Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Buried Treasure Part 3

Friends often ask "when did you actually start fishing?" and the question often has me delving into the caverns of my memory for a clue. I have never been able to give a definitive answer. I usually say from about the age of six. I still have the horrendous black glass fibre rod with useless rings whipped in red and ferrules that came away from the rod. Even then I had a gut feeling it was totally inadequate - OK for the pier, but not the streams and ditches of West Wales.

I remember sitting on a plank bridge over a farm ditch using the rod in question and bread paste as bait - again, I had some feeling that the location and method were useless. In fact the photo below (me on left) was taken on the very same day with the very same rod. We caught nothing. The smile is one of hope and expectation!

A recent rummage at my folks place has finally answered the above question of when and how old. A gem of buried treasure has decided to be found - my first ever rod licence. Aged six. A miracle such a piece of priceless ephemera has survived. And an even bigger miracle that I was legal.

County Sports, Haverfordwest is still there. I would hazard a guess more my sort of establishment then rather than now.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Burns Night

The wood obsession has always been with me and it does not relate to just fishing rods either. The joy of using wood for a burn up at home, on the bank, on the beach or anywhere in fact is one of life's little pleasures. The simple art of brewing a pot of tea on a simple fire outdoors is one that still brings me great joy. I still dream about the log pile that you see above - I have not come across a better one. I came across it quite by chance in an orchard on the west bank of the tidal Severn Estuary. A veritable feast of wood, quite a work of art.

Another joy is foraging for wood to supplement the log store - from the beach, lanes and bridleways it is amazing what you can find. A friend of mine in Herefordshire only burns foraged wood and his store generates much in the way of wood envy! Kindling is another area where enjoyment is to be found - I have often used dried orange peel as well as driftwood which adds a spicy aroma to the room.  

The obsession has also been fuelled by a marvellous book by the equally marvellously named Vincent Thurkettle. I was lucky enough to get his book The Wood Fire Handbook (Mitchell Beazley 2012) in my Christmas stocking and it is my read of choice beside the fire these last few days.

You have to check out the rather endearing little film below of Vincent talking about his book, lovely stuff, it perfectly describes why I like wood and wood fires too! I haven't had a chance to check out the other films in the series but with titles such as how to make kindling and how to chop logs who could resist?

I often enjoy a rummage in the wood shed and earlier it resulted in a couple of prized beech logs that were intended for use as Christmas Yule logs. I totally forgot about them which is a shame as beech is a cracking wood for the fire but also these came from a favourite haunt which would have made the yule experience even more special. It is my favourite wood for the fire - it rarely throws sparks and makes really good embers. The flames are rich and bright yellow with a gentle smoke. The smoke is easy on the nose and eyes and has a soft scent - newly mown hay and a slight hint of incense sticks. Anyway, not quite Burns Night yet, but we couldn't resist a ceremonial fire (pic below) to welcome the first of the snow here in West Dorset. 

Come Burns Night I know what I will be doing - sitting by the fire with a glass of something to not only toast wee Rabbie but Vince as well. Cheers!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Wizard's Cauldron

I wouldn't ordinarily subject you to such a long post, but this story is rather suitable as my first posting of the year. I originally wrote it for my diary back in the late 1980's (still listening to Scott Walker by the way) and it is all true bar some place and character names. I now limit myself to one trip a year for carp, so it seems somewhat bizarre that I actually fished for them in the winter at one stage, aah what it is to be young and unworried by such trifles as snow and ice! These days the fire and a glass of something pleasant would win for sure.

That rather nice chap Fennel of The Priory cajoled the story out of me for another project which may see the light of day in another twenty five years or so!

The Christmas and New Year celebrations had passed. Two weeks of enforced idleness, overindulgence and merrymaking, meant that something other than indigestion was burning inside me. Something was urging me to go fishing. It could be denied no longer. As a spur of the moment decision, I decided to go fishing. I had no idea on my destination, but the irresistible force that moved me clearly had designs of its own.

