how fishing saved my life pt.4

“Snow pike and frozen tackle”

By mid December with winter upon us in all its dark and shivery glory I’d pushed my time at the pit as far as I possibly could, though still catching carp the numbers had dropped significantly and it was becoming increasingly hard to fulfil my catching needs. Had it not been for the ensuing thrill of lure fishing I may well have kept going there even in the knowledge that I’d be lucky to catch one fish a day. I felt a sense of sadness as I said “see you later” to this joyful little water one evening but memories of the good times I’d had there lifted my spirits and off I went ready for the next chapter of my angling journey.

Even though I’d had a small amount of success on lures catching the three jack pike in the summer, my confidence was low on the first day I set off along the river Weaver in search of…well in search of whatever would bite. The winter had started fairly mildly but I still wore about three layers of clothing and subsequently waddled along the bankside looking for good spots to fish. The first thing I noticed was that with the seasonal lack of vegetation there were now hardly any areas that were inaccessible, I had pretty much the entire club length available to try out. Of course this was the first time I’d really fished the river at that time of year and to say I was something of a noob to the technique is putting it lightly but I was hopeful.

Being mobile was something that appealed to me instantly which was odd considering my past need to find and stay in a certain spot that would give me all the aspects I required to make the session more enjoyable. I also found travelling light to be a real bonus, just a small bag of lures and the tools of the trade, rod, landing net and unhooking mat, now I was stalking my prey which gave me more hope…surely I could find some fish this way?

I think it was seven days I blanked for, I blanked on pretty much every part of the Weaver and was getting to the point where I was actually questioning my sanity. “What the f&%k am I doing walking around the river dragging a rubber fish through the water?” I kept thinking but I stuck at it…what else could I be doing? I was now 3 months sober and loving every day of it but this of course meant that my social life had all but disappeared so I really didn’t have many options to fill my time with…”Oh well, might as well carry on”.

One morning around 7.30 I was repeating the same process when finally I got a result, as I was slowly winding in the lure using all the knowledge I’d learned from watching videos on Youtube I was suddenly “in”. The thrill was incredible, one moment nothing and then in an instant I had a fish on and it was giving a cracking fight, that moment would stick in my mind for weeks, it was another of those defining catches that would keep me going through thick and thin. When I landed the fish (a beautiful bronzed chub of around three pounds) I held it like a trophy in front of me…”It works!!” I said out loud and carefully placed it back in the water now buzzing with the thought of more of the same. I caught 3 more chub that day and every one was as great a thrill as the first, the direct contact with the fish gave for a far purer feel to the fight and I was absolutely ecstatic. As ever with fishing once you’ve had good success with a method your confidence goes through the roof and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.

Over the next couple of months I only fished with lures and though I of course had blanking days I also had some incredible sessions catching chub, perch, trout and the occasional small pike. I was also learning the lay of the river and slowly finding the more productive spots which of course meant that I was gradually working out what kind of swims the different species were more likely to be in, once again I was loving the education.

I tried out every kind of lure available with varying degrees of success, on one occasion I used a frog lure, a very simple rubbery thing with tassels dangling from it that are known to be good for catching pike. I’d met up with Jon from HF Angling for a short session on the Weaver and while he worked away a crayfish lure I wandered off to a known pike spot and set up with the afore mentioned frog. I didn’t catch anything but it served as great entertainment for me, as I jerked it across the water I was laughing like a child at the way it moved…for ten or fifteen minutes I didn’t care wether I got a bite or not, I was just enjoying a moment of stupidity.

One of my favourite lure catches was one of total surprise, I’d found a stretch that was producing good amounts of quality chub so they were my target that morning. On arrival I setup with one of my more successful baits a small yellow long tailed grub, I’d caught chub, perch and jack pike on these inexpensive lures so I was confident of a take. On my very first cast of the day I got an almost instant bite which I briefly presumed was a chub but quickly I realised there was something very different in the fight. This fish was darting around the water like crazy, not pulling particularly hard but the little bugger was total chaos in its battle to stay in the water, then suddenly it jumped clear out of the water and I got my first glimpse of it. What a moment of intense joy and excitement when I realised I had hooked my first brown trout, another of those catches I’ll never forget and when I landed it I was in awe at its beauty, the colours were outstanding and the feel of it like silk in my hands. Probably only around a pound in weight it was another reminder that the size of the fish isn’t always important…until you catch another one at least!

About two months into my lure fishing season I started to notice a slight problem, I had begun to feel a mild pain in my right elbow and wrist from time to time, nothing severe but enough for me to notice it. “Oh well, it’ll just go away in time” I told myself “Probably nothing”.

Unfortunately I was very wrong, the pain got worse over the next few months and slowly spread to my shoulder and neck. It was a lot more noticeable at night when I’d been lying still in bed but still like the idiot I am I just ignored it and presumed it would sort itself out. Of course I carried on fishing through the discomfort, I wasn’t about to accept that my passion itself was the cause of this growing problem but I couldn’t help think that something was very wrong…and I was right.

By the end of April this year the pain had started to cause problems in my everyday life even outside of fishing, I couldn’t even lift a mug of coffee without feeling pain in my right arm and worse still it was starting to feel the same in my left too. I would (and still do) wake in the morning to severe pain when first moving my arms, it’s like I’ve seized up over night and have to work my limbs loose for an hour or so before I feel even slightly comfortable again. In June this year I was diagnosed with severe tendonitis in both arms which had apparently not been caused by fishing but the sport was the catalyst that had allowed it to start and the repetitive actions of slinging out lures all day had been a major contributory factor. The pain in my arms is not as severe in the daytime but I have to be incredibly aware of how I move my upper body at all times or I get an impingement in my right or left shoulder which causes terrible pain albeit only for about thirty seconds.

