Thursday, 14 June 2018

Of rods, cartoon perch and glass fibre

The 1960's were a time of change, as that erstwhile social commentator Bob Dylan pointed out in a song of the era. The decade that started with crowds at football matches still uniformly wearing shirt, tie and cloth cap or trilby hat, ended with student riots in France, hippies cavorting naked at Woodstock, mods and rockers entertaining themselves on Bank Holidays by fighting on beaches, the sexual revolution, CND marches to Aldermaston and a general sense that something "new" was in the air. Even in the quieter and more serene waters of the angling scene, change was afoot and cane was beginning to give way to fibre glass. It was also the decade of my birth, which brings me to the point of this piece.

My recent birthday prompted the standard question from my wife: "What would you like for your birthday?", an enquiry which elicited the usual response: "well, I was thinking about a fishing rod ..." (cue: much spousal rolling of eyes and an enquiring "how many rods do you need, Jon?") The rod in question would be one of the then "new-fangled" 1960's breed of fibre glass rods, the only problem was that I hadn't yet found it. What I wanted was an "avon" from the early days of glass, a general purpose rod, suitable for dealing with reasonable sized fish, and able to be used for either float fishing or light legering. Ideal for most of the fishing I do, which tends to be for tench, roach, rudd, perch and the occasional "rogue" carp. It was one of my angling Facebook friends who came to the rescue, Michael Bartholomew, like me an angler who enjoys putting vintage tackle to good use, happened upon not one, but two, rods that fitted the description, snapped them up and sent me a message. Money changed hands, and the rods were mine.

This wasn't the first time Michael has done me a favour (I have a split cane carp stalking rod, a cane Aspindale Thamesdale float rod and a number of vintage reels that came from him, some of which I paid for, some of which were just the result of a kindness from him), but what he wouldn't have known is that one of the rods transported me right back to my childhood. When I first started fishing, so transfixed was I by everything about the sport, that I often used to walk a mile to the local tackle shop and just gaze at the merchandise on display there for an hour (the proprietor didn't seem to mind, and happily humoured me), and the rod that I stared at with the most desire and the greatest degree of covetousness was made by ET Barlows of Thames Ditton under their "Vortex" banner, whose logo was a highly stylised, aggressive looking cartoon perch. Of the two avons that were transported to my house by courier one was a Vortx Supreme, proudly bearing the cartoon perch logo. Delighted doesn't even come close!

It was, however, the other of the two rods, an unbranded one which- for an early hollow glass rod- felt felt light and responsive in the hand, that I chose to give its debut when I arrived for a brief after work evening session at one of my favourite lakes, one which contains good quality roach and rudd, the occasional crucian, hordes of small perch along with a few bigger "sergeants" and a healthy head of carp.

I left work early, and stopped at home to pick up my tackle and 19 year old daughter, who just days earlier had returned from University for the summer and, to my delight, had suggested she accompany me fishing, not herself to fish, but to have a lazy evening of conversational catching-up in the tranquil environs of the lake. When we arrived my good friend David was already fishing, having arrived at the lake earlier in the afternoon, and I set up in the swim next door, which, fortuitously, also happens to be my favourite on the lake. Shortly afterwards, Roger, another of our regular little gang of piscators, appeared and, in turn, ensconced  himself in the swim to my right.

I teamed the rod with my ancient Mitchell 304 and nonchalantly swung my float and sweetcorn baited hook tight to the overhanging tree branches a rod-length out, tossed out a few balls of groundbait and before long the float was dipping and sinking with great rapidity - the only problem being my consumate failure to connect with any of the bites, even the seemingly unmissable ones. After what must have been close to a dozen missed bites and a bit of judicious tweaking of my shotting pattern, I got the measure of the new rod, and was into the first of a succession of good quality roach and rudd.

The rudd, though fewer than the roach in number, were of larger average size, as illustrated by the photographs here.

