Dragons, Fairies and Jungles

 

“I believe in everything until it’s disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it’s in your mind. Who’s to say that dreams and nightmares aren’t as real as the here and now?”

– John Lennon

 

The Bare Chested Tencher
I apologise for this blatant display of machismo. And for taking my shirt off, too.

 

Read on if you’d like to encounter dragons, fairies (and even fish) in their most favourite environment: an English jungle. Well, not so much the dragons. More like dragonflies. Actually, damsels, really. And damselflies at that. But when you’re staring at a float in the midday sun, the mind’s eye can do funny things. The damselflies’ favourite part of the estate lake at Bury Hill is the so-called ‘Jungle’; a vast collection of interwoven trees and bushes that line the distant back end of the pool like a giant horseshoe. Here there is no division between land and water; rather, the tree roots and brambles spill freely into the lake to create a boggy, leafy angler’s paradise; an electric atmosphere in which to fish.

 

dsc_0260
Welcome to the Jungle.

 

Jungles fascinated the upper classes of the era; like all the English, they loved the idea of not quite knowing what lurked beyond the end of the garden. Quite charmingly, the word itself is Hindi and translates as ‘wild or uncultivated land’. It made its way to Mother England from the Indian Raj some time in the 1800’s- and was in good company; other words we circuitously inherited from the subcontinent include ‘dinghy’, ‘pyjamas’, ‘thug’ (the name given to the travelling bandits formed during a regional rebellion), ‘nirvana’ and, most important of all, the life-giver: ‘Curry’…

So there you have it. A thug on a dinghy in a jungle. With a penchant for curry. The gods of fishing could surely not be blind to this rare alignment…

I’d arrived early for once, and soon I was drifting excitedly- but slightly uneasily- along the strange banks of this angling ‘nirvana’ (sorry- couldn’t resist that). Far from the shoreline and only accessible via punt, you cannot help but feel like Marlowe in Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’: very slowly inching upstream toward some gory but compelling discovery. In actual fact, it is all a great trick. A fascinating Victorian-made folly. The ‘Jungle’ is wide but doesn’t extend further back than perhaps fifty yards in any given spot. However, you can’t see past the first waterlogged ten feet or so. And what your eyes can’t see- your brain instead begins to imagine…

This is the very quality that makes the jungle so bewitching a siren to anglers; it’s the perennial problem that you can’t quite ever solve. Still – like the boy who discovers a secret pond or an abandoned old tree house- you can’t help but keep looking and staring into it for hours, searching for signs of life. Bubbles, shadows, branches moving against the breeze etc… Periodically your trance is broken and suddenly you’re staring into nothingness. An abyss of natural neglect. At these times, you feel all washed up and abandoned in a faraway place. But gradually you relax- and little by little your gaze is drawn back in.

 

Plumbing the depths
Master tench float and ‘plumb-bob’…

 

I attached my new float that I’d bought for the trip, and cast off. I’d plumbed the depth; it averaged about four and a half feet but I’d found a deep, dark hole amongst the branches that went down to about six feet. The space had been created by the competing roots of two old oak trees and it tunneled right down into the jungle itself. Perfect, really. And very, very intriguing. Such a dark and mysterious hole is the perfect summer hiding place for a big tench. Conversely, when the weather cools and the tench leave for the great deeps in the middle of the lake, the perch will move into a spot like this and take up winter residence. Perhaps I’ll remember and return. These close-up, ‘ambush’ tactics (for lack of a more romantic term) are the quintessence of summer angling for me and most of my tench fishing involves this kind of approach; creeping up on them, basically. You plan, you prepare and you follow the basic tenets of angling, but beyond that it’s a contest between you and Mother Nature.

 

Tea
Punt Life… I’d bought along a lovely Mitchell 301 (I’m a right-handed reeler) to use with a second rod aimed at the carp, but in the end I never used it. I find using more than one rod is almost impossible.

