My early morning car ride rounds a final bend and there just beyond the estate gates and over the back of the cart bridge I can see the stream burbling its way underneath.
I am not an early riser by nature and although the call of a certain pool wakes me from homely slumbers it takes a while to get myself and the tackles together – sitting on the garden bench with a cup of hot tea all becomes aligned and when leaves become more than tea I’ll be ready for the off.
With a falling moon there’s an ascending sun this transition can of course be visually mapped, but it is the audible markers that hold the attention – as I sip my tea I listen to our resident tawny’s within the beech trees – if I sit a while longer their resonance will fade and the stirring choirs of diurnal cousins – crows, blackbirds & thrushes and a host of others will soon be all that is heard.
My early morning car ride rounds a final bend and there just beyond the estate gates and over the back of the cart bridge I can see the stream that burbles its way underneath and the track which runs adjacent for a short while before deviating – both of which can take me to the water meadows.
Setting down the tackles my first and always first need is to peer into the pool and take in its reflection. This morning it is dark, brooding even and wears a cloak of mist; to the east there is however a glow, a molten fluid stroke of colour that lays deep and broad across the waking earth promising a warm and bright summers day is ahead of me.
Being beside water seemingly lost in forgotten days offers an indescribable expression, this is especially true here – there is an otherworldly atmosphere; and today my imagination already fuelled has taken hold; I wouldn’t be surprised if an Oxford bagged gentlemen and his angling entourage emerge from the mists and made there way toward me such was there penchant for fishing soirees.
In the height of summer the suns rise gathers the pools population to an early start and at pace with each voice or sound seeking registration within the ensuing cacophony. The registrar an altogether invisible technician orchestrates these unfolding events and within minutes has conducted all to a harmonious ensemble.
These first rays of warmth filter through the seemingly impenetrable mass of leaves that fringe the entire perimeter, upon reaching the pool and by visible degrees familiarity returns as the mist evaporates. Not far from me, and to my surprise I can see an egret – proceeding to watch him; I am aware of his rather outspoken legs that take him unconvincingly on a path across the beds of barely holding lily, every now and again he stops, waivers, then steadies and eyes something or other on or just below the pads.
There is not one beating heart unaware of another and as such there are things where only the passing of time will reveal a line or two from its secret story – those fleeting but magical seconds in a day when all becomes lucid; from the martins and swallows that gather from all corners and then at a given time will swoop, drink their fill and depart on silent wings as effortlessly as they arrived, the dragonflies and damsels whose airborne courting is such a spectacle, and even to a fishers disappearing quill – there appears to be a place for all and everything.
Casting my quill for the first time this morning I contemplate how it appears within the setting – curiously it seems as one with the surroundings – I have used a twig before for an indication of what lies beneath and certainly that’s the most natural of forms. There is a ‘something’ about a float however, or any item of hand crafted tackles in as much they offer an inextricable link back to the natural way of things and always appear ’just so.’
In the time it has taken these thoughts to pass the float has become flat, water laps gently along its upturned length and sends hypnotic signals towards me; I have become transfixed – this is the tench fishers moment of no distraction, the edge of the seat and wide eyed expectation of what we hope is to follow, and if we are fortunate the float will rise and slide away being taken from view.
There follows a scantling of drama and after a few minutes I am admiring one of the pools grand old fishes. I take a moment to view his iridescent and smallest of scales, all a lustre in greens and golds, his eyes lit by a searching orange flares and the mouth expressive and set as leather. I take his picture and watch the slightest movement of fins that carry him away from the cane net and out toward the lilies.
Tench have a steadfast resolve in finding the most inconvenient obstacles with which to escape the angler. I am not going to elude to the task of playing this prize to the net as surely most will know the tale, and if there are any folk reading this having not experienced the contest may you look forward to the battle of whits and nerve that awaits you.
