Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Carp Story

A single javelin of moonlight pierced the tangled knot of submerged Oak roots, scattering in the murky water beneath the great tree.  A big Carp lay quietly on the lake bottom, motionless save the occasional tremor of fins.  Above her a myriad of sheltering fry, luminescent in the moonlit water, hung in nervous flickering suspension.

The Oak stood half in and half out of an ancient estate lake. The old tree’s writhing mass of tannin stained roots had served generations of fry well as a nursery. The big carp herself had hidden there once, as an immature fingerling, many years before.

She’d charged headlong into the sanctity of the cavern the day before, following a close encounter with an angler, and she’d remained there since. She’d been close to defeat when the anglers hook had slipped its hold; instinct had sent her crashing beneath the old tree and into its familiar surroundings. Safe within its sanctuary, the carp had gradually calmed. Hunger would see her venture out into the lake in search of food soon, the recent trauma slowly fading from her mind.

The following evening an autumn sun sat like an over-ripe peach, low on the horizon, sending the hazy golden mist of twilight dancing along burnished treetops, and gilding the prominent spurs of the river valley in the distance. At the dam end of the lake an angler stood surveying this wonderful ‘cabaret’ of light as dusk fell.
 Charlie could see the smouldering silver ribbon of the feeder stream, at the far end of the lake, as it picked its way torturously down through the contours of the valley. Falling, finally, in an effervescent tumble over a mossy sluice gate and into the stolid lake below.

Along the south-western bank the low sun, probing through panoply of tall Poplars, threw a fretwork of long sepia shadows along the lakes margin. On the opposing bank it stained the water crimson, and Charlie watched a Barn Owl's ethereal form lit by a halo of the smudgy remnants of reddening light. He watched as it quartered the water meadow in noiseless glides, searching for a complacent small mammal in the deceptive half-light.
A ‘murder’ of Crows flapped homeward wearily, sprawled across the richly coloured sky in a ragged line. Exhausted from a hard day of foraging upon the last of the stubble, where the pickings were slim, the harvest now long finished, and competition with the voles and mice fierce.

 Though they didn’t know it yet, or, in truth, couldn’t remember it from last season, (Crows have very short memories you know.) things were destined to get much harder for the unfortunate birds. The onset of winter ‘proper’ would see them forced into harder labour still, soon they would have to spend their days hard at work digging over the stubble in search of wire-worms and leather-jackets.

This lake held some of Charlie’s fondest memories and, though he hadn’t fished there in later years, an urge to reacquaint himself with the place had been growing within him for some time now. A recent walk around the place had yielded the sight of a very big carp and boosted his desire to fish there even further. Today had been a reccy trip for a session he had planned in a couple of days’ time.

A Robin landed close by, perching on the handrail fixed to the dam wall. The little bird had obviously encountered anglers before and seemed quite tame. He reached into his shoulder bag and found an uneaten crust from his lunch-time sandwich. He crumbled the dry bread and flicked some on the ground to one side of the Robin. The bird dropped to the floor immediately and fed on the crumbs. Charlie noticed that it had a somewhat ragged appearance, and was missing one of its tail feathers.

 The hungry little bird cleared every crumb before flying off. Charlie watched it’s unnatural, wobbly flight and said to himself with a degree of sadness, that poor bird would be lucky to see the coming winter out. At least you’ve fed well today little fellow he murmured as it disappeared from sight into the bushes.

  He had spent a lot of time at this lake with his father as a youngster, when they’d enjoyed many a day fishing with a crowquill float and bread flake for Rudd. Or freelining lobworms for the elusive Tench, and of course they’d spent many hours in pursuit of the ‘uncatchable’ Carp.

His mood darkened a little, seeing the Robin, and then remembering that fateful day. The day his father had managed to hook one of those, almost mythical, carp. The events of that day amounted to the one and only real regret he had after a lifetime of angling. In truth it was probably the reason he’d neglected to fish the lake in recent years, he admitted to himself sombrely.

View carppicforstory.jpg in slide showHe was ten years old and accompanying his father for the very first time on a ‘proper’ carp fishing session. The lake was quiet, with just the semblance of a warm breeze ruffling the surface, as the young boy and his father tiptoed into the Oak swim.  Dragonflies buzzed and clicked in the clearing, and there was the pervasive smell of water-mint in the air. The older man motioned noiselessly for his son to stay back a little while he crept slowly forward. He crawled, down on all fours, keeping his body low, like the young soldiers that Charlie had seen training on the village common.

