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The Lost Fish and the Loch Ness Bream

The river's been fishing pretty poorly of late. When I think back to when I first started coming here (after the initial getting-to-know-you phase was over) there were good fish to be had. We caught carp to 10lbs, bream to 5lbs and chub to over 4lbs; pretty good for a river that in parts, you can almost jump across. Recently though, those fish seem to have vanished, or at least moved off to pastures new and trips over the last few years have disappointed. Truth be told, the river has sometimes felt a bit fished out, as if it was in decline and unable to renew itself.

But it's June 16th and that means I have to be here, even if the weather's like a jack-in-the-box and there's a smart wind blowing hard from the west. Despite going through the motions (choosing my 15 foot float rod, centrepin, 4lb line, a few stick floats, going to the tackle shop to buy maggots with a bait box so small that the guy there smiles and asks if I'm taking the kids) I don't seem to want to go. Haven't been since March and it's only later that I realise my last two trips have ended blank or with just a couple of little fish to show - small wonder I'm not motivated.

Nevertheless, I'm here, wading through uncut, thigh-high wild grass down to the river, delaying my first sight until the last possible moment, until I have to see it or turn back and go home.

It looks good. Despite the lack of rain it's not too low, there are lilies in the slow stretches but it's not overgrown with weed and stone me if it doesn't feel a bit fishy. There's only one angler on my bank (everyone else must be upstream on the other side of the road bridge) but he's tucked away out of the wind and approaching rain under a brolly so big that I can't see him at all - just the tip of his rod pointed at the river. It makes me think of Strider's pipe poking out from beneath his hood in the Prancing Pony.

I walk down to the willow and - remembering an arm-wrenching take from few years back - nearly set up there, but the swim's been cut a bit too large for my liking so I carry on downstream, past the old tree and round the corner. I see a large fish drifting in the current, just below the surface. At first I think it's an enormous roach but then it flicks a steadying tail and I can see it's a decent bream. I make a note of the spot for later and move on.

I've decided to fish the bend. Although it's completely exposed to the elements I like this spot because it's a bit like a buffet. You can fish close in to the left, trot through slightly further out, trot the far bay and then pull the float round in from of the lilies before letting it travel on downstream, or flick it round to the right and let it sit in the slack or pull it out into the current and hold the float back so the bait rises in a tempting Crabtree-esque fashion.

I tackle up, cast out and the fish come. I get pretty much a bite a cast for the next two hours, starting with dace, then roach and then perch - the biggest of which you see here (it's only when choosing the photograph that I notice something has tried to take a chunk out of its flank). But I'm also losing fish after fish, and not in a barely-hooked-one-tug-and-they're off kind of way, either. One of them's certainly a jack (the line comes back minus the hook) but others are not - one feels like a good perch while another has chub written all over it. Stepping up to a size 14 makes no difference and although I catch continuously, I'm still losing almost as many as I land.

Things slacken off about 9.15pm and it's then that Nessie makes her appearance. A bream of perhaps a couple of pounds comes wobbling through from my right and heads upstream to the top of the swim, then turns and comes back before making a tight little circle in front of me and disappearing back the way it came. It - sensibly - ignores the bait I try and drop in front of it's questing snout (twice) and for the entire visit keeps its back a clear inch and a half out of the water. It doesn't seem distressed in the slightest, by the way. It's just moseying.

The bites die out around 9.45pm and I take a last look round and pack up. Heading back up the field to the car in the dying light I realise I feel terrific.

Thank you.

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