R.B.Traditional’s red skies, red kites & redfins

The beauty of a Kentish morning in late December

I had already chosen a swim in my dreams last night, I’ve fished it many times before, there’s a reed bed with a shelf to my left and an old gnarled alder tree to my right and I can usually guess the depth without plumbing. I put a little mashed bread into the swim close to the reeds whilst I bait my hook, pull a few yards of line off the old Hardy Conquest centrepin.

There was a distinct chill in the air this morning as I opened the back door of the cottage just before dawn, hints of wood smoke from the previous evenings fire still lingered on the dry air mixing with the heavy scent of damp moss from the porch roof which produced a heady and delightful aroma to be savoured.

All was quiet as Yates and I headed down the lane toward the wood, passing a few neighbouring cottages along the way, curtains still drawn tight against the winters morning, inhabitants still sleeping off the excesses of Christmas feasts. All was eerily quiet on this the morning after Boxing Day…”Peace to all Mankind…”

There’s rarely a day when I’m not up and about before dawn ushers in a new day. I like the solitude and quiet, just the dog and I enjoying a wander through some of Kent’s finest countryside, time to reflect, time to think. This morning my thoughts have been mostly roach related, for it usually around this time of the year that I’ll be preparing my tackle for their pursuit. It has been said that roach are the fish of boyhood dreams, I couldn’t disagree for as a youngster myself I could hardly sleep the night before a day’s roach fishing beckoned, funnily enough though fifty years and counting later nothing much has changed!

Back at the cottage the pike tackle has been cleaned and carefully put away and won’t see the light again until the next “Hunters” moon and attention has turned once more to checking over the much finer, delicate instruments required for the pursuit of the “redfins”. Fine tipped cane or glass rods, exquisitely tuned centrepins, small quill or cork and quill Avon floats will be the order of the day…for these are not large fishes compared with the likes of many of the other species that swim in our rivers, they are delicate biters and often difficult to tempt, but when one is blessed by fortune, they are so beautiful, silver or sometimes pewter flanked with fins as red as the fireside flame burning in the hearth last night.

A lone ash tree silhouted against the glowing sky

We wander on up onto the higher ground, the sky is awash with deep purple and red, I stop briefly to photograph a lone ash silhouetted against the glowing sky. I feel rather sorry for it sitting there by itself, without leaf, skeletal in its winter apparel, exposed to the elements, I do hope it survives the ravages of the dieback disease, we’ve lost so many in these parts.

Yates as usual is in amongst the thicket trying to flush anything which takes his fancy, he never stops looking for an opportunity and appears to be always in search of a new adventure…spaniels eh? You have to love them! Although there are times when I despair, I’ve even told him more than once that I’m going to swap him for a cat!

There’s been a proper frost during the night and the grass and bare earth here and there has a satisfying crunch under my wellingtons. My attention is distracted momentarily by the sight of a large bird flying with a “murder” of crows in the half light, I can’t quite make it out, it’s certainly not a buzzard, wrong wing shape and the corvids usually try to chase them away, this time they appear settled with their companion.

I take the monoscope out from my battered old Barbour pocket, flip off the lens covers and try to get a better view. Well I’ll be damned it’s a red kite, “a prince amongst thieves”, and even though I have a deep love for rooks, what a sighting, I am overjoyed! They’re far from common in Kent, over the past ten years I have seen four, this is my fifth sighting and the adrenalin rush hits me like a nip from the hip flask, which unusually I’ve have left at home…never mind it is a tad early and there’ll be plenty of time for a drink to toast its wellbeing later this evening after a day on the river.

We venture along the path to the old church at Boughton Malherbe, where there have been sightings of peregrine around here in the past and my old acquaintance the shepherd told me that they had nested upon the tower a few years back. Nothing to be seen today in that shape or form but a small group of goldfinch caught my eye busying themselves amongst the ancient yew trees in the church yard, charming birds with such vibrant colours, they’d lift ones spirits even on a cold grey day.

Homeward bound now and we drop down toward the Great Stour and Len valley, both rivers have their source close to the medieval market and doomsday recorded village of Lenham.

The Len begins its life as a spring across the lane in the adjacent woodland to my cottage it’s a little jewel of a river, not long in length but full of wildlife and piscine surprises before it joins its bigger sister the Medway near Maidstone.

The Great Stour on the other hand begins its life in much the same way but commands a greater influence and respect within the Kentish landscape… I know which one I prefer. But later today I’ll be upon the banks of a forgotten gem.

Just a mile or so now before we return home and I spot a small flock of birds in the hedgerow beyond, the mono-scope is still hanging around my neck and I raise it toward my eye, focus in and “ah, yes”, yellow hammer, what a super morning for being out and being an “early bird!”

Yates is rather indignantly hosed off outside the backdoor, you probably wouldn’t believe the state a dog can get into when he finds a ditch! Dried and let into the kitchen where his breakfast is awaiting, “small price to pay boy, ha!” He gives me a look that would fell a tree… probably several! Kettle is flicked on and the flask is readied as I put a few items of tackle into “Monty” the Defender.

I make a couple of cheese and onion rolls, grab a mince pie for the journey and then I head off through the lanes, with the boy in the back, destination the River Beult, pronounced “Belt”, near the small hamlet of Chainhurst. The Beult is classed as a lowland river, deep and slow and has been classified as a SSSI for its entire length from Bethersden to Yalding where it too, like the Len joins the big and commanding river of Kent, the Medway.