On one accession when I was pushing my barrow whilst leaving Winterley Pool after a 24 hour carping session I forgot momentarily about my problem. As I was walking my back pack strap slipped off my left shoulder so with my right hand I quickly grabbed it and took the weight to try and prevent it falling, the pain was so severe that I dropped to my knees and let out a scream whilst subsequently allowing the full barrow to tip over and spew its entire load all over the path. Loading it back up wasn’t easy, the pain in my shoulder had been so severe that I almost threw up, at this point I knew I had a real problem and that my normal approach of just ignoring it till it goes away wasn’t going to work.

Once again I’d been my own worst enemy, had I done something about it in the first place I would have been able to adopt a regime of easy exercises that would have counteracted the physical movements that were causing it. Now I have to deal with severe discomfort at night and in the morning and find long distance casting virtually impossible without causing a short but bitter shot of pain in my arm and shoulder. I have to do exercises every day now and take tablets to help the problem, it’s not a major thing compared to what some people go through but it could have been avoided so be warned…if you ever start to get those early signs of discomfort, do something about it straight away…don’t be like Jack!

Anyway…back to lure fishing…

Before I knew it the horror of Christmas time was upon us, busy roads, nowhere to park, terrible music blaring everywhere and stressed out people all over the place…not my favourite time of year as you can probably tell. It also brought a potential challenge, alcohol and parties in abundance as ever and in the past a great excuse (if I really needed one) to get even more smashed than normal. In the lead up to this ridiculous seasonal affair I had been aware that it could possibly be a tough time for me, many recovering alcoholics are known to crumble at this time of year and though it wasn’t a big concern, I was certainly aware of it. Oddly enough I just carried on working and fishing every day and it passed without one single moment of temptation or feeling of missing out, this served to reaffirm to me that I really was done with that drug and I felt incredibly happy about it.

I didn’t go fishing on Christmas day but instead carried out the usual family commitments, some nice food, time with the family and then an early night in readiness for my return to the water the next day.

It was pretty cold on boxing day when I woke around 6am, there was a frost and a chill in the air but I put on my normal three layers of clothing and set off for the river full of anticipation as ever. It was around 7.30 when I got to one of my favourite stretches and I was in awe of the look of the place in all its frosted glory, once again I thought about how lucky I was to be witnessing natures beauty. Soon enough I slung a lure in and started the retrieve, on my second cast something went wrong though and I assumed I’d forgotten to take the bail arm off as the lure just slammed into the water in front of my feet. On trying again the very same thing happened so I checked along the rod thinking the line must have somehow become tangled along it but nothing, perhaps the reel had broken? I checked the reel and everything was moving as it should so now I was a little confused, I checked the line again and then noticed that at the end of the rod the top three eyes were completely frozen. In my blind excitement I hadn’t realised quite how cold it was that morning and after defrosting the eyes I cast out again only to find that by the time I’d reeled fully in they were frozen solid again. I kept repeating the process for about twenty minutes and then realised I was on to a losing battle with the elements, beaten by nature I wryly smiled to myself and made my way home….hey ho!

Early December and the river Weaver in all its stunning glory

In late January of this year Jonjo and I had found a good little spot on the river for perch and chub, I’d had an amazing session there catching 9 perch and 8 chub in about an hour and a half. Of course I then went to the same spot everyday to varying results and two days running I noticed a small pike darting around chasing its prey. “I’m having you mate” I thought to myself and returned the next day with some dead baits and a pike float setup, I was determined to catch the very fish that had been stealing my prey. It had been snowing overnight and was very cold the next day but all I could think about was catching that pike, as I approached the spot I wondered if it would even be there but had a plan! I dowsed the area with maggots to attract smaller fish in the hope that the pike would start hunting and literally within minutes I started to see signs of its presence. I chucked in the float setup with a sprat attached to the circle hook on the end of the line but rather than leave it stationary I jerked it slowly across the water to make it a more instinctive attraction. Around ten minutes later the pike struck half way through me twitching the bait and I was into the fight, again this wasn’t a large pike, probably only around three or four pounds but the feeling of excitement was incredible because I’d targeted the fish and my chosen method had paid off. A woman passing by asked if she could take a photo of the pike as she didn’t know such creatures resided in the Weaver and it was a great opportunity for me to have a picture taken for myself too.

 At that point this was one of my most rewarding catches, I felt like a full on hunter who’d seen an opportunity, planned it and executed it perfectly.

As you’ll see from the picture below I was still learning how to best hold a fish but the smile on my face shows my utter delight in the moment, I was absolutely buzzing with happiness.

The next couple of months were all about perch for me, without doubt now my favourite fish, as I always say, the perfect example of evolutions glory…such an awesome predator! I explored the entire Nantwich Angling Society stretch of the river Weaver time and time again having varying results but always and as ever learning so much, these were fabulous times for me and my days of self abuse and drug fuelled chaos felt a long way behind me.

This amazing sport had now totally engulfed me and the process had taught me many lessons and shed light on sides of myself that I’d forgotten existed long ago, I started the new year with a strength and happiness I had forgotten was possible.

As spring settled in and life started to grow again all around me I felt grateful for every moment of my journey since that first visit to HF Angling, I looked back at my times at different locations and could clearly see that I was improving as an angler and a person…mind blowing!

Part 5 “Becoming carpy” coming soon.

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