A few minutes passed before his father turned to Charlie, his face flushed and glistening with sweat, his eyes held a feverish, almost manic look. The young lad was taken aback by the transformation in his normally stoic father, and he hesitated to come forward at first when his father beckoned him -with a finger held to his lips to signal the need for silence.

His reservation was soon replaced with a tingle of excitement, as he crept forward to join the older man. Peering through the slender wands of reeds, Charlie, at first, could see nothing to warrant such enthusiasm as he stared into the gloomy water. He followed the line of his father’s arm as he slowly extended it to point to a large patch of lilies to their left.

Charlie let out an almost audible gasp as his eyes suddenly focused upon a group of three carp that were working their way towards them just below the surface. He’d never imagined a fish could be so big! He’d sneaked the odd look at his fathers treasured angling books and had seen pictures of mighty looking specimens, however nothing he’d seen in any book had prepared him for the sheer ‘presence’ of these majestic creatures.

As they came closer the largest of the three carp veered away from the other two to come to rest no more than a couple of yards from the young boys nose. The carp, a common of about fourteen pounds, hung there below him, her broad dark back kissing the surface and her deep Chestnut and honey coloured sides glowing in the warm sunshine.

Charlie was rigid, not daring to move a muscle, his mouth hanging open as he stared in disbelief! It was unquestionably the most spectacular sight the young lad had ever witnessed. He felt truly privileged to have shared this wonderful spectacle with his father, he felt sure they must be the only people ever to have seen these secretive monsters at such close quarters.

His father was growing impatient; Charlie’s excitement was infectious. He whispered to the boy,
‘Come on lad, let’s move back and get this tackle sorted out.’
The youngster was reluctant to break the spell this mystical beast had cast over him but the urgency in his father’s voice told him he’d better move!

They shuffled back from the water’s edge quietly and he crouched in a daze, barely noticing as his father tackled up a cane rod and greased the line. There was nothing by way of terminal tackle other than a hook, and this looked huge to Charlie. The little hooks he’d used in the past were tiny by comparison; you could bury one of those out of sight in a single Brandling or a pinch of bread.

His father crawled stealthily back to the water again; cane rod in one hand, and a homemade landing net in the other. He motioned the youngster to bring over to him their only other item of luggage, a little canvass bag. Charlie scurried forward eagerly, handing the bag to his father.

A loaf of fresh white bread was produced from the bag and Charlie stared with disbelief as his father tore off a piece of crust fully two inches square! The older man proceeded to bury the large hook in the bread then, satisfied it was properly hooked, and he dapped it briefly in the water below. The crust was flicked out, expertly, to land on the very edge of the Lilies; a slight twitch and it was on the water, tight to the pads.

His father sat back and tore two larger chunks of bread from the loaf, tossing one to the lad with a grin.
‘We aren’t going to let them greedy beggars have it all son.’
Charlie nodded his head in happy agreement, and set about the bread with vigour.

 They returned to silence. Young Charlie smote by the atmosphere of the place. The hypnotic drone of insects, the perpetual, rhythmic, chorus of birdsong and the sweet, incense like collusion of wildflower perfumes all served to intoxicate him; and he sat in a sea of intense pleasure. Watching his dad fondly. Waiting for a monster.

The stark white crust bobbed on the gentle hint of ripple, the soft breeze keeping it snug against the Lilies.  There was no sign of the three carp now. His father explained that this was just what they had wanted, in order that they had been able to make the cast without disturbing the fish.
‘Far better to let the fish find the bait lad, than the bait find the fish. Once they’ve been spooked it’s a done job.’

They sat together for the next hour; neither of them feeling the need to speak. To the imaginative young boy the lake seemed quiet and mysterious. There was no trace now of the magnificent creatures that they’d watched earlier. Almost as though it had happened in some kind of magical dream. Yet that beautiful tawny beast that had hung in the water beneath him was real! His dad and he knew it, even if nobody else did. The weight of this moment, this shared, secret knowledge, thrilled him.
 A Robin appeared from nowhere, alighting on the tip of the stationary rod with a sway and eyeing a few crumbs of bread in the grass. Realising the presence of the two anglers almost immediately, it flew into cover scolding them vociferously as it went. Charlie’s father turned and spoke for the first time in over an hour.