 

So, in full stealth mode, I cast my float into the hole. I then fixed a brew and began to recline. It wasn’t long before waiting became anticipation- which only an angler can understand. Here and there, I also thought about my approach. Not quite doubts. Not yet; but even when perfectly confident, your mind will question your tactics at some point. The bait was two small worms; I swear this is a bait that a tench simply has to accept, even if it’s not particularly hungry. I was using an insanely beautiful float, styled on a vintage design. But this particular piece also possesses state of the art balance and build quality. Like the Knight in UA Fanthorpe’s poem ‘Not My Best Side’, it practically screams at the fish: ‘Don’t you want to be captured in the most contemporary way?!’

The maker, Andrew Field, fashioned it from a delicate quill that is usually employed for crucian carp fishing; he beefed it up slightly and then added the classic body and buoy-like tip of a real tench float so it could beat any ‘drift’ on the lake. Perfect for this type of depth on a big water. Big enough to stay put, but light enough not to scare off the tench when they (inevitably) take the bait. I also thought of the float as a good luck charm; there are, in fact, ancient crucian carp in this lake- some of which weigh well over four pounds. They’re not abundant enough to ‘target’, so to speak, but they are occasionally caught by tench anglers. With a tench float made from a crucian quill, I was surely going to be in the lake’s good graces…

And as I stared at its bright red tip, the rest of the picture began to fragment. What had seemed like the integral parts of a ‘whole’ landscape, slowly broke away and became distinct. Firstly I became aware of the different types of birdsong. There were goldfinches chirruping some thirty yards to the southeast of the punt; whilst beyond the float I could hear a song thrush- always later than the blackbird- finishing his morning ballad. Further into the undergrowth, I could just detect the muffled giggles of a greater spotted woodpecker. Then the smells began to grow stronger. Firstly the scent of the lilies yawning and then, as the mercury rose, I felt overwhelmed by a great shower of dandelion seeds. I was becoming badly sunburnt, but seemed powerless to move- so deep was my state of hypnosis. The float, and everything near it, seemed enormous. Trees developed distinct features that hitherto I hadn’t perceived… When it started to occur to me that the damselflies resembled small dragons, I knew that my sojourn from reality was complete.

The Jungle now held me completely in her thrall.

 

Tench float awaiting contact...
Dragon at rest on my float… Add fairies and tench for perfection…

 

After a while, some fairies came and joined us: a company of twenty or so long tailed tits (although I prefer the name ‘old red eyes’) nestled in the woods near my boat and started to gambol charmingly about between the branches of the jungle. Like candy floss on stems; their tails are actually bigger than their entire bodies. I find them very inquisitive and unafraid of humans. Fairies really, these ‘little people’ set the dragon-damsels off beautifully. The whole atmosphere of the place was intoxicating. The magical creatures, the angle of the float, the lilt of the punt… Until eventually the trance deepened into drowsiness…

 

Long Tailed Tit at Bury Hill 3
Fairies at the back of the garden…

 

… And then sleep!… As I realised my error, my flickering eyes could just about discern the tip of my float sliding down into the depths. Smells, sounds, fairies and dragons all retreated as I pulled myself out of dreamland and struck hard. Hard enough to pull slack line up, but not hard enough to connect. I cursed myself as I reeled up the slack, but then nearly jumped out of the punt when the line went solid- very solid.

The fish was hooked and it felt decent. I got it into open water and attempted to play it away from the jungle. No good. It made a series of spirited, no, terrifying charges back into the woods and would have beaten me outright if it weren’t for the strong line that I was using; much sturdier than I would normally use for tench. A necessary insurance against the malice of the jungle. The line held, but my rod perhaps wasn’t fully up to the job. It bent to the point of snapping but ultimately did hold. Just. It made for an exciting battle, but a bigger fish may have made mincemeat of me. When the fish finally surfaced, I could see it was a nice tench. Almost five pounds; an excellent size for a float fisher… But my experience with the rod had left me shaken.

 

Tench in the net
A near five pound ‘Jungle’ tench. Chunky and in perfect condition, he scared the fairies away. And nearly shattered my rod.

