Life and death in the mist. It’s a waiting game.

A moment in time

There is a sound that any self-respecting freshwater angler will recognise instantly. It occurs only on early summer mornings when the mist is rising in small swirls off the surface of a warming lake. The nearest thing I can compare it to is the sound of someone sipping hot tea from a saucer. The combination of liquid and air being ingested at the same time in small gulps.

It is carp feeding on insects trapped on the lake’s surface. The fish, which are usually bottom feeders, are attracted to the surface by the bugs struggling movements. Each insect leaves an expanding ripple that acts like a bulls-eye target. The carp’s thick rubbery lips break the surface, creating an irresistible whirlpool that drags in water and air, as well as the unfortunate insect. It’s not just one carp doing this. When the conditions are right, the whole lake is covered with rising mouths. Each making the same sound. Each signifying another miniature life and death drama.

I sit with my eyes closed and listen to the symphony that tells me the fish are there and waiting for us.  So do John and Raymond. Like-minded friends who have joined me in a  mid-week escape to our favourite lake, buried deep in the rolling Surrey Hills. We arrived half an hour ago, and the sun had not yet risen. It was that twilight time of sweet-smelling stillness that announces the coming of a new day, full of promise and expectation. Even now, the light is struggling to make its appearance through the low-lying mist. We know that the sun is there and that, like yesterday, it will burst through, and when it does, it’s going to be another exceedingly warm summer day.

Already, the aroma of decaying vegetation that lines the edges of the lake announces its presence. The odour is unique. It is the essence of a summer lake.  Hot, humid and suffocating. By midmorning, yesterday’s wind flattened iris stalks, and reeds will have dried enough for the Moore hens to march across them in a feeding frenzy. They will dip and weave, snapping at invisible flies as they hatch from their hard-cased chrysalises—a residue of discarded bait from long-departed anglers. By this time, the carp will have finished their surface attacks and moved silently to their secret dwellings in the margins. Large dark shadows gliding in relentless circuits, tantalisingly close but far enough away to create a sense of predatory excitement. We are ready to pit our wits against them in the ceaseless game of the hunted and the hunter.

John is sitting five yards to my left on a wooden platform that looks a little worse for wear. It is similar to my own and within whisper distance. It juts out from the bank like a solitary decaying tooth. Earlier, we bounced up and down on the timber boarding to test its strength. A bit like a prospective car buyer who kicks the tyres in a vain attempt to look professional but is never quite sure what to expect. Apart from a slight wobble, it seemed steady enough. I do not know what we would have done had it collapsed. I guess we did not think that one through.  My platform has only just been renewed, so we leave well enough alone. We have made enough noise for the day.   Raymond is equally distanced to my right. He has made sure that his platform is robust by applying visual common sense rather than risk a dunking. The night’s residue of duck and goose ablutions have been removed from our respective stations. Not a pleasant task but just one of those things you get on with. Our gear has been set up, and we are ready to fish.

Each of us has the same essential pieces of equipment such as rods, reels and chairs. However, each element is uniquely different and is a reflection of the owner’s character.  My seat is a conventional red camping chair. It is padded and very comfortable and comes complete with a cup holder and a small collapsible side table. It will keep my sandwiches away from the inquisitive beaks that will inevitably check out the lakes intruders during the day.  Likewise, John’s chair is a matching style, but blue. It’s older than mine with a couple of DIY repairs that reflect his make do and mend philosophy. His lap takes the place of the missing side table. In contrast, Raymond sport’s a new season straight-backed professional fishing chair. It is kitted out with left and right folding shelves, clips to mount rod rests, and, of course, it is covered in technically advanced material.  Unlike ours, this will allow water to drain through and avoids the risk of a soggy bottom if it rains. Next to him, a two-tier unit acts as both a bait dispenser and bottle holder. I am not sure if the bottle is for him or it contains some fancy fish attractant. No doubt we will all find out in due course.

We have tackled up and launched our respective baits into our allotted zones. There is an unwritten etiquette to this. You do not cast outside of your swim. That space of lake that sits directly opposite your platform. Any infringement of this would be met with glaring looks or an exclamation of disgust from your neighbour. Each cast has been made from a sitting position and in silence—another indication of a serious angler who understands the rules.  The only noise accepted is the discrete splash as the hook, mounted with its bait, hits the surface and sinks to the shallow depths. Noise is an anathema to the serious angler.  It carries above and below the water for unbelievable distances. To listen to other people’s loud conversations is distracting. For the fish, the vibrations are disturbing.

The mist has gone, the sunlight bounces off the lake surface in flashes of brilliance that distract the eye, and the fish have gone as deep as they can. It is now a waiting game.

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