‘That’s a sign that we’re about to catch a fish.’
 He whispered knowingly to the young boy.
Charlie stared in open-eyed wonder at his father.
‘Were all anglers aware of this amazing fact?’
He wondered innocently.
‘Oh yes’,
His father continued
‘It’s well known, a Robin landing on your rod is like being given a lucky charm, in fact I once…’

Charlie learned no more of the tale. His father had stopped in mid-sentence and was now gripping the lads arm tightly in a signal for silence and nodding urgently towards the lake. As though to corroborate his father’s story, the big common had appeared cruising steadily through the surface layers, heading towards the Lilly pads. Charlie watched, hardly daring to draw a breath as the big fish slowed then came to a rest a yard from the floating crust.

He stole a quick glance at his father. He’d never seen such a tense look on his face. A bead of sweat had appeared just below the peak of his old flat cap and his temple was twitching. Charlie noticed how his fingers had whitened around the tightly gripped rod. His gaze fixed unerringly on the scene in front of him.

The big fish moved again. This time, with no further ceremony, it ghosted up to the bait, tipped itself slightly in the water, and nosed the bread gently. The piece of crust rocked in the water and moved a couple of inches away from the pads. A scattering of crumbs broke away like a flurry of snowflakes and hung in suspension around the hook bait.
‘Please let the hook stay in.’
 His father offered up in silent prayer, terrified that the water sodden bread would part company with the hook. Then, as if in answer to his plea, the carp came again to the bread. There was the briefest glimpse of a pair of lips, accompanied by a loud slurping noise and the crust disappeared into a mini vortex.

The slack line was ripped from the surface of the water sending up a plume of fine spray. The cane rod hooped over as Charlie’s father struck it high over his shoulder. In a flash, he was on his feet and paying out line to the running fish. There was no stopping her on her initial surge, and his father concentrated on applying a constant pressure on the drum of the wooden reel.

 The rod bucked violently as the carp slowed and shook its head in anger. Charlie was on his feet too now, and admiring his father’s skill with the simple tackle as he fought the carp. The polished cane creaked audibly as he pumped the rod in an effort to win some line back.

This process was repeated several times over the course of the next few minutes, no sooner did the angler gain a few vital feet of line back on the reel, than the fish would charge away, stripping the line again effortlessly. After what seemed like an eternity the powerful surges finally began to grow weaker and Charlie's father exclaimed, through clenched teeth,
‘She’s tiring son.’

 ‘She’s tiring now son.’
 He repeated, through shallow pants of breath.
‘Just grab the net and keep very still.’
Charlie responded, trembling with excitement. The water just in front of them boiled and they gasped in unison as the big fish rose in the gloomy water and came into view.
‘That’s the biggest fish I’ve ever hooked!’
His father exclaimed excitedly, with a quavering voice.
‘Please don’t let her come off.’
‘Put the net into the water very slowly Charlie.’
Charlie did as asked and held the net as still as his shaking hands would allow, just below the surface.

His father drew the carp slowly towards the net. She came through the water, slightly tilted to one side, her flank gleaming like golden chain mail in the clear water. She was no more than inches from the net when suddenly she awoke again.  Righting herself in the water and thrashing it to foam with her powerful tail, she thundered away again!

With a new and seemingly unstoppable strength she tore the line from the whirring reel and ploughed along the margin! Charlie’s dad fought wildly for control of the churning centrepin. The fish steadied a little but continued unabated with its bid for freedom.

Directly to their left the Oak tree that gave the swim its name loomed menacingly out of the water. Charlie's father knew this was where the fish was heading. If she made it to those treacherous roots he would lose her! The tree was a good thirty yards away and the fish had covered nearly half the distance when he instructed Charlie to drop the net and run down to the tree.
‘If she tries to get in there throw a stick or something into the water to scare her off.’
He shouted to the running lad.

Charlie sprinted to the tree and searched frantically for something to make a splash with. Vital seconds passed as he scoured the ground. He spotted an old brick, partly covered in moss. Seeing little else he grabbed this and scrambled to a position at the base of the tree. From this vantage point he could see the furrow the big fish made as it came towards him. With his heart pounding wildly, the young boy raised the brick above his head shakily and waited.

