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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.


The two Sams

It was an hour into the trip - more of a quick raid really - that I realised I'd been fishing with someone called Sam before. I took my nephew Sam fishing a few years back and we both froze to death on the shores of a bleak Sussex day ticket water while all around us caught fish. It was a difficult day to explain.

This occasion sees me with an older Sam who's been on at me to take him coarse fishing. He's a sea angler and during the course of the afternoon will repeatedly point up the contrast between the two styles of fishing, finding each mis-match more hilarious than the last. He says he can barely see the hook, let alone put bait on it.

Still, the important thing was history did not repeat itself and not only did we get a few bites, but we both caught fish. The pond is incredibly reliable during the spring and summer but around October something happens and the fish become pernickity. Sometimes they don't show up at all. I thought this was going to be one of those afternoons, despite the fact that it's extraordinarly warm for November, and with only about half an hour of daylight left, there was still nothing happening. Then Sam caught a rudd, and then I caught a tench and a bigger rudd. We both got a few more bites and then then sun set - for about 20 minutes it looked at though the sky was on fire. Fantastic.

The return is already being planned. A 14' beachcaster, line as thick as my wrist, and apparently I'll definitely be able to see the hook...

The kettle and the trout

Regular readers will recall my conundrum - how to balance a powerful desire to go fishing with an equally strong conviction that the close season should be observed, even if it doesn't exist on still waters any more. I'm happy to report that, thanks to a fly fishing friend I was able to wet a line with a clear conscience.

It also gave me the opportunity to try out my Kelly Kettle for the first time on the bank. I've been fascinated by this thing since I first saw Yates use one in A Passion For Angling and with every sour mouthful of stewed thermos tea since, have wanted to send my own smoke signals up from the bank side. I pursued one across the Internet on and off for a couple of years before eventually convincing my wife that it would make the perfect Christmas present. Two Christmases ago, it arrived.

So why the long delay? A combination of things. My dodgy knee, a nervousness about those smoke signals, visions of red-faced farmers shaking sticks at me for setting fires on their property, releasing the hounds Mr Burns-style from the top of the field. Then there's the whole business of lighting the things. Just a few twigs and bits of paper. Yeah, right.

Then, as she often does, my wife solved the problem. A packet of 24 mini fuel tablets, designed for a disposable camping stove. Three quid. That's one per brew up. At that rate, they'll not only last for ages but they'll also guarantee that each kettle will combust, exactly as it should.

And so it did. I won't bore you with the ingenious design of the kettle itself (if you're interested you can find out more here); suffice to say it was a complete success and resulted in two perfect cups of tea during this short evening session - one of which can be seen here.

And the fishing? Just fine. And to prove it's possible to learn a new skill and catch a different kind of fish during the old close season, I give you this pretty little rainbow trout, caught in the early evening with a yellow duster. See? I told you I could do it.



The fact that I am once again officially licensed up makes it difficult to resist going fishing. I haven't wet a line since January and I'm now very twitchy about the whole thing. Ian sent me a link to a video about where he lives in British Columbia and although there was a bit too much fish porn for me, it's got the synapses in my brain that look after angling a-firing.

The weather's not too bad. It's warmed up a bit, though staying below the 18 degrees my mum promised when I spoke to her earlier in the week. Maybe that's what the temperature's going to be inland, in balmy Bucks.

But now there's a fly in the ointment. The school has phoned. Our youngest daughter has been horsing around at school and the horse has given her a kick. There's talk of ambulances. The missus is on the way there in the car now. If it's a hospital visit, then my fishing trip will be scuppered. If that happens, then as soon as she's recovered there's a big dog house here with her name on it.


Finally after - literally - years of trying, I've had a proper paid-for article accepted by Waterlog, the world's most peculiar fishing magazine. Should you be inclined to seek it out, it's in the Spring 2006 edition, somewhere near the back, and it's called Ray and the Needle.

Meantime, Sean has phoned. There may be a way out of my close season dilemma. It has something to do with flies and trout. And I think there may have been in a boat in there somewhere...More news when we have it.

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