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The curved meadow


Parting Reminiscences - A Confidence - The Habitat of Powders. The True Evening Rise - Pleasures of Life - Contraband Thoughts.
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........... non sine montium
Clamore visinaeque silvae
Cum fera diluvies quietos
Inritat amnes. (Horace.)

Where the huge Pine and Poplar silver lined
With branches interlaced have made
A hospital stade,
And where by curving bank and hollow bay
The tremulous waters work their silent way. (Tronslation of Horace.)

The price of the identity of the curved meadow is, in my valuation, above rubies; and I must trust to any one of the few chance readers of these lines who knows, or who guesses the secret, not to disclose it.

Let him and I, or even at the very worst them and I, keep this knowledge between us, and hold it inviolate; not even mentioning it in our wills, lest when we arise with rod and creel m the happy hunting ground state, we should find its marge and rushes trodden over and defaced by the iron heels of the profanum valgus.

It lies surrounded by copse - or by hangers, as dear old Gilbert would have termed it, had it existed near Selborne - which as we know, you and I, that it does not. It is approachable by one path only; up, tip through the bracken and brambles, the wild roses and the foxgloves, a steep and slippery footway even in day-light, whose ascent must be unhurried if one's rod is set up, where the top joint has to be poked and guided under the broad beech boughs; until, hot and breathless, we reach the rough fence leading into the steep meadow overlooking the river.

The time is nearing eight o'clock in June. The shadows of the larches have lengthened until they cross the grass like trenches, and are merged into the brushwood at the lower end. Below on the right is the hanging wood, where huge beeches, some of whose tops one can look over, hold on to the steep red cliff and preserve it, and the river below, from unsightly landslides season after season. Through the branches one can see the full glow of the sunlight on the opposite valley, its well defined purple shadow creeping up the hillside minute by minute.

A hundred yards further on there is the only gap. Our meadow dips down, and the curved meadow below rises on tiptoe to meet it, under an old hawthorn tree to which the fence is nailed. For seven years those same nails have held good and borne the weight of the fortunate angler, while plucking at his garment, who expects a crash and a tumble each time he has laboriously climbed over; until in his mind the fence has seemed to grow more secure each succeeding summer.

And now, fifty feet below, the vista of the curved meadow brings back the same feelings of absolute enjoyment, - of journeys ending in lovers meeting - that it did on the first evening you discovered it. Looking across the river you may see a fisherman pass by, like the Levite, on the other side; and you shrink under the sheltering nut bushes, with the rabbits you have disturbed, until he is out of sight and hearing. Not that he could actively or passively interfere at that time of the evening, but lest he might discover the narrow path and occupy your sacred ground on some other occasion.

Well, he has gone, so you are free to make your way to the lower end. where the deep water comes down towards you under the beech roots; and the trout, who never intend to he caught by anything but a dap, are already busy sucking down flies with a sense of security not only fancied but actual. How it would surprise one of these specimen fish to find itself hooked were such a scheme possible; but, with the network overhead of protective roots and branches, they will remain to excite envy and admiration for many years to come.

From this point to the half mile higher up stream, where the river escapes from the large pool and leaves the wooded cliff, the curved meadow extends; its lower hundred yards fringed with rank rushes on this side, growing on a black bed of squelch mud, against whose clinging affection even knee-high rubber boots are hardly proof, if one is trying to land a fish struggling frantically among the rushes.

Over the meadow, at intervals, are clumps of yellow iris, their glory now for the most part faded and fallen, like that of the pink chestnuts.

The opposite bank is edged with thorny bushes like dwarf sloes, and the water under them is deep and smooth, with oily eddies wherever the small openings occur, the holt of cautious pounders who rise only once or twice in the evening, and then usually at real flies which flutter as they glide.

Then the river - walking up - becomes open, a gravelly run of broken water, not very deep, with trailing weed of brilliant green, hiding free rising trout of more moderate dimensions- eight, nine, and ten ouncers; less shy as to showing themselves, yet withal desperately sharp sighted in matters of knowing a hawk from a hern saw.

Above this, is a long glide very open and shallow with a narrow but deep channel close under the elders of the opposite bank, all of which is well nigh unfishable from that side. That is why the Levite passed along, you understand, on his way up to the big pool; because he could not throw under the overhanging bushes.

