Tri­umph tinged with sor­row... but I’ll keep Wil­son’s torch burn­ing

Angling Times (UK) - - TIPS & TACTICS -

THE loss of John Wil­son has cast a long shadow over my an­gling year.

But the great man loved noth­ing more than a good yarn to fuel his un­wa­ver­ing love for the sport, so just as I have cel­e­brated his life I will do the same with my own ad­ven­tures – and hope­fully keep the torch burn­ing.

My life is dic­tated by the sea­sons and the weather. Rarely do I make plans more than a week ahead,

and I love this flu­id­ity. So when the long­est win­ter I can re­mem­ber kicked in, grayling and chub were very much on the agenda.

The big colour­ful dor­sal fin of a grayling splash­ing on the sur­face of a chalk stream is a sight to be­hold when you have 14ft of hooped car­bon in your hands and you mo­men­tar­ily for­get the frost nip­ping at your toes. Just as ex­cit­ing is watch­ing a quiv­er­tip tap be­fore pulling round slowly as a chub takes a lump of cheesep­a­ste. As the years go by the size of the fish mat­ters less and less as style takes over from sub­stance. Yes, I caught big fish of both species at the start of the New Year but I re­mem­ber the bites more than any­thing else.

Win­ter was as cruel as it was long, with wa­ter tem­per­a­tures con­sis­tently low for weeks on end and three bouts of snow here in the South. Snow melt is my only real Neme­sis, and when it came I was glad to head to Thailand, where my wife and I run a hol­i­day busi­ness.

Surely my re­turn would see the Wye in fine fet­tle for the start of the salmon sea­son? Un­for­tu­nately not. Full of ice, it was more Slush Puppy than river. All wasn’t lost, though, as I had the joy of watch­ing my good old mate Theo fi­nally catch a 30lb pike from Chew af­ter years of wait­ing. A won­der­ful mo­ment, and a high­light for sure.

Thank­fully, even win­ter loosens its grip even­tu­ally and I en­joyed hold­ing big roach in the cowslips, salmon over blue­bells and tench with a swathe of yel­low iris in the back­ground.

As a pro­fes­sional an­gler, carp play a huge role in my year and af­ter nu­mer­ous thir­ties I stalked a big yel­low-bel­lied forty out of the mar­gins – an­other won­der­ful

mo­ment but one that posed me a dilemma, too, be­cause an ot­ter had bit­ten half its tail off.

At the time, for this weekly col­umn, I hid the dam­age by hold­ing it in a clas­sic ‘Jack Hil­ton’ pose. Should I have shielded the reader from re­al­ity? Maybe I was wrong, as ot­ter pre­da­tion is a re­al­ity we all now face.

There was more dev­as­tat­ing news to come on the carp front with the com­plete an­ni­hi­la­tion of all fish life in a pit from which I had pre­vi­ously caught carp to 59lb. This was a spe­cial place, vis­ited by few and kept largely un­der the radar. When blue-green al­gae caused an oxy­gen crash, killing hun­dreds of huge fish, it barely caused a rip­ple in the carp world but I can as­sure you we lost one of our great­est-ever wa­ters.

My fi­nal mem­ory of the place was, amaz­ingly, a re­cap­ture of the queen of the lake who dragged my boat through count­less weedbeds as I gave chase – a fit­ting fi­nale to an ir­re­place­able venue that I’ll miss greatly.

With spring over, the coarse fish­ing sea­son opened again on the rivers and bar­bel fish­ing on the Wye is where it all started again for me. Then I headed to the Trent and en­joyed some clas­sic sport with sil­very, blue-backed roach.

Stay­ing pos­i­tive, I have to men­tion a day on the War­wick­shire Avon where the river got the bet­ter of me – not be­cause I failed to catch, but be­cause I was so fa­tigued at the num­ber of chub and bar­bel I caught that I had to give it best and pack up!

On the work front, 2018 was dom­i­nated by two films on carp – one with E-S-P at a beau­ti­ful lake, the other a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sticky Baits and Chris Yates to pro­duce a hoped-for clas­sic. I en­joy my time with this an­gling leg­end and I hope, when the film is re­leased this spring, that it cap­tures the fun our friend­ship brings to fish­ing.

