My first Perch, My First Fish.
Anyone, who as a lad, has been captivated by fishing as I have, will probably have started down at the local river, stream or cut with a jam jar and a long piece of string.. Minnows being the primary target.
Minnows are the most nondescript of fish for all but a few short weeks of the year, but in early summer the female becomes gravid and the male takes on a livery which would compliment all but the most mundane of fish from the tropics.
Minnows were my quarry as I set off down the hill to the River Coln on my trusty old Hercules early that Monday morning, the first day of the school holidays.
My mate Bill bigun was already there waiting for me, so named, in the innocence of youth, after we pulled his towel off when swimming in the Coln a couple of years earlier, the only time in my life I have ever felt inadequate. All men were not born equal and Bill was testimony to this simple medical fact.
Bills Dad was a publican so it stood to reason he would have not a jam jar, but that most traditional of minnow traps, a champagne bottle with the bottom knocked out, skilfully, to form a natural funnel. He already had a plastic bucket full of minnows when I arrived.
The water bailiff wandered along about mid morning, he was overweight and beads of perspiration adorned his brow like little jewels, not dissimilar to the nodes on the snout of the male Minnows. I didnt know his first name, nobody did, we just new him as Marshall. He was a curmudgeonly old ******, quite the opposite to his two Clumbers one of which was relieving himself on the drive sprocket of my bike, which was cut out with dancing ladies in a circle. Quite a novelty at the time and a feature which always drew admiring comments from the villagers I met during the day.
"Marning" he said "whats you young Billymugginss up to then. ?" (The old Cotswold folk would know what a Billymuggins was)
He always had a pipe but no-one ever saw any smoke come out of it. The end was well chewed and it sat between the worn gap in his teeth so as when he opened his mouth to speak it remained there perfectly stable. His hat was always pulled tightly on his head that even the most evil of Cotswold squalls couldnt dislodge it.
I explained we were catching minnows and he enquired as to why; "Just so as we can look at them I suppose" was our reply
"Them cant be ate, thems no good but for bait for Trut or Perches" he said. I didnt know what a Perches was at that time. I assumed a Trut was a Trout.
With that, he cast a line into the pool beside the road bridge and let the silk line drift round in the eddy whereupon the leader tightened as a fish took hold, the rod bowed, and such a fish as I had never seen before broke the water . It was the Lady of the Stream. He knocked it on the Cotswold stone buttress of the bridge and tossed it to me.
"Here take that home to your Mum Vi and tell her to put in the pan with a big knob of old man Dingles butter and you would never had so fine a breakfast as you could thank me for" he said
I did and he was right, not only that but his mastery of the dry fly had kindled something deep inside me and that moment I knew I was going to be a Fisherman.
A few weeks later after badgering my dear late father to buy me a rod, I arrived at the mill leat with the next best thing, a home made rod my Grandfather had fashioned from his sweet pea canes and a battered wooden spooled reel that would have been old when Walton was a lad. Nevertheless it was a utilitarian tool, had a nice progressive bend and complimented by some old agate rings he had stashed away in his shed, looked the part. His shed was a cornucopia of country artefacts and delights for a young lad to explore but thats a story in its own I will document later.
I had often hung off the railings (by my ankles!) of the bridge which crossed the river down by the old paper Mill in the village. The Mill was named Knights Mill after the Knights Hospitallers which were resident nearby in the local manor in the 12th century. The gateway to the manor still bears the ornate carving of a Knight in arms in a remarkable state of preservation.
Anyway I digress, back to the river and the Perch. It was when hanging off the railings one day in mid summer I saw these shapes, like aquatic zebras, red finned, feisty fish lurking in the clear waters of the leat, occasionally venturing out of cover of the waving ranunculus aquatilis and then leisurely wandering back in again, dorsal raised with almost an air of aquatic superiority.
I was offended by this fish, not literally but metaphorically, it wasnt important to me before that moment but I had to capture it, to show it who was boss, put it on the table before Grandfather and show him what could be achieved with his canes other than a vase of girly blooms in the Kitchen window.
I was armed and fully minnowed up , full of the knowledge from an obscure fishing manual that pre- dated even Mr Crabtree. I was ready!
The leat was slow that day, the water level depleted and choked with weed, save the small patch I cast my bobbin. Swallows were proliferate, swooping down to pick emerging flies from the waters film. The minnow I cast hit the water with a plop. It was alive, (which I regretted at the time) and Ive never used a live bait since that day.
I could see movement below the surface, shapes moving, dashing this way and that, a trout swam by, as did a moorhen tamed by the villagers who threw bread to the ducks and several mallards joined the fray, their cackling a ridicule, as sort of duck laugh, were they laughing at me ?
My mind wandered in the heat, I had some money in my jeans pocket, a quick cycle trip to the shop down Victoria Road and up Front Street and I would have my hands on a ice cold and soothing cola pop. I never made that trip, a male chaffinch in the cotoneaster which dipped into the leat, woke me from my daydream.. pink ! pink ! pink ! pink ! he exclaimed in his disgruntlement.
Pink indeed, where was the pink top of the bobbin ? It was not to be seen ! I glared into the river, my national health spectacles sadly failing to cut through the glare, (Polarised glasses would come much later)
I could see the float, dancing into the submerged ranunculus. I lifted the rod, it was solid for a moment and then the tip began to dance as the perch bored again and again in its attempt of freedom.
I banked the fish, in a net I made from some old hemp fruit netting and a wooden Dunlop tennis racquet. (good old Gramp again )
It was an angry fish, belligerent and yet proud and unyielding. It raised its Dorsal and pushed out his gill flaps in defiance. It was scale and blood red fin perfect and with a dark steely eye, glared at me indignantly.
I cradled it admiringly, pleased with myself beyond measure. Smug ? yes ! hooked ? definitely. My first fish from the Coln but definitely not my last. And its size? I dont really know, I suppose it was the length of two cola pops placed end to end.
Edited by Adge Cutler, 10 October 2016 - 10:10 PM.