One of fishing's abiding charms is that a middle-aged man with a fishing rod manages to retain something of the young boy he once was. An unexpected window of angling opportunity opened up for me this morning, and I fancied a "dob for perch" - to wander up and down the footpaths of the Grand Union Canal, with just a bucket containing my bait (a tub of worms and a small bait box of Predator Plus infused brown crumb groundbait), a net, a rod and a reel. There's something liberating about divesting yourself of the rod holdalls, carryalls, seats, umbrellas and paraphernalia that normally accompany a fishing trip, and going back to basics, fishing in a manner that even Huckleberry Finn would have readily related to.
My eschewing of carp or tench, and deliberate pursuit of small perch on a summer's day may seem unusual, as, too, was my choice of rod; although the plan was to perch fish with a proper boy's perch bob, I wanted a rod that was short and light, that could be pushed through gaps in the bankside foliage, and was easy to carry while walking, and so I opted to use my "pride and joy", a custom-built 6 and a half foot spinning rod, made for me by my American rodbuilder friend Don Morse, and to employ it as a float rod.
The canal was at its most attractive, today's bright sunshine making patterns as it reflected off the water, with the bankside vegetation verdant from the previous day's rain. The temperature was in the 80's ("old school", me), and the sunshine bright, not ideal perching conditions, but I was confident. As it turned out, my optimism was well placed, and by creeping from moored barge to moored barge and dropping my worm close to the hull, I was soon winkling out a succession of small perch.
My float was a small 2BB perch bob in the Harcork style, which looked jaunty in the water, and bobbed and disappeared with pleasing regularity. None of the fish were big, but they were plenteous and greedy, each one exuding the air of swagger that one associates with the species.
The assorted walkers and barge owners who stopped to chat, or who waved cheerily as they slowly motored down the centre of the canal in their brightly painted boats, were universally friendly and convivial, and I was happy to make the acquaintance of "Tiger", a playful kitten belonging to a pleasant hippy-like pair of young boat dwellers. I momentarily envied their alternative lifestyle, but not the gummy grin of the male of the couple, whose toothless smile wouldn't have looked out of place on the face of a guest on the Jeremy Kyle show!
After a few hours of walking and "dobbing", my angling addiction had been sated, and I was ready for home. I wasn't counting, but almost every swim produced a couple of perch, some far more, and I must have caught 30 or 40 small, spikey and stripey fish with eyes bigger than their bellies. My very first fish was a perch, caught on a worm, when I was still a boy back in 1981, and today, for a few precious hours, I was once more that boy .... despite the greying hair and crow's feet around the eyes, still excited when a quick strike leads to that juddering sensation of a hooked fish, still awed and in wonderment whenever around water, and still able to receive far more happiness as a result of capturing a 2 ounce perch than any "normal" person could possibly understand. Like the poet said "the child is father of the man", and may it ever be thus.