The marvellous Beult

I like the Beult, I’ve fished it, and walked its banks, marvelled at its beauty and felt at home in its presence since childhood. The river has been kind and cruel to me in equal measure but it’s a love that never wains. Eventually I pull onto the track leading to the river and put that old classic “Gone Fishing” by Bing Crosby and Louie Armstrong on the “infotainment” system, I never thought I’d have a motor with such gizmos! I could barely get BBC radio 2 in “Maggie” my old Defender! I digress, I always play that song on the way to a fishing trip, old habits die hard and for me it’s become something of a lucky charm, just like some chaps have to wear lucky hats, socks, pants or whatever!

I park up and still humming that lovely old song I let Yates out for a run across the meadow whilst I tackle up and enjoy a coffee. There’s no one here, which is not unexpected as it’s very lightly fished, just the way I like it, I can’t abide crowds and unless I’m fishing in arranged company I prefer to be on my own or with that of maybe one trusty close companion. Kev should have been with me today but unfortunately he’s been caught by the “lurgy” it’s rather prevalent at the moment and I’m sure it’ll be only a matter of time before it comes home to roost and I’m banished from the bankside for seven days, so I’ll make the most of my time today.

Tackled up I give Yates a whistle, he disappeared down river a while back on a mission of some sorts, he comes bounding back and we have a heart to heart chat about “being a good boy”, he looks at me with complete innocence… little blighter!

I had already chosen a swim in my dreams last night, I’ve fished it many times before, there’s a reed bed with a shelf to my left and an old gnarled alder tree to my right and I can usually guess the depth without plumbing. I put a little mashed bread into the swim close to the reeds whilst a bait my hook, pull a few yards of line off the old Hardy Conquest centrepin which I’ve coupled with a 11ft 3” Hardy Trotter and a quick flick drops the float and bait nicely into place and away the float sails hugging the inside crease.

Another coffee poured from the flask and I watch proceedings holding the rod and wait for any deviation in the floats progress which may signal a bite.

Yates by my side tells me that our little chat got through to his canine brain, time will tell and he and I have it in abundance, there are no time limits put on a day’s angling by any other parties including the most important one Eira my lovely, understanding and patient much better half. Encouragement is all I ever receive from her soft and gentle heart. I think she knows that a part of my heart lives in a river…somewhere!

No enquiries are forthcoming and I reel in to find that my pinched flake has either been stolen by a rogue roach or it had simply dissolved in the current I’d not noticed any movement of the float.

I suspect the latter and rebait with another pinch of flake but this time let it trot further out in the current keeping it to the right of the crease on the other side to the eddy I’d been fishing.

Dink, the float moved and before I have the chance to react it stops and slides away, a quick flick of the rod top confirms a connection, tis a roach…not a big roach by the standards of this little fished river but a beautiful roach on a midwinters day is enough to warm the heart.

The Beult in the past has produced some fine specimens, but I’ll be happy just catch a fish of any size. A few more casts into the main flow later and there are no more messages being transmitted from below the surface.

A pearlescent Beult roach

I walk back to the Landy, Yates in tow, he probably thinks there’s a food offering forthcoming and there is, a couple of gravy bones are gratefully received. I tackle up my other rod, a piece of sublime 10ft three sectioned split cane coupled with a Trudex reel purchased a few years back from my old friend and artisan cane restorer Wal Sewell or as I call him “Dr Cane”, what a magician that man is!

I’ve decided to lay on with a crow quill close to the reeds, with a gentle for hook bait and regularly feed with mashed bread. The river is still far from clean after heavy rain over the previous three days but it’s fining down gradually and I’m thinking that my best chance may lay in that eddy where the roach are hopefully sheltering from the main current.

I set the float a little over depth, a couple of loops of line are pulled from the pin and an underarm cast sees the whole lot end up around my feet…Angler? Tangler more like it! It’s written all over Yates’s face, if only dogs could laugh! I’m rather glad I mostly fish alone at times like this.

Been for a swim?

Never mind, the show goes on and on the second attempt the float swings out nicely and settles into position. I’m so focused upon it for the next half an hour or so that I haven’t noticed that the spotted nosed little blighter has slinked off upstream on one of his adventures, the whistle brings him back and without doubt he’s been for a swim…bless, until he decides that it’s a good idea to have a shake and thus covering me with water droplets and mud, great! He rolls in the dying grass above the swim to dry himself some more and then settles down for a nice kip…good!

Shimmering flanks

The float cocks and then slides away, reminiscent of a tench bite in the summer, there are plenty of tench in this river but upon lifting the rod and making the connection I am aware that it is a roach, out into the current she goes and after a spirited fight on light tackle I bring her into the folds of the net, oh my, those shimmering flanks of silver and bright red fins are hoisted up and I marvel at the beauty of this the fish of boyhood dreams. Gently she is released back to her home to thrive and live a life far less interrupted from those of roach of other waters.

Our day draws to a gentle close after a few more redfins have graced the net, we walk the length of the river, checking to make sure all is as it should be, notes are taken on fallen trees brought down in recent storms which will need attention and swims are surveyed for future roach angling prospects over the coming weeks before my attention turns to chub on the upper Medway.

It is mid-afternoon and the lights will be coming on soon in the “Armoury”, the tap room of the local Musket brewery. A pint of the finest “Powder Burn” Porter ale will beckon and I’ll raise a glass to the red kite, the redfins and of course to absent friends…”well it would be rude not to”, as Kev would usually say.

Writing & Images R.B.Traditional Kent Winter 2022