The bedroom was practically frosty and lying under the pile of blankets with nothing more than his head exposed George was warm. As he breathed he could see his foggy breath as it reached the crack of light that sliced through the room. Normally he struggled to motivate himself from bed, but today it seemed a modicum easier to throw off the covers and quickly grab hold of his clothes. Stiff as his old joints were, the cold floor made him skip lightly off to the bathroom, down the familiar route he had taken three times hence the night just passed.
Downstairs the perpetual warmth of the kitchen was always welcome. He practically lived in the kitchen now and the old agar never seemed to get cold, even when its fire had gone out hours before. With a new fire now blazing inside its belly the kettle was soon screaming with enough hot water to fill his dented flask and also make a large pot of steaming tea to get him going again. While the tea steeped, two slices of soft bread browned near the fire of the agar. One of the few joys left in George’s life was jam on toast; over the years it had never changed and so easily it took him back to breakfast in his grandparent’s farm kitchen or those lazy mornings he and Cynth spent in bed after the war. Today, however, those cherished memories were hardly observed as thoughts of where he may end his blank weighed heavy on his mind. All his old spots now seemed the possession of the new guard, with their echo sounders and shrill bite alarms that they deployed from the banks with aggressive tenacity. No, he had to go far out deep into the Broads keeping off the main river which the angling papers had spoilt with their raving articles. In truth, his memories of those far off barely fished places were fuzzy at best, although and that didn’t really matter as unlike most places, the Broads altered their appearance year on year with the growth and death of the reeds.
Only one other boat still remained in the mooring as he lowered his tackle down into the boat. He knew full well that he had been up and out before the rest of the rabble, but it took him a fair while to walk down the boats via the paper shop and after discussing the football with Sid he was well behind time. Eventually he got himself and everything arranged just how he liked it: the paper was hidden away alongside his cheese sandwich and flask filled with tea; his old cane pike rod that his dad made for him lay in the prow of the boat along with his faux cane fibre glass float rod he used to catch baits. The last thing he checked was the bait. He took a quick peep in the bucket to confirm the two skimmers Peter had given him had not been stolen by the otters that slunk around the moorings at night. Both were still there as was the half-eel he had left over from the previous blank. After sitting visibly thinking for a while he managed to remember the one last thing he needed to check, though he did struggle to locate the old aluminium bait tin under the seat where he was sat. In the cold morning his dry hands struggled to get purchase on the freezing cold tin. When he finally got the confounded lid off he rustled around in the dry maze with bent fingers finding mostly floating casters. Somewhere from deep in the tin he did force up a small population of still wriggling grubs. They would have to do for today, no tackle shops would be open to purchase replenishments and besides, there might be enough left to prize out a few wriggling roach should a shoal come by.
Now came time to fire up the old motor, “Damn it… Fuel,” he muttered to himself.
He unscrewed the oily cap and rocked the whole boat side to side to see how much petrol remained in the tiny tank.
“Oh, not much left I see. A top up is in order.”
From the paint-flaked jerry can he topped up the little tank and in doing so it emptied the last of the fuel he had. Thinking it would be more than enough, he pressed on to leave although not before checking both were oars were safely, stowed just in case. George hoped the old seagull might be a little more cooperative than normal as he wrapped the cord twice around the pulley, but it was not to be; several times he wrapped the cord before pulling violently to try and ignite the engine. On the eighth pull he heard the hint of a splutter that suggested the next pull would crack life into the thirty year old engine, and he was right. Blue and white fumes billowed from the exhaust into the cold morning air as he tweaked the choke on the little engine. Waiting for the tone to level was the last part of the morning’s ritual before he cast off from shore. As always he readied himself as the engine warmed up by untying the mooring rope and passing the uncoiled rope around the mooring post leaving only a single coil holding the boat. He sat back down by the motor, still holding the rope by one end. The moment that engine settled he gave it one small burst of throttle just to check it was ready before flicking the rope in his hand down hard like a whip, sending a wave up the rope which when it reached the post sent the rope sailing over the top, and George was off.
It was one of those joyful days to be afloat, with clear blue skies overhead and the rising sun warming his face from the east. As pleasurable as the sun was on his face but he knew it more than halved his chances of catching, but for now he made the most of things and soaked up the warmth like a lizard on a rock. He had been cruising at a steady speed for not too long before he sighted the first boat nestled tightly against the dried winter reeds on the big bend. Four huge flighted floats marked an invisible boundary around the two anglers. One sat smoking, staring through half closed eyes as he passed; the other seemed to already be asleep in the bottom of the boat if the protruding boots were anything to go by. No one fished the long straight which led up to the first Broad but once inside he knew a second boat would be close by and he was right. He spied it just to the right hand side of the entrance and one of its occupants was into a fish. Not a big one but still a fish for sure. Where the Broad opened up he could see others in the distance but they were of no matter to him as it was much further out he wanted to go. He wondered if one of the specks fishing on the reed line was Peter with that bull-headed Johno but he couldn't tell from this far away.
Further on he went until no other humans were in sight; once you got deep enough into the Broads you suddenly realised how inaccessible the place really was. Even being alone and getting further away from civilisation didn't bother him, he had probably been this far before despite having no recollection of it. Three quarters of an hour later he travelled right through the string of smaller Broads and was now motoring along the narrow channels only accessible to small boats such as his. Some of it seemed familiar but maybe that was just because the reeds and water all look very similar. As yet though, he had not seen any spots that called out to him. One or two looked possible but the depth put him off as being too shallow. Things weren't looking good at all, he hadn't seen signs of prey fish and the main channel seemed to be shrinking ever faster.
