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Winter - my season

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As the memories fade of neck-singeing sun and sullen chub wafting fins listlessly under the trailing willow branches, Autumn’s golds and reds brighten up the angler’s chilly dawn raids on the river.
By the time you read this, rain will have swollen the Nene and Welland, the water tinged and the chub hiding deep in the swirling corners where tiny, vulnerable creatures dislodged by the strengthening current drift and gather, easy prey for fish. Deprived of their skylight window on the world above, fish, too, become easier prey for anglers.
There’s no longer need for an angler to creep like a commando along the bank, cupping a hand to calm the glare which pierces his eyes; we anglers can now be bolder and, with handfuls of bait, create the feasts which will draw fish like sniffing spaniels, searching hungrily for food to sustain them through the cold of winter. And, if we are lucky, snaffling the snack in which a hook lies hidden.
Cannibals stalk the piscine underworld more hungrily now; pike, driven by instinct to build their bodies in preparation for their courtship in early spring. They lie like inert logs against the decaying reedbeds, watchful eyes forever scanning for a shadow, tasting the water, and sensing every tremble of passing shoals. It’s a veneer of calm. Every muscle in the missile that is their body can tense to steel in a moment, stiffening to launch themselves murderously and snap their savage jaws like a gin trap on to any living creature, even voles, paddling like clockwork toys across the river; they are relentless.
So the roach which fluttered like silver leaves across the summer stream, nipping at every morsel, now seek safety in shoals, their unlearned strategy to cause confusion, like starlings whirling in the face of falcons. They also seek the deeper pools where the current weakens and they can wait out the winter, feeding only when the pickings are rich, and saving their energy.
It’s the season for perch, which patrol like platoons of soldiers, smart in camouflage greens and, for red berets, scarlet fins. Up above, the saturated ground forces worms near the surface, where sudden downpours wash them down the ditches. Perch love worms like children love liquorice laces, and they’ll attack, bristlingly, a giant, night-crawling lobworm the angler has pulled from the lawn. A perch angler without a lobworm is like a sniper without a rifle.
It won’t be long before the first frosts dust the grass with jewels and the red of haws and hips glare like lights in the hedges. It’s my favourite season, too, the air sharp and clean as springwater and all the stomping student anglers gone from the river. Just me, my breath pluming in the chill, fieldfares chacking overhead, the gurgle of tiny whirpools, and my mind, imagining what may be lurking in the dark, leaden water.
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