Golden Scales

By Chris Yates

Master angler Chris Yates's magical account of the 1981 fishing season

Monday the 13th of July

Took the punt out after my meal, and cruised gently into the weeds where lay, basking, the carp. The fish didn't seem to mind me, and I was able to drift right next to a Mirror of maybe 30 pounds, and a very big Common. Suddenly the potential in my position was realised, and I gently made for shore. Once there I hurriedly got a rod, net, and a tin of maggots, and after baiting up, drifted back into the weed beds. The sun was hot on my back, and my heart began to pound as I dapped that same big Mirror Carp with a bunch of maggots. But the punt drifted just too close, and the fish became wary and cruised off. They didn't go far, though - they came to rest next to the large Common carp just to my left.

I paddled as quietly as I could and then dropped the bait onto the Mirror's nose from about 15-foot. It just hung there in the weeds, and the bait was clearly visible, right next to its face. The boat began to drift away in a gentle breeze, and I had to use the paddle with one hand and hold the rod with the other. The fish seemed to understand what was going on, and once more it swam quietly away, though the Common remained, and I dapped for him, but with no result.

Eventually the breeze came up again and I couldn't hold my position. The carp sank from sight as I put the paddle in the water. I went on up the lake, and found a couple of fish who bolted as I approached, making huge swirls and opening up holes in the weeds. From above, it looked like a typhoon in a forest, as the long fronds of hornwort swayed around and around in the turbulence. I found a big dark looking fish, and dropped the maggots next to him. Straightaway, he began to back, and then turn towards the deep. But then that devilish breeze sprang up, and began to push me straight at the fish, just as it was rising once more. He sank, but then seemed to decide that he wanted the maggots anyway, and turned back for them. Too late: the punt was suddenly over him, and I couldn't keep the bait in the same place. That was my last chance. The breeze remained steady, and it was hopeless trying any further. I paddled for the willow pitch, floating over the crystal clear depths, with the long weed-cables reaching up to the surface.


Later, it being a warm evening, it seemed a good idea to have a glass of ale at Langrove.

"How's Jack?" I asked the landlord, as he poured me a glass of the excellent bitter, much improved since last time.
"He's there, behind you."

So it turned out to be two or three glasses of ale, as old Jack rambled on about his various adventures - some happy, some sad. He'd been getting a few good trout from the garron.

"Always carry a bit of tackle in my pocket," he said. "But never use a rod. You're buggered if you use a rod! The keeper will see you. He's got a good dog who sits with him while he fishes, and cocks his ear for the slightest sound." ("I'm not fishing, I'm just taking my dog for a walk," he would say, if the keeper came along.)
"Remember old Bunting, Dave?" he said, turning to Dave, who was sitting at the table next to us.
"He used to go and move the dead carp that rolled up after spawning at Red Mire. He was in the punt one day, and a fish came up with its head one side of the punt and its tail on the other. That must have been a a big 'un," he said.

And then he turned to me, with his one grey eye, and his one green eye, and he said, "You going to write a book someday?"

Tuesday the 28th of July

Sheepwash Pond, Sussex

On a warm, sultry evening, I drove down the old Southern route, to Sheepwash, meeting Trottingshaw in the Black Horse, and getting to the pool at sunset. We dumped our stuff in the chosen pitches, Trot opposite the mid willow, and me in the sticks. Then we went and found some fish feeding on the surface in the shallows - but they didn't stay there long. As the light faded, I stalked surface feeders with corn, over in the restricted zone. What a pity I didn't have any crust! I came very close, but the carp couldn't suck the little grains through the dense mesh of weed-stems. A crust would have been fine.

When it was too dark to see, I crept back to the sticks, and cast out a bait to either side, then made a cup of tea, and called Trot over to join me. The night was cool, and a mist began to fall. I lay on my sleeping bag on the hard, dry bank, not sleeping very well, because I was expecting a fish.

At about 2:30, a line began to run out on the left-hand rod, and I struck and missed. After recasting, I dropped back to sleep, and then woke after half an hour - again the line was running out. I struck - but like an amateur, I was holding the line to stop the run, and I was not awake enough to slip on the pickup. This fish felt like a fast-moving youngster, bolting down the margins to the right, taking me well under the trees, and, by the feel of it, through some snags. When he stopped running, I got the pickup on, and got a proper hold of things, and eventually he came in, and it was a beautiful fish, of about eight pounds, and I put him in a big sack, and lowered it into the water, so I could photograph him and release him in the morning.

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