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Travelling Light

December 9 2008

I was chub fishing the other day, sharing the river with a friend as we went from swim to swim, leapfrogging each other in our search for the fish. With stops for lunch and of course the obligatory photographing of the best looking specimen, we must have taken five hours to fish two miles of river.

We only landed three chub, all over four pounds, but with our surroundings changing every few minutes we'd enjoyed a fascinating day of varied challenges and varied sights and scenes. Yet despite the different demands from all the dozen or so places we fished, we carried all the tackle and bait we needed in our jacket pockets, with just one rod each and a net between us.

At the end of the day we came upon another angler fishing close to a bridge, only 50 yards from where he had parked his car. He was sitting on one of those all purpose seat boxes which, when each drawer is filled with equipment, must weigh a ton - more like a fishing wardrobe than a seat - and he was surrounded by bait buckets, rod rests and several rods. When we asked him how he'd fared he said that the minnows had been driving him mad, though he had managed to justify his keepnet with a small dace. When we told him how far we'd walked for our three fish he blew out his cheeks in astonishment and said he just didn't have the energy for that sort of fishing. Yet it must have taken him more energy just to have heaved his gear the short distance from the bridge, let alone set up all those different rods (and one pole) with different rigs and perfectly lined them up on their adjustable rod rests.

I suppose, especially in fishing, it's 'each to his own' but this amazingly equipped fisherman didn't appear to be very happy in what he was doing. He seemed to think that the quality of his fishing depended on the quantity of tackle he had at his disposal, but he was evidently so tangled up in his multiple rigs and multiple choices that he hardly had a spare moment to simply look at the river. As far as I was concerned he had not only missed the essential delight of fishing a lovely water, he'd also made everything appear unbelievably boring. But then some people just love all that technical stuff and even get anxious if they are not in possession of every item of tackle for every eventuality. Personally I call that control freakery and much prefer the idea of improvising with the simplest tackle available. I don't want to have to think through a technical problem, I want to go straight through to the fish, to concentrate on where it might be, how it might be behaving and whether it might be feeding. My belief is that any feeding fish is catchable if you present an acceptable bait to it without arousing it's suspicion.

So all you really need is a hook, a line, a rod, maybe a weight, maybe a float and a simple, preferably natural, bait like a worm. With this minimum of tackle I have caught lots of huge fish - sometimes in quite difficult conditions. The best part of it is that, by always traveling light, on lake or river, I can quietly flit from one feeding area to another and so end up, on average, with many more opportunities for a good fish than the static, sedentary angler. Of course the less quantifiable, but just as important, aspect of lightweight mobility is that you experience far more and ultimately appreciate more. Not just fishing things but the other delights of a natural or semi-natural environment.

After our conversation with the tackle dealers best friend we headed back downstream, walking through an early spring evening that was loud with birdsong and brilliant with the colours of a double sunset - the one in the west and the one in the river.