 

I stayed awake and alert(ish) for the rest of the day. A subpar rod is one thing, but a sleeping angler would be the ultimate gauntlet to lay down to these fish; I would soon find myself floating home if I drifted off again.

As the day progressed, I missed two further bites by striking too early. Then, an hour before rowing back, I hooked one more tench: a four pounder. Another amazing battle ensued, similar to the last. My only advantages were being more alert this time round- and shirtless, which probably frightened the hell out of the poor fish when it finally surfaced.

A clear blue sky had started to gather clouds by the time I packed the car up. Tonight I was staying somewhere else: the ancient (and haunted) ‘White Horse’ hotel in Dorking- just a couple of miles away. Tomorrow I would return and try the lake anew. But before doing so I intended to call into town and buy a new, stronger rod from the local tackle dealer. And prior to all that I had drinks to drink and curries to eat and, apparently, ghosts to see.

And all the while, the clouds kept growing. I thought about this as I drove away from the lake and back up into the woods- sorry to leave the fairies, but safe from the dragons…

For now.

 

View from the punt

Part Three- The Carnival and the Queen

 

“A sadder and a wiser man,
  He rose the morrow morn”

 

An inspector calls....JPG
Fellows of the Marsh.

 

The next evening I duly returned and caught nothing… But I saw everything. Sitting undetected a few feet away from a tribe of wild tench, I witnessed something I’ve never seen in over 25 years of fishing- their highly formalised and very eerie dusk ceremony; in its entirety from start to finish and in perfectly clear water. I arrived at about 5pm and again raked the areas I’d worked the previous day, before gradually wandering between them on the lookout for signs. Three hours before dusk I spotted a tench moving. Then ten minutes later another- both fish were about three pounds and were quite clearly ‘patrolling’ the bend of the drain. This behaviour would make more sense as the evening unfolded. At about two hours before dusk, two much bigger fish (around five or six pounds each) emerged from the weeds and started to go back and forth with them. Up the drain. Down the drain. And then again.

 

Cloud busting.JPG
Late afternoon on the marshes. Time to enjoy Turner country and dig in until dusk.

 

I sat silently marvelling at this routine and didn’t even think about casting a bait in. I thought I’d wait as they seemed unsettled. Ten or so minutes must have passed when I noticed a bulky, dark mass near to one of the weedbeds. I’d been periodically scanning the area and hadn’t noticed this patch before; I assumed it was a clump of weed that had detached from the main bed. It was only when it moved out into the open that I realized the shape was in fact a colossal tench- easily the biggest so far. At least nine pounds. My whole body stiffened; it was darker now and the mood of the marsh seemed a little uneasier. I felt very acutely that I shouldn’t be there. By this point the ‘smaller’ fish were at fever pitch, frantically pacing up and down the drain. But their patrols were shortening. After another minute the fish seemed to be turning every three or four seconds until suddenly they were quite clearly circling the big one. These ‘scouts’ were the consort fish- the pages of the tribe. And they were taking up position around their Queen.

 

Together they proceeded to amble over to a patch of the drain that I’d raked the day before- about three feet from the bank. The procession now began to slow as the tribe adjusted to the slower, more deliberate rhythm set by the Queen- whom at all times swam in a raised position relative to the other tench. After milling about for a minute or so, the Queen then proceeded to roll and flank. Following several vigorous spins, the smaller fish then followed suit and started to spiral over and over- always within the Queen’s orbit but fastidiously careful to avoid actually touching or bumping into her. It was now the orange hour before dusk and I was sitting about four or five feet away from the display, hidden behind dense foliage. The carnival gradually reached its zenith and it became clear that the feeding ceremony was now at hand. The Queen had indulged in about a dozen or so of these deep rolls- each time displaying to me a beautiful, golden flank (I was close enough to identify the fish as a female by her perfectly formed pelvic and smooth underbelly; the males, for all their good looks, sport a slightly ungainly ‘gonad’ sack above a misshapen pelvic)- when all of a sudden she upended and started tearing up the bottom of the drain… Dinner time… The junior fish then followed her lead and joined in. At this point I very slowly extended my rod out over the lilies and let my baited hook drop down a foot to the left of them. I watched as the tribe’s feeding bubbles ascended to the surface and created the much heralded ‘fizzing’ that is such a hallmark of midsummer tenching.

