Thursday, 27 March 2014

It ended in psssssst.

It seemed like we all waited so long for the rivers to come good and then finally just before the end of the season they did. But there was to be no final hurrah for me. My river season ended like a silent fart, hardly noticeable but defiantly there. I don't mind admitting either that the downfall of my finale was largely due to my attitude.

Two weeks before the whistle blew I was able but hardly inclined to fish the river. Normally from Christmas right through to March fourteenth I develop a slow romance between myself and the river which is founded on freezing days dace and chub fishing when other anglers are deterred by the cold. This year with the floods this brief relationship never came and even when the river came on-line I found myself disconnected from the rivers and feeling my river skills were... well, a bit rusty.

My actual final outing saw me head to the Warwickshire Avon in search of big dace. This session had originally been allotted for me to join a friend fishing a small yet reportedly over-productive river where the dace are nearing special proportions. But as these arrangements are susceptible to we were unable to meet up due to other commitments. So I headed to a faithful old section of the Avon instead.

This is a difficult thing to write about in reality. It's one of those times when I was not lacking for bites or action and should I have not turned up to this float fishing party with two feeder rods I feel sure I could have filled a keepnet with enough dace and roach to give Alan Scotthorne an erection. But the reality was that for all the sport available I could not magic a twelve ounce fish from the millions, and I mean millions of two ounce fish. 

A couple of pike turning up did form some interesting bends in my nine foot feeder rod here and there, but disappointingly I found my self running out of bait late in the morning and not being that bothered that I had to pack up and leave. Coincidentally my running out of bait happened not a moment too soon as more and more anglers showed up late on to try their hand ending their seasons with a bang and by the time I crossed the river there were at least ten others upstream of me, which is the most I have ever seen on that bit of river in years.

Then came a lucky twist to the day...

After joining my good lady for a peramble around a spring kissed park and late lunch in a nice restaurant, I  happened to hint on the way home that given it was such a lovely day it would be a fantastic evening to be out fishing. Fifteen minutes later and I was on the road debating whether to head back to the river or drop round my friends lake for a cheeky session. Not wanting to go through the mill again with the river I opted for and hour lift float fishing with my chub gear.

The hidden pool was deserted when I arrived and even the irritating Canadian geese which have turned up to breed were being quiet for once. As I tracked round the edge of the water I came across an unusual sight for early March; in the last corner of the lake to catch the warm evening sun carp were hanging just under the surface. The water was obviously quite warm here and basking in the spring sun seemed quite popular with the pools residents.

I stood there thinking 'I can't... can I!'. Well it turned out I could! Starting slowly I broke the crusts of a slice of bread before breaking them again into small bits and then flicked them onto the surface. I love watching carp sometimes, it's like you can almost see what's going on in their heads. The crust drifted closer and one by one the carp stirred out of there slumber. At first one just nosed the crust but then soon enough sucked it in. Then another did, and another, and another. Once the first big slurp of the year occurred they all woke up as if someone had rung the dinner bell.

My gentle baiting soon became aggressive and the more bait that went in the more carp seemed to rise from the depths. Soon there must have been twenty or more fish sucking and slurping and the time had come to cast out. My free lined crust lasted a very short time on the surface before a small mirror took it. It was at this point that I was reminded it that even though these carp were feeding like it was a summer day, it was still only early spring.

That first fish hardly fought at all, it was almost as if it wasn't fully awake or it didn't have the energy for it, as it just skated weirdly straight into the net. Though after that first fish and more free bread the fishes activity increased and they woke up a bit.
Seven more followed in this my earliest surface session ever and although none of them will ever break the British carp record most were in nice condition and certainly lifted my fishing spirits after a mediocre last session on the rivers that ended in a psssssst.

Friday, 21 March 2014

One Last Run. part 4

The sun was warm on his face and George felt as relaxed as he ever had. From his lounger he looked over the garden at Cynthia as knelt over the flower bed wearing that old straw hat she always wore and old flannel shirt of his she had rescued from the rag box. She always hummed as she pottered in the garden and although it was no particular tune, the sound of her humming away always made him feel happy. Content in the moment he closed his eyes and rested his head back into the warmth of the sun.

“Are you going to lie around all day George?” she called softly across the lawn
“It is quite possible my dear”
“You know there’s other chores need doing in the garden”
“But darling you love gardening and I would want to take away what you love”
“mmm… Well I don’t love pruning back that infernal gorse bush that’s popped up in the front garden”
“I’ll do it in a while. Right now I am ever so comfortable”
“Don’t make me come over there husband!”
“I think my dear wife that you might just need to come over here and persuade me somewhat”
He never heard her approach and only when her silhouette blocked the sun did he realize he had been called out.
“It’s going to take more persuading than that my dear”
“I’ll chuck a bucket of water over you and that will get you up?”
“Calm down all I am just asking for is a bit of a cuddle”
“You’re a soppy old bugger George”
Gently she slid onto the edge of the lounger put her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek. He couldn't have been more happy than he was right now sat with his love in his arms as the hazy sun warming them as they sat listening to the hypnotic sound  grasshoppers buzzing from somewhere over the garden.

A violent splashing woke him. Could it really be that he was wrong and the great fish still lived? He sat bolt upright before leaning over the edge. Expecting to see the fish writhing still tied to the boat he was shattered when he saw what disturbed the water. A big old dog otter clawed and bit at the pike under its gills tearing the flesh sending scales sinking down in the water. The sight of the otter eating the great fish was too much. Enraged, he grabbed for the oar and swung down hard onto the water well beyond the otter. It was more than enough to send the creature diving away from its free meal. Even with the otter well and truly sent packing he still swung the oar onto the water again and again screaming with anger until finally the oar contacted with the edge of the boat and snapped in two. Calm again he looked down at the fish. Not so long ago it had been perfection then he had killed it. Even dead it was still in some ways perfect but now at the hands of one hungry otter it had been tainted. There was no way he could leave her to be spoilt further, he had to take it back with him even just so others could see it dead and witness what a fish it once had been, even if they condemned him.  So he went about attaching it to his boat.

