Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"Blanking in a winter wonderland"

"I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while and gone my way and forgotten it" wrote the poet RS Thomas, in a poem full of Welsh hiraeth , pregnant with longing for what once was, but had now been left behind. For Thomas it was the failure to grasp the opportunity to engage with God in a numinous moment that fuelled his disappointment, but today there were precious few occasions when the sun shone through the gloom to point us to the skies, and so  I was spared any retrospective moments of Thomas-style existential angst. I was also, unfortunately, spared the pleasure of catching, holding and marvelling at the beauty of any of the perch I was in pursuit of, but the absence of fish belied my thorough enjoyment of the day.

Accompanied by my son, James, and friends David and Roger and Roger's son Ben, we had driven the hour and a half's journey from our Leicestershire homes to a stretch of the Oxford Canal where we met up with our pal Keith, a regular on the cut, and a man who boasts an enviable list of perch to over 3 pounds that have been plucked from its watery depths. On my only previous visit I had landed a brace of perch each weighing a pound and a half, so despite the previous day's snow I was confident that between the six of us we'd land a  few fish, but unfortunately such confidence was misplaced. Never mind fish landed, some of us couldn't even muster a single bite, and all of us suffered the ignominy of our first blank of the New Year.

I was indulging in one of my retro days, so parked myself on my old-school whicker basket and employed my newly acquired, but vintage, Rodrill float rod coupled with a Mitchell 204 CAP reel also of venerable antiquity. The float was a traditional handmade Norfolk reed waggler, the bait a worm. My son had chosen to eschew the traditionalist's poetry for contemporary precision, and elected to use a short carbon pole and a delicate bristle float, Roger's methods accorded with mine as he matched a centre pin reel with a handmade quill float, while the other three all plumped for variations on a waggler theme.  And so we sat ..... and sat .... and sat.

In many ways winter fishing is where we anglers "pay our dues" and, with freezing fingers and  baits untouched by fish, earn the right to the impressive catches that will form our summer memories, when fish are easier to catch and the weather more benign. Despite the lack of fish we all enjoyed the day in a way a non angler would fail to understand. Conversation and camaraderie, the shimmering reflections of the colourful barges in the water, cooking frankfurters by the canal's edge and just "being there" make the day its own reward, and once home the true angler's mind immediately turns to the wistful longing for the next trip. The fish may have won this time, but a fisherman's year is a marathon not a sprint, and ere long it will be Spring, and as the blossom blooms and the bulbs emerge, the pendulum of ascendency will swing in the angler's direction. Until such times we persevere, drawing solace from the motto of the Flyfisher's Club which (I'll spare you the Latin) roughly translates: "there is more to fishing than catching fish", to which all right minded practitioners of the Waltonian art are invited to respond with a hearty "amen".


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