Yet there is something about this time of day which has a magic of its own. For those unfortunate souls who have never encountered those clear still moments one can only feel that somehow they are missing out on nature at its best by not sharing the aesthetic beauty and enchantment that is fishing.
Such mornings of clarity and crispness and the preceding hours tucked up in my sleeping bag spent listening to the magnified sounds of the night have, throughout my later life, provided an oasis of tranquil sensibility away from the cacophony of day to day living. Many is the time I have found solutions to the complexities of personal and professional problems by distancing myself from reality and seeking refuge in this enchanting world. Perhaps, from what I am saying, readers would surmise that the last thing I need to take with me for such escapism is matching sets of rods, bite alarms and illuminating indicators. Perhaps just the bivvy, bed chair and sleeping bag is all that is needed to capture those reflective and enlightening moments. Not a chance!
It is the electric anticipation that at any moment the alarm will sing, the rod will develop a life of its own and the challenge has been accepted by a hidden leviathan of the depths, that gives the sharpness of thought and at times prevents complete capitulation to the demands of sleep. Many is the time I have put the world to rights in the small hours. This is the story of my therapy. No counsel but my own silence. No medication but the intoxication of balmy summer nights, the sound of heavy autumn rain on the bivvy and sight of frostís winter filigree on intricately spun spiderís webs.
It wasnít always like this. Perhaps maturing years have changed my priorities when fishing. I started my lifetime carp adventure back in the mid seventies on one of the most crowded carp waters in Essex. I wonít mention its name but those in the know will easily identify with the carp angler culture that pervaded and still pervades this popular pit. The water opened its gates at 6 am and all hell would break loose with a scene not unlike the wildebeest migration on the Serengetti. In those days the queue of cars waiting for the six oíclock rush hour would, on a Saturday, stretch for several hundred yards. At the very front of the queue, not just on Saturdays but on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays as well, would be a teenager who is now a household name in carp-fishing circles. He and his mentor would drive out of the gate at closing time, turn the car round and park in the gate entrance for the night. Resentment, argument and occasional outbreaks of violence made my first encounters with carp fishing anything but therapeutic but very soon I learnt to avoid the 6 a.m. showdown and would take a leisurely trip up to the lake arriving at about 6.30 after the melee had subsided.
Because the so-called "hot spots" would be taken by the wildebeest I would tuck myself away in the corners of the lake to find a refuge from the competition and one-upmanship. However, this lead to me trying the unconventional, instead of casting to the horizon I often used to fish under my rod tips. Instead of piling in mountains of bait I would fish small tight beds of bait in conjunction with particle loose feed. And heads turned when my alarms indicated that fish did inhabit the margins as well as the very middle of the lake. I learnt my trade on this water.
I learnt to be different, to try the less obvious and to be willing to experiment. I learnt that you have to make things happen and that you cannot expect instant success because you have all the latest, state of the art tackle. I also learnt that the only bit that really matters is whatís below the surface, an adage which not only applies to fishing.
I also learnt to persevere when others around me came and went. I became a long-stay carp angler in the sense that I am still at it some 30 years later, unlike the short-trip carp techno who, kitted out with every conceivable carp gadget spends a couple of seasons keeping up with fishing fashion only to become bored and sell his collection lock stock and barrel after his first encounter of the feminine kind.
It is not the science and technology which makes an angler consistently successful. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you can have all the science and technology in the world at your disposal but if you do not have the art and do not appreciate the aesthetic aspects of the pursuit of the carp then it is unlikely that carp fishing will become a lifetimes passion.
So, where does this art come from? Art is about feelings, emotions and intuition. It is the combination of observing, listening and hearing, reflecting and experiencing. It comes from the personal experiences of years and years of getting things right and more often getting it wrong. However I would argue that I learnt the art of carp fishing when in 1986 I finally broke away from my safe corners on the popular Essex pit and found a water where the carp had never been exposed to such high tech wizardry. And it all happened because of a perchance comment from an unlikely source.
It was following my other passion in life, which is playing and watching rugby union. There I was on a freezing cold November Saturday afternoon having my face ground into the earth at the bottom of a collapsed scrum when a voice piped up "Bloody hell" or words of a similar ilk "Why didnít I go fishing instead". Well, in the bar later the owner of the voice and I got talking, one thing lead to another and six days later on the Friday afternoon I found myself driving down narrow Essex country lanes with my new fishing companion as he took me to "this great little lake that I know. Itís full of lovely carp which no one fishes seriously for".
The first thing I noticed about Gatehouse was the silence. We were alone. Gone were the rows and rows of identical, perfectly balanced and aligned carp kits. The water wasnít being whipped to froth with lead after lead and spod after spod winging their way to the horizon. What there was, was a still tranquillity made even more evident by the stark bare trees silhouetted against the watery winter sunset.
The electricity of that first encounter lives with me to this day. What secrets lay in the silver-plated depths of this magical place. "So how do you fish this?" I enquired of my companion. "I usually fish with luncheon meat" he replied and proceeded to set up two rods with meat on each and gently cast them no more than 5 yards out. He placed them on a couple of rests and used a piece of folded card as indicators. I asked him if he would like to borrow a couple of optonics. "Whatís an Optonic" he genuinely enquired. He was fascinated by my set up and was even more impressed some ten minutes later when the borrowed alarm indicated more than slight interest from a plump mirror of about 12lbs.
That night saw me catch 5 carp to 17lbs with the biggest being my first of many encounters with an Italian mirror of exquisite beauty. Despite the hundreds of carp that I had taken over the years from the wildebeest stamping ground, this fish meant far more to me. It was perfect in every way. It was fresh, clean and pristine and it fought all the way to the net. This was also the first time I had spent the whole night fishing. The morning said it all for me. The bushes and dying reeds were encrusted in a tiara of frost, fingers of ice reached out from the waters edge and the bright winter dawn showed me what I had been missing for all of those years. There was no going back for me. The Serengette stampede was a thing of the past. It was here that I would discover the art. This was my kind of fishing.
Not only did I learn the art of fishing in this magical place but I also found refuge from stressful facets of my life. In the late eighties I encountered the debilitating power of depression and it was only 4 months in the refuge of Gatehouse that I found peace of mind and solutions to my problems. Then in 1994/5 I found myself single again after my marriage break-up and once again Gatehouse became my refuge. Long summers and even longer winter nights provided the chance to recharge my batteries.
The word was out about Gatehouse and anglers came and anglers went but I remained, certain in my own mind that it would always be part of my therapy. Then something unexpected occurred. Despite my maturing years, I too met with a close encounter of the feminine kind and fishing suddenly seemed less attractive. Bivvy occupancy no longer seemed the best place to spend long winter, or even short summer, nights. Fishing took a rest for a while whilst the new relationship bloomed and took shape. Now remarried, I find myself with someone who actually encourages me to fish and in the last twelve months I have moved on to bigger things, with my wife and I running a business offering carp fishing holidays to North America. I now spend two to three weeks each year fishing for the mighty carp of the St Lawrence. The business keeps me very busy but I still keep going back to my little lake of tranquillity.
I returned there the other weekend. It was a cold October night. The mist crept into my bivvy as dawn arrived. I quickly got out of my cocoon and warmed myself with a cup of tea. I woke my son from his slumbers at the other end of the lake. "Iíve got an old friend in the sack" "Not the Italian?" he exclaimed.
"Yes the Italian" I replied. She went 25lb 8 ozs.
I hadnít lost the art
Thatís carp therapy.