Back in their swim Charlie’s father had begun to think he was going to lose the carp. He was applying maximum side-strain with the protesting cane rod and his thumb was burning painfully as he attempted to check the revolving spool. Although the fish was paying dearly for every inch of line, it would not stop. There was nothing more he could do, and as the fish entered the last few yards of water between him and the tree roots he resigned his self to losing it. In one last-ditch effort to stop the carp from reaching the snaggy lair, he locked the tackle up solid and prayed!

Charlie saw the fish about four yards out. It was shrugging its head as it came straight for the Oak, fighting desperately against the unceasing pressure. He picked a spot in front of the fish and took aim. As it got to within two yards of the menacing roots his father’s prayers were answered. The big carp finally came to a standstill. His father could feel the fish stop and rise in the water against the pressure of the locked tackle.

Charlie let the missile go! The heavy brick was awkward in the ten-year-old’s small hand, and the throw was awkward. The carp rose nearing the surface. He watched the twisting trajectory of the brick looping through the air, and the burnished scales of the carp’s majestic head as they broke the surface tension. They came together with a sickening dull thud! There was a hiss as the sharp edged brick severed the taut line and Charlie’s stomach retched as he saw a big ugly white gape appear on the fish’s head. She listed over onto one side and sank slowly from sight.

The young boy stood biting his lip as hot tears ran down his face. His father came running, demanding angrily,
‘What the hell happened?’
‘What the hell did you throw?’
Poor Charlie was beside himself and could barely speak through the sobs as he explained to his father what had happened.

Charlie’s father, on seeing his son in obvious distress, soon quelled the anger he’d felt, and though he was bitterly disappointed he did his level best not to show it to the grief stricken youngster.
‘We’ll catch her next time Charlie, don’t you worry son.’
He told the boy. Charlie though was inconsolable and felt sure his wretched throw with the brick had killed the innocent carp. He adored wild creatures of any kind, and to think he might be responsible for ‘murdering’ one was almost more than the young lad could bear.
‘Honestly lad, them old carp are as tough as old boots. I’ll bet she’s as right as nine pence in a week or two. We’ll meet up with her again one day and you see if I’m not right.’
His father tried to reassure him.

The walk home that evening was a troubled one for young Charlie, he was to suffer bad memories of that fish for several years to come. He said little on the way back, talking to his father only once to ask him, with a wavering voice,
‘How do fisherman know a Robin is lucky dad?’
His father feigned enthusiasm and told him,
‘Well it’s one of those little bits of knowledge that have been passed down from father to son over the year’s lad. Every fisherman,’
He began,
 ‘No matter how good he is’,
 He added with mock seriousness,
‘Needs a little luck sometimes.’
Glad of the opportunity to take the young boy’s mind off of the day’s disastrous events he continued,
‘When a Robin visits you make sure to offer him a little food and he’ll usually repay that kindness with a little luck.’
This intriguing tale cheered the woeful youngster a little and they continued their journey home in silence, Charlie’s spirits a little brighter.

 For the first time in four days the big fish stole from beneath the Oak and out into the quiet lake. The water temperature had risen significantly during the recent ‘Indian’ days and she felt a hunger welling up inside.  She cruised a while, still a little uneasy, eventually circumventing the perimeter of the lake before she was content to think about feeding.

Her acute senses picked up on the subtleties of air pressure and the particle drift moving toward the North Eastern bank and she followed the breeze across the lake, back in the direction of the Oak. Pausing occasionally to turn and watch a struggling insect caught in the surface tension and being towed along with the ripple. Gently sipping them in, each time her suspicious nature was satisfied that nothing was amiss with the tiny, floating, protein rich morsel. She swam purposefully past the Oak shelter and into the little bay next to it. Finally settling down to feed in earnest amongst a patch of decaying Lilies.

A week later the chilly temperatures that had signalled the arrival of the autumn gave way to a period of unseasonably warm weather. Charlie mused to himself that you could be forgiven for mistaking the days of cobalt skies and low, fiery sun, for mid July, as he packed his fishing gear into his estate car in shirtsleeves the following Wednesday. He could hardly believe his luck, with a warm breeze picking up from the south and three consecutive nights without a hint of ground frost, he’d have been hard pressed to choose much better conditions for an October carping session.

