Caught by the River

Pilgrim's Progress

Dexter Petley | 6th June 2008


that really was me on the speaking tube, live from walker’s pitch as carp made weirpools over the baits. the last thing either of us expected, because as you know:

i’ve never owned a mobile phone
nor never hope to own one
because when i’m away from home
i’m fuckin fish-not-phonin

the nokia baked-bean tin was a mike walker set-up. he says: when d’you last talk to that ja? years ago, i said. he doesn’t like phones either. the purepiscator then hands me his communicator which starts yarning me about highgate ponds, and june 16, and i could smell your eight o clock bacon and see the tench bubbles popping round your jr quills. great to hear your ivories so in tune, geared up and counting, pacing your ponds, inspecting the pitch on your daily rounds now you’re tench-runner for the hampstead & highgate home piscatorials under captain bellamy. you’ll strike gold in that there mud, filling your pot with bamboozled private doctor fish and the hangman’s speigals. arcadia the new carptalk. or the best bit of the ham & high. in the 1955 edition of fishing for londoners the ponds are given the hot tip for bags of early morning tench. for 2008, plastic bags i shouldn’t wonder. all the tench i caught in victoria park were inside tesco bags i hooked winding in. more natural food in a tesco bag once it’s chucked in the water.
close season pilgrims are prone to visions. in 1986 i took a coach from victoria and got off at wisley with rucksack and 3 days supplies to walk the woods and wisley ponds before paying the club dues, sleeping in the future swims, because i’d be fishing by public transport. woken first morning by thundering hooves just in time to see the belly of a horse as it jumped over me, rider dressed as a highwayman. no dream, the hoof prints were fresh with crushed beetles. cuckoo man is a swim stealer, i fear, a low-wayman, fishing over another man’s bait.
here it’s been mixed fortnights. grey, wet, all four winds in the ring and carp on stop-start rations, either jumping the gun or on hunger strike. by train to walker’s pitch, then, french train style too, cheap, punctual, polite and peaceful:

made la morinais by teatime, first cast by evening as the sky looked silt, it overshot the mark and hung in the osiers leaning off the island. a gentle pluck and it fell intact into two feet of brown water. the one that goes in the top corner, the six over the grandstand.

you just know it’s going to happen, but it went the full 90 minutes before one beep and the rod inched round a twitch. tug-boat resistence, spuds in a sack, snagged on fallen boughs, but all held tight. 46lbs of monster mash:

fickle as the wind, they fed once more for ten minutes my whole four days. 5 minutes on the wednesday afternoon, 41lbs.8:

and the wind seemed set, the fish all pushing and shoving at the trolley so i hung hooks for tea and narcissism up at the hut, laure’s rum fruitcake in that tin for the king of spain you sent me one christmas.

i shouldn’t have lingered, should’ve just downloaded the tea and not the photos. back at the lake for evening it was a scene to cause a riot at the baitmaker’s gate, the curse of la morinais, all the wind stumped, all bites cancelled:

thursday morning a paper-boat breeze scimmed over to the island; upped sticks in a rush and put two in the windlane off the island point, then blew a hat trick at dinnertime when a forty came off at the net as the other rod screamed blue murder and a junior mirror showed off with a lot of flashy tricks then fell to the simplest of tackles. walker’s pitch glorious but true to form: gone with the wind, only when it rains, never on a sunday, this side of midnight.
back home again with grass to cut and slugs to gather, my rows of french beans looking like the woods at ypres, cabbages like stained glass windows, the anatomy of a leaf. by tuesday the garden was tidy enough to neglect again and it was time to test the poach-hole on the bluewater pit. they were under the rod tops, coming in on a northerly, everyone a wild twenty that came on a duck’s leg, no bloated triploids this time:

wed,thur, fri, just popping down for the coup de soir, half-seven till just on dark:

come friday they were twanging the line like the strings section at swan lake, piccicatto till sunset without a run. the wind was in my face. huge fish on the timpany at a 100 yards. the rods were bending double from the plucking. you sit on your hands and face the music when that happens. they were closer than where i’d slung my hook, down a deep shelf at ten yards. i pulled the right hand lead back and it jagged in weed at 5 yards out. wound in, plopped it back, sat down, rod went double in ten seconds and the line took off this time with water music and screaming reels. a loony tuna. no carpark scrap this, no thumping in the distance. a wild fish making for the trees, thinking of evolving just to walk up the bank and smack me one. 70 yards of smoking pulley and it nearly made it. tom brown hooks flashman. it bottomed the scales at 50, weighed in the unhooking mat. anywhere between
48 and 52 is my guess:

relics on the birdtable