Friday, 24 July 2015

Thank Heaven For Friends

A Wet Morning....

Having started a new job in February 2014, I have not really had much chance to get out fishing - in fact for the first half of that year I had one full time and two part time jobs and worked between 60 and 85 hours a week, for the second half I ditched one of the part time jobs but kept the other. I was saving for a big trip later in the year and had no holiday time remaining and not enough money for the trip yet, so I worked virtually every day, but I'm lucky that I enjoy my jobs. It was the holiday of a lifetime and I was going to work my nuts off to make sure we could make the absolute most of it, i was not going to sit on my backside now and regret it later. 

Anyway, more of that some other time,  but the outcome of all that work was that when I was invited for a day fishing, invited by my friend Phil and run on behalf of the Salmon And Trout Association I could not wait to get to the water's edge. Eighteen months since I had last fished - I was pretty desperate. 

Alas, the day dawned wet, very wet, and I was soakied before I had struggled into my over trousers and jacket. Remember those school swimming days when you tried to get dressed when still wet and your vest would get stuck halfway around your middle and you'd give yourself a Chinese burn on the back trying to pull it down, or your socks would stick so that the heal wouldn't go past your toes and the foot part would block in the front of your shoes causing you to hobble around like an old man..?
Like that, but at least I had my wellies so my feet were dry - nothing else was, and I pruned up badly during the day. 

But I was like a kid, I could not wait to get started, even foregoing breakfast to cast a line as soon as I could. It was worth it though, before I squelched back for a hot cup of coffee and a double bacon roll I had caught two fish and lost two others. The boy's still got it - I thought as I dripped all over the fishing shack floor, puddles forming as the recalcitrant ketchup bottle refused to give me more than a dribble of sauce. 

It was a good feeling; a hot, full tummy, a slight coffee buzz, chatting with old friends and the knowledge that two good sized, healthy looking fish were getting wetter on the bank next to my bag than they ever were while cruising around the lake. 

Naturally, things went downhill after that...

The rain and wind increased and the fish that were feeding off the top dropped down in the water making them harder to locate and the next two fish took the rest of the morning right up until one o'clock lunch to catch.

I tried nymphs, weighted nymphs and even toyed with the idea of an intermediate line for a while, but the occasional pull or tap told me I  wasn't far away from discovering what the fish were up to and eventually one and then another was taken on pheasant tailed nymphs a foot or two under the surface. 

I had a great day despite the rain, the company was good and still cheerful after a damp but wonderful lunch and I had caught fish - four of them in fact and lost three others - all was good. 

My four fish were a good size and although I had to leave after lunch for yet another pressing engagement, I managed to win the prize for heaviest bag - an added bonus,  for champagne and trout really is a good combination. 

Thanks Phil. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Wild Flowers - St George's Day Thoughts

I had an hour or so spare while Frankie was working and as there was water nearby I was drawn inexorably towards it as all fishermen everywhere always are. We are the men you see standing suspiciously on bridges staring myopically into the sun glazed water looking hard for the sign of movement; a drifting fish, a lazy glide or weed fronds waving in the current. 
Finchale Abbey lies on the River Wear not far from Durham and very near the Frankland Prison which holds the infamous Soham Murderer Ian Huntly, but I gave that man little or no thought as I drove towards the water. 
Set right on the banks of Durham's famous river, the Priory oversees a small woodland area which, on the morning I found it, was carpeted with a large array of wild flowers, carpets, chinks and surprises of petal'd packages to be found all over the small wooded area - and it wasn't really Spring yet - not this far North anyway.   

On the drive through the North East we had been struck by the huge beds of dandelion that lined the roadsides and fields. Not just the scattering of these ubiquitous plants that one normally sees around St George's Day, but almost acres of them, which will soon be scattering their unwanted seeds miles and miles, if this chilly Easterly wind keeps up for much longer, and upsetting gardeners everywhere. 
In the woods, the first flowers I came across were the anemones, barely opening their petals in the lackadaisical sun. Nestling against the trunks of oak and beech their bright green leaves and ever so slightly pink flowers brought a smile to my face, they just look so cheerful when they open up and I love seeing these little flowers scattered among the trees. And, of course, they only open up fully in direct sunlight and the sun always cheers us up. 

Anyone who reads my blogs regularly will know I love wild garlic, the scent often reaches the nose before the sight meets the eyes, but not only do their almost plastic spear-like leaves and spiked white flowers look good, they taste good too. I was chatting to another walker I discovered on the bridge trying hopelessly to capture a photograph of the wheeling, acrobatic house martins that effortlessly fed on the spring ephemera launching off the idling river. He is a chef and was extolling the virtues of wild garlic until he discovered I shared his enthusiasm, so we shared a few recipes and ideas and talked about the abundance of bird life and flaura before heading our separate ways. 