The evening was balmy, the lake's surface calm and ripple-free, and the company of my daughter and the vintage tackle being employed made for a perfect end to the day. David, after losing two fish,  managed to land a hard fighting and handsome carp on surface fished dog biscuits, while Roger caught a multitude of small roach and perch on maggot, before switching to pellets and connecting with a larger stamp of silver flanked, red finned roach. Roger was,  I'm pleased to report, utilising a cane rod and Mordex centre pin in best traditional angler style. To complete the relaxed, sociable feel of the evening, Pete (unable to fish on this occasion) popped along for a chat, accompanied by his wife and their youngest son, Max, who with the irrepressibility that comes with being 7 years old, managed to commandeer Roger's rod and land a couple of roach. Thus encouraged, my daughter promptly took control of my rod and instantly hooked and landed a roach. Her decision not to unhook it herself was immediately vindicated and proved wise when said roach decided to ungratefully defecate all over my hand as I carefully removed the size 18 spade end hook!

By the time we packed up, Roger and I had both caught around 25 fish apiece, and David had added a handful of decent roach taken on a groundbait swimfeeder and hair rigged pellet to his soiltary carp, but numbers of fish caught (and possibly even the catching of fish) was almost incidental to the perfection of the evening- good company in beautiful surroundings is its own reward, the fish, though always  welcome, fall into the category of "bonus."
It doesn't take much to make me happy, and tonight, twee though it may sound, I felt Divinely blessed.

As we took our leave of the lake a Tern was circling and diving, fishing not , as we had been, for fun but for his supper. I wished him well, and left him to his task, knowing that before long I would be back, drawn to the lake as by an invisible magnet, to resume mine.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Always the bridesmaid as Wizard fails to work its magic

"We can't ever get back to old things or try and get the 'old kick' out of something or find things the way we remembered them. We have them as we remember them and they are fine and wonderful and we have to go on and have other things because the old things are nowhere except in our minds now" wrote Ernest Hemmingway, and to an extent I concur. However, while we may never have them again, we can, at times, get close.

In the school summer holidays of 1981 while Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were busy embarking on their ill fated marriage, three brothers decided to teach themselves to fish. Aged 13, 11 and 8, they fished solidly for nearly 30 days from dawn to dusk, with short solid glass rods, line thick enough to tether a charging bull and hooks that dwarfed the bunches of maggots impaled upon them, and by the end of those 30 days they had caught  a grand total of 4 fish between them, and had made enough happy memories to last a lifetime. I was the oldest of the three.

Since those days the three of us have continued to fish, have grown in competence and experience, and our paths have geographically diverged. Tim, the youngest lives in South Wales, Andy in Hertfordshire, while I for the last decade have resided in Leicestershire. Various permutations of the three of us have fished together most years throughout the period since we all left home, but all three of us have probably only managed to fish together half a dozen times in the last twenty odd years, and so my 50th birthday provided the perfect excuse to reunite the whole fraternal team for a day's fishing, accompanied also by my 17 year old son, James.

The venue for the day was a favourite of mine, a small intimate pond set in rolling countryside amid a patchwork of fields dotted with sheep. Noted for its fine roach fishing, the lake also contains a good head of small to medium sized carp, an ideal place to christen my recently acquired refurbished vintage (Gold Label) Allcocks Wizard.

As we walked from the carpark to the lake the smell of wild garlic gave way to that smell, hard to describe but known by all anglers, of the lakeside. The weather was cloudy with a slight chill, but mild, and we set to the business of fishing. Andy, James and I all opted for one rod on the float and a "sleeper rod" for carp, while Tim, a long time devotee of the carp, opted for a two rod "carp or bust" approach. James was soon catching on the float, a gudgeon, two perch and a roach quickly finding their way to the bank. Tim landed the first carp of the day (above) and James and Andy landed two "peas in a pod" roach at the same time, which also called for a photographic freezing of the moment.

But after the brief opening flurry, the roach and perch just "switched off", the lake became somnolent with bites becoming increasingly infrequent and a frustrating lethargy seeming to befall the fish of the lake. I was catching periodically as I persisted with the float, but soon James and Andy had made the decision to forego the attempt to build a nice catch of decent roach and had set their stall out entirely for carp. I continued to bring the odd fish to the bank on a very irregular basis, as I was taking pleasure from putting the Wizard to use for the first time and enjoying  the way that in its seventh decade it was far more lithesome and responsive than I am in my sixth, and with its honey-coloured cane and red whippings far better looking than I have ever been, even in what passed for my pomp!

I also had a rod placed on a bite alarm, a superb modern barbel rod which was a birthday present from my brothers and which, as well as being ideal for commercial-sized carp, will hopefully be put into active service this summer on a barbel fishing weekend I'm booked in for, but unfortunately apart from a couple of bleeps from line bites it remained resolutely untroubled by carp.

