Caught by the River

Letter From Arcadia

Dexter Petley | 25th October 2010

I Was A Teenage Chub-Rocker


whilst your fishing trips haunt the back-roads of old england, mine seem to take the brash- roads of new france. is this because gravel pits have no history? your coastlines and rivers ebb and flow by coaching inns, horse-troughs and a host of local ales in old brown bottles. my pits have cans of desperado, dual carriageways and all the french cafes are shut. in other words, the poetry is leaking out. just going to a river is to travel the byways to the oldest thing on the map. some of the pits i fish aren’t even on the old maps i use. and the names on my tackle conjure up an urban brawl, not the art of angling on walden pond: riot big pit, euro warrior, strongbow… we’re folding a dog ear on the current page of that book, confessions of a carp slut by dp.

so i’m taking the winter off, going back to the rivers, fishing for the venerables of the middle eure. dust the avon down, unwhip the rusty rings, oil the centrepin, brush up the barbel rigs. to mark the decision, in the spirit of a resolutionist, a born again chub-rocker, last week i took off for the final seven day session of the year, one last boilie binge on a 120 acre public water three hours down my own byroads, through colombage villages leaning round the farmyard, chestnut crush and the first muds of autumn, across newly ploughed plains where overdressed pheasants fled hunters like there’d been a raid on a coquettes’ night club; past vineyards where they hod the last of the grapes from the trailors in pouring rain, backing old paraffin tractors into the arched doorways of vaulted caves.

the big southern blow failed its promise and the rain hammered on the bivvy door for three days and nights. by day four i was coughing like a walrus with trench flapper. there were moments when the downpour eased and the long tailed tits came, hopping in the air on invisible stepping stones. i’d sit by the rods and think if it were always thus i wouldn’t need to go back to the rivers.

in the brief passing of dry cloud, fish moved, spume-burst like depth charges half a kilometre upwind. sunday teatime, i imagined my baits at forty yards might not be anywhere near the fish, my close-range theory slowly self discrediting. this was a tournament caster’s water. where the excorcet leads and compressed air boilie launchers whistle and thump from lines of french battalions friday afternoon to sunday dinner. since the abolition of national service, the carp lakes have recruited these frustrated milatirists acting out the training camp romp. you don’t get them on the rivers… but it’s teatime. their convoy has departed. i’m pleased to say that one of our number made it home. 47 pounds of fitting end to the carp troubles:

the cauliflowers of crackerjack fridays big as pumpkins, ceps like dutch miller-women among the ferns and fallen leaves, bar billiards in the moss and butternut squashes like old mother bells and soda syphons; all these things to gather, prize and hoard as the jays conceal their acorns in the splits on fenceposts. far from the retirement riots:

blockade on the bird table


We began publishing the correspondence between Dexter Petley and John Andrews back in May 2007 making Letter From Arcadia the longest running feature on Caught by the River. It’s made for a fascinating archive and you can go back to the very beginning by clicking HERE.