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Last Cast Saloon

No sense in giving this one too much of a build up. A funny old evening. Warm as toast but windy - and the spot we'd chosen, so that we could fish together, was very exposed. Ray and I both used the sidewinder (picture here) a sort of quiver tip that sits halfway up the rod and lets you fish with the tip pointing towards the bait. It's really useful for ledgering in the wind and also gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of positioning and angles.

The real story of the evening? The owl. Or maybe owls. At one point we were convinced there were two of them, floating over the fields in front and then behind us, on the hunt for mice, voles and rabbits.

I saw a pike come up and take a fly at my feet. I missed half a dozen good bites and then, almost at the death, got a definite bite and landed a nice little chub of about two pounds. Five minutes later and Ray caught one about 3-4lbs, which stayed still long enough to have its photograph taken before rolling down the bank and back into the river.

We'd nearly given up, but persevering, making sure to get in that last cast before the light really fades is usually worth the effort. After the sun sank it got chilly enough so you could see your breath, the mist rose and then rolled across the fields, while above us the owl turned and turned again.
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Take 2

Fortunately, we don't have to repeat the rigmarole of the previous entry with its seemingly endless list of preparations, building up to the 'gag' whereby I've left the landing net behind. Instead, we can press straight on to the fishing.

It's the next day and the weather's not so much changed as shifted so that it's colder and more overcast. As I arrive at the lakes another club member is leaving. He's cheerful enough but reports one skimmer all day - and he's been there since 10.00am. Ouch.

"I'm fishing the little lake," I say.

"Same there," he replies.

Ouch.

I walk over the path between the two lakes and someone's in my swim. This is the first time in living memory I haven't been able to fish in the corner and I don't like it. Instead, I settle into Ray's preferred spot under the tree and cut up some tiny chunks of luncheon meat before lobbing them in as loose feed. It starts to rain. The bloke opposite packs up after a couple of drops. I guess he's been looking for any excuse to go home. The guy in my swim gets his brolly out. He's here for the duration.

I tackle up and rummage for a float before discovering some strange new additions to the tackle box. Then I remember that Sam gave me some floats when we came here last year, working on the assumption that he'd never use them in his sea fishing. I pop one on, plumb the depth (wow, that's shallow) and then shot the float. It cocks perfectly first time. So here we go. No bites all day. Could be a long evening.

The float barely settles in the water before it meanders off in the kind of bite that not even I can miss. It's a nice bream. The first of four as it turns out - three the same size as the one shown here (about 3llbs or so) and one slightly smaller. Along the way I catch a nice 6oz rudd and last cast, just as I'm thinking there won't be any more bites, a lovely tench of about 3lbs.

I miss a carp. It's the centrepin. I hit the bite fine, the contact's strong, and the fish pulls hard towards the reeds. Then it comes out in front of me, lifts in the water and - oh crap, I should have seen this coming - tears off straight into the middle of the lake. I can't stop it. I try and control the run with my other hand and the spinning handles of the 'pin nearly rip my thumbnail off. By the time I've recovered, the fish is off and my nail is slowly turning an interesting shade of deepest blue.

Ouch.
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Safety Net

I'm painfully aware of a pattern that has developed over the last few seasons, whereby I indulge in plenty of fishing-related razzle-dazzle from the 16th to the end of the month, only to tail off badly by the beginning of July. I'm thus determined to go fishing.

However, the weather's been so repellant recently that I haven't felt like wetting a line, so when Sunday dawns bright and cheerful, I reckon I can make a break for it at around tea time. I go off vacation house hunting with my friend George for a few hours in the morning and we pass right by the little lane that curls down towards the farm where the club has one of its lakes. I narrow my eyes meaningfully as we hum by in his Fiat Cordoba - I shall return later and lay waste to your tench.

After lunch I fall asleep reading Sheringham's Fly Fishing Memories and Morals, a wonderful book bought for me by my brother and then set aside because it was about trout fishing. Which goes to show how much I know. I picked it up a week or two back and have been enthralled ever since; what a writer. So, when my wife raises me from my snooze I decide to go - after all, that's what HTS would do. Out with the old cane rod and centrepin reel, grab a few floats, some fuel for the kettle, water, a cup and spoon and - to prove my modernising credentials - a couple of sachets of Nescafe Cappuccino, a fiendish froth introduced to me by my mum. It saves taking any milk you see.

I grab the landing net which has been drying outside, furl it up, and lean it next to the kitchen door while I get my little bait box from the outside window sill. I load up with luncheon meat, get everything together - including a new camera, more of which next time - and almost trip off to the car.

It's an easy drive, past Lewes prison and then down country lanes until I reach the farm. There's a slight moment of panic when I remember that they've put a padlock on the gate, but I've got my club card and that turns out to have the number on the front, so I ease down the track (the 323 seems to sit lower in the field than my old 626) and then coast down to the water's edge. There are plenty of cars there but most will be here to fish the larger of the two lakes, which is where the carp are. I climb out, open the boot, pull out the rod and landing net handle, get my shirt and waistcoat, sling the creel over one shoulder, grab the kettle in the same hand, and reach down for the landing net - which is still leaning by the kitchen door.

I think about it for fully five minutes, but there are beautiful tench here and lovely little crucian carp and they deserve better than me trying to fumble them to the bank with my hand. So I put everything back in the car, connect the iPod again, turn the car round and head on up the field. I wonder whether my fellow anglers noticed me arrive and then depart. I undo the padlock and drive through the open gate, stop the car, close the gate, snap the padlock shut and give the combination a nasty twirl. On the podcast, Melvyn Bragg is talking about Siegfried Sassoon and I'm going home.

Which is why I'm sitting here typing this with a can of Strongbow by my side, instead of enjoying the early evening in the company of tench and crucian carp and a cappuccino. Am I pissed off? Yes. Did I do the right thing? Absolutely.


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