Tim, however, managed four carp, Andy three and James one, the latter a delightful looking fish, almost goldfish orange in colour , and clearly a fish with a a good helping of koi in its genetic make-up.

None of my fish merited a "grip and grin" picture, but I couldn't resist laying a particularly handsome and bristling little perch in my wooden framed landing net, and photographing it with the Wizard, handmade float and Allcocks Record Breaker reel, the acknowledged fact that "small can be beautiful" providing the compensation for the fact that while I didn't catch the least fish, my capture was comprised of the smallest of those that we caught on the day.

We unfortunately timed our departure slightly too late, and packed up in a deluge of Biblical proportions, before rounding off our thoroughly enjoyable day with a pub meal. The fishing had, for all of us, been patchy and for me had lacked any fish of noteworthy size, but neither that or the heavy rain at "last knockings" dampened what had been a wonderful day in which the very average results were more than obviated by the glorious scenery and the camaraderie that always accompanies our family get-togethers. There are few things I'd rather do than fish, and no-one I would rather  indulge in angling alongside than my brothers and son.

The Wizard will have future opportunities to prove its worth (as will the barbel rod), but this day, despite our modest harvest of fish, will join so many others in holding a special place in the annals of my angling stream of consciousness.

Next year Andy turns 50 .... plans are already being drawn up!

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Swallows, Amazons and a passion for angling

For me, more than any other series of books, the Swallows and Amazons canon of a dozen stories of Cumbrian children who occasionally venture to the Broads (and notably once, by accident, to sea) are the defining tales of my juvenile forays into the world of literature. I'd never been to the Lake District or the Broads, nor sailed a dinghy or yacht, but these children, part refined and privately educated, part feral, were miniature heroes and heroines to stir the spirit. I read the whole collection, and have never been able to bring myself to watch the 2016 film adaptation of the novels, as, for me, the 1974  original remains the definitive cinematic version, and to watch any other would be tantamount to heresy. 

It wasn't until much later, in adulthood, that I discovered that Arthur Ransome, the author of the stories, was not just a keen sailor (that much was obvious from the books), but am impassioned angler with a colourful life story. In fairness, I shouldn't have been entirely surprised, as the Swallows and Amazon books see the children fishing for perch and pike in the Lake District, and catching a monstrous pike on the Broads in another of the stories (my memory is slightly vague on which one, but I lean towards thinking it was either "Coot Club" or "We didn't mean to go to sea."

Ransome, who was born in 1884, a Victorian, and who died the year before my birth, in 1967, was once described as a "Don Quixote with a walrus moustache, a sentimentalist who could always be relied upon to champion the underdog." In the First World War he'd been a newspaper correspondent covering the war on the Eastern Front, and was a sometime spy for the British during the Russian Revolution, although he possessed some sympathy for the Bolsheviks, knew Lenin and Trotsky well, and eventually married Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia.

After the war he became the Manchester Guardian's first angling correspondent, and his short fishing essays (available in print as "Rod and Line" or "Arthur Ransome on Fishing") are superior even to his children's novels. His turn of phrase is evocative, and like Chris Yates today, he then, was the possessor of that rare gift of being able to explain in perfect prose  why we love to fish.

Of carp anglers he wrote "a man who fishes habitually for carp has a strange look in his eyes, as if he had been in heaven and hell." (this, remember, was in the days before bolt rigs and overstocked commercials, when carp were considered all but uncatchable.) He also observed, correctly, that "no man who has ever travelled with a fishing rod ever finds himself able to travel as happily without one." Ransome was eclectic in his angling tastes, as happy to fish for trout with a worm, or bream with a maggot (which he would doubtless have described as a "gentle") as for salmon with a fly, and was totally devoid of angling snobbery.

The historian AJP Taylor wrote of him that "Arthur Ransome was one of the most gifted and attractive literary figures of all time", and Ransome certainly knew the value of a good fishing book, noting that "to read a fishing book is the next best thing to fishing." A sentiment with which all right minded fisher folk must surely concur.

