The September weather was a vile blustery bruiser of a day, pelting with showers and leaves swirling about the garden. I went off to Clonakilty to restock my fridge and wait for better weather, and some fishing.On the way back I drove past the river, which was unruly and dirty and in the fields, and was surprised to see the car owned by my friend, the potter Peter Wolstenhome, who is something of a fishing legend in these parts. He was working away the last big pool before the sea using a yellow flying condom on an eight foot spinning rod, and had landed the biggest sea trout of the season,, already a famous one because of the number of large and small fish caught. He put down his rod and invited me to walk up to this car, where the monster was lying in its boot.
It weighed an ounce shy of five pounds on our scales at the fishing hut, and four pounds 12.5 ounces on scales at a neighbouring farm. But it is the biggest fish of the year by about half a pound, and half a dozen four pounders have been taken.I had waders and my spinning rod in the car and went and joined Peter. I took one nice trout of a pound and a half, another of a pound and a smaller one. I also moved a salmon of about six pounds but although I could make it leap in the air I could not make it take my lure. Salmon are coming back in numbers. The Argideen is a healthy little water.Trout taken here at this time of the year as known as Blackberry Trout, because of the fruit on every hedgerow. It can still be bright and warm and the skies are often blue. But you can sense autumn and the summer’s end as much as see it. There’s a crisp edge to the morning air and the scent of leaves decaying on the ground and in the gutters of the house. It can rain too – it can rainy any time in Ireland – but the downpours are something to look forward to if, like me, you want the river level to rise and the last of the summer’s spawning trout to ascend and replicate.
They’ve been arriving, and descending, since April/May, and the fishermen take them in the dead of night, gathering at Inchy Bridge in the last of the daylight to sort out who fishes which pool, and exchange the gossip, and flies. It’s fly-only at night, and it’s a real thrill to connect with one of these silver fighters in the pitch black. They fight like tigers all the way back to the net, the first time they become really visible to the fishermen as he unhooks the specimen under torchlight. The rest of the time, the torches are off. These fish are ultra-wary to anything out of the normal.
This season’s Inchy Bridge banter was dominated by what a fine year for fishing it was, with many fish of 4lbs taken on the fly and on the lure. But big fish aside, it was a great year for the number of fish in the river, with many anglers boasting full bags and nights when the strike was “on” and did not seem to stop. In this river a fish of 1.5lbs is a good fish and 3.5 pounds an exceptional one, so the fact that several four-pounders were taken was a bonus of some bounty.
I missed the best of it, trapped by work in South Sudan, but spent September readying my little home for eventual occupation, and fishing by night and, surprisingly, quite often by day. When the river is flooded, dirty but falling, spinning by day is the preferred method, and I tried it for the first time after seeking advice from Peter. A flying Condom, yellow in colour, is the preferred bait for salmon and a small silver Mepps the preferred attractor for sea trout. I had forgotten what fun, and what a skill, spinning can be; casting upstream, making sure the lure sinks, reeling it back slowly that it arcs over likely spots, and waiting for the thump of something deceived or angered.
The weather was so capricious that I did this often, in addition to fishing at night when the river was clear. I’d watch the weather from the patio and then zip down to the river by car when I sensed the tide and water were right, often wading out at the estuary mouth. As often or not Peter would be there too, coaching and cajoling me in the arts.
One blustery wet day, walking back to the bridge and my car after catching (and returning) a couple of small fish, I flicked by lure across a narrow tree-lined pool where Lewis and I started our night fishing exploits a decade ago. The immediate bang on the line startled me because I had pretty much given up the idea of taking more fish. When they are running, they do not hang about, and you’ll hear people say “the fish have all run,” meaning that they are now in some distant pool many signposts away,
But this one hadn’t moved, or was about to, and wrestled me all the way to the bank. I think when I have a treble-hooked lure that I am the guvnor in this altercation, and bullied the fish across to my side of the river, and to the bank, where I tried to net it. But it buried itself in some submerged leafy branches so I climbed in the water and lifted it out. It was a great bull of a fish, the biggest I have ever seen on the water, and my lure was firmly, or so I thought, impaled in its jaw. As I lifted the thing with two hands to get it to the bank, it twisted, sprang into the air and was gone, the lure hanging pointlessly over my hand. One minute the world is spinning on glory and conquest, and the next your universe is punctured, deflated and collapsed.
Peter found me not long afterwards, sitting on a bench and still shaking. My consolation then, and now, is that it was the biggest fish I had ever caught on the river, and that it would have gone back anyway. Or so I told/tell myself.
There were plenty more fish before my season ended, and competitions that brought out many of the members who have taught me what they know about the river. I won one of the competitions with two fish that I would have thrown back under any other circumstances, but Peter, fishing along the bank from me, urged me to keep them and win a prize and get my name on the honours list. It was a bit of a fluke and only one other angler got anything.
Odd how fishing luck can both smile and spit on you in the same month.
But it’s the same with the weather. The view from my patio is never the same two day’s running. And would feel a lot less like home if it was.
It feels like home now, and I think about the cottage, the river and my friends while I am far away. My daughter used to tease me when she caught me daydreaming of fishing while in Africa. She quoted Ratty from Wind in the Willows. “I don’t talk about my river. But I think about it. I think about it all the time.”