Often, the sort of fishing I want to do and the sort of fishing I think I should be doing are not compatible and, all too often, I submit to the latter. The driving force is usually a desire for a big fish or, on an annual basis, the impending closed season. Being the last day of a three week break from work before I started a new job, I put all that aside and went fishing for the sheer fun of it on Sunday, even if it meant enduring a real battering from the wind and heavy showers.
I've missed the joy of a regularly dipping float and the satisfaction that comes with building a single swim over the course of several hours. Truth be told, I'm also hearing the familiar but unidentifiable (to me at least) calls of the birds I associate with spring, and I'm gagging for it to begin in earnest.
A seat and a keepnet ensured that I'd be pinned to the same spot on the canal for the afternoon. I set up a 1g Drake crow quill waggler - a float which I rate for whip fishing in a range of sizes, but which I'd never previously rigged up on running line - and tied a size 18 Drennan Super Carbon Maggot hook to 2lb line at the business end. I started out with the float locked by a couple of number 1 shot, a small bulk and two droppers. The colour of the canal was just as I like it for bread fishing with the bottom visible in the margins and the track a tea green.
Small roach and rudd bit freely for an hour or so, but the strengthening wind made presentation very difficult. The locking shot were removed and replaced with a couple of number eights, with the residual shotting capacity then being added to the bulk. The result was some positive bites. I would cast across the canal and slightly downwind before sinking the line. The float would lie cocked at a 1 o'clock position with the antenna protruding several inches, before slowly submerging and then flying back out of the water again as the fish intercepted the hook bait.
The wind then dropped and the surface became still. It was the eye of the storm. Within minutes, I was rushing to stuff my least water resistant items into the bushes and under as much cover as possible. As I did so, my chair nearly took off and the keepnet was thrashing in the margins. With everything zipped up tight, I sat back down in the shallow puddle which had formed in my chair and cast again. This time the heavy bulk shot told and the float came to rest with half an inch visible. A slight lift and soon the bristle was steadily cutting through the ripple as it moved from right to left.
I had no reason to suspect a better fish but, on setting the hook, the resistance was much greater than that which had been provided by the 1-3oz culprits I'd managed until then. The fish made for the reeds to my left and I could see it was a good rudd. Tightening the clutch, I managed to just keep it at a safe distance, but was unable to force it to the surface on such a light hooklength. After several more dashes for the inside, I regained enough line to ease it into the landing net. I didn't do much rudd fishing last year so the sight of a decent fish was refreshing, after they'd started to become a bit too familiar the previous summer, to be truly appreciated.
Back out again and the float wouldn't settle. My strike this time saw me connected to something even heavier, although it was difficult to feel everything that was happening with the force of wind also pressing against the blank. The fight was nowhere near as splashy, with the fish staying deep and making a series of powerful runs, peeling line off the clutch and persuading me out of the comfort of my seat as it headed up the canal. I wanted to ensure that I would not have to reclaim too much line at an awkward angle and, mindful of the vegetation extending from my bank, I knew that having to try and drag the fish away from it on 2lb line might be fatal.
The fish threatened to rise three or four times, but on each occasion I could not catch a glimpse of it. Then it rolled mid-canal. The thickness of it was evident from that brief sighting and I started to not so much talk to myself as contract Tourette's. Here was a big rudd, attached by the lightest hook/line combination I would ever dare use on this canal in a pleasure session. Still the fish wouldn't yield and the fact that the force of the wind against the rod was greater than the fish at the end of it was unsettling.
I had never played a rudd for so long and never battled a specimen fish of any kind in such atrocious conditions. After what seemed like hours, the fish came to the top and I was able to keep it there at last, but the journey from where it had risen to where I had the net waiting was a fraught one, as it did not skim toward me on its side as I would have liked, instead I had to tease it upright through the water where it seemed that at any moment it would turn and run again. But it never did, and the tackle held firm as I lifted the frame of the net through the water, enveloping the rudd in the mesh.
I had no doubts that the rudd was well over two pounds, however, my scales were at home, having somehow fallen out of my bag before I left. Fortunately, Beth was able to locate them and bring them out to me. I took out the first big rudd and weighed it. It had been dwarfed by the second fish in the bottom of the keepnet, yet still registered 1lb 10oz on the digital scales. I thought about a quick picture, but it seemed relatively unimportant compared to the greater fish, and I was desperate to see just how heavy that one was.
Although the rain had lightened to a drizzle, the wind was still fierce and we had to huddle around the sling and shelter in the lee of a large bush to maintain the integrity of the weighing process. The pounds column did not even flicker - the fish was a solid "two" - but the ounces column took a moment to settle.