At the lake, he crept to the water’s edge, parted the curtain of reeds carefully, and peered out over the calm pool. He studied the brightly-lit water intensely for several minutes.  Before too long he’d spotted four very big carp cruising through the surface layers lazily. His pulse raced. Although he’d observed large carp at close quarters on countless occasions in the past, the experience had never failed to get Charlie’s adrenaline flowing.

At least three of the carp were well into thirty pounds in weight, but they weren’t what Charlie was looking for. He continued to scrutinise the lake carefully. There were lots of bubbles fizzing up from one patch of lilies and he focused his attention on these.   After about twenty minutes he saw what he’d come for. From amongst the tangle of dead and dying Lilies he watched in awe as an enormous blue-black inkstain formed on the surface.

For over an hour he remained, squatting uncomfortably, captivated by the vision of this wondrous creature. Again and again he watched as the carp upended and nose-dived from sight. The pads were twitching violently and the water fizzed as the hungry fish churned up the bottom sediment aggressively. When he could bear the discomfort no longer, and with cramp shooting through his legs, he reluctantly shuffled slowly backwards, keeping low still, until he was sure the carp could not see him, then stood up, grimacing as he straightened seized limbs.

He’d left his fishing tackle back at the car, preferring to approach the lake unhampered to begin with to make his swim choice. The journey back to his car was an arduous one, the blazing sun drew beads of sweat to his brow and each gurgling step he took across the boggy water meadow awakened an unsavoury smell in the heady afternoon heat. The pungent smell attracting a constant onslaught from countless varieties of irritating flying insects that, Charlie told himself with feeling, shouldn’t even be around at this time of year.

Despite the tiresome trek there was no regret about his decision to park in a nearby bye lane rather than the car park at the dam end. A number of the swims on the North Eastern bank were only accessible by crossing a wide expanse of boggy water meadow from the lane. Access was cut off from any other direction by two muddy drainage dikes, used in the past to adjust the water levels on the meadow during the summer.

In effect, by parking in the bye road, next to a bridge where the two dykes unified, any angler willing to slog across the marshy pasture with his tackle, would find themselves on a triangular island. The chances of anyone else making the effort during the week were fairly remote and Charlie hoped he would have the place to himself for a couple of days.

Back at the car Charlie took off his battered old safari hat and mopped the beads of sweat from his face.
It really is incredibly mild for the time of year. He thought, opening the car boot and pulling out a well used folding chair and a grubby thermos flask.

 Sitting back in the chair he poured himself an anaemic looking cup of tea.  It occurred to him, while he sat there, that he would never have been able to do this as a young man, the urge to get to the water would have been far too strong. He chuckled, remembering the many bootfuls of water he’d suffered in his haste to get across that water meadow in the past. Smiling to himself he gulped down the remaining tepid tea and duly refreshed, he began unpacking his gear from the car.

The image of that big carp filled Charlie’s mind, as he organised himself for the hike across the meadow. How big might she be, he wondered, he was almost certain her capture would break his personal best for the species, which stood at thirty-seven pounds three ounces.

He’d been a keen angler for many years now; the early trips with his father had unearthed a passion in him that had stayed with him throughout his life. Apart from his family nothing else stirred such feelings within him. Even now, after so many years, he could feel the excitement welling up inside as he contemplated the coming session.
‘It would be a sad day indeed!’
He reminded himself.
‘When I don’t get that feeling.’

He’d fished almost fanatically as a young man, barely pausing to court and marries his young wife ‘Lucy’. He knew he’d been a lucky man indeed, to have found such an understanding and generous girl. Lucy had always accepted without complaint his frequent forays to the water. In fact, she had given nothing but encouragement, despite the many long hours of loneliness inflicted upon her.

To his credit Charlie had always appreciated this fact and had repaid her kindness at every given opportunity. When she had borne him two wonderful daughters he had stored his tackle away gladly, to take up his duties of fatherhood, resuming his fishing only when Lucy herself had prompted him. The faraway look in his eye when the wind was pushing the ripple at his favourite pool onto the shallows had been more than she could bear and, once the girls had began school she had persuaded him to return to his sport. All this never failed to amaze Charlie, especially as she herself had absolutely no interest in angling whatsoever.

