"Do you think we’ll do it, Dad?"
"We’ll do it, Son. The lake’s turned right on. Can’t you feel it?"
"Dunno, really. I’m nervous, though. I hope I don’t mess it up. If I get a run, I mean."
"You’ll be all right, mate. You know what to do and you’re miles better than I was at your age, that’s for sure."
"Yeah, but you didn’t have bite alarms and Baitrunners and stuff, did you Dad?"
"Didn’t have a rod, most days, but I had something way better than any amount of fishing gear."
What’s that then?"
"I had a Dad who always made time to take me fishing. It was the best thing he could have given me, and that’s why I always try to do the same for you."
"If I let you off taking me fishing, will you buy me a set of Delkims?"
"You little git!"
"I’ll take that as a ‘no’, then Dad."
Stephen is the youngest of my three sons and it was his 11th. birthday. I’d nudged him awake half an hour before first light, having rashly promised him a double-figure carp for his birthday. Parents do stupid stuff like this all the time, usually in moments of weakness, or to impress others with our parenting skills. Nonetheless, that promise had to be delivered and I was just the parent to deliver it.
Carp fishing is what I do. It’s the loop-tape that autoplays in my head as soon as the real world backs off for more than a minute or two. I think serious bait thoughts when I’m in traffic jams, I ponder improvements to my long-chuck technique when I’m sorting out my expenses sheet, and I save all subjects from Active-8 to zig-rigs, for when I’m walking the dog and have the time to discuss such important matters – mostly with myself, as it happens. Never mind, I’m a happy carper, and that’s why I carry on carping.
Taking Stephen fishing had been absolutely, totally, irreversibly forbidden a mere two days before his birthday and by no less an authority than a pukka orthopedic surgeon. He was squinting at X-rays of Stephen’s left hand at the time, tracing the break in my boy’s little finger with his biro. My wife was squinting at the X-ray, too, although her squint kept giving way to a sneer every time she thought about me. Earlier that day, Stephen had tripped on his laces during a productive little hit-and-run session at our local lake and kept telling me that his hand ‘well-hurt’. I’d caught a twenty, so I ignored him for hours, as you would.
Anyway, the result of Stephen’s tumble was a fractured pinkie and a fishing ban. I represented him at his appeal, but his mother had the right hump with both of us, especially me, and rejected my plea for leniency. We were definitely not going fishing on Stephen’s birthday. No way. Not a chance. Don’t even think about it, or there’ll be an almighty bloody row.
So, as we sat behind the buzzers on his birthday, with a red sky in the morning as Terry’s warning, I knew that I was in for some unrelenting grief when we got back home. Well, that would be a first, then. Imagine, my obsession with carp causing a ruck with the missus. Whatever next?
Consequences don’t frighten me much while I’m on the water, because carp fishing has a reality-displacement quality about it. No matter what’s going on outside it, my world of carp is immune from payback. When I’m carping, I don’t have a mortgage, there are no deadlines to meet and even the leak in the shed roof becomes magically plugged for the duration. Tragically, the passage of time seems to accelerate three-fold. No sooner am I lobbing out the first rod on Friday evening, than I’m tying it into its quiver on Sunday afternoon. Each glance at the watch seems to eat half a day when I’m fishing. It really is the living proof that ‘time flies when you’re having fun.’ It is also said that, ‘God doesn’t deduct from a man’s allotted span, the time he spends fishing.’ We know that’s cobblers, yeah? I believe it when I’m fishing, though.
A single bleep from the red Delkim snapped us from our silence. Stephen, his broken finger forgotten, flashed an anxious look at me, seeking direction. I shook my head, "Liner. Shows they’re on it, mate. It’ll go, don’t worry."
Stephen sat back in slow motion, glaring at the buzzer, willing the middle rod to scream off, as every carp angler has done so many, many times. It’s a sign of the times that my 11 year-old son is resentful that his personal best fish is a ‘mere’ 10 pounds. At his age I’d have been shouldered around the village on a chair if I’d bagged a double.
Our preparations for this session had been spot-on, I thought. Three rods out, all to the far margins where the carp liked to retreat during daylight. Three rods, with three Nashbaits Whisky & Squid snowmen sitting perky and promising, surrounded by 10mm freebies and a pouchful of pellets. All lines backleaded, alarms set on sensitive and the coots out of harm’s way on the far side of the lake, beating the crap out of a new moorhen on the block. Perfect.
Chris Yates, for my money the finest fishing writer that ever jotted a musing, reckons it’s possible to feel when something is about to happen at the lakeside. He’s right. The water was talking to me that morning, which was a bloody sight more than my wife would be doing, and truth to tell, the water’s words were all I needed. I’d promised my boy that I’d find him a carp, bigger than his best, and now I knew that between us, the lake and I were not about to let hi
Still we waited, Stephen gnawing on his bottom lip as he watched the coots continue to bully that wretched moorhen. The coots on this lake seem hell-bent on putting the ‘foul’ in waterfowl. Once, after watching a gang of coots kill a shy little water rail with a non-stop assault, I turned one of them into a white-beaked marker float, when my four-ounce Korda Distance lead landed smack on top of it at 130 yards. Ok, it was a fluke, and yes, I was aiming at some willows 25 yards to the left, but it still counts.