Discovering beds of wild garlic is always a delight for me, Spring is near, Summer just around the corner and longer days filled with walks and warmth beckon. Whilst I enjoy all the Seasons, there is certainly a promise given with Spring that lifts the heart.

I came across comfrey, cow- parsley, tiny dog violets nestling like lilac gems in the grass and footpaths and lady smock peering through the undergrowth. Wild cherry blossom drooped from the trees and smiling daisies spotted the lawns around the Abbey. Everywhere I turned there was colour splashed around as if by accident - as if God's paint palette had been thrown across the countryside

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Casablanca Souk

Whether they are the little flea markets that sell tat or unwanted memorabilia or the colourful, fragrant spice markets in Morocco, they all hold a fascination for me..

A market traders life must be the same worldwide; the pressure to find the goods and the hope of selling out on the day; the search for items that will sell easily and the balance of cost of acquisition against selling price. In no other place is this balance in such open view as the markets of Morocco. Yet everywhere, if you take a moment to stand and watch, wherever you are you will see the price of this search in the stall holders face, the lines around his eyes from the sun and the worry are a testament to the strain of buying and selling. The disappointment of no sale and the welcome joy of a good price leave equal traces on the face of the market trader, as the wind and rain leave patterns in the dunes of the Moroccan beaches.  

Cape Verde's Markets were very crowded...
I always have an urge to head for a market whenever I get to a town or city, I love the sensory attack that accompanies these places, whether indoor or out. The riot of colours shimmering in the air, the sounds and cries, the smells of meat, fish, vegetables, spices - even clothes and books - and recently, on a long cruise I had the chance to head for the stalls in a variety of places. Tenerife, Cape Verde, Agadir, Casablanca and El Ferrol all provided a feast for my hunger of markets and not one of them let me down. Yet even in the UK I migrate to stalls like a traveller makes for the warmest Inn. I look for the book stand, the green grocer, the baker - oh yes the baker - at this one stall alone does the olfactory sense shift into overdrive and I drool physically at the smells and mentally at the ideas, the shapes, the artisan skill and the ingredients, I imagine the bustle of the early morning bakery, the flour dusting the very air and the heat from the ovens as the bread is shaped, patted and baked. 

Oranges By The Cart Load

The Spice stalls in Casablanca were all I hoped they would be, colours ablaze and glowing in the damp sunshine, oranges by the cartload, chillies and peppers, lemons, limes and the muted hues of the mounded spices themselves; the ochre of turmeric, the deep red of ground chilli, whole nutmegs and cinnamon sticks in shades of chestnut and burnt umber, the rich pastel shades of the lentils glistening in the low December sun. 

Pastel Shades of Spices

UK fish stalls are fun places, fishmongers having a humour all of their own, but the colours are muted. Mackerel, cod, plaice and salmon are subdued in shade and lack the vivid reds and blues of mullet, snapper and wrasse from the Mediterranean or the frightful appearance of the monkfish and scabbard fish from the Canaries. The spangling sardines from Portugal, the Tuna from St. Vincent and the coin-scaled mullet from Spain are on neat display in rows of bright eyed freshness in most markets. I say most, because a couple of the Tuna that were brought along for inspection for our onboard chef in St Vincent were not as fresh as our local fishermen purported, judging by the limp flaccid flesh and the red eyes of the specimens - they were a day or two old at best. But most of the fish on display are caught that day, brought stiff and fresh straight from the boats. 

Scabbard Fish

Vivid Reds...
 And that's another great thing about markets; you get to inspect the goods, discuss them and haggle if you're brave enough. In the UK haggling isn't really the done thing, we don't argue, discuss or debate the goods on offer, we accept them and buy them - or we don't. That's it. 

All over the world deep, meaningful conversations take place around the efficacy, quality and price of the items. Markets are places to haggle, argue and act insulted, to quibble over cents, pennies and proportions. You spend time comparing and handling, learning to trust the stall holder, relationships are forged or trashed, cemented or destroyed as you spend your time buying your essential items. I was sitting at the indoor market in Bath recently watching the cheese counter as fists were bumped, hands shaken and friendships obviously made through trade were on display. There was a respect, an honest mutual liking and of course money and cheese changed hands as I sat and supped my afternoon tea. 

Don't be afraid of markets, respect them certainly, but watch, if you can, over a cup of coffee, tea or a beer and you'll see the exchanges, the colours, hear the sounds and smell the aromas. You'll see friendships, respect and disdain all in one stall, you'll observe peculiarities, oddities and strangeness, but most of all what you're looking at is human nature in its most basic, intrinsic honesty, you're watching life. 

English Market in Cork City