 

dusk-marshes
High dusk on the Kentish Marshes. A landscape shaped by the eerie.

 

I’d had no idea how hierarchical tench could be- nor how idiosyncratic in their habits. I knew they lived in groups of varying size. Some fish can never do this. Pike being a classic example- the bigger ones eat the smaller ones. But these tench functioned as a team, with the Queen setting the pace. The smaller ones had come out first. Just as rabbits do. I’d spent the previous late summer catching up with some dusk rabbiting in a sleepy valley in South East Kent. The rabbits there all lived in and around an ancient bund of about four or five hundred metres long. Their routine was very similar. Adult tench are not explicitly a prey creature in the same way that rabbits are (the latter’s whole being is built for evasion)- but their dusk ‘carnival’ is very clearly based on avoiding predators. Not hard to reason why, I suppose, after an infancy spent avoiding pike and waterfowl. Danger from above. Likewise, the smaller rabbits would leave their strongholds three hours before dusk, firstly ‘standing to’ with their ears pricked- scanning for any possible sign of a threat (of which there are many); gradually they would relax and mill about the area. The key difference was that they would not ‘display’ or ‘patrol’ in the way that the tench did- the fish being a more assertive, more physical creature. But similarly, the bigger rabbits would gradually come out, one by one (the ‘doe’s first, rather dishonourably) until at last, the big ‘buck’ rabbits would emerge to feed. By this point it would be almost dark. The tench differed in that the males came out first. But otherwise they adopted a similar hierarchy.

 

moody-marsh
A centuries old ceremony is about to commence.

 

As the evening progressed, it was obvious that the tench would eat nothing that I offered them- apart from (perhaps) the hempseed which they may well have been scooping up alongside their natural food. But no ‘big’ items. They would not touch meat, sweetcorn, bread or any other ‘larger’ particle that I introduced. It was obvious that they were more interested in what the rake had brought up- the small microscopic lifeforms, as well as snails and worms. The water was so clear that I could actually see them turning their noses up at my alien offerings; more agonising still was watching fish approach my hook-bait and then reject it. I decided to change my tactics immediately; I retired to the pub for a pint of the black stuff- followed by a torpid night’s sleep.

 

I returned the next afternoon with a pot of lobworms and a pint of maggots. I’d also stripped the line on my centrepin reel and replaced it with a much stronger one. This turned out to be the right decision. The whole drain was a living snag and the possibility of hooking a nine or ten pounder below the rod tip forced my hand. Again, I had time before the fish ventured out. However, this evening I could not locate the main tribe- only the scouts, whom I stalked back and forth until one came within range of my float. This fish was pacing up and down in the same manner as the night before but seemed to have more of a definite ‘flight-path’ than his brothers, so I introduced a worm directly into the middle of it and waited for him to make his pass. After two minutes, he was on his way again; he had appeared to go past the worm when in a millisecond he turned like lightning, shot down to the bottom and sucked it up. I watched him take it and then move off- my float dragging behind him for two seconds before submerging. I then struck hard and was into a terrific, dashing fight. The fish instantly dived into a heavy weedbed. Any tench above two pounds fights very hard and it’s hard to explain to a non-angler just how strong these creatures are, relative to their size. The superior line strength came in handy and after a short tug of war I’d landed my first marsh tench- a male of just below four pounds.

 

first-tench
The first tench I took on the marshes.

 

For the next couple of weeks, a similar routine emerged. I could locate and catch various scouts- but no Queens. Or even the ‘Princes’- those specimens of five or six pounds that I’d seen flanking the bigger fish. I’d typically head out onto the marshes every other weeknight and also spend some time there on the weekend. This is a fair amount of fishing time but the clock was ticking. The season for feeding tench is quite short. I only had a few more weeks left. One thing I did learn was that smaller baits were the key. The ‘Scouts’ didn’t always accept lobworms (and never took regular bait) but pretty much always fell to ‘dendrobenas’ (the smaller variety of worm you often find in compost heaps and rose beds).