The head was still tethered so all he had to do was to get another piece of rope and secure the tail so the fish would be tight to the boat for the trip back. Wanting to get away before the otter returned he began priming the little seagull. The fact that it had been out and uncovered all night was a worry but he had to try. The normal six or seven pulls on the cord failed to spark life into the engine and after a few more he removed the petrol cap to check the fuel. There wasn't much but there was some and maybe even enough to make it back again. There was no way he would give up until that motor sparked up. A nasty blister had formed on his right hand were the rope rubbed when he tugged at the engine, well before it came to life one last time. The engine did not sound good at all. Running it was, but not in a healthy way for sure. The damp must have got into it or the fuel tank over night and now it sputtered occasionally as if about to stall. All he could do was chance it and give the little engine more gas. The boat moved and he was off. Having a large pike tethered to the side of the little tub made it handle very badly, the disturbance to the flow of the water round the hull caused the boat to drag on one side and he had to constantly compensate.  The engine still struggled and he could barely maintain a straight line never mind any speed. He was only just off the main Broad when the fuel reserve expired and again powerless he realised he was going to have to row all the way back. If only he hadn't of broken one of the oars fending away the otter then the rowing might have been easier, but with only one complete oar remaining it was going to be a long journey rowing Indian style with the single oar from the front of the boat.

He was far too old for this. In his youth he and a friend had spent a summer camping and canoeing on some of the Scottish rivers and lochs but that was more than fifty years ago when he was young and strong. Now every time he leant forward to dip the single oar into the water his back and shoulders ached. The muscles in his arms had not known exertion like this for many years and after the fight with the fish he wondered whether his old body would hold up long enough to get them both back to moorings.

He saw the first herring gull flying towards him low scanning the water for a meal. The moment it sighted him and the fish it let out a shriek and turned on the wing diving towards him. Holding the oar in the air and jabbing it in the bird’s direction halted its descent, but this was no timid otter, this was a true scavenger of the coast and lands, a real landfill hunter. Repeatedly it dropped out of the air and every time George waved his oar it screamed louder and louder. It was only a matter of time before it attracted more of its brethren. When they came they did en masse in a flock like the ones you see following a trawler on its way back to port, or tractor ploughing up a field. One he could deter, fifty he could not. For every one he batted off the fish two more dove in picking at the loosened flesh. One or two took hard enough shots to end up flailing on the water with broken wings.  For hours this went on as the whole fiasco drifted down the stream between the reeds. His defence of the fish grew less and he could hardly stop them turning the fish and his boat into a mess of gore and shit. When they had had their fill the birds just silently drifted away into the sky satisfied with their find, leaving him to survey the damage. The fish was hardly recognisable any more, now it just looked like a fleshy mess. It was as he peered down into the water that he saw the sea gulls were not the only ones who had found the carcass. Hundreds of tiny roach pecked at the unseasonal bounty and worst of all the vibration had brought the eels up from and they now took their piece too. The fish was disappearing and George could do nothing to stop it, all he could do was push on for home.

Even the sight of the dyke entrance after such an arduous experience did nothing to raise his spirits. It was all he could to slowly keep going after rowing all day. The boat turned easily into the dyke as if to help the broken old man out one last time. Panting and wheezing George called forth what little he had left to get up the last few hundred yards towards the deserted wooden moorings. It certainly didn't feel real as he pulled the oar from the water and let the boats momentum carry it thumping into the dock. With nothing left in the tank he grasped for the wooden platform scratching the skin from his finger tips on the rough surface as he did. For a moment he just sat with his head hung low panting. There was no thinking to be done no considering the situation. He simply tied off the boat to the dock with a single half hearted knot and then dragged himself slowly up onto the wooden stage. Unsteady on his feet he nearly dove head first into the reeds behind the walkway, he was that tired. He was about to walk away when he stopped in his tracks and thought of the fish. Turning back he could make out nothing but the very tip of its tail beyond the boat from where he stood. The image of that beautiful giant came back into his mind; then the sight of its haunting eye. Looking down towards the water he could still see the ripples caused by a million tiny scavengers emanating from where the carcass was still tied up. It was too much to bear, he had to walk away and resist one last look.

The walk along the lane was one he had made alone hundreds if not thousands of times before but this was the loneliest journey he had ever made. It was like he was trapped in a bubble and all he could hear was his own laboured breath as he plodded forth back towards his home. With little care of how long it had taken him to silently walk back, George suddenly found himself looking at the over grown gorse which dominated his front garden. “I really must do something about that” he said as he stepped around the bush towards the house. Inside it was cold and crisp. No heat came from the agar and he would not stop to light a fire in it either. Still in his own world he walked right by towards the creaky old stairs. After only two boards he stopped and exhaled before sucking in a deep breath and pushing on. It really did take the very last scrap of life to drag himself up those few wooden boards before turning off into his bedroom. Only his boots were removed before he dropped onto the bed and pulled the sheets around him where upon he softly slipped away.

For Peter, Mondays were always slow at school, having double maths and double science both on the same day. But this Monday was far worse than normal. The previous afternoon he had waited round at the mooring for George to return from his fishing trip. But after hours of hanging around darkness had fallen and his old mentor had still not returned. Concerned, Peter had gone up to the cafe to speak with the other anglers and inform them of George’s absence. More mockingly than concerned they discarded Peter’s worries saying that George was probably just fishing into dark. But even the young man’s assurance that George never fished into dark did nothing to incline them into action. After running home he had pleaded with his father to help him look into it but all his father said they could do was contact the community police officer over the phone.  PC Gallington had assured both Peter and his father that George had to actually be missing for some time before he could do anything and that it was more than likely that he was just out late fishing. None of this was good enough for Peter, he knew his old friend so well and he knew something wasn’t right. After a sleepless night he had thought to do an early runner out of the house and bunk off of school to go and looking for George, but his father anticipated this and was waiting downstairs when Peter tried to sneak out. Forced to go to school, Peter bided his time, but once that bell went no one would stop him from heading out looking for his friend.