With the most splendid of fish returned the second brew of the day is well on its way, the kettle is throwing flames through the chimney, steam from the chamber is building as the boil rolls and surely enough the plumes of steam escape through the spout signalling the kettles readiness. Apart from the drinking of tea the making of it when using a storm kettle is a ritual to be enjoyed. Here too one has to have patience for it is certainly not produced in an instant. The whole process for me is part of ‘being slow’ and unhurried, there surely can be nothing better than a brew where time is the key to the eventual satisfaction in its supping.
All fish hold something special for all fisherman but there are those that are ever present and closer to the heart – I am no exception – tench for me are an enigmatic fish, they go about there lives in relatively unseen ways. Rarely are they viewed at the surface certainly here that is true. Their whereabouts in a pool is given a marker by amassing the tinniest of bubbles upon the surface which are often accompanied by broken stems, cabbage fans and general detritus.
Having upped sticks I head towards one of two planked foot bridges, these take you above the paths where more water than earth is to be found. Along the way I disturb a coot whose incendiary and coloured expletives make me jump through my whits – a mutually shared experience no doubt especially in the way the bird scrambled.
After the run of planks is a pitch that on either side has a cascade of bowing willows whose fronds create an ever deepening sanctuary; over the seasons they seem to have become well acclimatised to sub surface life and still manage to produce foliage which is very well received by fry that dare to venture from the relative safety of their nurseries into the unfamiliar and edgy waters of the pool.
Beyond the willows are swathes of reed and a channel of water promulgated by beds of lily, here there are tench and whether or not I see a sign I always sit and watch. I of course look for the aforementioned fizzing trail from below and for wayward cabbage leaves or stems. But in the main I just look upon the water, a gentle pad vibration or subtle parting of stems both may provide for a worthy cast. I have been gazing through my view for a short while now and have just seen an uprooted stem followed by a couple of listless pads.
Settling myself amongst the reed cover I flick the float into the channel it posits invitingly before the lilies; there is always an element of ‘heart in the mouth’ when fishing for tench in such places, but through the many summers I have spent here experience suggests that any thoughts regarding pending disasters is never quite so. I nearly always use an Avon, however today I have ringed the changes and the cane of choice is an Octofloat deluxe paired with a fast becoming favourite the rather ancient Smith & Wall pin. With the quill steady as she goes and sending out an orange beacon I sit amid the air of optimism.
A warbler bends a reed and my ear, his tuneful song is infectious and I find myself whistling along to his poetry ‘sing along fly by & bye’ is the translation or something like that, smiling I continue to watch him, he’s playing hide and seek: once here, then there, then not, but always close, I have heard this song a thousand times and never does it become wearisome – I could hear it another thousand times and it would continue to put a beaming smile on my face.
While the little bird is ever present, I do manage a courteous glance now and again at the float – this time something stirs, the quill has been sent into a pivoting round, I continue watching this rather strange occurrence, until the quill rises and as it does so lists to one side and without further ado slips into the depths. I lift the cane into a wonderfully flexing curve and feel the tench below the rod tip. Having come straight toward me he has taken me by surprise and I have to wind down quickly on the pins ivorine handle in order to apply some direction to the proceedings. After a brief run of the channel he calls it a day and gently comes to the waiting net.
Another beautiful tench is admired, quickly snapped and returned to whence he came. The warbler is still singing or maybe another has taken over the watch, either way there seems little concern regarding my rude dividing of the pools calm disposition.
I sit back into the reeds supported by one of the bowing willows, the cover is most welcome as the sun heats the day. Lighting my bent apple pipe I recollect as is customary all that has taken place. Nature in these surroundings is without doubt the reason I wake well before what I consider to be reasonable (for me at any rate). The fact the pool has below surface magic is the last encouraging push needed in getting over the bedside hurdle.
Without seeing another soul throughout the day makes all this heaven just that more special. I turn the key to firing pistons and the breaking of vows, I offer my apologies doff the cap, close the gate on the pool, and off into the meadows via the track I go – with my view of the pool disappearing in the mirror I am already thinking of the return.
Writing & images Pallenpool, Late Summer Somewhere ’over there’ in Norfolk 2021