 

marsh-tench
A ‘Scout’ tench taken from the marshes. As with rabbits, the smaller fish were the first to leave the sanctuary and would then ‘patrol’; they could then be stalked and quite often taken in broad daylight before the first signs of dusk.

 

One foggy evening a few weeks later- my luck changed for the better. I encountered a large gathering of tench about five metres away from the original position where I’d seen the first dusk dining party. This time I felt confident in my bait (the smaller worms) and decided to throw a few in as tempters before I engaged the fish. The tench, which looked to range between two and eight pounds, were feeding directly between two great lily beds and went crazy for the worms- with huge bubbles and ‘fizzing’ occuring wherever I introduced them. Soon enough, I lowered my bait directly into one of these areas. Within 45 minutes, I’d landed two tench of just below four pounds each. By now dusk was coming on rapidly… But I could still see very large, dark shapes moving around in the feeding area and knew that there were much bigger fish to be caught.

 

I made another cast and sat back. I had equipped myself with strong tackle in case I hooked one of the Princes- or even a Queen. But then so far every marsh fish had fought shockingly hard. One of my tools helped immensely- a 13ft long ‘tench’ rod, made especially for float fishing from weedy margins. The extra length was to prove invaluable in a few moments time. My line was the strongest I have ever used for tench and there is no finer reel for this kind of fishing than a centrepin… My float moved several times from ‘line’ bites- fish directly in the area bumping into my rig but not actually taking the bait. I became very tense and once again experienced the feeling of being watched. The fog was now at knee height. Suddenly, a flight of ducks flew past very quickly- just metres over my head- causing me to look up. There’d been seven mallards in formation; yet another wild creature with a distinctive dusk pattern.

 

As I looked down my float shot under… And it stayed under. After three seconds, I braced myself and struck extremely hard to my left. The hook went home and I knew instantly that the fish was big. Possibly a prince. It immediately made a sprint towards the tangled lily beds on my right. Coming up fast from the bottom now, it surfaced and pulled my rod tip down to the level of the water. I could not hold it. Line (of 10lbs breaking strain) peeled out of the reel in sudden, ungainly screams as it power-dived at least four feet into the beds. Once in the pads the fish submerged again, taking me down deep, deep into the lily roots and the world below. One tactic alone had saved me: at the moment it had entered the beds, I made the decision to hoist the full length of the rod out and over the pads. Because of this, considerably less line was exposed to the roots. The rod tip had just made the clear water as the fish started digging beneath me. I released a little more line and with what was spare I angled the rod higher- up to about 45 degrees- in order to gain leverage. The creature felt this and went beserk. Every lily in the vicinity shook from its roots up to its buds. At this point I held firm and gave no line. It was do or die. The rod would either absorb the shock or the line would snap… After thirty seconds of this, I still had direct contact and my opponent was tiring. But then suddenly the tench made a break for it- leaving the lilies as powerfully as it had entered them and sallying forth out into the wider channel. Open water. I gave line until it was well clear. Then I brought the rod back from the lilies and held it as far to the left of me as I could. I now had the angle. The fish knew it and tried to charge back into the chasm of pads. But this time I closed down and didn’t give an inch. The rod absorbed three violent pulls as it tried to re-enter. The tackle held, forcing the fish to give up and return to the main channel… It was over. I angled the rod high and let it cushion the last runs until the fish had exhausted itself on the open water. I then commenced pumping and reeling and after a few seconds the fish came into the net on its side like a half-sunk tug boat. A male; the biggest male tench I have ever caught at 6lbs 9oz. And also the most perfectly formed. By now a great coastal fog was enveloping everything around us so I quickly weighed him and took a photo.

Just as Mick had told me, the fish stared at me until I had to look away. At which point I could feel the entire marsh watching me.

