2017


The crow quill fell flat on the surface, laying snug between beds of lilies. Meanwhile, unseen, shot plummeted to absolute depth, taking with them an appetising bell-shaped bread-flake with clouds of white fluffiness around the gape and dough clenched tight to the shank of a small wire hook, causing the float to cock, standing slowly to attention; simultaneously gaining mine.
A year had passed since last I sat beside these waters, during which in my mind, fantasies played out frequently of my return. The revery had haunted me so often that now it was almost impossible to tell if this was dream or reality. Reflections of weathered red brick, softened further by the perpetually restless rippling of the water became further obscured by trademark bubbles betraying the secret presence of tench. I had watched the float disappear with my eyes firmly shut many times before and this was no different until the tangible response, as my cane connected with tinca tinca, told me that this was no longer a passive fiction but a reciprocal reality. I had indeed returned to The Moat.

My thumb, pressed firmly against the rim of the pin, could not prevent its turning as this dark purveyor of power peeled line from spool and heart to mouth. The swims' serenity shattered as this tench tore through it in a fine display of masculinity. Any hope however of encountering a quiet crucian faded with the light whilst this gladiator from the depths submitted to my net at dusk.
Perhaps in an attempt to reenact triumphs of the past, I settled for the night in the place of my previous tarriance. This however, proved to be a foolish endeavour as the carp I tried to tempt thought best to let me sleep! I woke with the dawn, birdsong, strong coffee and Full-English nourishment, ready also to devour the day.
I set out from my place of slumber for a tree-lined stretch, thick with weed and waterlilies only sporting the occasional clearing through which to post a line. I had intentionally taken the long route here in order to invest some time and conversation into friendships old and new, as is my way and of at least equal importance to the pursuit of fish. Here however, I was sufficiently removed from the melee of anglers and felt a sense of solitude and serenity- a sensation to be savoured by a new father!
Stealth, watercraft, patience and good luck came together in something of a hurry as my first cast accompanied by a small ground bait appetiser remained undisturbed by me until the float began to twitch. At first, only subtle ring-shaped ripples emanating from my homemade float were distinguishable but as the surface fizzed with pinprick bubbles and the archetypal gentle lift ensued there was no mistaking this for the delicate bite of a crucian carp. Every hypothetical scenario that had paced in circles anxiously around my head regarding when to strike was rendered completely irrelevant as autopilot took over and before I knew exactly how I had done it, a weighty crucian carp caused my rod to arc over as it spiralled down in search of sanctuary. Noble though its bid for freedom was, it was also thankfully short-lived and before long the sense of elation every angler lives for consumed my being.

Two further fish flirted with my float, each giving themselves up with relative ease at the thought of free food but neither were so uncanny that they would succumb to my net. Late morning swiftly slid into an afternoon lull and though not negating the enchantment of this Crabtree paradise, I had to create a little magic of my own. While persevering with cane and quill, an additional ledgered offering of worms watched over by my ever faithful optonic quickly conjured a plump tench to break the silence by triggering the alarms' distinctive tone. With demonic drive the doctor fish charged, relentlessly wreaking havoc and testing my tackle beyond comfort. Without fail each near submission was followed by yet another 'last' bid for freedom. The fitness of these moat fish is in my view unparalleled.

Nightfall denoted the final hours of my stay. I watched the stars circle slowly in the sky as the hours passed waiting hopefully for a final fish. As it became too dark to see without the assistance of a torch, line tore hurriedly off the spool of my left rod and I lifted into a hefty specimen. I anticipated the danger of nearby snags and held on for dear life, attempting to kite the carp to open water with side-strain. The line suddenly went slack and my heart sunk. I sulked back to bed and so began the dreams of my return to settle this unfinished business...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Nostradamus 2012/ A very carpy winter...

The end of life as I know it has been foretold and whilst the true believer does not fear death, any mere mortal inevitably clings to the life they have known with a sense of desperation. I am now counting the days to the very opposite scenario, a new life - my own daughter whom I cannot wait to meet and yet since Christmas have felt the necessity to fulfil something of an angling 'bucket list'.

