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Happy new year

Ray & I went to the river yesterday. Sometimes at this time of the year, this is a bleak place. The wind whips across the flood plan and freezes your knackers off before you've had a chance to tackle up, but for January yesterday was almost warm - in fact, I was in shirt sleeves for most of the afternoon.

The farmer had been out with his machines, so the banks looked shaved, as if he'd decided to give everything that didn't move a number one. He goes right down to the water's edge too with the result that the river looks twice its normal size. I love it here. The water the colour of tea, but with a sinuous, oily surface where the current is doing weird stuff that humans can't understand.

We understand that winter means maggots though, and that's what we gave 'em. Ray legered and float fished, I used the 15 footer and the centre pin. The rod was too long (note to self: sit in swim next time point rod at where you want to fish before tackling up properly) and I found it hard to control the float. Nevertheless, I caught this rather nice roach and later on from a different swim, another one slightly smaller.

That's about all I ask for on a winter's day. Anyway, the sunset would have made it worthwhile even if I hadn't caught anything. It was magnificent, as good as anything you'll see on an exotic holiday and you don't have to go half way round the world. This photo doesn't do it justice at all but you get a flavour of what it was like to be out in the Sussex countryside as the winter sun lit up the landscape.

Darkness visible

Having decided to hit the river at dawn, I miscalculate and arrive before the sun comes up. This presents an interesting and immediate problem. I can't see anything.

I have a cigarette and wait for dawn. When it comes I discover that there's a tree in my swim. Not a little bit of debris nudged into the river by the winter floods, but a fully-fledged, bloody great Ent of a thing, roots and all. It's completely changed the way the river works in this stretch. What used to be a slack is now little fizzing torrent, the soft spot below the overhanging tree on the far bank (and how long will that stay now swirls angrily. Everything's different.

Anglers pretend to like change (Oh the way the seasons affect the fish, the difference between the river in Spring, all flighty and full of promise, and its dark sullen cousin in Winter, get the idea) but secretly we hate it. Anglers want their waters to be constant, like a comfortable old lover who, having found moves that work, can be counted on to repeat them every time. Constant waters make us look good. We catch more fish on constant waters.

I glare at the tree in my swim. Unlike Burnham wood, it does not move. I cast downstream and begin to 'work' (I use the term loosely) the bait around the swim. After an hour Sean turns up and we catch up. He leaves around 8.30 and at 10.30, toes frozen, I pack up, having caught nothing, not even the tree.

The boy, the bull, the mouse, the key and the cat

I've meditated before on how fishing brings out the boy in me. Indeed, that one of the main reasons I still enjoy it is that it allows me temporarily to recapture what it felt like to be a boy. Most things change over the years, but the struggle of a small fish on the end of a line remains intact. Remarkably intact.

So I fished the river, mimicking Ray's technique of finding a deeper slack on the nearside bank and just dropping the bait into it. Caught a couple of nice roach, watch the tiniest mouse I've ever seen snuffle along the bank, and kept a wary eye on the large bull as it led the herd slowly across the field behind. (The previous outing I'd noticed that the herd finished up at the far end of the field, nearer the road by dusk and I watched carefully this time to make sure they did the same.)

Packed up just after 5.00pm. Strode across the field, got to the car, dumped the tackle, fished out the keys, feeling with my thumb to see which was which, felt the metal just 'give' like marzipan, and then just stood there laughing with a half a key in my hand.

Could have been much worse - key in lock, key in ignition, pouring with rain etc. So all in all, it worked out OK. Ray came and delivered a spare key and I had 45 minutes out in the night, sat on my basket just doing nothing. Lovely. At one point a black shape trotted up the lane and stopped opposite me. I shone a torch and it was a farm cat. Probably after that mouse.

No flies on me

First trip for a while, so obviously maggots are the order of the day. The cheese paste still lurks in the fridge waiting for its time, but on this local river, I feel there's more chance of a result with something that wriggles.

I fished with the centrepin and a 15' rod, close in most of the time, but occasionally letting the float drift down in the main current. It was pretty much a bite a cast, though some of the fish were so small, that the float only ticked as if struck by a minute electric shock. Still I did well enough to catch some small roach, a dace and a nice little perch. Ray, fishing downstream, almost under his own bank, celebrated his birthday with a collection of nice perch and we both enjoyed the unseasonable sunshine and high temperatures. I took the first photo of Ray landing his biggest perch and the other one - well, obviously there was at least one fly on me...

She goes hunting

Not much to report from last night's raid on the river. A couple of fishless hours - one gentle tug - surrounded by slugs which surely move faster when you're not looking at them. The highlight came after an hour when I heard gentle wings over my left shoulder and sat, awestruck, as a barn owl whumped across the river and into the field beyond. The sound of the wings was unlike anything I've ever heard - like angel wings made from cotton wool. Fantastic.

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