He had always kept things in perspective, and fished within their financial means. In fact he was extremely proud of his tally of specimens, caught mostly from a variety of inexpensive day ticket waters. There’d been no expensive, exclusive syndicate waters for Charlie. The one burning ambition he had left was to catch a forty-pound carp. Although he knew, that at fifty-five years of age and without access to any proven ‘forties waters’, it was becoming increasingly unlikely that he ever would.
He told himself, with a tingle of anticipation.

Charlie arrived, hot and breathless, at his chosen swim. It was in roughly the same place that his dad had lost the big carp all those years ago. His tackle was set up as quietly as possible and, with no sign now of the fish he’d seen earlier, he baited up the patch of lilies where he’d seen her feeding.

 A moderate amount of stewed hemp and wheat was distributed amongst the yellowing fronds. He wanted to add to the appeal that the area had to the big fish without arousing too much suspicion in her. The small grains of corn and hempseed would soon get lost amongst the weed, giving the big fish something to root for and a reason to return.
Satisfied that the right amount of bait had been scattered in and around the pads, he sat back in his chair and made up his rod with a simple, single, swanshot link ledger and left it in the rests unbaited.

It was already early evening by now and Charlie set up his oval brolly back a little from the rods. He spent a few minutes organising his shelter for the night ahead, then lit a gas stove and put a small camping kettle on to boil.

Sitting back, with a freshly brewed mug of tea, He looked out over the silky surface of the lake and wondered if there could be any better way to spend an evening. There was a Great Crested Grebe working its way along about twenty yards out and each time it dived, Charlie amused himself by trying to predict where it would resurface. It never failed to amaze him how long these birds could remain under the water, and the distances they could travel while under.

From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of steely blue, flashing past above and behind him. He turned quickly and just caught sight of the Sparrowhawk as she arrowed across the clearing. For an, all too brief, moment he marvelled as she flew like a bolt, straight at the bole of a giant Crack Willow. Tilting the primary feathers on one wing, almost imperceptibly, just at the moment that she looked sure to dash herself against the tree. Then rolling acrobatically around it in a spectacular aerial manoeuvre that would have had the most seasoned of fighter pilots green with envy.

The remainder of the evening passed quietly, and Charlie occupied himself by watching the various creatures that were busy on and around the water. At midnight he drifted into sleep and slept soundly through till dawn.

Charlie woke feeling a little uncomfortable in his reclining chair. A quick brew up on the stove soon revived him and he positioned his chair close to the water’s edge and watched over the baited area. After about a quarter of an hour his spirits soared as he saw bubbles begin to rise from amidst the pre-baited lily pads.

An hour’s observation had proven that the feeding fish were indeed the big common and a slightly smaller mirror, and by the time the feeding spell had finished Charlie was almost unable to contain his excitement. He watched the fish leave, then retired back to his shelter and prepared a welcome breakfast of eggs and bacon. This was washed down with copious steaming mugs of coffee.
His appetite satisfied Charlie turned his attention to the fishing once again. He topped up the baited area with a pint or so more of the particle mix. This time though, he introduced a few grains of sweet corn. This was to be his hook-bait when he decided the time was right to put out his rod.

The magical dawn quickly passed and Charlie sat close to the water’s edge watching the lilies again. At about 11.00 a.m. the two carp came again. Once more they fed for over an hour and Charlie sat trembling with excitement. She really was huge he told himself shakily. Again the two big fish left the pads.
Three grains of sweetcorn were put on a size 6 hook with the light link leger set up and lobbed underarm to land at the very edge of the pads amongst some more of the free offerings. Charlie kept the front rest quite high. This allowed the line to be kept reasonably tight, and to rise out of the water against the stems and at a similar angle. He hoped that any contact made by the carp with the line would be construed as merely a brush against a lily stem.

Charlie settled into his chair, his heart was beating a little faster, he knew he’d probably have to wait a while but the sense of anticipation had grown with the session and he was becoming more confident. It had taken a good deal of resolution for him not to cast a bait into the Lillies any earlier. He prayed that his patience would pay off.

