Lines On The Water

Opening Day; A River, Its Fish And Its Healing Properties

The Opening Day of a new coarse fishing river season is always magical. For one angler, June 16th conjured up memories of the past, the beauty of the present and the promise of the future.

I didn’t hear him arrive, but there’s a robin watching me. He’s no more than two metres away and he’s seen the maggots. Gently, I reach down and toss half a dozen on the ground, fully aware that I’m instantly setting in motion a small ritual that my new companion will expect throughout the afternoon. I also know I’ll only be a friend for as long as I’m prepared to play.


It’s Day One of the new coarse fishing river season and even with far too many opening days behind me, I’m still full of anticipation. The alternative enjoyment found on club or commercial still waters and canals is always appreciated during closure – and will continue to be so as the year progresses – but there’s something magical and mesmeric about a river’s moving water.

At this time of year, plant growth is abundant and I’ve already allowed myself my customary check for those non-native invasive species that can rampage across the countryside causing all sorts of damage to a waterway and its eco-system. Thankfully there was nothing that I recognised. It’s one arrival ritual that will never change regardless of venue but today, the vivid greens and colourful flower heads of the naturals that surround me add an extra dimension to my day.

It’s good to be back.

I’m fishing a stretch of the River Severn just above Bridgnorth in Shropshire. Unfortunately, the conditions won’t allow me to use my favourite river tactic. Trotting a stick float might not always be the day’s most appropriate method, but it’s been my ‘go to’ ever since I was taught it as a child at Barcombe Mills in Sussex and honed it (loose term) during my teenage years on Nottinghamshire’s stretches of the wonderful River Trent.

I use it whenever I can, but today, the river is simply too low so I’m ledgering the middle channel. I’m already catching some decent chub but I’m really waiting with child-like anticipation for the barbel to move in.

I’m pleased to report that my peg is clean and tidy. I hope it’s because whoever left it on March 13th took their rubbish with them and not because the flushing effects of a wet spring have simply washed it all downstream. I promise myself that I’ll continue to leave any swim in which I take up temporary residence in a clean and proper state. I am definitely an ‘Angler Against Litter’ and I trust those who follow me here, there and everywhere through the season will be too.

As the day trundles on, my mate the robin is still with me and our relationship is definitely getting ever closer. But now a pair of kingfisher flit up and down the flow. They sparkle in the bright sunshine as they pass but as always, are gone far too quickly to get a really good view. That said, my luck is in. After a few passes, one perches in a tree twenty yards away and is spying the fry which are omnipresent around my feet and are clearly below his too. He dives and returns to his branch in the blink of an eye. Mouth full, job done.

For now.

Suddenly, I realise I’m focusing on everything around me except the potential movement of my rod tip. Before nature’s sideshows took over, I’d already seen it twitch on several occasions and enjoyed the temporary company of fit, iridescent chub before safe release straight out of the net and back into the sandy shallows.

“And away” as Paul and Bob would say.

By the way, my six year old Granddaughter loves Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer’s angling show. (Catch Up TV is such a wonderful thing) She’s mesmerised by the scenes in which the pair wade into the streams and someday soon, she wants to do the same.

Two weeks ago, she caught her first Stillwater trout on a floating Shipman’s Buzzer. Grandad made the cast, but the rest was pretty much all her’s. A few tweaks to keep the fly line nicely in touch, a textbook strike on a perfect rise and a successful journey to the net. Ok, Grandad did help a little with the last bit, but she definitely caught it.

Next stop will be the river and a chance for me to pass on what MY Grandad taught me about the stick float. I can’t wait. 

‘Pop’ would’ve been 111 next month, bless him. I hope he’s watching.

So it’s true. Angling isn’t just about catching fish. These days, I’m more convinced than ever that even the most determined of ‘catchers’ must, at some point in their session, be transported into another world and away from their ultimate quarry. Even on Day One.

On a personal level and with the last few years in mind, I’m grateful to the robin, the kingfisher and, of course, to Matilda.

Today, angling has brought them together and ushered me away from a tough, extended period in which dementia care for a rapidly declining father and grieving counsel to a heartbroken mother brought unprecedented levels of stress before the loss of both parents within nine months of each other.

As I’ve attempted to sort out my mind as well as the bungalow, angling has offered me a small collection of its unique and widespread remedies. It’s offered the healing effects of nature, has strengthened the ever-growing bond between a Granddad and his Granddaughter and has even managed to impose the weirdly enjoyable satisfaction of successfully unraveling the latest tangle.

There are (of course) still too many tangles and today the barbel didn’t show, but who cares? The river season is back, I’m happy and relaxed and next time of course, those tough fighting, Severn barbel will definitely make an appearance.

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