I`m struck by the juxtaposition of these two great books. They make for an interesting comparison. One, tells the life of an angler: the other, a day in the life of an angler, with carp a common thread that binds them.
Casting at the Sun is the book that announced Chris Yates onto the literary scene. Well, shouted his name from the rooftops more like! Prior to its release Yates`s impression on the national angling consciousness was mainly due to “The Bishop” (His British record carp from Redmire). After, and certainly these days, it`s as a writer, one that followed up this stunning debut with a string of titles that have had critics drooling – of which The Secret Carp is writ large.
Casting at the Sun is an autobiographical tale, plotting the early beginnings of an angling boyhood, to the rapidly developing obsession that was carp fishing, and ending in the pinnacle of achievement – “A Record Carp Story”. It is unlike most autobiographies however – this is the portrait of a life that unfolds in a series of richly woven tapestries as every chapter is really a short story in itself. Each one reveals something of the Yates angling psyche. Expertly crafted and shorn of unnecessary trivia and self-aggrandisement, one gets the sense that Chris has cherry picked his very best recollections for this narrative. One slips easily into sharing Yates`s sublime and magical world with his easy and languid writing style. His gift is to be able to cast his spell on the reader with an economically descriptive use of words, yet which still manage to give his writing a dream-like quality.
All Chris Yates` books are hugely collectable – none more so than Casting at the Sun. Expect to pay over £150 for a first edition in good condition and you might have to consider paying twice this if it has the great man`s signature in it. Medlar released a cloth backed in 1995 – this had an extra chapter and signed book plate and more recently they have produced a hard back edition which is still in print for £15.
"The image of a tree is strangely projected through the mist as the sun curves up behind it. Then a gold beam swings across from the right. For a moment I feel the inevitable charm working on me. But, suddenly, the whole expression of the morning changes. A huge, dark shape turns on the surface, close in, near enough to see a dull gleam flash from its side. The ripples wheel and widen, shuffling the reeds, creasing the reflected light. I`m sober again. A big carp has stolen the sunrise and the next moment I am crawling furtively behind the reeds, fumbling as I set up my rod, threading the line through the rings with trembling hands. Yes, yes, the sunrise was tremendous, but there will be another to equal it tomorrow. Not every day, though, does one of the grandfather carp show himself and only very rarely have I seen one this close to the bank. Perhaps he was sniffing for the corn I scattered round here last evening.
In a surprisingly short time everything is prepared and I`m creeping between the yellow-flowering reeds, wading to a yard from the edge of them. Then a long wait while I scan the water for further signs of fishy presence. There! A patch of bubbles, just a short distance from where the carp leapt; the sun picks them out like brass studs on the surface.
As well as the bubbles, there is a light vorticing, just a vague crinkle of water; the fish`s tail is doing that; he is nose- down, browsing over the muddy shallows with his tail working gently just a foot or so below the surface. I overcast deliberately and before the hookful of corn has sunk I draw it back do that it quietly settles next to the feeding fish. He must take it. Will he take it?"
From Chapter 29 – Earthing the Current.
The Secret Carp on the other hand is a more expansive work. It is quite the most beguiling and enchanting angling book I`ve ever read and I would say it represents Chris Yates`s very best writing – every page is faultless. (Though as an angler whose preference is to fish rivers, The Deepening Pool is still my favourite Yates` book).
The premise for The Secret Carp is a simple one. A day spent on a secret, wonderfully secluded, carp water. The book describes a midsummer’s day, alone, in search, in hope of, a mythically, monstrous carp. The book has an `unhurried` feel to it. It is as much about `being there` as it is about angling. And because of the time at his disposal we are allowed to enjoy the full scope of the author`s evocative talents as he eulogises on the unfolding landscape around him and lets us in on some connections and tales of old as they, seemingly, occur to him. He even has time to catch a few (and lose a few) carp. The tone is a times soporific until a ghostly shape hoves into view, when the author`s senses are then heightened and he replaces a pen with a rod and goes a-angling. We are then drawn into the drama as a carp is stalked and wits are pitted. By the end of the day (and of course the book) the result is a score draw (you`ll have to read it to see what I mean!).
Finding a delightful piece to quote is ridiculously easy – I swear you could open any page at random and start. This is the opening paragraph to Chapter 5 – Discovery and Exploration.
"As I am facing west it seems, at the moment, as if the tree line opposite is about to ignite. The fog-rinsed colours are almost pulsing with light and yet the sun has still not quite risen. A heron descends through the mist, turns and – Woosh! I think I rattled him. He obviously wanted to perch on the half-sunken branch right here in the margins, but just as he put on the air-brakes he spotted me, wheeled round and flapped off up the lake. Now a band of sunlight has touched the upper edge of the tree line. Even as I watch the luminous green is turning gold and this glow is extending lower and lower down the trees, until within ten minutes, the entire skyline is ablaze."
Glorious stuff. This is a book to give to your non-fishing friend or spouse particularly ones that are incredulous as to how you spend your leisure hours. Reading it might just help them start to understand WHY?
First published in 1992, 2nd Edition 1997, Reprinted 2000. The latter still widely available (as so it should be) priced £17.99. (£12.21 on Amazon when I last checked) Merlin Unwin ISBN 1873674287.
Click here to view Casting At The Sun on Amazon and click here to see The Secret Carp.