 

7-tug-boat-realised
6lbs 9oz marsh tench caught in the fog. I’ve caught lots of tench over ‘6’ before using a float but never a male and never one this long… But still he’s only a ‘Prince’…

 

I returned two dusks later and hooked an even bigger fish. I didn’t land it. Nor did it snag me or slip the hook. It simply charged off and snapped the line with brute force. I know it was a tench; like the previous fish it surfaced as it ran and I saw its massive olive shoulders and peat-green head. It was one of the resident ‘Queen’ tench and possibly ten pounds in weight. I don’t think in my life time I shall ever hook a stronger fish in that weight class- be it pike, salmon or bass.

 

By this point, the marsh was closing in on me. I used to take a bottle of ale or cider with me; just the one- I’m not particularly into drinking whilst fishing, and this concession was only due to most of my drain fishing being at dusk. But it offered no solace from whatever haunts the place. Nor any protection from its inhabitants. This was to be the last evening I made it out there- and I’ve never returned since. After I lost this final fish I cast out a few more times but was feeling progressively more ill as dusk turned to evening. I packed up, made the forty-five minute yomp back to my car and by the time I got home I was both shivering and sweating. At work the next day, my Head sent me home early. The doctor inspected me and found insect bites all over my arms and legs. For the next nine days or so my body temperature periodically heated up for hours at a time whilst on other occasions I would profusely sweat for twenty minutes or so… My sleeping hours were fitful and punctuated with strange dreams about Old Mick and the carnival of the tench. The symptoms were classic responses to an insect bite- an unusual occurrence in England. But then the marshlands are not a ‘usual’ place. They are beautiful, strange- and at times terrifying.

 

Orange Hour.JPG

Lies, Carp and Englishmen

 

I like to hold court in my local pub. Boast a bit. It’s a terrible character flaw, really. Once a few ales have sufficiently severed my connection to reality, I enjoy lying to young’uns about the size of a fish I’ve caught, or the amount of hours I worked in my 20s. Despite the fact that I’m only 38, I never miss an opportunity to school the younger generation. It seems only just. Pub life in England dictates that 20-somethings should be ignored at all costs and vigorously challenged upon any occasion that they try to express an opinion of their own. Only if they become violent should one perhaps listen, and even then- the only reply should be a grudging nod or a grimace. No smiling should be administered under any circumstances. The system is time-honoured and can be traced back 100% accurately to the times of the Knights and their Page boys.

 

1-plotting

 

Conversely, when I’m ensconced with the old boys I become the apprentice and am forced to tell huge lies in order to acquire or retain their affections… Quite correctly and properly, they never miss a chance to bully or heckle me. Without fail all of their interactions with me are 100% unfriendly. They never give me an inch. Anything less would be a slap in the face. But no matter how much they mock me, I adore their company and it is always their stories that I cherish the most; so I cannot resist lying to boost my status within the circle. Deep in the midst of the beer drinking ceremony, I hear myself agreeing with absurd political stances and supporting Victorian views on the roles of women. Worst of all is when it comes to angling. I agree wholeheartedly with every one of their opinions on ‘modern fishing’; I enthusiastically join in the lament over the demise of roach fishing and can weep on command when conversation turns to the abolition of the old close season.

I am at my most hypocritical when it comes to the holy topic of seasons and when it is ‘proper’ to hunt for each specific fish. Carp in the summer only. Pike in the winter and perch/roach in the autumn etc… In actual fact, I commit the sin of starting every season several weeks early (with the exception of the pike where I retain my purity and never commence hunting before the ‘Glorious First’ of October).