Thinking he had made a dire mistake, George made the decision to turn around in the mouth of an offshoot he had just passed in the reeds. After letting the little tub drift backwards in the slight tow he revved the engine to turn the boat, only for it to stop with a thump. Looking over the side he could see submerged log which prevented the boat from turning. He knew the Broads well and knew it was more than likely a new channel would come out further up or down the main run, so off he went down a tiny path in the reeds hoping to pop out back further down. He soon wondered whether he had made another mistake taking this detour as the channel seemed to go on forever, then he noticed the reeds were forcing him to bear right; sure enough the reed cutter that had made this passage cut it so he could go in one way and out the other and soon enough sighted a familiar skeletal tree he had passed previously on the main channel. Relieved, he decided to backtrack along his previous course towards the main Broad. Now he had his bearings, he stopped up against the reeds to answer the call of nature and pour himself a cup of tea before heading off again. Rather than drop a mud weight he just did as he often did, staked an oar into the reeds and tied the boat off to it before giving the old seagull a rest.
It was lovely and quiet there deep in the reeds and apart from the wind rustling the dried stems the only sound he could hear was the cooling metal on the exhaust of his engine. Sipping his tea George soaked up the sights of the winter waterscape. He had just closed his eyes and was enjoying the warmth of the sun on his face when he heard a herring gull shriek and opened his eyes just in time to see the bird drop down into the reeds. This pricked his attention as sea birds aren't ones for diving into thick reed beds. Eventually curiosity got the better of him and after downing the last of his tepid tea George stood up gingerly to try and see where the gull had gone. He spied what looked to be a hole in the reed bed some way back along where he had just come he could. He craned his neck and saw that that further along the cavity in the reeds came quite close to the channel he was on. It was far to interesting he had to investigate. Rather than spark up the motor he used the oar the push himself and the boat back up the channel and after not too far he soon began to see the reeds thinning. Then lo and behold he saw it, a secret gap in the reeds, the entrance masked being as it was on bit of a dog leg. One hard push and the boat crossed the channel and entered the concealed entrance. George harboured a suspicion as to what he may find beyond the hidden ingress, but all was not finally revealed until the reeds sank away behind him.
Hidden deep in the massive reed bed was a pool, like a pond within a lake. It had probably always been here undiscovered, hidden in plain sight amid the flat landscape, waiting for his arrival. As he surveyed the scene the old man wondered if the secret pool might hold something special. Floating in the entrance he looked across its small surface and estimated it to be maybe the size of two eighteen yard boxes. As he scanned the pool he saw tell-tales signs of a shoal of roach moving along the edge; that was it, he had to cast out here!
After securing his the boat against the reeds, George quickly checked the depth by causally dipping his rod in until he felt the bottom, five feet down. Then after fumbling in the baits he pulled out one of the glassy eyed skimmers Peter had given him and hooked it onto his claw-like old trebles. The heavy weight of the fish caused a worrying bend in his ancient cane rod, but it held firm and soon enough the fish arched through the air, towing his float with it. There was a gentle splosh and the red painted cork float with its cane antenna bobbed up like buoy, right in the centre of the pool. Whilst that fished away he went about catching some fresh bait from alongside the reeds. A few pinches of maggots were flicked out with a decent helping of the bran that kept them dry before he swung out his porcupine quill float into the baited area. It took a while but soon enough the quill dipped as a hungry roach fell foul of his trap. Another followed before a third came off and it was then that he flicked out the last few grubs he could locate in the bait tin. With barely any bait left, he was quite relieved that nothing had taken the maggots off his hook.
No more bites came for ages until suddenly his quill began to move sideways across the water; George had seen enough eel bites to know when one had found his bait. The eel caused a massive fuss, thrashing around as it neared the edge of the boat and when he eventually got a hold of it he saw his hook had been well and truly swallowed. Years ago eels got a really rough time of it and George, like many other anglers, would have just stood on its head and ripped the hook out of its mouth, but times had changed and with numbers in decline the eel population was now in trouble. Every effort was made to free the writhing mass of snot from his line as gently as he could but sadly it was not to be and after several attempts with the disgorger blood trickled from the gasping gills. Even with the knowledge that he was not meant to, he decided to do what he thought best and put the eel out of its misery with the intention of using it as bait. Even dead the eel’s body still writhed around in the bottom of the boat, and it was that movement that inspired him to reel in the dead skimmer and replace it with a fresh live roach.
His float was soon dancing around the centre of the pool sending ripples in every direction which he hoped would attract any lurking pike. For an hour he watched the floats action diminish with the energy of the little roach until eventually it stopped moving entirely. Reeled in and in his hand he could see the little roach’s life was spent so he stowed it away with the other few dead baits and grubbed in the water for his last live one. Re-baited, George readied himself to cast and considered where it should go. Most of the pool had been searched by the previous bait but one shaded corner was as yet untouched. The roach landed with a big splash and he had to check it was still on by pulling the line back a little. The tension sparked the dazed bait back into action and soon the float veered towards the reeds pulling his line tight. With the reels bale arm preventing it getting into the sanctuary, the bait fish soon rose to the surface splashing to the very base of the reeds.
From the boat he watched, thinking he would have to soon reel it back a little and it was just as he reached for the rod to do so that he spotted the water to the left of the fish erupt as a pike attacked. Now he watched the float and waited for it to go under… but the bait soon reappeared on the reeds panicking, and again the water exploded. Amazingly the bait fish escaped once more and this time headed into open water, towards the bottom judging by the actions of the float. He watched as it came back towards the boat and just when he suspected it might, the float made its biggest bob so far and an audible plop; the pike had got the bait fish in its mouth for sure.
The float hung motionless for a few seconds then slowly slid below the surface. The rod was soon in hand when George did as he always had, and counted...
“One, two... three!”