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Monday, 17 April 2017

First outing

"Fish are still weighed and measured the old way, in pounds and ounces, probably because, not having ten fingers, they don't use the metric system. But then, they don't have feet either do they?" *

I'm becoming a fine weather fisherman. Is my enthusiasm on the wane? Perhaps I'm just getting older. Certainly, now I'm in my late 60s, I feel the cold more. My hands cramp up when I'm cold and I find a whole day out on the water in winter completely exhausting.

I used to finish up the coarse season with a few piking sessions. Often standing around in the cold using dead bait or flinging a spinner out on a short rod. Ice would form in the rod rings, preventing the line from running through. I have also used some big hefty flies to catch pike, but I think they work better when the water is warmer and the fish are more active. Anyway, I haven't been pike fishing at all in the last few years.

I used to make it an annual ritual to treat myself to a special day's fishing on my birthday which is in mid March. In Scotland this meant salmon fishing on the Tay or the Spey. My mission was to catch a giant, fresh-run, silver "springer", which I did once, except it was smaller than many of the trout that I catch now and it wasn't on a fly. On those occasions I was full of anticipation, despite falling snow and roaring floods. I wonder if I would have the stamina now but I know that, if I was invited, I would still definitely go! Unlike the old days, I would stop for lunch in the ghillie's hut of pop into a hotel for a pint instead of flogging the water to death all day.

The memory of snow settling on my rod and line takes me back to a March day in the early 60s when I took a school-friend out to Hythe Pier where we fished for flounders in a bit of a blizzard. I think I caught one, but it wasn't the fish that made it memorable, it was watching the snow build up all the way down the line to the water below, the weight of it curving the rod over the rail of the pier.

In recent years, my March outings have taken me fly-fishing on the local reservoirs. As the winters get shorter, the fishing season gets longer, and spring often comes early down here in Cambridgeshire where snow is a rare sight. In some years the blossom is out and the chiff chaffs are singing, but sometimes the weather in March can be miserable.

A cold, easterly wind is a big off-putter for me. I live very close to Grafham Water, so I do most of my fishing there. I'm often tempted to try somewhere different, but that would mean more of my precious time in the car and less time at the water. First thing, I look up at the sky to see if the clouds are moving, then I watch the trees and boot up the computer to check the forecast. If it all looks good, it's a fishing day!

The trouble with Grafham is that it is on top of a hill. A light breeze down in my sheltered garden can become a Force 6 up at the reservoir where the waves may even have white-caps. The wind churns up the shallows into a silty soup that the trout avoid. I drive around and check for a sheltered, fishable spot before buying a ticket.

This year I missed my birthday week because of work and the weather, but I got my chance at the end of the month when we had a mild and sunny spring day.

Following up on a tip from the warden I decided to make a few casts from the harbour arm before moving on to somewhere more scenic. Apparently there was a school of perch-fry in the harbour that were being hunted by some big trout. I saw no evidence of the fry but the trout were certainly there. My first cast was short and more or less a casual effort to work out some line and wet the slinky, mink-hair fly that I had on the end. The second cast was long and I made a serious attempt to make the fly work properly so that it sank low and gave an enticingly life-like wiggle. I felt a couple of short bumps on the line and then a solid, heart stopping yank. The fish stayed deep and ran around the harbour. When I eventually saw it, it was a beautiful brown trout of around 3 pounds. (Fish are still weighted and measured imperially, probably because, not having ten fingers, they don't use the metric system. But then, they don't have feet either do they?)

I never left the harbour that day and I caught about a dozen fish. The brownies were all about the same size and quality, almost all caught inside the harbour. Casting outside the bay brought in some rainbows at about four pounds. After catching the first few fish rather too easily, I switched to a lighter rod using small nymphs on a floating line. It didn't make any difference; the fish just kept coming.

After a couple of hours of solitude, I was joined by a young lad who kept on talking to me. He was very active, moving about and swishing a high density sinking line with great energy so that it made a whistling noise. I found it all quite irritating, even more so when his catch rate was twice mine. Then he phoned his friends to come and join in.

There's a lot to be said for wading out as deep as you can go, with your back to the bank so no-one can talk to you. But I realised that this lad's enthusiasm was what I used to have and his friends were perfectly pleasant really.

As Greta Garbo said, "I just vont to be alone." I think that's why I prefer to find a stretch of bank to myself, even if it means giving the hot-spots a miss.

Before anyone starts calling me a fish-monger, I should point out that all the fish were returned carefully. These fish-bonanza of days don't happen that often and I see them as a reward for all my fishless and freezing opening days of seasons past.

* But they do have soles and 'eels. And they have fingers; fish fingers!

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