The light when it came brought with it a warning. No clear brightness to spear through the morning gloom, but a soup streaked glow, edged with red. It would rain later.
The warm bed seemed a long time before, the shriek of the alarm being dulled with the pillow and than ceased. Clothes to pull on, ready in the hallway, a few groans as family stirred to the noisy awakening. The kettle whistles me further awake and the brew is soon made. The plastic bag, filled with food is dragged from the fridge, the thermos flask is added and it is placed by the door. Stepping over it on the way out means it won’t be forgotten yet again.
A glance out of the window, through the darkness overcast with cloud and I see that it’s looking mild and warm – wonderful, the new season awaits.
Loaded up, the culmination of a couple of weeks planning, bait made, tackle tested and freedom guaranteed. A new season, new challenges, new experiences. Life is so bloody good sometimes! Twenty minutes of driving along the single lane roads and the tackle is being unloaded and the old body creaks as it is loaded up with the days tackle and supplies.
Back to daybreak and the first cast lands about a yard short of the ideal spot at the head of the sunken tree trunk. Relax and enjoy, I tell myself, but keep feeling a sharp tenseness to my actions that will take weeks into the new season to pass. I feel as if I am doing something that is too good to be allowed, and memories of smoking behind the school shed, along with much worse efforts pass through my thoughts.
Slowly the birds chorus, interrupting the peace, starts to work its magic and I begin to relax and find time to look around. The process of renewal, launched by Spring has taken place and the river and surroundings look heavenly even in the poor light.
The banks have become green again, taking over from the muddy paths that ringed the river last season. The trees that had been cut back by careless fishers have re-grown so their branch tips skip the waters surface. Fresh reeds poke out of the brown stems that the frost had burnt and in the water the streamer weed sweeps the gravel to the beat of the rivers flow.
Contented I sit, until the first drops of rain enter the scene. On with the jacket, light and waterproof and I become cocooned in clothing and in thought, briefly disturbed as the blue flash of a kingfisher crosses my vision. Last seasons captures invade the day and I wonder if luck will join me for the start of this new season.
I cast again and I try to decide whether to take the water temperature, laziness wins and once again I sit and marvel at the beauty of the riverside. As the years have passed, I wonder if this is the reason I continue to fish, the capturing of a barbel being the excuse to come out and sit and watch natures ways. A quick tap on the rod tip brings my mind back to reality; it’s the fishing that does it.
Twenty minutes later the rod cracks around with a vicious take and the fish has hooked itself and headed off downstream in a serious hurry. Fingers and thumbs take over, like a novice I try and take control of the fight and turn the fish, but still downstream it dives, taking line against the clutch. I stretch out my arm over the river to try and ensure the line is free of the tree trunk and the fish uses the change of angle to turn and head midstream, excellent. The memory of how to do it overtakes the excited novice and I gain control and start to bully the fish upstream. It slides into the waiting net first time and I am whole again after three months of part life. About 7lb, I tell myself, not yet fully recovered from spawning and now very exhausted, she takes 5 minutes of work in the running water until she is ready to rejoin her friends.
Cocooned again, the rain feeling cold as it become heavier and starts to creep inside the collar. The dawn red tinted sky has fulfilled its promise and the clouds to the West look heavy and dour, faint drum rumbles are heard in the distance, getting louder by the minute. The birds stop singing and a heaviness pushes down and seems to almost pin me deeper into my chair. Big splodges of water now, no pretence of a shower, as lightning streaks across the vista turning grey into a blinding light and then back to grey.
My hand comes away from my rod, lessoning any risk of frizzled Elliott, possibly.
The water has filled my pockets and my clothing is dripping wet, the rain is so heavy I could be swimming. In the distance the sun is now shining and the end of the darkened cloud advances toward me in a rigid line.
I’m sunbathing! My clothes are steaming as they warm on the back of my chair. My hand is on my rod butt and a grin is on my face. This is more like it, June 16th is going to be a cracker of a day. Two anglers come along the path, we exchange pleasantries and share our love of this magical day.
Crayfish play with bait, but suddenly stop after 10 minutes or so, I keep a close watch on the quivertip and see a more urgent tap than those prehistoric clawed spiders give. Straight away the rod bends riverways and once again I am attached to another barbel. It keeps low and moves slowly, circling against the pressure of the rod. It feels heavy but not quite right, so I apply the power of the rod and work it towards the surface, the flank comes first and I realise the fish is foul hooked in the pelvic fin, the extra early pressure pulls the hook free from the fish and it floats to the surface briefly before diving down into the deeps.
I follow the river down at current pace but no sign of a distressed fish so I am happy that it will be ok. I disturb a grass snake, sunning itself alongside the bank and it slides away across the water leaving v shaped ripples in its wake.
I recast and start to dream of other fishing days with foul hooked fish. The 22lb carp in the tail that took 40 yards on a first clutch-burning run. A 11lb barbel in the dorsal fin, landed more by luck than anything else. That day fishing tares on the float when it took too long to realise the fish were feeding on the hemp midstream and grabbing at the lead shot leading to many foul hooked fish. They were unmanageable in the fast water and too many ended up snapping the 8lb line for comfort. Part of the learning process.
Noon came and I dozed until a chublet disturbed my slumber that disturbed a pike that disturbed a swan that nearly de-capitates me as it takes off. The pike lets go; the chublet survives, but not for long as the tail is missing with 2 inches of flesh. I put it back, it flashes to the surface, and the pike comes up and nabs it! Never had a chance really.
The food has gone and the drink has been drunk by the time
the rod pulls into another fish. This one goes so ballistic, that I think it might be a trout until a 2lb barbel flashes golden in the net. Unhooked on the mat, I go to put it back, and then spend a little time admiring it, how often we return our fish without really looking at them.
How beautifully shaped and sharp the profile of these young virgin fish is, with gloriously coloured burnt amber fins. We don’t see enough of them. I release it and it soaks me as it splashes away and I laugh and curse mildly.
Everything is dry now, but on the horizon I can see another band of heavy cloud. Button down or Bugger off? Another nine months to come of sunny hot days, windy wet days and more than I want of freezing and pretty hopeless days. Three modest sized barbel to start the season off, I will take that very gladly and return home a happy man…. at least if I can beat that rain to the car.
The wait for the new season has sometimes seemed endless, today was the reward.
Graham Elliott runs AnglingExperiences weekend and day fishing breaks and can be contacted on 01628 822733 / firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website www.anglingexperience.co.uk