A doyen of both angling and angling writing, I guess like another angler of literary fame once quipped, it might also be said of Ransome, that he was double blessed in that he "he made a recreation of a recreation", and you can't say fairer than that.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Return to the Fens

Frost crunched under my feet as I stepped out of the car onto the sloping banks of the Sixteen Foot Drain. I took a deep breath of the chill air and looked around at my surroundings with appreciation. Fenland is "big sky country", and despite the temperature registering only marginally higher than zero, the sky was blue, pleasant and carrying no threat. It'd been two months since I'd last fished. A long time. Too long. It was good to be back.

In dribs and drabs, and wrapped against the cold, other anglers appeared, ready for the annual Christian Anglers pike fish-in, a friendly get-together where while catching fish is every bit the intention, the pursuit of predators is reasonably casually undertaken, and the landing of pike is secondary to the renewing of friendships.
By mid morning, there were 14 anglers drawn from the Midlands, the South East, Yorkshire and a handful of local "Fen Tigers". Soon rods were pointing like weapons protruding from a machine gun nest towards the drain's far bank. Deadbaits of various sizes and types were positioned on the near marginal shelf, middle of the drain or far bank according to the intuition or theory of the individual angler and the assembled fisher-folk huddled down and waited..... and waited. And waited some more.

Roy had a run within minutes of setting up, but his strike met with nothing, the pike having dropped the bait, but by midday no more action had been forthcoming, and the aroma of burning charcoal drew the anglers towards the gathering point at the top of the bank high above the drain where Andy, young Ben and John were cooking burgers, sausages and bacon. Being the "resident clergyman" it fell to me to say grace, before the meat feast was fallen upon by the assembled throng. With hunger satisfied, I was asked to say a few words, a little sermonette of less than 10 minutes that linked the story of a lavatorial mishap and the memory of my first ever tench with the message of the Christian gospel and Jesus' claim to be "the Way, the Truth and the Life"- yes, I know it sounds an implausible set of links, and you probably had to be there but it seemed to be a well received little homily.

 And so, now physically and spiritually fed, it was time to recast and rejoin the battle with the Sixteen Foot's reluctant predators. I had opted to fish a herring three quarters of the way across and a small joey mackerel closer in, both presented on the bottom under floats. Unfortunately, said floats remained motionless. It was Pete who, characteristically, decided to change things around and take the initiative, winding in his deadbaits, grabbing his baitcasting outfit and setting out on foot further down the drain. His thoroughly deserved reward was a brace of small jacks that took a liking to his deep diving firetiger crankbait, and turned out to be the only pike caught by the group.

We had once again been guests of Ray Field, a local angler of repute who owns the fishing on this section of drain, a proper gentleman whose company is always a pleasure. Ray's son, Andrew, earns his living as a builder of fishing rods, and a master float maker, and he had made a special bespoke pike float as a prize for the captor of the largest pike, and with Pete the only one to catch, the prize was his. A real object of beauty, the float features tiny hand painted ICTHUS fish symbols and the words of Matthew 4:19 in which Jesus encourages his disciples to become "fishers of men"- a wonderful gesture from a master craftsman.

 The day ended with a presentation to Pete, the prize being handed over by John MacAngus, one of the steering team of Christian Anglers, and the organiser of this particular event. Goodbyes were said, tackle was packed into cars and vans, the unanimous consensus was that a good time had been had by all (it is, remember, called "fishing" and not "catching") and a procession of cars headed out to return from whence they'd came, with excited conversation in cars about our next get-together, a Springtime quest for tench in  a reed fringed, lily pad dotted, lake in Leicestershire.
And so, for another year it was farewell to the Fens, whose drains have been responsible for the capture of my personal best zander, a handful of good pike, the occasional jack, and now my first ever Fenland blank, and- most important of all- a collection of uniformly wonderful memories. Bleak, sometimes barren, but always beautiful. I'll be back....


Thursday, 14 December 2017

"The last hurrah!"