 At that time in my life I was virtually a permanent fixture on the banks of the rivers Wye and Lugg, but for some unexplained reason, when this particular call came, it lulled me towards the Cauldron Pool, a spot totally alien to my winter fishing plans, even if it never strayed very far from my thoughts. Indeed, since my teenage years, the pool had been one of the only constants in my life. On considering the prospect, it occurred to me that a trip to that quiet corner of nowhere, which I had not visited since the autumn, would at least make for a change and blow away some accumulated cobwebs, if nothing else.

The first leg of the journey northwards is never a memorable event and for that reason, Scott Walker once again kept me company, courtesy of my tape deck, much as he always does on my fishing adventures. Soon however, the familiar, rolling Chester Hills in the distance were reached and I bade him goodbye to continue a solitary journey through the delightful villages of Condicote and Tatchester – both of which a true remedy to the malady of modern life left far in my wake. And on nearing my journeys end, the high-sided lanes for which this area is well known actually make the last few miles rather enjoyable, reminding me of the ancient hollow lanes at Selbourne, so evocatively described by Gilbert White.  But on this particular day the familiar surroundings are markedly different with clean, white snow sitting like icing on the hills about me. Perhaps a day beside my fire at home might not have been so bad after all, I mused.

I turned the car and drove up Wizard Lane, a route I am forbidden to use but cannot resist. I got butterflies in case a certain person that I ‘hoped to avoid’ might catch wind of my presence. Indeed our relationship was something of a love-hate affair (he loved to hate me), but for all of that, I pressed on. Right on cue, out he flew: old Abner Brown, clothed in an emerald green smoking jacket and trying his best to block my path before I manage to get past him.

Looking backwards in my mirror, I saw him standing, hands on hips, mouthing the word  ‘b*stard’ as I continued to draw away, up ‘his’ lane. Onwards the track took me until, at last, my journey was brought to an abrupt halt by a boulder of Indiana Jones proportions which completely blocked the way. I knew it was the work of Abner, who would by now be relishing the prospect of a rematch on my return past his house.

I decided not to turn around just yet and instead stopped the car, opened the door and stepped outside. An icy wind hit me and I started to have second thoughts; perhaps this was not such a good idea after all. Having ventured so far I was committed to a day of fishing, even if it entailed the fearful wrath of Abner later on.

I negotiated the last hundred yards of my journey on foot, seeing the Cauldron Pool come into view through the tree trunks of the surrounding wood. The pool appeared as a rather gloomy and somewhat sinister mass of water, such as I had never witnessed before. Its leafless trees were a stark contrast to the summer scene I had previously taken for granted, which on a warm evening harbour a myriad of insects and resonate with the soothing coo of wood pigeons. The pool now seemed lifeless and barren. The thought of catching carp in such wintry conditions was laughable, but I would at least make a token cast to help me endure the elements.

The ferocity of the wind was building to gale-like proportions, which prompted me to head towards the shallow end of the pool where an antiquated boathouse would offer shelter and provide the opportunity for me to brew tea so to keep myself moderately warm.

The pitch next to the boathouse is a comfortable spot, surrounded by beech and oak trees. However, the water here is very snaggy: a veritable nest of underwater snags make fishing difficult, and a line of sallows overhang the water on the far bank.

Removing my rod from its holdall, I found not my trusty Sharpe’s salmon spinner, but a lissom Mk IV Avon, the legacy of my last river trip. What a blunder, especially as the conditions demanded a more robust tool for the job. Swearing that Abner must have cursed my efforts, my confidence dropped and, to make matters worse, snow was beginning to fall. I paired the rod to a Swallow centrepin reel, a hasty search through my tackle bag yielded a drilled bullet weight which would at least get my bait to the sallow foliage opposite.  I had at least prepared the correct bait before setting out, coating some luncheon meat in Oxo and frying it until crisp. Choosing a medium sized chunk for the hook, I cast my bait to within six feet of the willows. It was more by luck than judgement and I decided to keep it there for as long as it might take to get a bite. In these conditions, it may have had to remain there until the end of the season. A forked stick served as a rod rest and I sat back into my chair, wrapped in my wax jacket and reasonably cosy against the elements.

