This afternoon on watching some of the last winter wheat being cut, this year like any other year always tinged with a little sadness as well as joyousness as you know nature, once the harvest is in, will begin shutting down for the winter. Much the same as the rivers, once the fishing season ends and the trout have done their spawning the river tends to close down in nature’s ages old methodical way. As we walked back from watching the combines, down back across the river towards home, I thought of an amusing incident that had happened years earlier.
It was the end of August in the early seventies and a friend of mine in the village had his relations staying for the last week of the summer holidays and they had come up to my house one bright, late August morning. As I went out of the house to greet them, my friend’s guests’ accents sounded decidedly odd to me. They were from Wolverhampton and there was nobody round this part of The Cotswolds that sounded like that. We joked about it while we decided what we were going to do for the day and within a short time the decision was made and it was going to be a day’s fishing. Harry who I had grown up with since infant school was trying to explain to them that river fishing was probably going to be a bit different than the canal fishing that they were used to. Harry said, “I’ve got two rods, have you got a spare one Allan?”
“No I haven’t, but they are welcome to have a turn with mine.” I went inside and got my fishing rod and flies. Once outside with them the three Wolverhampton guests looked at the flies with sheer disgust. “Haven’t you got any bread?” they asked.
“What do I want bread for?” I replied.
“To catch fish with, what do you think?” they snapped back. “Our dad has always told us that you will catch more fish with bread than you will with anything else.”
“Well I haven’t got any bread, I am fishing with flies.” Harry’s cousins looked at him. “Let’s go back and get your two rods Harry and some bread. We will show this country bumpkin how us townies fish.”
“I’ll see you down the river Harry, I’ll be down on Buzzard Bend.” This was just down from The Mill. I picked up my rod and tin of flies, the time was 9am, the morning was perfect, warm with a slight T shirt chill, you just knew within an hour that it was going to be a really hot late summer’s day. As I walked off down the track I looked over towards The Mill where Mr and Mrs Stevens were feeding the ducks, something they had done for years and whenever you went down to The Mill House. The ducks were always around. They saw me and both waved, I waved back and continued on my way down to Buzzard Bend.
Late August fish on a morning like this are notoriously difficult to catch. The fly selection is key. I smiled as I thought of the other boys using bread. They would have been far better off with a worm if they didn't want to use flies. After about fifteen minutes the line was tight, there was a two pound trout on the end of the line doing his level best to break it. We fought for a good ten minutes, eventually the fighting trout succumbed to the grace of the split cane. Safely landed I started again, no need to change the fly, we had been successful once and could just as easily be successful again. After a few minutes a tight line again. Another eureka moment. The water broke in a frenzy of splash, we had another one and it was bigger than the last, at least two and a quarter pounds. He was fighting ferociously. I was busy laying out line then reeling it in, and laying it out again back and forth, this trout was a serious fighter. However, my excitement was soon shattered with the shouting from lower down the bank, “Allan, Allan, come down here.” I ignored them, this trout was more important, I had been fighting this trout for at least fifteen minutes. The shouting got louder and louder which meant they were getting nearer and nearer. Their voices seemed quite panic stricken and agitated. “Hang on, hang on, I’ve got one here.” They had no interest in what I had caught. “Come on, come with us now,” they yelled. They were pulling at my arm. “Wait, wait,” I barked back.
“No, come on now,” Harry pulled at my arm with even more force, my line went limp.
“Now look what you’ve done,” I yelled, “What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“We’ve caught one,”
“Bully for you,” I retorted.
“We should have used flies.”
“Well you just said you’ve caught one.”
“We have, we’ve caught a duck.”
Harry’s three Wolverhampton cousins stood there with their heads bowed, almost in disgrace.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“On the end of my fishing line, down at The Mill,” said Harry.
“Well that’s one of the Stevens’ ducks, you know they feed them Harry.”
“They followed us down the river for a bit,” said the Wolverhampton trio.
“They would do, bread is all they are ever fed.” I picked up my rod and ran back to The Mill hoping that the Stevens’ had not seen what had happened to one of their beloved ducks. Harry and the Wolverhampton trio were right behind me. They overtook me and then the four of them stopped a hundred yards short of The Mill. There they had stuck the handle of Harry’s rod into the bank to stop the duck from pulling it away. I kicked off my pumps and entered the river and approached the duck as quietly as possible. It was on the water with its head out in front of him, almost resting his chin on the surface of the water. The three boys and Harry did not make a sound and to my amazement, the duck let me grasp it before it started to flack and beat one of its wings that had managed to break free. Soon the duck was under my control. I held it tight, walked out of the river onto the bank, the four boys watched intently in silence. I forced the bill of the duck open and there I could clearly see the hook. We had been lucky. There was a little blood but very superficial as the hook had passed through the side of the duck’s bill. I showed Harry and his three cousins just how lucky they had been for if the duck had swallowed the hook it would have died an agonising death. I exaggerated the words, ‘agonising death’. They all pulled extremely painful looking faces on hearing this. I felt the lesson had been learned. I extracted the hook and the duck immediately started to quack as I let it go returning it to the river where it swam off quickly to join his feathered friends. We all then decided to go home and get some lunch
Ducks seem to thoroughly enjoy a lump of bread no matter where you happen to be.