He ran the idea of her capture through his mind, imagining her perfect scaling and huge girth on the unhooking mat. He visualised her in the weigh sling, and saw the scales sweeping past the forty pound mark.

Lost in this reverie, he was a little startled when a Robin appeared suddenly; landing on a nearby thistle head. Charlie instantly recognised it as the tatty little specimen from the dam; with the missing tail feathers.  Slowly, so as not to scare the timid bird, he reached into one of his tackle bags and drew out a small bait box containing some red worms. He made sure the Robin could see a bunch of the wriggling worms in the palm of his hand then tipped them on the ground in front of him.

The bird fluttered a couple of feet away at the movement of his arm and landed on a Sallow twig. It never took its eyes off the worms though, as they squirmed on the ground trying to find cover in the short grass. It sat quizzically turning its head from one side to the other for a brief moment, then deciding there was no danger it dropped to the grass and began rounding up the escaping feast.

Charlie watched the Robin gobble up the half dozen or so worms one after another with some amusement. He felt the little bird must surely go pop before long, and wondered where on earth it was putting them all. As he watched the last inch of worm disappear down the Robin’s beak with a struggle he laughed out loud,
‘You’ve just about eaten yourself cross-eyed haven’t you?’
He asked the Robin. The little bird hopped back up to the thistle head and eyed him curiously.
‘Well I hope you’ll remember that.’
He added, laughing again.
‘I shall be expecting a little bit of luck this evening.’
The Robin, deciding the restaurant had finished serving, cocked its head once more to look at him, relieved itself, and then flew off. 

With the little bird gone he made himself comfortable in a position where he could see the pads, and relaxed into his chair. His thoughts inevitably turned to the fateful day with his father. Not wanting to tarnish the session he was having, which so far he’d been enjoying immensely, he pushed the bad memories to the back of his mind and concentrated on the job in hand. Mentally planning where he would net the carp and where he could position himself for a self-take photograph, should he be lucky enough to catch her.

The afternoon came to an end. Charlie had hardly noticed the hours slipping by. He’d been engrossed in watching the resident bird life going about its busy day on the water. He considered making a brew, and was just about to get out of his chair when something caught his attention. Just beyond the baited area. A big flat spot was hovering on the oily surface of the lake. The water heaved and the flat spot developed into a bow wave as a big fish approached the lilies. Charlie froze in his seat
He held his breath and waited. She was there! In the late afternoon light he could see her huge torso flashing beneath the surface. His mouth had dried out and he tried to work his jaws to get back some moisture. She turned in the water slightly then moved confidently into the pads and momentarily out of sight.

One hand hovered over the rod butt and he gripped his trembling knee for purchase with the other. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up, the tension showing in his furrowed brow. The lilies jerked and bent over as the big fish rooted around for the tiny grains, he could plot the passage of the fish as it worked its way through the dense pads, towards his bait.

For a moment the lilies settled and he was terrified that the fish had eaten its fill before finding his hook-bait. Seconds later the pads began dancing again and the fish moved closer. Charlie was feeling slightly nauseas and his heart was hammering at an alarming rate. The aggressive feeding spell had stirred the water into a milky consistency now but through the mire he saw her big head appear on the outside of the lilies. He watched in expectation as the great blunt fork of her tail rose in the water and she upended herself over his bait.

Charlie knew he was a split second from hooking this fish of a lifetime, almost definitely about to break a personal record of some fifteen years standing. Above all though, he knew he was about to exorcise a very old ghost! He turned his attention from the wagging tail to his rod tip and watched it with hawser tight nerves.
He was watching it still when the tatty Robin landed on it with a jolt! Charlie’s eye followed the resulting tremor, as though in slow motion, as it travelled down the taut line. He watched in disbelief as the signal was transmitted below the water to the feeding fish, and he watched in horror as the water boiled and a bow wave surged in his direction from the edge of the lilies.

Charlie looked at the Robin, still perching on the rod tip, cocking its head over to look at him. It almost seemed as though the little bird was mocking him. He was numb. It was all too much to take in. The harsh irony of the situation began to sink in. His father’s words echoed through his head. He felt like a cruel and twisted joke had just been played on him.

 These thoughts raced around Charlie’s head in a micro-second, meanwhile the bow wave continued steadily towards him. He watched it come right past him and only then in the clearer undisturbed water did he realise. The fish going past him was a big mirror carp!

