Xmas is coming and as per normal my spare time is dwindling. Like everyone, my family commitments and work seems to increase exponentially as the holidays approach and as result my chances of nipping off for even a half day this weekend were zero. Saying that I love Xmas, so it really wasn't that much of a hardship and a little lateral thinking got me two micro sessions back to back over the weekend.
There is where I live a tiny little river long forgotten by the local angling fraternity. I have heard that at some point in its life, not that long ago, it was more than just a focal point for the junior anglers. Apparently in its hey day it was common place to see trilby hat sporting men, perched on wicker baskets brandishing split cane rods as they trotted out some respectable fish. But this is now all history, and since then the city has encroached on it. Seventies style housing estates now sit on its flood plains and its silted river bed is strewn with fifty years worth of rubbish dumped by a myriad of idiots. It would seem that the majority of people that live close by are oblivious to this diminutive waterway and those who do know of it would fall over laughing if you were to inform them that fish still swim in that trolley filled brook. But they do, because as we all know, nature finds a way. She always does and she certainly will when we have all gone!
Day one: Validation
My time was to be short. So well before all those people with common sense had risen and the others with less than me had staggered home to bed, I was up and slipping out the door into the night. I always get a bit of a kick being out in the empty streets at night. It feels like the world is all mine to do with as I please as no is around to say otherwise.
Through the fluorescent lights I walk, slipping through alleyways and crossing roads at will. In one hand I can feel the cold aluminium pole of my landing net and in the other my 10ft super light quiver tip rod is banded neatly into three sections with the reel attached. This rod is perfect for this tiny river, short and sensitive. I know the river is low and the fish will be shy. So before I left I fitted a tip so sensitive even a passing water boatman could make it quiver. I carry only a tiny satchel, full more of bait than tackle as I will not need much beyond a few hooks, some weights and couple of tiny floats.
I know when I am nearly there when I see the suburban underpass. I always half expect to come across a gang of loitering droogs hanging out looking for some ultraviolence but as always it's far to early for that part of society to be up and out. So I pause to study the tribal writings on the walls and wonder is Becky as promiscuous as they say she is or does Dave really have such sub par genitalia. I ponder the enduring appeal of of 'ere over here and wonder why the people who scrawl on walls think that missing the H off saves time.
I shouldn't waste too much time, as now half the sky is black and the other turning blue as the dawn rises and today time is precious. Last year I studied much of this stream when the water ran clear so I know where to begin. Even in the dark I can tell no one has ventured to this area for a long time as mine are the first feet to crunch the dry cowslips lying across the ground on my way to my nest of nettles which still have a shockingly venomous sting in the cold morning air.
Operating with no light I line my rod rings up against the sapphire sky and pinch a minuscule of bread onto my hook before swinging it mid flow. Rustling into my bag I pull out a small bag of bread that I ran through a food processor the night before, until it was more like a liquid than solid. Now I squeeze it back together in balls no bigger than fifty pence pieces and toss it out a little upstream of my bait. I know from experience that after it almost silently hits the water it will float for a few seconds before breaking up in a seductive cloud which can stimulate the most obstinate fish.
There is no way I can see my rod tip so I feel for bites holding tension onto the line with my left hand. At first I can't tell if the tapping on the line is fish or the blood pumping through my hand but then the hair like line is ripped between my fingers and with anglers instinct strike into a fish.
I am careful not to strain the light line and let the rod do my work as my quarry ploughs around the river. It's not big but still it darts back and forth across the river until I hear it splashing out in front. Although I can't see it at all my net slides under it first time and I lift it from the water. Well away from the bank I turn on my torch and smile at my suburban chub.
The river is no more than than a good jump wide where I am fishing so my hopes of another are not high. But still I cast again just to check and moments later the line is again torn from my grasp as I hook the sibling of the first.
After the light rises I trot away my time catching some tidy roach and perch in between minnows as my float ambles along an eddy. Kingfishers dart round the bending little river and I get distracted for an age by a tree creeper darting up and down the tree at the end of my rod. I am satisfied that my original statement holds true and this forgotten stream holds more than the odd minging old fish just clinging on life by a thread. This place is well and truly alive with life.
Day two: Where others wouldn't dare
I repeat the journey of the day before but this morning the air is warmer and by no means still. This morning I can't see the stars as they are hidden by cloud and the wind intermittently gusts. Back in the same spot I chance my light rig again into the dark and instantly it is met with a sharp pull which I miss. A second cast ends the same. Maybe they are on to me, maybe it's the same fish again and they've learnt their lesson since yesterday.
As the light appears something feels different. The fish are more coy; apart from two tugs nothing has touched my bait at all, which is odd as the day before I got constant attention from little fish. The shadows of trees on the water reveal the truth to me. The day before the river had that strange green tinge almost like winter water but today it runs clear and I can see a speckled patch of white on the bottom down stream where my liquid bread has settled. If that was not disturbing enough I can see that no black shapes pass over it to indicate fish.
The decision is made I have to move on and search out cover or deep water where nervous fish would hide. I know upstream spots are limited but down I have spotted a few fine looking runs but there is an issue. A river chooses not where it runs and if it did it wouldn't run here for the the place where I go is not pleasant.
On a warm summer evening this place is a no go zone. It's like Beirut with Burberry and dirt bikes, and as I cross the field the burnt out motor bike in the bushes reminds me of this.
I am sure that most of the people that live here are perfectly nice but I also know they they aren't the problem, it's the kids that are. Walking along the river it is rammed with crap. The fallen trees of upstream are replaced with sofas and trolleys all forming ugly man made sculptures just inches underwater.
At the end of no man's land I reach the run I have seen before and my keen anglers eyes are right - between two reed beds the river narrows and deepens into around two and half feet for a good thirty foot. And although leaving time is very close I make a few casts just to probe out this run for another day.
Bang! First chuck the tip hoops and I feel resistance for a fleeting moment. I cast again but this time a million hungry mouths can be felt whittling away my bread. I give it a while before I reel in one of the culprits.
With this my time is up and I must make tracks. But even though this trip produced no more than minnow I now know this deeper run in the war zone holds better fish that are secret and shy. So I shall return another day while those angelic kids who rule this place still sleep.