It is the first week of March and despite the sunshine of the last couple of days it is clear that winter hasn’t finished with us yet. The weather forecast for the next two days is pretty grim with inches of wet and heavy snow expected overnight, and high winds to push the drifts about into the most inconvenient places. And it’s cold. Still quite chilly, and the local ponds look grey and lifeless. And every morning I walk out through the garage and give a perfunctory nod at the fishing rods resting on the wall-rack. Hence the angling question in the title. This is the time of year in this part of the world where frustration with the weather gnaws away at the desire to go fishing. Freshwater fishing, my passion and joy, has to wait for at least another month and those few extra degrees of temperature to wake up the fish that are still sleeping deeply in all senses of the word.
So like countless others at the close of winter I fall back on a handful of distractions. Reading about angling, preparing for angling (cleaning and restoring rods, reels and other paraphernalia) and thinking about angling. And it is the latter that prompts these words.
Where would I wish to catch a fish? That’s a question that all (be honest) anglers ask at many times in their lives. If I could answer that question, and then be beamed away a la Star Trek transporter to a destination of my choosing, rod and tackle in hand, where would that place be? I suppose it would depend on the type of quarry. If I was after salmon I would choose, not Alaska but the wilds of the Kola Peninsula in Russia. If I desired brown trout it would be the fast and challenging chalk streams of southern England. The small Appalachian brook trout with its flashing rainbow leap? The high-altitude rivers and streams to the north of Cashiers, North Carolina. Pike? The four-thousand year old lake at Slapton, Devon, England. And so on.
With the exception of Russia I have visited all of these places, together with countless others. I have caught fish also. In most instances I have returned my catch alive, but in others I have brought it home or occasionally cooked it on the bank, well prepared with a filleting knife, a small skillet and a flask of wine.
Yet there is one place, and one place only that I keep thinking about, and to which I would love to return. It is not mentioned in any guide book or sporting journal, nor featured in any expensive angling charter brochures. God forbid. It lies some three miles east of the town of Taunton in Somerset, England, on the Taunton-Bridgewater canal, and is a place called Charlton Bridge. Surrounded by farms and farmland it is a shallow stretch of the canal some hundred metres long, clear in places, weedy in parts – and locally renowned for being a place where roach and tench may be landed “at an ‘andsome size” (as they say in those parts.)
When Assistant Curate at St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, a quarter of a century ago, I would fish this water at least once a month, determined to gently catch and release one of these prize specimens. In three years, through summers, autumns and winters, despite catching fish everywhere else in the county, I never so much as had a timid bite at Charlton. And so I can think of that narrow country bridge, and dream of a revisit. Just one more cast might …