Like a greyhound from a trap Peter burst out of the door knocking over two first years as he did. The moorings were on the opposite side of the village so he would have to use every alley and short cut he knew to shorten the journey. With his rucksack banging up and down on his back he charged through the streets in a record time until he found himself outside the cafe at the top of the lane. Strangely he could see others hurrying down the lane towards the alley that lead to the moorings. Running twice as fast he pushed his way past to get through until he came to a solid mass on mooring right by where George moored his boat. With thirty or more voices all talking in different directions he could barely make out what was going on. Desperate to get through he jumped down into another boat and then began unsteadily making his way forward. As he tried to avoid going in the water he heard his name called, “Peter!” It wasn’t his old friend calling him, but instead Johno.
“Peter have you seen it?”
“Seen what?”
“That!” Johno pointed frantically down to the walk way alongside George’s boat.

There lay the most unbelievable thing Peter had ever seen.  The head of the pike was huge! Probably close on a foot wide and certainly close on two feet long. It was perfectly intact all the way back to the gills. From there it was nothing but a four feet long skeleton. Every speck of flesh back from the solid head had been picked clean off the bone. The tail was still in near perfect condition from above were the rope had secured it out of the water even though it was a little dried up. It was amazing to see.
“How big do you think it was?” was all he could think to say? The now silent crowd burst in to action all speaking at once. Fifty, sixty and seventy pounds were all called out as well as every weight between. It was the bullish Johno who quietened them all down by yelling, “Shut the hell up will you’s.” He then held up a set of scales before calling for them to weigh it.
They all fell silent once again as two of them lifted what was left of the fish up to hang it on the scales. Struggling to hold the weight up high Johno peered down to read the weight.
“Well bugger me! Just over twenty pounds for the head and bones alone.”
The whole crowd burst out with some outlandish weights and the discussion went into over drive. It must have been half an hour before they all decided that with the head making up maybe only a quarter or fifth of the fishes weight eighty plus pounds was not out of the question. The whole time this was going on Peter just stared at the giant pikes lifeless eye. As he did he filled in the blanks of what might have happened and then he came back to his friend.
“Get out of my way,” he yelled pushing, his way along the moorings.
“Where are you going Peter?” called Johno
But all the young man called back was, “George!”

The house was not far away but Peter ran faster than he had ever done in his life before. He ran so fast that his feet hurt where he pounded them at the ground needing to go ever faster. He skidded round the last corner and finally caught sight of the over grown gorse hanging out of the garden. Not stopping for a moment he charged down the street and through the open gate.  He caught his knuckle on the stone covering of the wall but that didn’t stop him. What did though was when he reached the back door of the house and found it wide open. His heart pounded in his chest and he dared not call out. Slowly he crept into the door way. The house was freezing as if the door had been open all day and this worried Peter even more. Further in he went and called quietly as he went, “George… George are you in here?”  Silence was the only reply.

Peter had never been in to the house any further than the kitchen so once he parted the curtain that separated the kitchen from the sitting room he was in an alien place. The dank sitting room was like a museum. It was clean but everything looked to be years old. On the mantel piece he spotted a picture of George sitting in a deck chair with his shirt open and wearing sandals. In a black and white one he was in uniform and young, and in another he stood arm in arm with a beautiful young woman. Even with pictures of him everywhere George was nowhere to be seen. Peter delved on further in the unknown and went the door way into the hall and up the stairs.

The stairs creaked as stood on each one in turn and by the top Peter was convinced should George be at home he would off by now heard him, but still he went on anyway. At the top of the stairs he stood on the little landing with three doors all open in front of him. The bathroom was cold and empty and the second room was half filled with old junk so all that remained was the last open door. Not daring to look he walked towards the open door holding his breath. There, lying on the bed covered by a sheet was the shape of a human. No movement or sounds were obvious at all. Almost in tears Peter moved closer reaching out with his hand to make contact. His hand rested slowly onto the figure feeling for any life. Unable to detect anything he shook gently and quietly called out, “George,” but the silence still clung to the air. He had to try again so a second firmer shake moved the body back and forth but drew no answer.

As a last resort Peter reached to pull back the sheets and finally saw his friends face still and his eyes shut. He reached out and touched George’s cheek as he spoke, “Oh, George…”

There was warmth! He could feel warmth when he touched the wrinkled old cheek, “George!” he called loudly and his old friend’s eyes opened and with a dry voice crackled, “Hello, Peter”
“Hello, George” he relied joyfully with a smile
“I was having the strangest dream about lions”
“Yes, they were running on a beach”
“Never mind lions. What about this giant fish?”
“Oh yes I’d forgotten about that. Put the kettle on and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Thank you to both Jacky and Jeff. 
Without all of your help, advice and patient editing 
I don't think I would have had the confidence to post this story.

Monday, 17 March 2014

One Last Run. Part 3

George was about to lift the rod and strike the now tightening line when he eyes traced the line back to the rod.  As his eyes focused on the rod, he noticed the line was not emanating from the tip ring as it should, but was instead dangling from somewhere back of the second eye. Knowing full well that should he strike now the chances were the line would snap or even worse severe the cane rod tip he calmly and deftly he flicked the rod gently up in the air and pulled the tip back through the water. The line now led directly out of the last ring and not to soon ether as the belly in his line was gone and the tension was not far away.

He sent the cane swishing through the air into an unearthly bend. That initial moment when the angler wonders what he has on and the fish does not realise it is hooked seemed to last an age. It wasn't until he struck the rod into the air once, then twice more to make sure the hooks were driven home, that the pike moved and when it did, it did so with nothing but pure ignorant power. The Mitchell reel sounded the movement before anything thing else got chance. The reel sang a verse begging him to ease the strain so he loosened the stiff clutch off straight away, relieving the pressure.  There was no panic from the pike at all as it resisted the pressure being applied from above; almost imperceptibly the force from below increased, turning the arching cane into a near hoop.