Winter is seldom as I remember it as a child: Toboggan rides, snowball fights, those blue Parka jackets with orange lining and faux-fur hoods that every school boy wore in the 1980s and the disappointment of another weekend I could not fish at Lake Shearwater because it had a thick lid of ice on it. I never thought I would crave the cold but warm winters are not conducive to pike fishing and so as soon as the frosts first came I was out looking for esox lucius.

My first few excursions conformed to the cliche of the modest jack that was 'this big' by the time I spoke of it and of course tales of the behemoth 'that got away'. Minutes past home time frequently accumulated, spent with frost bitten fingers, mentally conflicted between the perceived shame of an unproductive trip and the trouble I would be in when I arrived home late. I have a habit of giving a 'final countdown' from 1 - 60 after which I am obliged to pack up but during which, if I have a bite - or any indication that could possibly be perceived as a bite, then the countdown must start again. On this occasion I had completed this ceremony faithfully without even the most tenuous excuse for a nibble on my float-fished sardine and so dutifully picked up my rod to reel in, which in doing so agitated the bait slightly and suddenly the float slid away... 

A 15lb Pike from a stour valley stillwater.

Grayling are synonymous with winter and regarded perhaps comically as a commendable quarry for carp anglers during the colder months. Last February I made my first pilgrimage with Matthew to the River Itchen where I was baptised into the cult of cane. Such fun was had with the 'ladies of the river' that we seem to have made it an annual fixture. Once at the waterside we went our separate ways until our mid-morning donut was due. "How many?" he asked - "Three" I said proudly "you?" - "Thirty!". Thankfully I didn't hold on to the embarrassment but continued to enjoy the day losing lethiathans and landing littler ladies, untangling birds-nests and admiring a hunting marsh-harrier. 

My mornings most weekends begin with a couple of hours at dawn, trotting a worm beneath a bobber along the jetties and between moored boats on the River Stour watched over by hungry and highly-opportunistic robins, redwings, blackbirds, song thrush and this not so koi kingfisher.

This has spot has been a tranquil haven for me, providing necessary escape and solitude until recently as it has become overrun with pike anglers clutching at the last straws of the season. By no means is this a criticism but in order to maintain my enjoyment, ever mindful of the sands of fishing-time slipping through my fingers, I opt not to compete.

As the season draws to a close, my tickets approach expiry and the wriggles and kicks visible on the surface of my wife's incredible baby-bulge become evermore violent, I know that each trip may be my last. For a while at least. I assign myself one last mission to catch a carp from one of the gravel pits abundant in this part of Kent.

I spent Saturday morning swimming with my wife, which is the only form of exercise she can really do at this stage of pregnancy, then on to mothercare and boots to buy the remaining miscellaneous necessities in preparation for our daughter's debut. By the time we were done and my gear was loaded into the car there was an hour left of light. Once at the lake my eyes strained to make out far bank features and after tentatively casting a lead towards intended spots only to find a multitude of overhanging branches I decided I had time for 1 cast per rod before dark- at a push and so put the rigs on and confidently pinged each rig precisely into position. That was a first for me!
Making use of landmarks on the distinctive treelined horizon I fired free offerings out in the dark with my catapult, a wild shot in the dark if ever there was one!
As I nestled down for the night beneath an almost full moon, the onset of sleep was intermittently interrupted by line-bites - encouraging to know that carp were chasing around after their widely scattered supper. The witching hour was announced by the tone of my alarms, a bite which dropped back rapidly as the fish took the bait away from the reed bed it had been kissing since sunset.

 As I lifted this glorious common carp out of the water I realised it was bigger than I had first thought in spite of its feistiness. As I held the scales aloft the dial turned to 20lb 12oz. 
"20, 12" I said aloud. The implications of this ominous number began to dawn on me as I recollected Nostradamus had predicted that the world would end in the year 2012. Could it be that my angling might also end with this 20-12 in accordance with the prophecies of the many wise sages coupled with anecdotes of their own parental experiences? 
Thankfully, Nostradamus was wrong!