I fish in winter for a similar reason to the one that compelled Sir Edmund Hilary to climb Everest: "because it's there." To fish in freezing weather (even with the advantages of modern outdoor clothing) for fish rendered semi-comatose and ill inclined to feed sometimes threatens my self definition as a "pleasure angler", but I resolutely determine to be a year round angler out of a mixture of obduracy and the belief that to only fish in sunny weather is to be a dilettante, "someone who fishes" as opposed to a "fisherman" or an "angler".
And so it was, that in the company of regular angling companions Pete, Greg, David and Roger, I arrived at the small pool on a day when the finger-like branches of the trees stretched and reached, bare of leaves and  naked, for the hazy grey of the winter's sky. The previous night had seen a flurry of snow, in a week when snow was becoming monotonously predictable, and the first challenge presented to us on arriving at the lake was finding it entirely frozen over, which ensured that the day's first task was to break enough of the ice to create a small fishable area for each of us. It didn't take the wisdom of Walton, the intuition of Chris Yates or the technical ability of Martin Bowler to realise that  the next few hours were going to prove unremittingly challenging from a piscatorial perspective.

Roach were the target, with optimism and realism vying for supremacy in our spirits, as we tackled up in the early morning chill. Pete and I shared a swim and managed to create enough clear water to drop our light waggler rigs into the alarmingly clear water, although the shadow created by the marginal overhanging branches looked likely to provide some sense of security and cover  for any fish that might be in the area.

David, Pete and Greg had also won their own minor battles with the ice that fringed the margins, and with just enough water to present a bait in they, like me and Pete sat and waited (and waited), enjoyed the snowy grandeur of the rural backdrop and attempted to stare motionless floats into disappearance.

And then the unthinkable happened. The thin insert tip of my waggler danced and shuddered as a prerequisite to slowly and deliberately sinking beneath the surface , and my sharp flick of the wrist was met with the unmistakeable wriggling sensation of a hooked fish. I suspect that I was more surprised by the float's disappearance than the fish was to find a hook in its lip, and in seconds a miniscule perch was in my hand. Certainly no leviathan or giant of the deep, but success in angling is always relative, and in the hostile climactic conditions the juvenile stripy I was clutching felt like a hard-earned triumph.

When all's said and done, we all fish for different reasons. Some to catch fish, others to find an existential peace that's hard to find elsewhere amid the chaos of modern life, some to chase PB's and monsters that they then reduce to a number on a set of scales. I've fished for and landed some sizeable fish over the years, many of which I have a photographic record of, all of which are etched in my memory, but these days I fish for the pleasure of using aesthetically pleasing vintage tackle, for the challenge of pitting my wits against any fish, but most of all to enjoy the beauty of God's rich creation and the company of my fishing friends, and today's session was more about the latter than any of the former. Mince pies, bacon butties, cigars for some (I plead "guilty") and good coffee were shared, and conversation sat lightly in the frosty air.

Mine, unsurprisingly in view of the temperature and extreme conditions, was the only fish caught, and the quality roach that inhabit the lake, and which we caught aplenty on our last visit in September, were entirely conspicuous by their absence, however, the camaraderie and scenery more than compensated for the non-compliance of the water's piscine inhabitants, and the curtain was brought down on another angling year, and with hope springing eternal we left the lake talking about our plans for 2018.
I don't want to give too much away, but "Fenland pike: you have been warned- we're coming for you."