The words his father had passed down all those years ago rang through his mind, ‘It’s all about balance son. Light enough to trick the fish but heavy enough to land it. If it’s a monster, let it do its thing, hold on and pray your line don’t snap.’ So he let the fish do its thing and it took generously of the spool and headed straight for the sanctuary of the reeds. With no choice George had to manually break the spool and then try and turn the fish, but the pikes only compromise was to turn a little and move in line with the edge of the pool, forcing him to physically turn in the boat. Twice more the fish turned back on itself and kept plodding up and down the reeds until finally it found what it sought and buried itself behind a lone clump of reed standing three feet from the rest. He could see his line cutting into the water on the left side, the fish on the right making the water pulsate; he had no choice but to go over and try and free it. All the while trying to maintain pressure on the line he pulled the oar from the mud behind the boat, untangled the rope as best he could and pushed off in the direction of the snagged fish. It took a little time to catch up with the sagging line but luckily when he did he could still feel the occasional thump of contact. The reeds neared quickly and within moments he was positioned right over the fish. Instinctively he let the drag off so as the spool could spin freely should the worse happen and then he grabbed the closest oar before leaning over the side line in hand.

What George saw when he parted those reeds made his heart thump harder than the German’s flack did all those years ago. Three feet down in the gin clear water laid the most immense pike imaginable. He could only see from the gills back as its head was buried deep under the roots of the reeds, but what he could see looked to be almost five feet long and had a body as thick as a black Norfolk pig.  It was huge and tangled very badly deep down in the water. His only choice was to try and free it with the oar. The first time that oar touched it bucked violently rocking the boat from underneath and tangling itself further. This was never going to work, the more he tried the more he knew he would sooner or later part the line. Then it struck him! The reeds around which the fish was tangled actually sprouted the surface right there in front of him, he just had to pull them up. One by one he began pulling at the soft stems. At first they broke off but after grabbing four at once he clocked that they seemed to break less when pulled in a clump. He’d only managed to pull three small clumps, when on the forth the whole lot moved. He felt the root ball move off the mud and as it did he turned to see his line become tight again and his spool start to spin. Dropping the vegetation he dived for the rod grabbing hold of the now vibrating handle, as he did though an awful mess of line spilled from the spool. Keeping calm he wound carefully on the handle trying to clear the nest. How he got away with it was a miracle but the line untangled at his fingers as he reeled it through them. Now again the fish was free moving in open water and he stood a chance, if only a small one.

The fight so far, though eventful, had remained relatively calm as the giant pike continued plodding around the pool. The only issue now was that the boat on which George floated was not in any way anchored. Thus the powerful fish now towed it in any direction it chose to go. At first it was just round and round but soon enough the fish realised that it might stand a better chance out of the pool. Just like that it stopped circling and moved in the direction of the entrance to the hidden pool, dragging the boat with it. Why George suddenly panicked was anyone’s guess but he thought he should stop it leaving the pool and braked hard on the reels spool, gripping it with his hand. This only served to push the fish on and that’s when he came to the worst problem so far. Abruptly the spool of his old Mitchell reel locked up. Looking down his heart sank when he saw that age old classic problem associated with these reels; the line had at some point found its way behind the spool and was now jammed firmly, preventing any more line from winding on or off the spool. The only reason the massive beast had not snapped him up was all the give from the free moving boat. Now he was in trouble; attached to a massive pike, being towed around and with barely control of the fish at all. The pike passed though the reeds barely moving them an inch, the boat though, crashed through them like an elephant through the jungle. That was it, they were both out of the pool and travelling back along the little channel into nowhere.

It was midday by the time the fish stopped meandering up and down the channel. The sun was not far off as high as it would get today and George was getting hungry. The pike had stopped momentarily, probably sulking as pike are prone to, so he took the opportunity to first reach for his foil wrapped cheese sandwich that was hidden under the seat. Half watching where the line entered the water and half looking at the foil package he clumsily tore away the wrapping. It was never a meal he was going to savour as he chewed franticly at the crusty bread and pungent cheese. Luckily though the pike continued brooding long enough for him to manage to pour a tepid cup of tea and quickly swallow it. Not long after that they were off again down the channel like a speed boat towing a water skier. On and on the fish went with ceaseless stamina and as it did he could see the sun growing lower and lower in the sky.

Just before dusk the fish stopped again mid-way through a bend back in the main channel. George had watched the line for five or more minutes before deciding to take a chance whilst the fish was resting and he began to gently unscrew the wing nut so as to remove the spool and attempt to untangle the line. Turn by turn the spool loosened and then with the wing nut removed he slipped the spool off as if he were diffusing a bomb. Underneath it was a mess of grease and line. Unable to see entirely what he was doing he plucked at an errant loop which did untangle a large portion of the line from the nest, but only served to leave an even larger loop sticking out of the tangle and it was just then that the pike moved deep under the water. It only twitched but the hint of action was enough to force George to begin screwing the spool back onto the reel. With it back in place he stupidly gave into instinct and turned the reels handle and to his surprise found that the reel would actually recover line. But his rash action re awoke the beast and they were off again. The now free running spool again let line off to a certain extent, certainly until it reached the tangle again when it stopped once more. Why he tried it he would never know, but he reeled hard to recover the line. The fish would take it back and the line would stop every time it hit the tangle. At an estimate he figured he had some were near thirty feet of line between him and the pike.

It was a stalemate for the time being and as the mighty fish lead him along a merry dance he pondered his situation. He had been attached to the fish since before ten in the morning and now it was getting dark which at this time of year meant it was maybe five thirtyish. He did hope that the fish might of dragged him back to the Broad where all the other boats were fishing and the others piker’s could help him, but the fish as yet had not decided to lead them there. Next he thought of the fish. He had been fighting it for around six hours and he had seen its massive size, how long could this giant go on for? At one point he had wondered if cutting his line might have been his best option but the fish stood a good chance of starving to death with his hooks sealing its gullet, so he would never do that.  The only thing he could think to do was holding on and try to win, but on thinking this he realised this could well be a winner take all fight were one if not both of them could end up dead.