In contrast to the thuggish coot posse, the resident kingfishers are decidedly friendly types. I always imagine that they’re humming to themselves as they skim across the surface of the lake between their vantage points. On this morning, a particularly handsome kingfisher did what I’ve always wanted one to do, and landed on my rod. There he sat, a true natural gem, glistening confidently among the Gearbox Butts and SiCs of my AK47s. I love those rods, but even Yately Angling Centre’s finest look ordinary when compared so directly to nature’s own fishing machine.
"Must be off. Gotta fish to catch. Hmmmmmmmmm…" said the kingfisher (probably) before arrowing away and providing Stephen and I with a few bars from the Delkim symphony orchestra, as the rods jiggled farewell. I shook my head in silent admiration of the kingfisher. Stephen scratched his head in frustration that the buzzers hadn’t sounded for real. He’ll learn.
I know. I’ll tidy the tackle box. That’s bound to force a take. With a ton of hooks, leads, boilie-stops and baiting needles on my lap, perhaps the carp gods could be tempted into mischief. Nope. I even tied a Terry Hearn stiff rig afterwards, and still the alarms refused to sing.
I was just scowling at a distant coot, who was loitering with intent, just waiting to have a dig at a juvenile grebe (you get to know what coots are thinking after a while) when the left-hand rod lashed sideways and set all three Delkims shrieking like the Bee-Gees on Helium. "Huuuuruuuumph!", grunted Stephen, as he panicked slightly and lifted into his birthday carp. Only it was a long way from being ‘his’, yet, especially as it was steaming full-ahead for the tungsten stems of a distant reedbed. My little boy cast his broken finger to the breeze, as he clamped his plastered hand around the 8010’s handle, cranking hard to force the carp from its intended path.
"Don’t…think…I…can…stop…it…Dad." Stephen’s teeth were gritted now, and I hoped that it was effort rather than pain from his broken finger that was the cause.
"Keep the pressure on, mate. Steady as you can, until you get it past the reeds. You can do it."
He did it, too, and an impressive swirl in open water confirmed that the carp had been denied sanctuary among the snags. Silent prayer time, now. ‘Please, Lord, don’t let it fall off now. Let him land it, Lord, and I’ll be your best friend for ever. Go on, Lord, be a pal.’, and similar pathetic pleas tripped from my brain as Stephen had the sense to do something far more practical and loosened the Baitrunner’s drag to defend any late lunges.
I was net man and by the time Stephen had the carp ready for landing, I was far more jumpy than he was. Brilliant, the carp, a bar of scaled bullion was wallowing a treat, now. "He’s yours, Dad.", said Stephen, reversing the roles of master and pupil. "Don’t screw up now."
"Oi!", I hissed, as the carp’s top lip nuzzled the spreader block, "Don’t get leary, Sonny."
"I did it, though, didn’t I, Dad?"
"You did it all right, Boy. You were pretty to watch. Reminded me of me, when I was your age, as a matter of fact."
"Only better, ay, Dad?"
"Don’t push it, Son."
Stephen’s birthday carp was a perfectly conditioned common which elevated his personal best to 14 pounds four ounces. After the weighing, photos and release ceremony, we spent an hour reliving every turn of the reel handle. Stephen basked in his triumph, smiling his victorious smile and glowing visibly with the thrill of it all.
"How’s the finger?"
"Aches a bit. No big deal, Dad."
"Glad we came fishing?"
" ’Course. I’m well-happy. This is my best birthday ever. Apart from one thing."
"What’s that, then?"
"Mum’s gonna seriously kill you when we get back home."
"Erm…there is that, I suppose."
And she did. She went raving mad at me and so did my own mum. We took Stephen for a birthday visit to his grandparents, and I was mauled by a couple of she-bears in defence of their cub. My dad didn’t say much, possibly because he’s wise enough to keep his head down when the women are at full snarl, but he knew why catching that carp and keeping my promise to my son mattered more than normal folks could ever understand. He knew because he’d done the same thing for me when I was a boy. Like father like son, and I hope, like grandson.
Fingers heal, bones mend and rows are forgotten in no time at all, but when Stephen caught his carp, he hooked a memory that will live with him forever. What better birthday present could anyone have, or give?
"What – apart from a new set of Delkims, you mean?"
"Shut up, Stephen, or I’ll break the other finger."
"Cheers, Dad, you’re the best."
"Never forget it, Son."
He won’t, either, and even if he goes on to catch a shoal of 40-pounders, Stephen won’t ever forget his birth