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

On the art of studying to be quiet

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
If I had a pound for every time a non angling friend or acquaintance had asked me "why do you go fishing?" I'd almost have enough money to buy an Edward Barder rod ...... almost, but not quite. It's a question born of incomprehension in the mind of the person unfortunate enough to never have been afflicted by a passion for angling and all things piscatorial. Often before the angler has even gathered his or her thoughts to answer the question, the questioner (perhaps fearing a lengthy treatise) interposes their own answer which normally runs along the lines of "well, I guess it's a good way to get away from the wife/pressures of work/modern world" (delete as appropriate) with the implicit assumption that the motivation to fish is born of a desire to escape. However, as someone who has fished for over 35 years, I would refute such a charge, and would contend that we fish not to escape but to engage. To engage with a mental puzzle, to engage with the natural environment and to engage with an underwater adversary that doubles up as the subject of our admiration. Like the angler of WB Yeats's poem (and I believe Zane Gray wrote something similar) there's a "fire in our heads" that compels us to go. It's less about what we're trying to escape, more about what we seek.
For sure, the gentle art carries us to places of sublime natural beauty, but for the fisher the environment represents less a passive attempt to retreat from the ugliness and grime of urban living, and more a desire to actively insert oneself into nature, not to merely view the scene, but rather to become a part of it, a player in some great drama that traces its origins to primeval times, the ages old battle of wits between hunter and hunted.
For a number of years my affections and attention were split between my love of angling and of football, but while I thoroughly enjoyed my two decades of chasing an air inflated sphere, initially as a striker or winger and, as age and passing years dictated, eventually as a full back, when I finally hung up my boots there was no real sense of regret, no deep seated pang of sadness, but if I were ever to face the prospect of being unable to fish I suspect I would find myself far less sanguine. Some addictions run deep, and are immune to any therapy.
I am captivated by everything about the business of pursuing the capture of fish. The tackle (my penchant is for vintage) and techniques, the rich vein of literature that surrounds the piscatorial art, the great cloud of witnesses from the past: Walton, Sheringham, Martin, BB, Bernard Venables et al, the sight of a red tipped quill bobbing in the water's surface film,  the vivid turquoise flash of a kingfisher on the wing, and the beauty, nobility and character of the quarry itself.
Izaak Walton once famously said that "We may say of angling as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries: "Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did"; and so, if I might be judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling."
and, impertinent though it may appear, if I may be the judge of Walton's aphorism, then I without reservation hold his observation to be unerringly true. Walton also had it that  "Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery element are made for wise men to contemplate, and for fools to pass by without consideration", and with this too, I unreservedly concur.
There is within my head a constant fire ...

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Fenland affair!

So, here's the question: is it possible to fall in love at first sight, and is two dates enough "to know"? I speak not of women or romance, but of places. Is the angling equivalent of not much more than a "fleeting glance" at a pretty girl, enough to give rise to talk of a serious attachment?

I have only twice fished the Fens, but have to confess to having had my heart captivated by their wild, untameable beauty and their "big sky" moodiness; the painting that sits at the top of this page, a painting by the clergyman artist (and sometime angler) Daniel Cozens of a Fenland scene captures majestically the almost foreboding impressiveness and the sense of space. Like a Hemmingway essay, the real stuff of the Fens is found in the spaces, the detail in the sparseness.

For me, an angler for whom the majority of my fishing has been conducted on managed (and often quite manicured ) lakes, a part of the attractiveness is the feeling of leaving civilisation and entering a place that's altogether wilder, nature that hasn't been overly "bent into shape", although there is, of course, a degree of engineered artificiality about these watery environments and their origins in the brilliant mind of Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden and his band of 17th century navvies of the waterways.
My first foray into Fenland piking was in November of 2009, when, with my two brothers, Andy and Tim, I enjoyed a day's guided fishing with local expert Mark Barrett (seen above netting a fish for Tim). The weather on this occasion was unusually benevolent, with no fierce wind whipping across the vast, unsheltered flatness and the results in terms of fish captured were pleasing to say the least. Tim managed a brace with the largest around 15 pounds, Andy landed four pike and a small zander, with his biggest pike weighing in at a "close but no cigar" 19 pounds and 14 ounces (see below), and although the biggest of my brace of pike was only a scraper double I was fortunate enough to catch my largest ever zander. (also pictured)
It was to be seven years until I returned, this time to fish a different drain in the company of friends from the UK Christian Anglers Group. On my second visit the weather had a more hostile feel, cold and  with periodic rain, but, just as the menacing moorland of Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights" is as much of a "character" as the novel's protagonists, so too the cold and damp and the whistling wind seemed to possess an appropriateness that added to the sense of "place". I was pleased to maintain my one hundred percent predatorial catch rate, but it was a close run thing, and the fish was less the tooth laden leviathan of every angler's dreams and more the "young pup of a pike" that DH Lawrence describes in one of his poems.
And so, as did my teenage crush on the pop star Wendy James of Transvision Vamp fame, the infatuation continues to exist mostly in my mind and my dreams (with Wendy James it was, of course, entirely in my mind, although a friend of mine once met her, and still almost three decades later has a photo of them stood together, his arm round her shoulder, her face looking slightly uncomfortable, his triumphant), but the dream will be realised again next year, when at the very backend of the river season a party of friends from Christian Anglers will brave the elements and seek the legendary water-wolves that roam the watery arterial incisions that bisect the miles of fields given over to the agriculture that forms the bedrock of the struggling local economy, and as I sit or stand, shoulders hunched against the cold, eyes fixed on my pike bung, I'll fall in love all over again.