I have been coming to this river to fish for longer than I can remember. Years filter by, dripping into my mind. I recollect hazy memories of my grandfather and my father, all three of us wading into the water which seemed so much deeper than. Memories of my different rods, lines, lures, bait and reels. I remember the first fish I ever caught a stunning Rainbow Trout. I pulled the hook out from her lip and threw her back in, I still think of her. The heaviest fish I ever caught was 18lbs, a catfish, and my wife made several stews from him. The smallest fish, a baby really, was unhooked with my pair of pliers and tossed back in.
I bring my son now, occasionally my dog. We relax, waist deep into this river and let time run by. The river has not changed; the World and I have changed around it. It still smells the same, runs at the same impatient pace. The fish living inside, fat, comfortable, glistening under the water like flexible gems. The wind blows and the reeds lick the back of my son’s neck. I have watched him grow, at the same impatient pace of the river. He glances at me and I turn away. I adjust my hat, wade out a few feet further into my same, faithful spot and begin to cast off.
Nature and I, is unnatural. I wear no shoes and I skim the break, letting the surf, and the disused material from the water wash and wedge itself into my toes. The water is cold; summer will not be here for a few more months. The sand is asking me to suck myself into it. To disappear into these tiny, white shiny rocks. I move back, afraid to go any further. My feet are cold and dirty. Black diseases are clinging to my toes, and I do not have the strength in me to go back to the waters edge and wash them away. I look across the river; I can barely see the other side. Only a valley made from hills that ice once forced its way through. I think about the past a lot. I see no ducks, nor birds. I can hear the river, crashing and running with nowhere to go. I sit down, away from the water. I am unnatural in a way that the water can never know.
I close my eyes and let my memory overwhelm my arm. Automatically it seems, my muscles tighten and force me to cast off. I look for my line; follow it to where it has made a tiny blip in the water. I watch my bait, waiting for it to ensnare.
“ That’s a good spot,” He say’s. My son is just behind me. When he was younger, he used to be scared of the fish, of what was hiding in the river. He never wades out too far, always waiting for me to go out first.
“ You try and get further downstream”, I pull my reel in a little. To tease the fish. We relax in the water together not really speaking. This is what I have always liked about fishing. You become a rock in the water. It breaks and curves around you. The fish, at first shroud themselves in the murky mist at the bottom of the water. They dart around. I fish to wait, and I wait for a fish.
The water is nearly roaring past me now. I put on my jacket, which is cold and heavy. It is a long suede jacket, with more pockets inside than outside. My mother gave it to me, although I cannot recall when. I used to remember her wearing it, and thinking how outdated it looked. Now I delve into it. It is always comforting, even when cold and has retained that old jacket smell. On hot days, when the sun penetrates the layers, it has a perfume of my mother. Of lilacs and flour. The smell of my childhood, the smell of rescue and safety. This jacket is as close to me as a second skin, and I trust it unconditionally. I pull it tighter, inspecting the buttons, I have repaired all four of them, stitching them and re stitching them until no more thread could go through the tiny holes. The wind blows, lightly, moving my hair across my face. Instinctively, I reach up and tease it behind my ears. Wisps still snap at my face. The reeds are dancing to some unknown song, a song I could not possibly know. The sun will soon begin its daily demise. I look up, and I cannot help but cry.
Fishing is a silent movie. Everything is done very quietly, even the whirring sound of my reel and line seems to be gentle and almost in tune with nature. You wait for the moment when a fish baits, to reel him in towards you. He will tug on your line, thrashing and wailing, trying to break free. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Fishing is nature’s lottery. I pull my line back to me, and inspect the bait. I rearrange the feathers on it, a bright green and blue. Originally, like older fishermen, we used to use live bait and sometimes I still do. My wife cannot stand me keeping maggots in the fridge anymore, once they did escape from the box. So now I use fake bait, which works just as well, as you can play with the line to make it appear that this plastic is actually living and breathing, skimming on the water. I take my pliers out, a pair that is so old they are starting to rust, and move the head of my bait so it is nesting just right alongside the hook. My son calls this ‘Death by plastic”. He uses similar bait in different colours. The sun will begin to set soon, and we will catch the last of the bathing beauties.
I stand up, and slowly walk to the waters edge. I cry for so many reasons, but I stopped as suddenly as I started today. There does not seem to be any point in wasting the water inside of me anymore. I have always appreciated water, how it asks for nothing, how it does what it pleases. It can be moved, forced to rush somewhere else, forced to filter through a small hole, when really it wants to gush. In the winter, it can freeze and become still. There is always that danger, that underneath the ice, the water is still moving, slowly, with a reason, with a purpose. I have never seen water that is not moving somewhere. I pull my boots on, and put on another jacket. This one is even bigger, with lining that is nearly a hundred years old. I found it at my grandmother’s house after she died. It was my grandfathers and she wore it to his funeral. I cannot remember his death, only the memory of my mother crying, my grandmother crying. Everybody crying and I was asking “Why?” and nobody seemed to tell me. I still want to know why. I begin to walk to the water.
My son has had a problem with his line. It has got tangled up into some wet reeds. Sometimes this can be a major problem. The untangling of lines can take hours. Hours spent under a light trying to find a way out of the nearly translucent mess. I have never given up on a tangled line, but many times I have lost it in frustration. He is hacking at the reeds, getting angry. I hear him curse and I pretend I didn’t hear it. I turn around and look at him; he’s scaring all the fish.
“You’re scaring the fish John”
“ Sorry dad, it’s the reeds”
I hear him sigh. He begins to slowly untangle the lines, less frustration this time. I look back to my line, pull the line a little tighter, and then release it again. The day will end soon, and we will have the drive home. He is driving this time. How time has changed.
I am at the waters edge. My feet are teasing the break. It is still cold, but it a way that I have become accustomed to it. I tighten the belt around my stomach. It is a strong leather belt that I bought two days ago. The rocks are clanging all around, all settling for a place to rest and to stay. They make a sound, almost like a mantra. I begin to walk into the water, feeling the weight pressing and pulling me down. The sun is bleeding into the sky. When the water reaches my shoulders, I vow to let the water carry me under. To wash me away. Nature and I, we are unnatural. I want to give in to the force of it, I want to become as still and as eroded as the rocks in my pockets. I want to wash away.
The silence was deafening. The dying came in the waves, and all day long, they did not feel a bite.
Tutor: Nick Pemberton