By lunchtime the wind in the trees overhead was deafening and I don’t mind admitting that the roar coming off the hills and through the woods nearly had me cowering in terror and thinking that the banshee had the hounds of hell on its tail and was whistling for its life.

‘Jack O’ Lantern and Willow the Wisp, the devils legions riding out on the mist – the hounds of hell are riding again.’   

I scrambled up through the woods behind the boathouse to better assess the situation. Upon exiting the wood I was very nearly blown back and into the pool by the pernicious force of the wind. ‘Best to stay put,’ I concluded. In that terrifying but exhilarating moment, with snow falling about me, I looked back towards the black brew that was the pool, and saw a huge carp leap from the water not ten feet from my baited hook. In an instant, the sight of the fish’s bright orange flank – which appeared like a surreal speck of colour in a back and white film - lifted my spirits and reinforced my resolve to fish on.

The landscape remained dark beneath the ashen sky. Ice formed on my rod rings, in the margins of the pool and over the black mud around me. I remained seated and waited for either the elements to ease or that magnificent carp to take my bait. I sat alone, freezing but optimistic, like some eccentric Victorian Antarctic explorer. One slip and I would not be found until the summer.

Amid the crashing of broken limbs from the trees about me, I heard a different sound which, at first, I struggled to identify. I realised it was the noise of line pinging free from my frozen rod rings, followed by a metallic rasp of the ratchet on my reel as it spun in a wondrous blur.

For what must have been ten seconds, I did nothing but watch the line, mesmerised by the hoped-for but quite unexpected bite that had brought life to an otherwise oppressive scene.  I slowly lifted rod, its cane fibres quickly hooped to the steady pull of a creature which moved away and to my left. Rather ironically, I realised that the iced-up rings on the rod had actually helped set the hook, but with snags all about me I knew that I would need even more luck if the matter in hand was to be brought to a happy conclusion.

 Time and time again the fish swam perilously close to the sunken branches about me until, after twenty minutes of pressure applied by the light river rod, I brought the fish to the surface and a gnarly, peach-coloured mirror carp appeared. It was one of the true monsters of the pool, a fish that some had claimed to be a myth. Making an instinctive grab for the landing net, I felt nothing but cold earth. It dawned on me that I had not even set up the blessed thing. Clenching the rod between my legs, I frantically removed the net from the rod holdall and set about assembling spreader block to arms, followed by pole to assembled net (not the easiest procedure even in the warmest of months), praying that nothing would go wrong. Fortunately the fish did not move far and to my great relief, I was able to assemble the net and land the fish at the first time of asking – an angling miracle the like of which I never expect to see, let alone experience, ever again.

With trembling hands, I unhooked the great fish. But I felt uneasy as I admired its handsome shape, colours and bulk. Instead of feeling proud in its capture, an unexpected feeling of guilt came over me as I realised that I had been the instrument of its downfall; that I had shattered a myth. I very nearly returned the carp without weighing or photographing it, but the young angler in me insisted that I should. And so, in the lea of an ancient hedge, the deed was done. I reduced the fish to a number and a static image. As if to make a point, the wind lifted the hat from my head and, for my troubles, made me walk into a nearby field to collect it.

I returned the fish to its inky home.  It was quite something to watch it glide serenely away, without doubt the very same carp that had flaunted itself earlier in the day.

With the storm still ranging, I collected my tackle and made for the boathouse, deciding that this was the safest place to endure the night ahead. It would be a long and sleepless night, where not even the satisfaction of catching such a splendid fish, or the flickering glow of my candle could lull me to a fitful sleep. 

More than twenty years have passed since that adventure, yet the day’s events remain etched vividly in my memory, especially so when I put on the hat that so nearly got away.

And what became of old Abner I hear you ask? Did I successfully sneak past him on my return home? Is he still there, guarding his empire? That, my friend, is quite another story…