Au­tumn saw a re­turn to the Trent, and my big­gest-ever bar­bel from the river at 15lb 10oz. Part of its tail was miss­ing, and many sim­i­lar wounds on other fish I landed on this stretch wor­ried me. Things weren’t helped when I spot­ted the owner of a pair of glow­ing eyes mov­ing up­river af­ter dark, look­ing for its next meal.

I needed to re­turn to Thailand for a few days, and I re­counted my tales of pre­da­tion to John Wil­son as we fished for what would be our fi­nal time to­gether. The trip ended on a high, with leg-pulling and

laugh­ter that I will cher­ish for­ever.

An­other trip away from our shores to Soroya, in­side the Arc­tic Circle, gave me buck­et­loads of mem­o­ries and new friend­ships. In the land of Thor the north­ern lights danced while big cod buck­led rods. Im­por­tantly, it re­vealed to me a glimpse of how the world could be if only we cared about it a lit­tle more.

I can­not close the book on 2018 with­out a huge pos­i­tive and per­sonal tri­umph that took a decade to achieve. My hunt for the At­lantic salmon be­gan long ago and in­evitably led to the chal­lenge of cross­ing paths with a sil­ver tourist of 20lb or more. Dur­ing the jour­ney I caught nu­mer­ous fish be­tween 17lb and 19lb, but not one over the magic mark. The num­ber of fish oth­ers claim to be over 20lb could have led me to think I was do­ing some­thing wrong, but let’s just say this sec­tor of the sport is very gen­er­ous with its es­ti­mates!

That said, the Wye does give me a chance of such a fa­bled fish, as does the Hamp­shire Avon, along whose banks I crept in May, hope­ful of com­plet­ing my per­sonal chal­lenge.

Af­ter weeks of high wa­ter the Avon was fi­nally set­tling down, with the boils di­min­ish­ing and creases form­ing.

A col­lapsed tree cre­ated a line in the river, and into this de­vi­a­tion of flow I cast my lure.

The hit was in­stan­ta­neous and there was an im­mense flash of sil­very flank as an an­gry cock fish grabbed hold. I had hooked enough springers to know im­me­di­ately that the ob­ject of my long quest was fi­nally on the end of my line.

I had missed out on three sim­i­lar chances and sud­denly it hit me – I was in all kinds of trou­ble again. The snag to my im­me­di­ate right told a tale of woe and to my left, only five yards be­low the fast shal­lows, it was a sim­i­lar story.

I couldn’t hope to hold the beast in such a cur­rent, and fol­low­ing it down­stream wasn’t an op­tion as a thick copse was block­ing my path.

All I could do was hit and hold, pray­ing ev­ery knot was firm in its re­solve. For 10 long un­bear­able min­utes I re­fused to give more than a few feet of line and twice had to en­dure a mas­sive adren­a­line rush as my Neme­sis leapt free of the wa­ter be­fore crash­ing back down with a thun­der­ous clap.

All those hours fished and thou­sands upon thou­sands of casts made would be re­warded if the hook held. In such times even an athe­ist turns to God and I prayed for suc­cess.

The god­less sla­mon didn’t seem to care for my new-found re­li­gion and I re­verted to beg­ging him to stop. Whether or not the fish took pity on me I shall never know, but the huge lunges sub­sided and the land­ing net fi­nally did its job.

I col­lapsed on the grass, know­ing why an­gling is such a blessed ad­dic­tion. My pri­or­ity now was to look af­ter the salmon, and with ob­struc­tions ei­ther side of me I had no op­tion but to lift the mon­ster out of the river. For­tu­nately I carry an un­hook­ing mat and he was safe as I recorded a weight of 24lb. A quick photo and the springer was on its way up­stream again.

A decade had come down to a tiny mo­ment in time, but it was worth ev­ery year I had spent chas­ing salmon for those few pre­cious sec­onds.

At last – a 24lb salmon from the Hants Avon.

Film­ing with Chris Yates is al­ways an ex­pe­ri­ence!

Two crack­ing sum­mer roach from the Trent.

The New Year was ush­ered in with big chub. Fight­ing-fit a grayling were win­ter tar­get.

the Wad­ing in to Warks Avon catch chub.

Tench are, for me, the true fish of spring­time.

Terry Theobald brings ashore a 30lb Chew pike.

Thailand, and a fi­nal ses­sion with Un­cle John.

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