 

dsc_0137
Bury Hill

 

The sad fact is that once a season has been drained of its marrow, I begin to pine for the start of the next one. This reaches childlike proportions and I fascinate myself by thinking of little else other than how it will be ‘next season’. I stockpile relevant tackle, read old books and obsess… This year was no different. Once the heart of the winter had started to break and we reached midspring, I was gagging to go and take a carp- a species that admittedly holds no interest for me in the winter in any case, when fires are roaring and the ale is malty. But this year in particular, the idea of waiting for summer proper was torturing me so I decided to break ranks and head for a lake I know…

I was in the pub when it happened; I suddenly realised I’d had enough of black beer and old men’s lies (not to mention my own). I wanted blue skies, green valleys, carp and cider. This is an annual event for me. All over the country, barely evolved Anglo-Saxons are coming out of their preconditioned hibernation. Ferreters and horse people muck out their creatures’ winter abodes. Carp fishers dust off their rods. And so I packed the car up with my (very basic) fishing kit. One carp stalking rod, an old Mitchell 301 reel, binoculars (most essential for my type of carping) and a handful of ancient floats. A flat cap is optional but good headwear and scarves certainly enhance one’s sense of escapism when taking last-minute angling trips.

 

andrew-field-peacock-quill

 

I woke up at five ‘o’ clock the next morning and drove to Bury Hill, which is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty near Dorking. It’s about an hour and half’s drive, so it’s not too close and not too far. This is important. I go fishing to get away and every escape artist needs a redoubt that is far enough away not to be found but also close enough to reach in times of duress. I have found that the Surrey Hills provide ample cover for me when I wish to drop my activities and run. And I’ve run there several times throughout the years. I arrived at about seven and headed for the boat house.

 

Swallows return to boathouse Bury Hill

 

The first thing you notice about Bury Hill is the noise. The Old Lake in particular is a magnet for duck life, and you can’t fail to be impressed by their beautiful morning cacophony. They initially drown out the blackbirds and larks, who later perform a second more delicate chorus once the ducks have stood down from their booming and are actively fighting each other for territory, food and the chance of a love life. If you are of the wildfowling disposition you will possibly regret not bringing a shotgun, but personally I like their company.

I punted out to a spot on the Old Lake known as the ‘Jungle’- a snaggy territory where the trees grow out of the water and their roots call to the fish like sirens. In the spring time it’s the perfect tonic to soothe my woes after a season of Guinness, tall stories and days spent piking with nothing but the East Wind and the crows for company.  I was slightly high from the journey through the M25 and the early start, so I rowed hard and enjoyed it all the more for knowing my fellow drivers were off to work, whilst I was off to toad. I staked up my punt to the furthest point on the lake from land and looked back to the boathouse; I felt confident that I could journey no more even if I tried. I poured out a brew, fixed some breakfast and steamed along with the tea… I gradually cooled down. Good tea and English scenery effect long periods of deep, calm introspection… I had reached the playground of giant carp. Bronzed English whales swam here. And I was Ahab.

 

View from the Jungle.JPG

 

After initially baiting several areas up with mashed Hovis, I surveyed the surface of the lake with my binoculars, scanning for carp. I saw no signs all morning and so decided to float-fish my bait right on the bottom of the lake bed. I cast it tight to the sanctuary of the tree roots where surely they must venture out and feed at some point… A beautiful Andrew Field porcupine quill buoyed up the bait (a huge piece of bread flake) and would warn me if any scaled diners had decided to eat at my table.

I sat and waited. Carp fishing can be slow outside of the summer and I began to recall my conversations with the old men. Hours passed by and my mind began to play tricks on me.  Nature perhaps sensed that I had somehow disrespected ‘Droit du Seigneur’ back in my own world- its foremost imperative and the one principle that should be ensuring me success out here. It began to rain heavily after midday and I had to make a mock canopy out of a camo jacket and a rucksack.

But then in the late afternoon the sun came back out. Lower now, but more intimate. The air smelled different. My mind cleared and all thoughts of pathetic fallacy slowly began to dissipate. The magic hour was approaching… Dusk. When all creatures feed ravenously before it gets too dark to find food. Just as the light started to flicker in the trees, I thought I saw some branches move near my float. It was windless so this displacement could only have been caused by independent movement. Something large was yards away from my punt, surveying my bait. And circling my mind… I remained completely motionless and tried to clear my thoughts. My hands started to tremble. A minute later my float began to move- and then it slid under.

I struck into gold… And my winter was broken.

 

Punt looking down at carp (2)