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Thursday, 14 March 2013 08:32

Water-Craft

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A bridge I spent many a morning on watching uncatchable shadows.A bridge I spent many a morning on watching uncatchable shadows.For me many of the topics covered in angling articles such as the "how to's", the "on the bank with.." and tackle reviews don't even come close to what angling is really all about, and perhaps "water-craft" is the only subject which really begins to explain the real joy in ang-ling. In itself though this can be very subjective, as one man's pleasure can be another's misery, and with such diverse choices this can mean many things.
For some people catching minnow after minnow and weighing in 100 fish for a 2kg winning bag could seem like one of Dante's portraits of living inferno, while others would rather use the time to see how long paint takes to dry than sit behind a bank of rods with a policeman hanging from the tips.
One thing is for certain though - nobody, no matter which ever camp you find yourself in, comes back from a trip ecstatic about how their rods performed, how they enjoyed tying rigs, how much fun it was mixing the bait or how they really enjoyed making camp. Agreed, all these things contribute to a good trip, and certainly equipment failure has become part of many a fishing tale, but surely this is all secondary to the actual angling? In reality these are the tools we use to enjoy a sport and pastime.

There comes a point in an angler's career, when you've bought all the gear, been through all the bait to find the ones that actually do what they claim to do, the inciting ads no longer hold sway and the tools of the trade are seen as just that. In today's modern throwaway, instant gratification and information bombardment world, articles come and go, only to be re-spruced with new images months later, or with in-house publishers rotating articles throughout their stable of publications. In the end no matter what you read, perhaps all you end up with is a complete overload, when in fact all you want to read about is real fishing, and not another way of tying this or that, or about the next generation of products on the market. In the end, they become merely extensions of advertising.

Dappled forest light. Atmosphere to make your hairs stand up.Dappled forest light. Atmosphere to make your hairs stand up.But in a growing sport such as specimen carp angling, repetition is a necessity, as those new to the sport seek out the knowledge with which to achieve the results they see achieved by more and more anglers.
As a case in point, at a recent clinic organised by one of the tackle shops, I was pleased to see a pretty good turn out of some 30 anglers, but was surprised to learn that not one of them had ever tied a hair rig! This simple task was for them all an introduction into a new world, spring boarding them into this relatively, and for them new, facet of angling.
This phenomenon is not new or unique to our shores, but if you have been involved from the beginning, you are most probably looking for something a little more and its here that even long standing old timers can learn from experiences rather than from a school book approach. For me water-craft falls into this realm.

My Afrikaans is very limited, so I'm most likely missing out on some excellent writings in our angling media, but there seems to be a plethora of "how to's" that then culminate in a feature on results. But what about the bit in the middle, the actual fishing?
The late Charles Norman was one of those local writers whose books inspired me and still give me pleasure, as do the writings of fly fisherman doyen Tom Sutcliffe, no matter that the subject in Sutcliffe's case was not always, if ever, about carp fishing. But they provided an escapism and retreat, with the pleasure derived from angling coming through. British carp angler Chris Yates' writings in many overseas publications are a real joy, if a bit eccentric at times, and going further back it was Bernard Venables who provided an escape along the banks of the waters he fished, and we as readers could join in part of the "Mr Crab-tree" era. Naturally there are many more in between this, such as a more recent but no less enjoyable Jim Gibbinson who may ring bells for some, although I see he is not as prolific as he once was. All their related experiences are a patchwork of tales that when put together show a great understanding of the waters around them, and this to me is "watercraft".

Anyway for me this is where I think I have been for most of my angling, interspersed with brief visits into the competitive and the "size matters" aspects. While doing relatively well in both, it doesn't push the right buttons for me any longer. Doing well at something does not automatically mean you enjoy it, so for the past six months or so I've been looking to move on from running on just a pilot light into a full blown "Setting 11", to quote "Spinal Tap". As things progress, we'll see if it's worth putting down on paper.
For those familiar with some of my previous writings I often bring in the watercraft aspect of the sport, whether it's in the form of fish location or just the general bank-side good condition, or lack thereof.

Watercraft is many things, these and more, but it can also be almost like a sixth sense, one that can raise your heart-beat in anticipation in an instant, while at other times producing an overwhelming calmness and serenity, washing you in a feeling of complete well-being.
During one overseas event the fishing was tough, and I was restless, so one night at about 02:00 I quietly dressed to avoid waking the others and despite the hour and the light rain that was falling walked out of the chalet and down towards the bank.
An easy path led in some places through scrub grass, while at other times swathes of the surrounding forest reached out across the path, the roots burrowing deep into the water's edge. The fine rain muffled any sound my steps made on the gravel pathway as I passed unnoticed behind competitors and officials alike. Walking past the drenched bivvies and silent, glistening rods, I could see that the water was calm. The insulation the rain provided also silenced the natural - and unnatural - sounds coming from all but the most insistent sleepers lying warmly within their cocoon like shells.
Passing along the waterside path, I had the feeling that I was the only one alive, with the cold mist dripping off the edge of my jacket's hood and down my nose and my finger tips tingling with excitement and anticipation. Each time the path's edge tightened to the dam's shoreline, the rolling warm mist coming in from the water added to the atmosphere, swirling through the edges of the grass. While not watercraft in the sense of reading and understanding a water, the term "watercraft" must surely incorporate such experiences. The feelings that being on the bank at this time and place created is one of the pleasures the sport gives me.