The Robin chirruped once, and flew away. Charlie watched it go blankly. He looked back towards the lilies with confusion.  There had been barely been time to register the briefest glimpse of a huge tail extending up from the bottom and then his rod tip had bent around. Acting purely from instinct, he struck and stood up and found himself firmly attached to the big common carp!

Realising she’d been hooked, the big carp burrowed immediately, deep into the lily pads, gulping a mouthful of silt and vegetation and shaking her head wildly in an effort to dislodge the offending hook from her mouth.

Charlie kept the pressure full on the fish, his carbon kevlar rod pulsing in his fingers under the cork handle. He knew with the tackle he had the carp would not break him, nor would the softened decaying lilies. By keeping the fish under maximum pressure he would ensure the hook not slipping as the big fish clearly intended it to.

Mottled lily pads popped up to the surface as the strong monofilament line scythed through their stems and Charlie eventually felt the fish’s head come around a fraction. He seized the initiative and arced the rod around horizontally, keeping up the momentum of the moving fish. She pulled free of the lilies and out into open water. He could feel her huge golden hull now as she hung ponderously in the water for a brief moment.

Gathering her senses, and deciding the pads were of no use to her, she moved with purpose away from the resistance, cutting cleanly through the water at pace. Charlie breathed a sigh of relief, he was strangely calm now. He adjusted the rear drag reel as she cannoned off into the lake, making her work for each yard.

Charlie waited patiently for her to slow, then piled on the pressure again, once more she came quite easily as he pumped the rod quickly, winding down furiously between pumps and kidding her back towards him. He eased up as she came within twenty yards of the bank, knowing she had more in the tank yet, and not wanting her to react again, close to cover.

His decision was vindicated when she woke up and headed out into the open again. This time she motored away in an awesome display of raw power. The clutch on the reel sung out loudly and Charlie hung on to the rod tightly. For the first few yards he dare not attempt to tamper with the drag setting, so explosive was her strength. He regained control and stopped her after about thirty yards, then repeated the pumping procedure.

She didn’t come quite so easy this time, shaking her head and pulling more stubbornly. He’d only retrieved about ten yards of line when she set off again. This time he stopped and turned her before she’d got any real steam up. He knew he’d got her ‘all out’ by now. The dynamic bursts began to wane, and he brought her closer this time.

She rolled in front of him a few yards out and came heavily towards the net. With her energy resources diminishing the big fish summoned one last effort and lumbered off parallel to the bank. Charlie smiled; he knew where she was heading.

 The carp never got within ten yards of the Oak tree. Charlie wasn’t limited by his tackle, the way his father had been all those years ago. He knew, barring an absolute disaster, this fish was his. He bullied her back from the direction of the Oak and placed the net in the water in readiness.

The feeling as she slid over the cord and he lifted the deep mesh of the net to embrace her was indescribable! Forty five years of splendid pleasure and achievement came to fruition at that joyous moment, and Charlie punched the air in victory!

As he unrolled the huge beast onto his unhooking mat he knew he’d caught his forty-pound carp. Her broad, perfectly scaled sides were the colour of polished brass and she looked in peak condition, with a deep healthy lustre. Charlie thought she was quite the most exquisite carp he’d ever seen. She weighed 42lbs and four ounces on his scales.

He quickly organised himself for a few photos and with this accomplished, he put her back in the roomy net and lowered her into the margin. She gasped gently regaining her strength quietly in the water. He gave her ample time to recover and when she started to nose about looking for an exit, he knew she was nearly ready for release.

The Robin reappeared, sitting on a twig as though to watch over the proceedings. Charlie watched it for a minute or two chuckling to himself. Then returned his attention to the fish. He gathered the slack up in the net and cradled the fish’s body carefully, gently rolling the mesh over her head. Raising her in the water, for one last look before he set her free.

And then he saw it, an almost imperceptible, thin ragged white line of scar tissue on the crown of her head. He hadn’t noticed it in the excitement of the capture, it was only visible because he was looking directly down on the carp now. He watched her slip away numbly, the significance of it dawning on him slowly and overwhelming him. He turned, once she had disappeared from sight, and looked for the Robin. It still sat watching him.

‘Thankyou.’ He said.

Chris Hammond