Caught by the River

Some More Precious Dreams to Bank

31st March 2009

by Chris Yates

Forget the money, what you need to save for the future are dreams, dreams that will earn plenty of interest for the leaner times ahead. Who knows what will happen; maybe we’ll get a much longer even colder winter than this last one, maybe the price of maggots will go up to a tenner a pint – but if, then, we have to cut back on our fishing a bit, we’ll know it’ll be fine. All we’ll have to do is sit back by the fire with a fat mug of tea, take out one of the treasured memories from a previous season and marvel at how much brighter it’s grown. Every summer dawn dreams itself into perfection by the time winter comes along; and almost every fish seems more magical in retrospect.

There were, despite the mean but real winter, plenty of good fishing memories for me to store this last season. Each new season has a sense of adventure about it and I think I value the uncertainty of it as much as the more predictable delights. Will the tench be bubbling on the 16th June, will the bass reappear off my favourite shore, will there be honey still for tea? Some days were, as they must be, a bit of a struggle, yet the fish came rolling in eventually – not many of them spectacular in size, but all glorious to behold.

The tench were bubbling on the Sixteenth, and so were the lovely crucians. For the second year running I began the season at a little reedy Wiltshire pond, sharing a lily bed with film maker Hugh Miles. Hugh had started fishing at first light, but I didn’t get up till sunrise and by the time I got to the pond he had already landed several tench and a near 2-pound crucian. But the fish were bubbling on both sides of the lilies, mainly because Hugh had kindly groundbaited the spot I wanted to cast into. It was not quite 7.0 a.m. – still quite early enough for me – when I finally swung my neat crow quill to the edge of the pads. About ten mesmerising minutes later it twitched and the whole new season was suddenly concentrated on the tiny movement. A few quiet breaths later the float keeled over and began, ever so slowly, to slide across the still surface. It was, I whispered, a classic crucian bite – and in a moment the old cane rod was tip-tipping over into a nice curve as a spirited Carassus made a bid for the lily stems. After a tough yet somehow leisurely tussle out came a golden native English carp of a pound and a half.

The sun rose higher over the willows, but the fish continued to bubble and by the time we took a tea break at around 10, we had landed another half a dozen fish each, including a two-pound crucian to my rod. Though Hugh packed up at lunchtime, I carried on till sunset, which made it a fourteen-hour day. The crucians stopped feeding in the afternoon, but the tench became even more active and my reel was really singing as the evening came on. So a truly Glorious Sixteenth, the sort of day that makes me very sorry for those poor saps who don’t understand one of the best arguments for a close season.

Such was the spell of my enchanting local ponds that I had no urge to fish a river till well into autumn, but the sea drew me away from freshwater long before then. The sea is definitely in my blood nowdays and I must have spent more time down on the Dorset and Devon coast than at any time in my life – and always the main object of my attention was the bass. I did not, however, reel in any large specimens, five and a half pounds being the biggest, but I learnt a lot more about this wonderful fish and I also continued to catch a few well into late autumn – almost all of them on the floating lure. However, there were days when I became quite pessimistic about the future of the species as the ‘commercials’ continue to take too many fish for the restaurants while, at the same time, ignoring calls for a new minimum landing size. In Ireland they’ve banned commercial bass fishing altogether: wouldn’t it be refreshing if our government was equally enlightened.

On the rivers, the perch were not impressed with me this season and though I had many happy autumn and early spring days, I only landed a few noteworthy specimens. I fared better with roach and barbel during the few occasions when I switched my attention to them, and in the last week of the season I caught two whopping grayling from the river that has its source in my own well.
On March 14th the Golden Scale Club descended on what we regard as our very own stretch of Dorset Stour. It was a lovely day, with some fine fish taken and a mass boiling of Kelly Kettles at tea time which caused the local farmer to think that his fields were on fire. As the sun set along the valley, a truly magnificent gudgeon made the perfect final flourish to my season.

Now I can just sit back in my chair and dream as the interest accumulates on all these sparkling memories.