Darjeeling – Of mice & men

‘A tench fishers dawn’

I start this entry with a question. ‘Just as the tree in the forest falls silently if no one is present to hear it, am I actually tench fishing if no tench are caught’?

This morning (June 16th), having liberated the rods from my close-season cupboard with tench in mind, I’m up before the sparrows and beside a lake for that quintessential season opener ‘the tench fisher’s dawn’.

Tench are bubbling and rooting around my bait with gusto, wagging tails slamming the line so that my float pushes this way and that .. but still no lift of the quill. I judiciously feed with sweet corn, one grain on the hook, then two, then bread flake, now maggot. Nothing.

Later a walk along the bank and a chat with three fellow anglers confirms my suspicions. We are all fishing for tench and we are all experiencing the same results (or lack of them). We have here I believe gentlemen, that wonder of nature – the educated tench.

I think next time perhaps I can tip the balance in my favour with a bit of judicious  swim raking and (blood?) worms on the hook. But today despite the lack of fish so far, the morning is in every other respect perfect.

I’m fishing at one of England’s oldest estate lakes, dating back to the reign of Good Queen Bess, a best kept secret and truly beautiful. A perfect opportunity to forsake the tench and lighten up for some sport with the small roach and rudd that seem a constant presence in every swim.

A constant presence in every swim.

So out come the Lucky Strike and pin, in goes a regular sprinkling of maggots and soon the float is  bobbling and dipping. My first ever fish on the new (sixty year old) Lucky Strike – ten, twenty, thirty little silver slips come to hand before everything goes suddenly quiet. Earlier I had watched perch in the next swim harrying their prey into ever tighter groups before darting in to snatch a prize, and I’m pretty sure the striped marauders have now moved along to my pitch.

I can imagine the roach and rudd scattering to escape away through the jungle of submerged lily stems, but I’m hoping that if I up the tempo of maggots I’m feeding in then I will be able to hold the attention of the perch and catch one or two. It’s a ruse I’ve deployed a few times before and often a good stamp of perch may be caught.

I don’t have to wait long before a take – although it’s a different kind of bite, the float sliding away as if a thief is stealing off with it. A lift of the rod meets determined resistance and dogged circling. The Lucky Strike is awake now, the ‘schoolboy rod’ alive to a fish any schoolboy would be proud of. Soon the culprit is caught red handed (or perhaps red finned?) and though lacking a bag marked ‘swag’ he does indeed sport a striped jersey.

I’m struck by how strongly coloured they are.

Two more perch of around the same size follow and I’m struck by how strongly coloured they are. Simply stunning fish, all the more so for their Mohican swagger. I’m told the lake has never been stocked with perch, yet they always seem to turn up nonetheless, gatecrashers in an Elizabethan arcadia, and I like to think that their ancestors swam and strutted here when James I stopped by.

Not tench then, but something else entirely. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry but not always in a bad way.

 All Writing & Images Darjeeling Summer 2021