Last Thursday afternoon I experienced one of those blissful moments that come along every now and then and brighten one’s life: like getting out of bed to prepare for work only to remember at the last moment that, in fact, it’s Sunday; or finding a tenner in your pocket when you go to put your trousers in the laundry basket. I discovered, to my joy, that my employer owed me two days holiday, rather than the one I had supposed must sustain me until the end of the year. I immediately booked the next day off.
I determined to revisit Nafford, scene of my piking failure the previous week, with the intention of trotting for Chub and Roach. Unfortunately (but not altogether surprisingly, given the previous night’s heavy rain), upon arrival the water was too coloured, and a bit too high, to suit that method. The fish, I thought, would stand little chance of seeing a small moving bait.
Switching to plan B – fishing a static, smelly bait - I set up a 12’ 1.5 T.C. rod (Greys Prodigy Specimen – a versatile piece of kit, in my opinion) and cast a hair-rigged 15mm halibut pellet, held down with a 2oz lead, under the willows on the opposite bank. I set the rod at 45° in the rests and set the free spool function on the reel. I imagined chub, if anything, would take the bait. I catapulted a few free offerings over the top. I then began to set up a second rod with which I intended to fish an open-ended feeder filled with smelly ground bait and turmeric-dusted maggot on the hook. Roach were the target.
As set up the rod, I thought about the conversation I had conducted with a friend the previous afternoon, via the medium of Yahoo Messenger. Naturally, I had told him I would be fishing the next day. Our conversation drifted from fishing in general to the plight of the european eel in particular and its undoubted decline in local waters since our boyhood. Then, any maggoty, wormy, meaty bait, fished on the bottom, would more likely be taken by an eel than anything else. Indeed, when I think of my boyhood fishing, the eel, perhaps, looms larger than any other species in my memory. I became pretty handy at dealing with them too; learning how to recognise the characteristic bites early and to strike before it was ‘too late’. Thus I was able to return the great majority of them unharmed to continue their remarkable life cycle. I told my friend that I had not caught a single eel all season.
So there I stood on the bank side, pondering, not for the first time, the reasons behind the decline of the eel, when the sound of the spinning baitrunner snapped me from my reverie. Something was steadily taking line. A glance out across the river showed my line had not been snagged by flotsam. Picking up the rod I tightened and struck. Immediately, I felt the unmistakable rhythmic tug of an eel – not a bad one either, at 1 1/2lb. Thankfully, it was cleanly hooked in the lower lip and, although it liberally coated the right forearm of my jacket with slime, was easily dealt with.
Apart from being struck by the coincidence, my heart was truly gladdened by the sight of that eel. I weighed it, took a picture, and returned it lovingly to the water.
I spent the rest of the day catching roach and bream on the feeder. I whiled away an hour freelining some luncheon meat through the weir pool, but failed to strike quickly enough to the two bites I had – great thumps though they were. The eel of the first cast, though, was the fish of the day.