The Butcher goes a-carpin'
Dizzee Rascal, Puff Daddy and Tinie Tempah join the intrepid Cliff Hatton on the banks of a delightful lake. Is he pleased...?
You think you’ve seen it all, don’t you? You get to a certain age, pleasantly jaded, philosophical, resigned to a life punctuated by unsurprising events and stories you’ve seen and heard a thousand times before…then something happens that truly, truly makes you want to burn the tackle and take up metal detecting.
There is a lake not far from my home; well, it’s more of a big pond, but its depth gives it lake status in my eyes. It is not heavily fished and, up until last weekend, had managed to freeze and thaw countless times without the attention of trappers. The water holds a fair head of carp – mirrors and commons – two or three of which are VERY good fish nudging the 30lb mark I would say.
Nonetheless, those who occasionally heft their gear down to its clovered banks tend to swing out their bait with nothing particular in mind; it’s an ‘old fashioned’ water where rudd still demolish a slice of bread within seconds and a worm is likely to take a jack pike. True to that fine old British tradition, litter often strews the margins but I and the good people of the nearby village make sure it doesn’t hang around for too long.
I had my share of good perch, jack pike, small rudd and 2lb tench from this lake long ago and have concentrated on the carp for the past five years; they hang out where fishing-line really has no place, in dense reed and under fallen branches, so bread-crust, strong braid and plenty of camouflage have been central to my strategy – but it hasn’t worked. Early mornings, evenings and even the middle part of sweltering days have seen me (or not, hopefully) imitating a sloth; softly, softly insinuating myself into their secret world of reed stems and imperishable snags. Like Yates’s scarecrow I’ve had those blue-backed, bulldog-shouldered lumps right under my nose, astonishingly unaware of my presence just feet from their glistening snouts; they’ve sniffed and left but remembered, returning after ten or fifteen minutes for another inspection of the bait – but still they haven’t taken the crust.
I once had a take on a big ball of flake and a tall reed urged me to strike…but the zig-zag of line was too much to strike tight and I didn’t make contact. At other times, I’ve fished from the main bank, casting parallel to the reed bed with floating crust, anchored crust or, God dammit, a boilie – but still I’ve failed to hook one of these elusive fish.
Last weekend, on the hottest day of the year when NOTHING should have been feeding, I agreed to waste a few hours at the lake with the famous Loveridge. He knew as well as I that seriously fishing would be a waste of time and that our meeting was purely social, an excuse to kill some time with a rod and a bottle of orange. Looking down from the high bank our eyes were assaulted by the sight of two freshly dug swims, their size and fresh-earth brightness a blot on the landscape. In the largest stood three fellas in their mid-20s resplendent in T-shirts of the brightest white; contrasting nicely were two red baseball caps and one of that blue camo-pattern. From a ghetto-blaster at their feet Dizzee Rascal or Puff Daddy or flamin’ Tinie Tempah or someone of that ilk rapped atrociously – a tautology, I know, but you simply can’t rubbish that stuff enough. Keeping the boom-box company was a selection of fluorescent plastic bags, various bait containers and the usual scattering of empty lager tins.
“Be quiet and go a-angling” said the Loveridge as we surveyed the scene, “come on, we’ll fish down there” Where we fished was immaterial to me on this day so I dutifully tagged on as my pal headed down the slope to the left of the circus. We settled into the other new creation and tackled-up less than half-heartedly; the day was positively scorching and no amount of expertise was going to induce a fish to feed. Glad we were then that a large willow afforded some shade; from here we could watch our float and bobbin and keep an eye on the crew to our right, determined it seemed to practice every method of angling known to Man. One was spinning while another repeatedly whanged-out a bubble-float between lipping-out baby rudd on his float rod. The other guy sat roasting in the sun between a pair of heavy carp rods and big-pit reels – clearly an exercise in sheer futility. Me and Loveridge shook our heads in disbelief and got on with doing nothing.
It was here the previous summer that the Loveridge saved me for the second time from a herd of vicious cows; as per the first occasion (of which I have written) I had kept my eyes fixed to the ground as I gathered all of my gear in my arms and frantically strode back across the meadow to the car. Again, the Loveridge had been abandoned to ward off their attack and again I’d felt ashamed. We laughed; well, he laughed. For me the mere thought of another bovine attack rendered me straight-faced and not a little apprehensive: were they around today? I craned around like a watchful owl but the distinctive sound of a thrashing fish quickly averted my eyes to the water. Just up the bank one of the lads was bent into something substantial at the end of just three feet of line and I confidently told my pal he’d had a five or six pound pike grab one of his rudd, but the fish erupted again and I saw that it was the carp-trapper with his 3lb test curve ‘Assassin’ bent double. ‘Blimey, Loveridge…looks like there’s some decent pike in here after all’ I remarked, then added ‘but there’s no way he’s going to land it if he doesn’t let some line out’ I called down. ‘Pike?’
I could barely believe it. ‘Well let some line out and you’ll be able to land it!’ They didn’t have a clue between them and the Loveridge and I watched dumb-struck through splayed fingers as the angler gradually distanced himself from the waterside and literally hauled the fish onto the bank with a straightened rod.
‘That braid’s good, eh?’ said my pal, ‘especially the 85lb stuff’
Well, I couldn’t resist going round to investigate. How could this complete and utter plonker have outshone my half decade of expert endeavour? How could this unthinking butcher have tempted one of these extraordinarily canny carp on the hottest day of the year and to the tune of some ‘rap artist’?
‘Did you get it from the reeds’ I asked, pointing to the opposite bank.
‘Nah! Just down there, under that bush’ He nodded down to a spot less than ten feet out. ‘This is the second one I’ve had from there today’ The fish was bagged and hung from the scales: 15lb. ‘That’s better than the other one. That was only twelve an’ arf!’
I sauntered back, dazed and confused, to the Loveridge who looked to me for enlightenment. ‘Mick’, I told him, ‘you ever thought of stamp collecting, or photography maybe?’
The Loveridge pondered the question but before he could respond The Butcher appeared in our swim and extended a down-turned fist. I instinctively cupped my hands and received a small shower of yellow boilies. ‘Here, try these. I make ‘em myself’. Fearing an attack of Meldrew’s Syndrome I thanked him politely and packed up shortly afterwards. I bit off my hook: ‘jammy bastard’ I removed my lead: ‘jammy bastard’ I spooled the line: ‘jammy bastard!’ and so it went on until the hollow-eyed Loveridge and I were across the meadow and securely strapped into the car.