The cold of the night soon crept over the water. The fishes towing had slowed to a stop and he suspected it now rested, regaining its energy lying on top of the weeds. Still hanging onto the rod his hands now cramped up and his body began to shiver. Knowing the cold had become a player in this battle he jammed the rod between his legs whilst he fumbled for the boat cover to wrap himself in. Now with his all his layers of clothing, coat and a leatherette boat cover wrapped around him George knew he stood a chance of not freezing to death on the water that night. With the wind holding tension on the line he concluded to try and rest a little by curling up in the prow of the boat wrapped up still clutching his bent over cane rod.

It was the jolt of movement that roused him from his half sleep. The pike was done with resting and now so must he be. Disorientated he looked around for something familiar and the only thing he found was the bent over rod. It wasn't a dream or a nightmare at all, this was really happening. 

Slowly the fish moved off towing the boat again. George was still rubbing the sleep form his eyes and could barely make out his surroundings in the semi dark at first but then the shadows and silhouettes became familiar. They were back in the Broad and things were soon to become very eventful. Stiff and drained both physically and mentally he knew that he was making no head way in the battle between him and the fish. He had to do something to turn the tide in his favour, if that was at all possible. His options were limited to little more than pulling on the rod harder. So far the 20lb line had held firm under the pressure from both sides but its biggest test was about to come. As they were now in some serious open water he made the decision that would make or break this battle. Slowly he made his way across the boat so as he was seated in the back. Then passing hand over hand up the rod he worked his way back along to the rods tip ring at the other end of the boat. With the main line now in his hand he pulled hard moving the boat forward against the pressure of the fish. In doing so he created enough slack in the line for him to grab hold of and wrap it a few times around the nearest rowlock. With the line now tethered he quickly went back down the rod to the reel and began trying to untangle the line from within. With his hands cold and fumbling it seemed like he would never get the knots out but with a little wiggling here and there he actually loosened the knot from around the reels central pin and up through the rings.  Before reattaching the spool he did check to see if the small tangle might possibly come undone but there was no chance of that. As it seemed small enough to pass back and forth through the rings he opted to leave it alone and not chance cutting out and retying his line. That was it, the moment the wing nut tightened onto the spool once again the battle was back on. Straight away he freed the line from around the rowlock and wound the little nest back onto the spool and instantly called forth what energy he had left and leaned hard on the fish once again curving the old cane right over.

The fish answered his call by also upping its game in a vulgar display of power. Like a rocket it came from the depths with all but its tail coming clear of the water. Some five or more feet of pike bucked back and forth with its epic mouth open so wide you could have stuffed a football in it. Like a whale it crashed back down into the water sending ripples across the broad shattering the dawn. George though was not going to be intimidated by the mighty fish and knowing that his line still held he pulled hard on the rod to send another message pressure down the line. This time the fish surged across the shallow broad just below the surface forcing the water’s surface up as it went forming a massive bow wave. It nearly pulled him over before the motionless boat dragged slowly off the mark. Around the Broad they went with him leaning as much pressure as he could on the fish and with the pike becoming more panicked as he did. Before this he’d wondered if the pike even knew it was hooked but if it didn’t then, it did and now at the start of this new day.  Eighteen hours after he had hooked it the pikes attitude had changed. No longer was it the queen of its domain, no longer did it have no fear of predators; now it was in trouble, maybe even scared and he knew it. The realization that he was getting somewhere spurred him on to push ever harder. Dawn had now broken and the end was in sight. The violence that occurred over the next hour was frantic and barley describable. The fish jumped, thrashed and banged its head under the water. Hardly a square foot of the huge sheet of water did not have bubbles or foam on it and as for him, he was sweating, but finally the mighty old girl showed signs of tiring. Now after all this time and the battle to end all battles, she swam just under the surface and he was able to pull her back.
Then she began to circle side on just under the surface and he knew he had won. There was never any doubt in his mind that a fish of this size was never fitting in his feeble net. His only option was going to be to try and chin her. In  quiet moments during the fight he had considered if this was even possible and he had even formed a crazy plan to pull a noose around the pike using his mooring rope so as he could keep her tethered in the water whilst he removed the hooks and now this seemed the only option.
Only a few more times did she go round and round before at the furthest point of her path she surfaced. Her gigantic mass just lay there hardly moving apart from an occasional half hearted buck or twitch. This was it, George had won!

Like pulling an inanimate object across the surface he retrieved his prize, the biggest pike he had ever seen. As good as gold she floated towards him and in no time he was running his hand across her mottled green flank. The sheer size of her was scarcely imaginable, even by an experienced angler such as George. She had to be close to seventy or eighty pounds in weight, a proper giant. She barely moved as he slipped at the noosed rope around her and tied the rope off a little back of her still moving gills. Instinctively he reached down into the water to get his hand under the chin and lift her head. That’s when he saw it! He watched as the huge head as it rose up out of the water and then he saw her eye. Never before had a fish’s eye looked so human to him. The look of pure fear in that one big eye told him instantly that yes he had won his prize, but at what cost?

Now he fumbled with the hooks to remove them quickly and as he did the massive girl seemed to grow limper. The hooks gone, he tried to right her in the water whilst gently rocking her back and forth in an attempt to get the water moving over her gills. Time and time again when it seemed like she could support herself he let go only for her to sink slowly down sideways on towards the bottom. How many times he hauled her back with the rope he couldn't know but the truth of the situation was now lying right there dying in the water. He couldn't stop looking at her eye as he built up the courage to do what he knew was right. He had brought her to this state and he would not let her suffer gasping for air on the bottom of the broad. With tears welling in his eyes George took hold of the pipe he used to stake his boat to harder banks and then pulled the fish up in the water. The words didn't seem to want to come out at first, then he half crying he said aloud, “I am sorry my friend for what I have done.”

And with that he brought the pipe down hard as he could onto her skull. With that single merciful strike she was gone. George watched the life drain from her eyes as tears began to stream from his own.

