It was like taking part in a ‘Hamlet’ advertisement……with less than fifteen minutes of poor daylight left , I sat – soaked to the epidermis – with my back against a fence post , smoking my last cigar and oblivious to the gathering , windswept gloom . If I wasn’t actually smiling, then it felt that way, for the rain was warm and I’d just rounded-off an afternoon session on a very modest little river with another superb, fat chavender.

Had a hiker or suchlike happened upon me, legs sprawled-out on the wet grass and obviously without a care in the world, he or she could only have presumed that I had escaped an institution. Had the hiker enquired as to why this forty-odd year old was sat in a field in the middle of nowhere on the foulest evening for many a month, I’d have explained……

In the early part of March, I’d caught the biggest river-roach I’d ever seen at 2lb 7oz only to find a couple of days later that my camera had chosen the occasion to play a trick on me. I’d been devastated…….I remember emerging from the chemists and blindly making my way to a bench to study the shots of my beautiful red-fin. I savoured the ritual of slowly going through the banal preceding shots of the neighbours, the garden, the brother-in-laws’ party guests – ALL PERFECT – then…..aaarrgh!…a six-fold multiple exposure, a nightmare collage of scales, fingers, fins and grinning faces! I simply couldn’t believe the coincidence of such unlikely events – me with the roach of a lifetime and the breakdown of a hitherto reliable camera……..I didn’t eat for a week, and spoke only when absolutely necessary.

When I’d regained my composure, somewhere in the middle of the closed-season, I decided that I’d just have to go back – probably around the beginning of September – and repeat the performance. Well, return I did, but no outsized red-fin came over the rim. However, I did have one extremely pleasing session.

I’d arrived at about 3 o’clock and thankful for the dull and overcast conditions. At Red-fin Corner, I left my small roving rucksack some yards into the field and belly-crawled to the edge of the high, grassy bank from where I could peer into the two foot deep swim. As usual, a shoal of chublets were occupying the near margin and one or two better fish of a pound or so cruised around as chub are wont to do. Were there any roach present? I’d seen them there before but the overhanging alder which blackened the water made good viewing difficult…..I’d focus on a fish but the mere act of blinking would turn its form to shadow or a small patch of gravel, leaving me to wonder if it had been a fish at all.

Then the light changed, affording me the visual delight of roach – big ones – hanging mid-water and dipping occasionally to rummage about. Yes! Three good fish, any one of which would make my day and fill the last two pages of the album! At first sight, I’d put them at about one and a half pounds apiece, but experience had taught me that roach are modest creatures that downplay their true size…….these were two-plus on the bank.

I catapulted a single grain of corn into the leafy canopy and watched it plip into the water. Inevitably, the chublets were onto it like wasps around a jam-pot, but the roach didn’t bat whatever they have instead of eyelids. Two grains…..gone…..gone. Three grains……that was a good ‘un….a chub of around three pounds shot out from under the tree roots to see what all the fuss was about. I held fire for a while and fixed my eye on a solitary grain of corn which had made it to the gravel, close to my intended.

They began to stir, almost imperceptibly, cautiously interested, very British, loathe to actually chance a morsel. I fancied – observing their behaviour – that their reluctance to investigate the titbit had more to do with breaking cover than lack of hunger; such specimens in so narrow and shallow a waterway must feel most vulnerable, eager to remain as shadows.

I remember thinking that stalking roach is a bit like decorating, success lying in the preparation, so I was in no hurry to get a bait into the water; I bided my time and built up the fish’s confidence and expectations with one, sometimes two or three grains at ten second – sometimes two minute – intervals. After thirty minutes or so, they were ready for a size 12 Kirby.

I hope nobody saw me doing the Reverse Belly Crawl… must’ve looked quite ridiculous to the uninitiated and the initiated alike, but I regained my composure on reaching my tackle and set up a light leger on my favourite rod, a ten foot Davenport & Fordhams cane Avon. I then snuck back into position ten yards downstream of the alder feeling like the proverbial sore thumb, camouflaged, but prominent nonetheless.

I catapulted a full pouch of corn onto and beyond the leaves in the hope that this would distract the fish from any movement I made when casting ( I’ve been exercising such ploys all my angling-life: I wonder if they actually work ?) My aim was good, the bait plopping perfectly beneath the overhang. Only half a turn of the Mitchell was necessary to lightly tighten-up before resting the rod, if not my nerves.

Within minutes, the rod-top trembled and I struck into a beautiful roach – the colour of a rudd but very much a roach – which tugged and pulled far more spiritedly than one might expect from a ‘pounder’. From the Avon or the Stour, such a fish wouldn’t rank too highly, but for much of it’s course, ‘my’ river is little more than a brook so I was well pleased and photographed it accordingly. I slipped it back thirty hunch-backed yards downstream then battled my way back through the wind and fine rain to my rod.

The next cast produced another tentative rattle which, I felt, would produce another roach, but on striking, the rod keeled over and bucked heavily. Chub! Sure enough, I could see those ol’ rubberlips thrashing from side to side in the dark water then turning for the tree roots. It was a good fish – too good, somehow, for so modest a ribbon of water, but I managed to coax him out of the hole, into the shallow run just downstream of my perch, then into the Shaun Linsley Special.

On opening my present, I could see immediately that this was a four – plus, a real stonker of an Essex chub, immaculate, hitherto untouched by man, most likely. Contemptuous of the weather, I took his photograph then put him on the 8lb Avons………4lb 6oz and beautiful to boot! Who needs drugs?! A Hamlet’s one thing, but why spend good money on a mind-bender when the best trips are for free?

Time for one more cast. Same bait, same channel. No sooner had the rod been rested when round it whanged. Snatching it up I struck into nothing……..that ‘finger-dab’ bale’s dead clever but just a mite too sensitive for my liking! After the next cast, I ensured that the bale was locked and sat back in the rain to await events. One can only get so wet.

Almost dark now, the only sounds were of the wind and the mew of a solitary lapwing; I felt very alone and, in fact, a little sleepy. Eyes closed, I momentarily lapsed into imagined domesticity ……my favourite chair, carpet slippers, warm, comfortable, but I never did get that beer out of the fridge. Instead, I found myself latched into something which pulled the rod straight and tore line off the reel as it headed, unstoppably, around the bend above the alder. What had made me strike? How had I known? One second I was watching the early evening news, the next I’m struggling to remain more or less perpendicular in the lashing rain and hanging frantically onto ten feet of possessed split cane. The fish eventually halted its run but remained many yards upstream, tugging, yanking, refusing to give an inch and behaving like the carp I thought it was. Slowly, it began to concede defeat and grudgingly found itself in the ‘pool’ below the alder branches. Yes……carp, I thought. But then……THE LIPS! I swiftly changed back into cautious mode and nursed that fish into the shallows as a matter of life and death. Into the net he went and onto the grass, exhausted like me, but not as wet. Shouldn’t you be down at Ibsley? I’m not sure if I thought it or actually said it, but the fact remained that chub of this size really shouldn’t be a bus-ride away from Basildon.

Fingers crossed, I slipped him into a plastic bag and onto the scales – 5lbs 4oz and my best chub to date.

And that was how I came to be smiling stupidly, sprawled out in a field, in the rain, in the dark, puffing on a Hamlet.

Cliff Hatton


Read Cliff Hatton’s books from Medlar Press

Not only is Cliff Hatton a great writer for FishingMagic and other journals, he is also a highly tallented cartoonist and has a number of books published by Medlar Press. They include: All Beer and Boilies, All Wind and Water, and soon to be published – All Fluff and Waders.

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