I know I'm not alone - fellow anglers have often told similar stories to the one just recalled, and it is something I often do, as I'm sure many others do as well when you unexpectedly awake for no apparent reason in the middle of the night to find complete stillness surrounding you.
Minutes later, enjoying a steaming cup of tea, you can be watching as the water's night-life continues its nocturnal goings on, oblivious to its latest observer. It's at times like this that the water almost talks to you: the slurping, gulping catfish, feeding on the edge of nearby bulrushes; small, scurrying sounds as the night time cleaners come out from their holes and vacuum the scraps of fallen bait; out on the water, the calmness carrying sounds from across the water as the rise and slap of one of your quarry lifts and returns to the water. Was that close to where I'm fishing? Am I being told where to try next?
One such occasion was experienced by a few lucky anglers fishing my local lake. While sitting quietly, as much a part of the water's night-time backdrop as the Marsh Owls flying above them, they were treated to the antics of young otters darting into their swim. With their whiskered, pink noses twitching and sniffing, intrigued by the new smells on the edge of the camp, they were playfully rolling in the water while the adult otters were just out of plain view in the tall grass edgings, watching meerkat-like in protective vigilance.
These anecdotes give rise to the possibility that perhaps next time I will be lucky to witness such nocturnal visits first-hand. Such tales that are repeated often to others make up the threads of experiences we all enjoy and becomes the fabric from which the enjoyment of the sport is made.
I lived in Llanelli and on a trip to south Wales I caught my first tench, which led me down the path to carp fishing. I published a photo of the particular lake in a previous issue, and I was fortunate to find it after using a 50,000:1 scale map of the area plus plenty of leg work (combined with just a little guile to get past the locked gates!)

This particular recce trip included an unusual 20- minute train ride to follow a river from its entrance to the ocean and back along its length, past the brackish water into the upper reaches to see what the water contained. Back then it was rare for me to use any other means of transport than leg power to find new venues, mainly because the cost of train trips for speculation was prohibitive, and even worse were the costs when success was achieved in discovering my own Redmire Lake!

But anyway, off the train onto the platform and out the station gates and I was soon down the tarmac streets. At first the going was easy. The water course weaved gently from the road where I could climb down into the bank-side vegetation, initially Dock-leaf and long lush meadow grass that soon gave way to tall, straight reeds towering above me - too wide to go round, the only choice was through it. The sun had risen above the surrounding hills, raising the temperature and humidity within the dense reed forest, and beads of sweat began to form and soon my arms and face were like flypaper with the seeds the grasses, but I pushed on, creating a new path along the bank.
The waterway meandered gently on my right, always visible, but like a voyeur I was peeping through thin narrow windows between the reeds, casting an eye out for any glimpse of the river's secrets, now and again spotting small flounder and mullet as they fled from the sound of my clumsy foot falls. An hour must have passed travelling through the reed forest before passing through the dense vegetation, but now I had left the main town far away, passed any prying eyes, further along the water way into the rural outskirts. Apart from slight dehydration, arms bearing paper-like cuts from the grass stems, covered in leaves and Bulrush fur, I must have emerged like a haggard scarecrow. The reeds had been so dense, and I so intent was I on looking right at the water, that I had passed oblivious to an enormous 12th century Norman castle! In fact this very one was used in the opening scene of Monty Python's Holy Grail, and I'd missed it in pursuit of my own!

I'm sure there is a suitable Chinese Proverb or Confucious saying which could sum up the irony, something like "passing by and missing what you really seek", "too intent on one, you miss many others". But anyway...
Lush pasture now greeted me as the reeds gave way, and I was now at last able to watch the small river continuously while walking further up its reaches. No longer brackish and tidal from the mix of fresh and sea water, the river was now flowing clean and fresh, passing through deep glides with channels within the thread-like vivid green weed sweeping through the bends, gravel beds exposed and clearly visible through the sparkling water.
Now and again I could see dark shapes dart up the channel, its outline clear against the chalk-like beach gravel, proving that the water was rich in life, but small fast rivers like this would not hold the type of fish I had hoped for. In terms of distance I hadn't travelled far, perhaps 10km, but the reed jungle had taken some time to negotiate.

