by Steve Schroeter.
1st published in Trout and Salmon and reproduced here with their kind permission.
Just in case there is any doubt, Steve is the one holding the pike….the article has nothing to do with the pike.
It was one of those golden lazy days right at the end of the trout season. I had debated for some time about this trip, this year could well be my last year on the beck, as the Parkinsons’ takes hold. But hell, I can still do everything I used to do, only a lot slower, and sometimes when I’m not expecting it, like a middle aged dad going ice skating for a lark and executing an unexpected pirhouette on the rink. Much to the amusement of wife and daughter.
So, the car is parked by the lowest access point, about a mile from the humpty backed bridge, down the lane past the sewage works. It’s quite a labour getting the chest waders on, getting the feet down the correct leg is a triumph in itself. Then, already tackled up, I set off down the lane and across a stubble field, relatively easy walking compared with plough or a crop. Right at the bottom of the wood there is a secret way in to the beck, firstly through huge butterbur leaves on six foot high stems, and then a strip of balsam before I even see the water. Then at last, here we are, me and the old cane rod, maligning unjustly the undergrowth which keeps this stretch as exclusive as any well keepered chalk stream.
A couple of steep steps down, and we’re at last at the waters edge, standing on a narrow strip of Sparganium, beaten down by a recent flood. Three or four yards upstream of here I saw a group of spawning barbel once, half a lifetime ago.
It is about 11 a.m. when I make my first cast, upstream, with a little black gnat of some description. Grayling, ranging from two inches to twelve inches there are a-plenty down here, however they’re very quick off the mark and I miss two or three before I finally connect with a little beauty about as long as my finger. Could anyone paint the subtleties of those colours? Could a wordsmith describe them?
I have fished this beck for more than 50 years; I know every stone in our 2 mile stretch. I have never had any great desire to fish elsewhere, though I have fished other places, of course. But it’s this beck, this much loved little river, which has kept me rooted to the north of England. For how could I let a year pass without being here, in this place? I fish very slowly, ringing the changes just for the sake of it. Here the black gnat, there a snipe and purple or a PTN. I don’t always land the fish, but get a pull off nearly every fly I try……grayling mainly, plus a couple of brownies about 6 inches long, then a dace, all four inches of it, absolutely pristine. I am little troubled by the overhanging willows. I reckon we’re a good team , me and the little Palakona. We should be. We’ve practised together this last 30 years.
About half way up the 400 yard stretch I’m fishing, the medication wears off suddenly and there I am, marooned in mid-stream for five minutes or so, willing those legs to move. This freezing of the muscles is a characteristic of the Parkinsons. Eventually I slump into the herbage, exhausted. It takes a good twenty minutes for the little white tablet to work, then I’m away again, casting up, glides, pools, bouncy water, a miniature delight.
After three hours on this lovely little stretch, I reach the bit I’ve been looking forward to. Thigh deep water, tumbling, focussing through some trailing willows, fresh off the only bit of bedrock we have on our water. Sure enough, there’s a trout rising amongst the grayling in the fast water. I knew there would be, there has been for 50 years. I pitch the fly to land above him, missing the willows by a couple of inches. He rises, splashes, misses the gnat. I rest him for ten minutes, and think about a girl I knew down here once. I cast again, and get snatched by a noisy, fussing grayling. I give him another ten minutes, while I tie on a Renegade, always good in bouncy water. I see him, I see him come up, tilt, take the fly. The leader draws under. I strike, he’s on! He shoots down, a flash of yellow and brown. Then………..ping………….the knot snaps, because I didn’t check it when I tied on the Renegade. Presumably the nylon had become brittle after 3 or four hours casting. So he’s gone, on the last day of what could be my last season. Does it matter?
No, for I have been in my secret place on my beck, where for forty years not only did I not see another angler, I never saw a footprint. Except for that June night, all those years ago, when Linda and I were sweet with each other.