Emotion overwhelmed him after he committed the merciful act that he hated so much. All he could do was slump down onto the wooden seat holding his head in his hands and cry. He hadn't cried like this since that awful day seventeen years ago when his beloved wife left him for the last time. The feeling was unbearable. He had fished since he was knee high and over the years he had probably killed thousands of fish, first as food and then as trophies, but that was in the past and now and he revered all fish as sacred. Now here he was after the capture of his life mourning the largest pike known to man. Time began to slip away from him as he curled up in the bottom of the boat in a tired daze and drifted off…

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

One Last Run. Part 2

The bedroom was practically frosty and lying under the pile of blankets with nothing more than his head exposed George was warm. As he breathed he could see his foggy breath as it reached the crack of light that sliced through the room.  Normally he struggled to motivate himself from bed, but today it seemed a modicum easier to throw off the covers and quickly grab hold of his clothes. Stiff as his old joints were, the cold floor made him skip lightly off to the bathroom, down the familiar route he had taken three times hence the night just passed.

Downstairs the perpetual warmth of the kitchen was always welcome. He practically lived in the kitchen now and the old agar never seemed to get cold, even when its fire had gone out hours before. With a new fire now blazing inside its belly the kettle was soon screaming with enough hot water to fill his dented flask and also make a large pot of steaming tea to get him going again. While the tea steeped, two slices of soft bread browned near the fire of the agar. One of the few joys left in George’s life was jam on toast; over the years it had never changed and so easily it took him back to breakfast in his grandparent’s farm kitchen or those lazy mornings he and Cynth spent in bed after the war. Today, however, those cherished memories were hardly observed as thoughts of where he may end his blank weighed heavy on his mind. All his old spots now seemed the possession of the new guard, with their echo sounders and shrill bite alarms that they deployed from the banks with aggressive tenacity. No, he had to go far out deep into the Broads keeping off the main river which the angling papers had spoilt with their raving articles. In truth, his memories of those far off barely fished places were fuzzy at best, although and that didn’t really matter as unlike most places, the Broads altered their appearance year on year with the growth and death of the reeds.

Only one other boat still remained in the mooring as he lowered his tackle down into the boat. He knew full well that he had been up and out before the rest of the rabble, but it took him a fair while to walk down the boats via the paper shop and after discussing the football with Sid he was well behind time. Eventually he got himself and everything arranged just how he liked it: the paper was hidden away alongside his cheese sandwich and flask filled with tea; his old cane pike rod that his dad made for him lay in the prow of the boat along with his faux cane fibre glass float rod he used to catch baits. The last thing he checked was the bait. He took a quick peep in the bucket to confirm the two skimmers Peter had given him had not been stolen by the otters that slunk around the moorings at night. Both were still there as was the half-eel he had left over from the previous blank. After sitting visibly thinking for a while he managed to remember the one last thing he needed to check, though he did struggle to locate the old aluminium bait tin under the seat where he was sat. In the cold morning his dry hands struggled to get purchase on the freezing cold tin. When he finally got the confounded lid off he rustled around in the dry maze with bent fingers finding mostly floating casters. Somewhere from deep in the tin he did force up a small population of still wriggling grubs. They would have to do for today, no tackle shops would be open to purchase replenishments and besides, there might be enough left to prize out a few wriggling roach should a shoal come by.

Now came time to fire up the old motor, “Damn it… Fuel,” he muttered to himself.
He unscrewed the oily cap and rocked the whole boat side to side to see how much petrol remained in the tiny tank.
“Oh, not much left I see. A top up is in order.”
From the paint-flaked jerry can he topped up the little tank and in doing so it emptied the last of the fuel he had. Thinking it would be more than enough, he pressed on to leave although not before checking both were oars were safely, stowed just in case.  George hoped the old seagull might be a little more cooperative than normal as he wrapped the cord twice around the pulley, but it was not to be; several times he wrapped the cord before pulling violently to try and ignite the engine. On the eighth pull he heard the hint of a splutter that suggested the next pull would crack life into the thirty year old engine, and he was right. Blue and white fumes billowed from the exhaust into the cold morning air as he tweaked the choke on the little engine. Waiting for the tone to level was the last part of the morning’s ritual before he cast off from shore. As always he readied himself as the engine warmed up by untying the mooring rope and passing the uncoiled rope around the mooring post leaving only a single coil holding the boat. He sat back down by the motor, still holding the rope by one end. The moment that engine settled he gave it one small burst of throttle just to check it was ready before flicking the rope in his hand down hard like a whip, sending a wave up the rope which when it reached the post sent the rope sailing over the top, and George was off.

It was one of those joyful days to be afloat, with clear blue skies overhead and the rising sun warming his face from the east.  As pleasurable as the sun was on his face but he knew it more than halved his chances of catching, but for now he made the most of things and soaked up the warmth like a lizard on a rock. He had been cruising at a steady speed for not too long before he sighted the first boat nestled tightly against the dried winter reeds on the big bend. Four huge flighted floats marked an invisible boundary around the two anglers. One sat smoking, staring through half closed eyes as he passed; the other seemed to already be asleep in the bottom of the boat if the protruding boots were anything to go by. No one fished the long straight which led up to the first Broad but once inside he knew a second boat would be close by and he was right. He spied it just to the right hand side of the entrance and one of its occupants was into a fish. Not a big one but still a fish for sure. Where the Broad opened up he could see others in the distance but they were of no matter to him as it was much further out he wanted to go. He wondered if one of the specks fishing on the reed line was Peter with that bull-headed Johno but he couldn't tell from this far away.

Further on he went until no other humans were in sight; once you got deep enough into the Broads you suddenly realised how inaccessible the place really was. Even being alone and getting further away from civilisation didn't bother him, he had probably been this far before despite having no recollection of it. Three quarters of an hour later he travelled right through the string of smaller Broads and was now motoring along the narrow channels only accessible to small boats such as his. Some of it seemed familiar but maybe that was just because the reeds and water all look very similar. As yet though, he had not seen any spots that called out to him. One or two looked possible but the depth put him off as being too shallow. Things weren't looking good at all, he hadn't seen signs of prey fish and the main channel seemed to be shrinking ever faster.

