Caught by the River

An extract from the Lost Diary of Christopher Yates

28th April 2014

Fountain pen on water copy

The Lost Diary: April-September 1981
Fishing Diary of C. Fennyhough Yates
Unbound, hardcover, 160pages (1 May)

Thursday 14th

The joy of the close season lies, firstly, in the increase of time to do things other than fishing and, secondly, in the cooking up of dreams connected with fishing. And one of the best ways to cook up a fishing dream is simply to visit the waterside. Lake and river watching is always a pleasure, but in the close season it’s more enchanting because you’re looking at the water differently. Freed from the chore of fiddling about with fishing tackle, you can concentrate more fully on what’s going on under the surface and, knowing the fish are in a haven of inaccessibility, just the vaguest glimpse of one can fire up all kinds of wild hopes for the coming season. And so you come home with a headful of dreams.

Today I wanted to revisit some of the places that used to inspire the dreams of my childhood and so I drove over to Brockham, meeting Henry on the green because he wanted to see some of these waters himself. After a pint in the Dukes Head we walked the quarter mile to the old field pond where, because we weren’t carrying rods, the carp were very happy to show themselves. Why hadn’t we brought a loaf of bread for them? Then we went over to the footbridge on the Mole and stared down into the clear water, hoping to spot a chub, but only seeing a shoal of minnows. The slow rhythmic sway- ing of the weed tresses in the current was too mesmeris- ing to stare at for long. Next, we drove to Betchworth so that we could gaze again into the old lime pit, Woodhill, where I’d spent many happy and sometimes dramatic fishing days in the mid-Sixties. Apart from the sad scum of rubbish in some of the margins it hadn’t changed at all. The deep water was as crystalline as ever and I bet the monster carp I used to chase are now true monsters. All we saw were the usual shoals of small colourful rudd and perch flitting between the weed-stems. We said we might have to return in June or July, before the school holidays start, and bring some of our almost adult experience to bear on what is still a special place. But I bet we never come back.

Henry wasn’t aware of Buckland Court Pond, which I used to poach as a sixteen-year-old, but where, as with Woodhill, I never succeeded in catching a carp. We drove the two or three miles eastward only to discover it had completely dried up. It looked haunted and misera- ble, just a saucer-shaped bowl of finely crazed powdery mud. It was a sad place to say goodbye, but Henry had to head home then, while I wanted to continue with my nostalgic jaunt.

I drove down to Sussex to have a look at another old favourite, Titmus Lake, where I once hooked and lost a possible twenty-pounder in ’68. It was the same as I re- member from ’76, when I last visited it, but not nearly as attractive as it used to be in the old days, before the local council began to make their hideous improvements.

Finally, I returned to the water of the moment, Pitchfords Pond (named after our potential new Vice President, BB). I made a quick cup of tea in the parking place under the railway bridge before walking across the field, over the stream and through the wood to the water.

Lawrence was already there, as I guessed he would be, and I joined him on the platform where he’d been watch- ing for carp. Last time he’d visited he’d seen a beautiful double-figure common glide right past him. Today we only saw rudd, but some of them were quite large.

It was a warm evening and very pleasant just wander- ing round the banks, staring into the water, dreaming of what might be down there. But eventually we lost patience and stamped on the ground, like last time, causing a great commotion as some large unseen fish swirled heavily out by the island. It left a great black hole in the floating weed.

The sun set and we went for a pint. Lawrence said that, because he’d enjoyed the pieces I’d done for Angling, I should start writing a fishing book ‘Right now!’

‘Fat chance,’ I said. ‘Too many other things to do.’

It’s our pleasure to be hosting the launch of The Lost Diary at the Rough Trade shop in London’s Brick Lane this Thursday (1 May). Chris will be in conversation with John Andrews and happy to sign books (purchased on the day) after the talk and a Q&A. Information on times and ticketing can be found here.