River At The End Of Autumn

The following short extract was sent to us for publication by Cassell Illustrated. You'll find details of the book from which it was taken below:

As I settled down into the atmosphere of the place, gradually absorbing those more subtle characteristics that a momentary glance can never reveal, I decided that the reason I love this stretch of river so much is because of its intimacy. Unlike many other, grander rivers, that sweep along with an expression of cool remoteness, these few miles of narrow stream seem to whisper all kinds of promises – promises not only to do with the fishing. Any reasonably-experienced angler would recognise the potential in such a variety of glides, eddies, bends, shallows and deeps – a variety made so much more attractive by the amount of natural cover along the banks – but there are other less obvious qualities, perhaps more to do with the general direction of flow through this gently-undulating landscape; and I like the way the light effects certain stretches, and the way the river seems to disappear down tunnels of reflected trees. There is also a sense of sanctuary, not so much for an angler, but for the diverse natural life that furtively exists here.

The sun, lower in the southwest, was now shining through the trees behind me. The dappled glow on the opposite bank was mirrored by the dark surface, but the reflections didn’t obscure the red-tipped fl oat. It swayed and drifted gently for a few minutes, then, just as I began to stare at it more intensely – had it twitched a moment earlier? – it suddenly wasn’t there anymore. I flicked the rod tip, which curved over as I hooked something that at least was not an inanimate object. It jagged. It felt like a perch – it was a perch. The fish rolled on the surface, then dived for the upreaching branches, making the reel sing, but I steered it away from danger and gradually teased it over the waiting net.

The colours, when I lifted the perch out of the mesh, were all the colours of autumn – the crimson fins, the yellow-green mottling around the head, the ochre, amber and pearl along the flank. The fish was like a symbol of autumn – the dark vertical stripes like trees backgrounded against a field of gold leaves, which were the overlapping scales. I thanked it for being such a marvel, apologised to it, and slipped it back.

Perhaps a shoal had begun to feed. Perhaps one of the river’s patriarchs would start prowling around. Though my fish had not been much above a pound, at least it confirmed that Mick’s perch was not the only one unaffected by the dip in water temperature and I cast with new hope. However, after I’d recast, the float did not move again. Also, there were no small fish rippling on the surface, something that usually occurs as the evening draws on.

I needed to get back through the willow bog before dark or risk a dunking in waist-deep mud, but I decided, anyway, that I should return to my original pool and see if anything was stirring. Picking my way through the thicket – never easy when carrying a rod and net – I noticed a strange glow beyond the last tangle of boughs and realised it was a faint cloud of mist rising up from a more open stretch of river. The temperature was falling again and I felt the chill when I stepped out from under the trees. The deep hole under the sycamore was looking much darker and even more fishy than before, but once again there was no response when I cast into it. I sat on my rolled-up raincoat, peering at my fl oat through a narrow gap in a bed of dead reeds and willowherb. I must have been completely invisible from upstream because a kingfisher came arrowing up the river and swerved through the reed gap, taking what I presume was a familiar short cut across the bend. Hearing his high-pitched whistle as he approached, I had lent forward slightly to see him and was startled by a blue blur flashing inches from my nose. There was an audible fzzzz and the faintest draught, a little puff of air bulletting past.

Caught by the River - A Collection of Words on Water

'Caught by the River - A Collection of Words on Water', compiled and edited by Jeff Barrett, Robin Turner and Andrew Walsh. Published by Cassell Illustrated, £17.99. www.octopusbooks.co.uk