Thinking he had made a dire mistake, George made the decision to turn around in the mouth of an offshoot he had just passed in the reeds.  After letting the little tub drift backwards in the slight tow he revved the engine to turn the boat, only for it to stop with a thump. Looking over the side he could see submerged log which prevented the boat from turning. He knew the Broads well and knew it was more than likely a new channel would come out further up or down the main run, so off he went down a tiny path in the reeds hoping to pop out back further down. He soon wondered whether he had made another mistake taking this detour as the channel seemed to go on forever, then he noticed the reeds were forcing him to bear right; sure enough the reed cutter that had made this passage cut it so he could go in one way and out the other and soon enough sighted a familiar skeletal tree he had passed previously on the main channel. Relieved, he decided to backtrack along his previous course towards the main Broad. Now he had his bearings, he stopped up against the reeds to answer the call of nature and pour himself a cup of tea before heading off again. Rather than drop a mud weight he just did as he often did, staked an oar into the reeds and tied the boat off to it before giving the old seagull a rest.

It was lovely and quiet there deep in the reeds and apart from the wind rustling the dried stems the only sound he could hear was the cooling metal on the exhaust of his engine.  Sipping his tea George soaked up the sights of the winter waterscape. He had just closed his eyes and was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face when he heard a herring gull shriek and opened his eyes just in time to see the bird drop down into the reeds. This pricked his attention as sea birds aren't ones for diving into thick reed beds. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and after downing the last of his tepid tea George stood up gingerly to try and see where the gull had gone. He spied what looked to be a hole in the reed bed some way back along where he had just come he could. He craned his neck and saw that that further along the cavity in the reeds came quite close to the channel he was on. It was far to interesting he had to investigate. Rather than spark up the motor he used the oar the push himself and the boat back up the channel and after not too far he soon began to see the reeds thinning. Then lo and behold he saw it, a secret gap in the reeds, the entrance masked being as it was on bit of a dog leg. One hard push and the boat crossed the channel and entered the concealed entrance. George harboured a suspicion as to what he may find beyond the hidden ingress, but all was not finally revealed until the reeds sank away behind him. 

Hidden deep in the massive reed bed was a pool, like a pond within a lake. It had probably always been here undiscovered, hidden in plain sight amid the flat landscape, waiting for his arrival. As he surveyed the scene the old man wondered if the secret pool might hold something special. Floating in the entrance he looked across its small surface and estimated it to be maybe the size of two eighteen yard boxes. As he scanned the pool he saw tell-tales signs of a shoal of roach moving along the edge; that was it, he had to cast out here!

After securing his the boat against the reeds, George quickly checked the depth by causally dipping his rod in until he felt the bottom, five feet down. Then after fumbling in the baits he pulled out one of the glassy eyed skimmers Peter had given him and hooked it onto his claw-like old trebles. The heavy weight of the fish caused a worrying bend in his ancient cane rod, but it held firm and soon enough the fish arched through the air, towing his float with it. There was a gentle splosh and the red painted cork float with its cane antenna bobbed up like buoy, right in the centre of the pool. Whilst that fished away he went about catching some fresh bait from alongside the reeds. A few pinches of maggots were flicked out with a decent helping of the bran that kept them dry before he swung out his porcupine quill float into the baited area. It took a while but soon enough the quill dipped as a hungry roach fell foul of his trap. Another followed before a third came off and it was then that he flicked out the last few grubs he could locate in the bait tin. With barely any bait left, he was quite relieved that nothing had taken the maggots off his hook.

No more bites came for ages until suddenly his quill began to move sideways across the water; George had seen enough eel bites to know when one had found his bait. The eel caused a massive fuss, thrashing around as it neared the edge of the boat and when he eventually got a hold of it he saw his hook had been well and truly swallowed. Years ago eels got a really rough time of it and George, like many other anglers, would have just stood on its head and ripped the hook out of its mouth, but times had changed and with numbers in decline the eel population was now in trouble. Every effort was made to free the writhing mass of snot from his line as gently as he could but sadly it was not to be and after several attempts with the disgorger blood trickled from the gasping gills. Even with the knowledge that he was not meant to, he decided to do what he thought best and put the eel out of its misery with the intention of using it as bait. Even dead the eel’s body still writhed around in the bottom of the boat, and it was that movement that inspired him to reel in the dead skimmer and replace it with a fresh live roach.

His float was soon dancing around the centre of the pool sending ripples in every direction which he hoped would attract any lurking pike. For an hour he watched the floats action diminish with the energy of the little roach until eventually it stopped moving entirely. Reeled in and in his hand he could see the little roach’s life was spent so he stowed it away with the other few dead baits and grubbed in the water for his last live one. Re-baited, George readied himself to cast and considered where it should go. Most of the pool had been searched by the previous bait but one shaded corner was as yet untouched. The roach landed with a big splash and he had to check it was still on by pulling the line back a little. The tension sparked the dazed bait back into action and soon the float veered towards the reeds pulling his line tight. With the reels bale arm preventing it getting into the sanctuary, the bait fish soon rose to the surface splashing to the very base of the reeds.

From the boat he watched, thinking he would have to soon reel it back a little and it was just as he reached for the rod to do so that he spotted the water to the left of the fish erupt as a pike attacked. Now he watched the float and waited for it to go under… but the bait soon reappeared on the reeds panicking, and again the water exploded. Amazingly the bait fish escaped once more and this time headed into open water, towards the bottom judging by the actions of the float. He watched as it came back towards the boat and just when he suspected it might, the float made its biggest bob so far and an audible plop; the pike had got the bait fish in its mouth for sure.

The float hung motionless for a few seconds then slowly slid below the surface. The rod was soon in hand when George did as he always had, and counted...

“One, two... three!”   