A stone bridge came into view just beyond the next bend, one of those old style arch ones, covered in lichen and moss near its base and spanning the narrowing waterway – it was just a small road bridge, leading from the town into the surrounding Welsh hills. Crossing over the quiet road, back along the bank, the vegetation changed again as the river straightened, heading deeper into a forest canopy, mainly Oak, Birch, Beech and Ash, that created a shady but airy canopy. An old path was now just visible, a single unused track running close to the bridge, mottled with sunlight as the leafy trees broke cover allowing sunbeams to pass through. Following previous, unknown footprints, the path began a slight climb as the track veered to the left, still travelling through intermittent patches of golden light. Walking the path I was now accompanied by the forest's earthy smell that rose up through the low ferns and wild garlic, with each step exposing the layers beneath, leaving last autumn's leaf fall exposed to the forest air. In the distance, perhaps 20 yards away, a damming of the river had taken place, spanning the river's natural course with a narrow channel on the right allowing the flow of the river to continue. Cresting the top of the man-made stone wall, I was greeted by a cold, dark- looking pool of around 60meters in diameter in what was perhaps an old forest glade. Opposite a terraced dark brick weir, possibly 12 feet across, was covered in foamy white water cascading down into the pool, as the river above it, much narrower, continued further into its upper reaches. Although the clear blue sky was in an almost perfect circular opening above the pool, the darkness of the forest bled onto the water, the surface taking on a dark, lifeless appearance, and no vegetation, neither reeds nor rushes, threw shadows along its banks. In places the water met the dark rich soil of the forest with gnarled old tree roots sporadically showing through, while in other places green grass formed a buttress along the water's edge. Large old looking, lichen covered boulders, some the size of footballs, others the size of cars, lay along one side of the pool, some in shade, the others exposed to dappled sunshine. King Arthur could have walked through these woods and the Lady of the Lake could have risen clutching Excaliber, and I would not have been surprised!

Gazing over a dark pool such as this was very different to the carp and tench- laden pools I'd become accustomed to pursuing, with no inviting lily pads or fishable features – indeed a dark, deep, lifeless looking pool.
After the long, sticky sweaty hike through the tall vegetation, boulders in the cool and shade were the perfect place to rest up and take in this unexpected scene. I don't remember if I'd taken any lunch with me, or even a cool drink.
And then, in the cool shade, sitting on that boulder, the enormity of a sound gave me a start, and looking up all was left to see were deep circles of water spreading out emanating from the centre of the pool, perhaps 40 yards away.A fish? I looked around for some fool throwing rocks, but I was alone. Must have been a fish and I'd missed it!

Keeping my eyes glued to the surface I must have waited 15 minutes, just inside the limit of my attention span, when a dark grey cigar- like shape launched into the air, breaking the surface like a missile, straight and high before crashing back, down and deep. No warning and I think I jumped. It looked huge - in hindsight I think around 2 feet would be a fair guess, but it looked much bigger at the time. Not only did it look bigger, but the sounds the next dozen or so made when they landed back in the pool made me go cold - the biggest fish I'd ever seen so close up. Some jumped in the tree-cast shadows on the water, appearing dark and gun metal grey, but those leaving the water in the beams of sunlight were glistening sleek, steel silver flashes in the sun, just like the huge salmon from the Scottish rivers. The show lasted for around half and hour I guess, and then all went quiet, a show I saw alone.The potential of another fisherman's tale was in the making and no doubt would remain so. A show I never saw repeated to the same extent, nor have read about since.
Would I receive the same questioning looks I received if three of us had seen such monster fish? Three teenagers all seeing the same is one thing, but convincing adults of a white "log" over 6 feet in length move slowly up the River Towy is another! During my journey home I could think of nothing else bar those silver flanks of salmon- like fish leaping high from the pool. On researching the fish they were indeed salmon-like, known as "Sewin" in Welsh or Sea-trout, a prized angling fish and culinary delicacy and one only a privileged few have seen, fished for or tasted. Back then you really had to be in the know with the locals to be told about them, never mind actually learning of potential locations, and that trip and its subsequent tale became even more improbable upon finding out what they were.

In the days and weeks that followed my dad was badgered into committing to joining me on a return trip, this time armed with some bare essentials to attempt capture. The direct route was followed, and I remember thinking: "I hope the pool is there!" It was one of those times when you begin to doubt it yourself, but thankfully it was not a figment of an over eager mind and the pool lay as described.
Settling down close to where I sat previously, we began threading lines through our rod eyes, and this time we were both glancing up at the water looking for signs, which thankfully appeared as if on cue. Then a smaller but perfect replica of the fish I'd seen broke surface - vindicated! We both increased the pace and soon lines were in the water. Hours later and on a fading light, I gave up on all the methods we tried and while some bigger fish did rise, my previous show was not repeated and no fish graced our net. I even took to catching flying insects, and although fly fishing was alien to me, during the time spent researching what the species was the term was often mentioned, and I did manage a rise from one or two denizens, but sadly no fish, and a little wiser I now know that white butterflies are not the first choice when targeting Sewin! In hindsight I'm content not to have caught fish from this secret little pool, and by the same token having been able to share it at least once.

"The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad!" ~A.K. Best

Read 2037 times Last modified on Friday, 15 March 2013 11:34

John is a specialist Specimen Carp Writer who was instrumental in establishing specimen carp angling in South Africa.

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