Friday, 7 March 2014

One last run. Part 1

All the boats were back bar one, the one which Peter had lingered long in the cold February air to see return. By now every other boat had been emptied and packed away for the night, including the one from which he had fished so successfully that very day, landing two good jacks and one low double. None of that mattered to him right now. All he cared about was the safe return of his old friend.

The raucous voices of the other pikers carried across the cold night air to the post where Peter kept his vigil next to the dyke moorings. He could hear the boisterous jeering as they bragged of their captures, displaying images on mobile devices and bright screen shots on digital cameras in the half-light outside the cafe where they smoked and swilled mugs of steaming hot coffee to warm themselves. Peter strained to make individual voices amide the cacophony but instead detected a foreign grumbling tone somewhere out over the water, which grew louder as his listened.

The repetitive though slightly irregular metal beat to some might be an offensive noise, but it was a noise that Peter had grown to love. Soon he would smell that evocative whiff the old seagull outboard made which would signal his friend’s safe return. The seagull was always heard well before it was seen, and an age passed before George’s old dingy rounded the corner into the dyke. Slowly but surely it did as it always had and laboured up the channel, with scarcely enough light left to find his way, George cruised the old tub back into the same mooring he had done hundred thousand times before.

“Hello there young Peter,” the old man called as he tossed the fraying old rope through the dark.
“Did you get any action today, George?”
“Sadly once again, not so much as a nibble, I think if I am correct that makes over eighty blanks in a row for me. This the worst run of luck I've ever had my whole life.”
“I could come along tomorrow if you want? I already caught three today and I could help you out.”
“Three you say! Any good un’s in there, eh?”
“Yes, one double”
“Very nice young man”
“So I can come along tomorrow then?”
“Peter, your parents were right to get you another boat. My luck has run out! You don’t want to be fishing with an old timer like me when you could be out on a modern boat catching fish here, there, and everywhere.”

Peter didn't want to push the issue and upset George so instead asked “Would you like me to catch you some live baits before we go out in the morning? The public marina is full of them and they’re all a perfect size.”
“You don’t have to do that, I can catch a few when I find a spot tomorrow,” the old man replied.
“Well how about some dead baits then? I have two nice skimmers left over if you want them,” Peter insisted

Knowing the young lad as long as he had, George recognised that he wouldn't give up until he had helped and so to spare his young companion any undue embarrassment, he accepted the two motionless young bream and stowed them safely for the night in the chilly bucket at the bow of the boat that he used as a live well.

Peter helped George carry the little gear he had up the old cobbled lane back towards the village. It wasn't a steep hill, Norfolk not being renowned for its mountainous geography, but even with him shouldering his wicker basket and clutching his old cane rods it still took the old man a lot of effort to walk along the dark, uneven path. As they neared Daisy’s cafe at the top of the lane, the other fishermen’s banter grew louder and clearer until they came into sight, at which the gathering fell quiet. They ceased their squabbling and stared as the old man and young boy walked slowly past.

It wasn't until their backs were turned that the bullish ring leader called out to Peter, “We’ll be off at first light tomorrow if you’re coming along with us kid!”
With a heart full of sorrow, he replied without turning round, “I won’t be late, Johno.”
“Glad to hear it, kid! Your old man practically begged to get you onto a decent boat and off of Jonah’s old tub.”
At that the whole group burst out laughing like a pack of hyenas trying to ingratiate themselves with their leader. Peter frowned through the darkness but his companion still walked on as if he didn't hear the laughter.

“I am sorry.”
“What are you sorry for lad?” said the old man gently.
“That they call you names.”
“It’s not your fault, peter. They’re in their prime and those in their prime always pick on the weak. It’s nature’s way. Besides, one day they’ll be old and clapped out like me and maybe then your generation will be picking on them.”

Peter was still considering George’s last comment as they arrived at his old cottage, with its walls covered with round beach stones cemented over the brickwork and the gorse bush which had grown so large it filled the front garden.
“Are you coming in for a cuppa young man?”
Neither coffee or tea were of any particular interest to him but he always said yes, as he enjoyed to sit across the table from the old man and talk about their other shared passion; canaries.

“So do you reckon we will stay up this season then?” Peter asked from across the ancient kitchen table as George busied himself with the teapot.
“It isn't going to be easy, there is a lot of good teams in this league, like Man U and Chelsea, and the likes of them don’t take no prisoners, lad”
“I know! But we finished pretty well in our league last year didn't we? Eight points clear of Brom can’t be bad.”
“You’re right, we were on top of that league, but up here’s a different matter with players like that Terry Henry running round. That froggy scores goals with his eyes closed and old Shearers going to want a bit of glory to go out with an all. Trust me, Peter, we’re going to be the whipping boys come the end of the season.”
“Ah you say that now, George, but we could take a few scalps when desperate and the lower down teams like Fulham should be a piece of cake.”

The two talked until they were both yawning and their beds called out to them. After George had shooed the hopeful young fan off home he had to force himself out of the warmth of the kitchen, up through the frozen house to his creaky old spring bed. As the years had gone on and certainly since Cynthia had passed away, he’d struggled to find warmth in his bed. Being just him it never seemed quite worth the effort to start up the little fire in the bedroom chimney breast. Sometimes when he remembered, he bothered to take a hot water bottle up with him, but today like on most occasions he crept into bed still wearing his long johns and woolly hat and tried his best to get off to sleep.

Tired as he was, George never slept much. Maybe more than half of his time in bed was spent lying motionless, staring at the small crack in the ceiling. There was nothing special about the crack nor did it worry him; it simply gave him something to focus on while he passed the night. As he stared his mind wandered. He'd think about the past and the things long lost to him, but when that made him sad he'd ruminate instead about football or fishing in order to divert his thoughts from the more painful memories. But tonight he'd ponder fishing especially and more importantly breaking his duck, until the thin strip of half-light appeared in the gap between the curtains heralding dawn and the start of another day where he would attempt to finally end his terrible run of blanks...

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Fish eye #4 Rudd

Small Rudd from a clear commercial pool on a bright day.