This continues for the rest of the way, terminating in fifty yards of the most perfect deep run, just below the gravelly and stony stickle leading from the dam pool under the jackdaw rock. For a final half hour of downstream fishing at dusk, with a sedge or palmer, this run and shallow offer a generous solatium on days when no dry fly has charmed ever so fruitlessly during the preceding hour, and when disappointment and vexation have done their worst.

Thus the features and figure of the curved meadow offer every variation of beauty; and hardly a summer passes that it does not give the angler at least two hours of memory which he will store to the westering of his days.

It is not always that a short beat offers such diversity of angling: each furlong, as it were, asking for its particular change of fly and for its special tactics. In early spring, for downstream success, the upper portion is unrivalled; in April and May the middle stretch affords ideal water for quick up-and-across casting; and in summer, the lower end harbours just those experienced trout whose wits are best circumvented by the small dry midge after sundown.

Having dealt at some length on the theory and practice of blank days, as enjoyed by myself and hundreds of others; I would like to tell you, if I may, of my first successful evening spent upon this enchanted ground.

I had reached the river, where the wire bridge crosses to the farm, at seven o'clock, and had done all I could in the way of careful fishing from there to the open dam, above which the copse commences. Two fair sized trout had taken a detached olive, and were brought to bay and to bank; while a third- needless to say a better one - hooked in a glassy shallow, had got off by jumping among the stones, so that 1 had the first brace well before that twilight of the Gods - the true evening rise, which I always agreed to be content with.

It was ten minutes to eight, and to lose no chance whatever, it seemed best to sit down at the foot of the copse path, and eat the supper I had brought with me, a leg of cold fowl in a paper bag full of mustard and cress. By thus securing, or rather booking, the entrance to the meadow I should make sure of it, in case another angler appeared on the scene.

But no one came; a fact for which I felt selfishly grateful. To have to explain to a friend that you do not mind where you go, after you have made certain elaborate plans and daydreams of their result, is both inconvenient and untruthful; and one can luxuriate in solitude with the thought that be is doing better elsewhere, and that you and he can enjoy talking about it at another time and place. The animal instinct of possession asserts its most pleasurable force under such conditions.

From the way the path was overgrown, it was clear that no one had been up to it for at least a fortnight, and to make the descent two hours later in the dark a little less risky, I bent back several nut branches so that the underside of the leaves showed up whiter, as well as hitching two pieces of paper upon them, to give a clue out of the labyrinth.

My first two visits had been very unfortunate; but then I had, as advised, fished the water 'down' on each occasion, and had also lost four good fish in succession, by the stupidity of continuing to cast with a barbless fly. This evening however, while climbing the hawthorn fence, the plan of campaign was different, and more deviceful. I had at least learned not to hurry; so sat down and contemplated the water until the shadow on the hill opposite crept right up the stems of the larch trees on the eastern sky line.

In the opening glide below the rushes two fish rose in a tempting manner, and the detached olive seemed as good as anything that could be offered to them. To get below them was practically impossible, as the overhanging branches threatened to catch the fly at every attempt to get out more line. To throw a foot or so below them was easy, but the very first try to put it above their noses fastened the fly round a beech leaf, and obliged me to stand up and unhitch it. The gut was weakened so was changed for a new point and fly.

I determined to leave this couple alone, thankful that they continued to rise, instead of running up and spreading the alarm. They knew ail about the casting distance from below, and were far too wide awake to accept any downstream cast at this time of day. Crawling to the lower end of the rushes, I thought for some time I would avoid treading in the mud; as, having on ordinary nailed boots, I shirked the ordeal of wet feet. That bogey however soon disappeared, and the cool trickle inside first one boot and then the other, followed by a warm glow as the water changed to tepid round thick lambswool socks, made me independent of soft places for the rest of the evening.

The first pronounced rise of a feeding trout "n such an ambuscade is very exciting. I could more hear than see it clearly, as the rushes were high, and I did not want to give anything away. It came again, and a third time, before the olive was placed somewhere near it. Nothing happened for a few casts, beyond that the fish was put down. For a long five minutes not a ring occurred, excepting from my two friends far below me, at which I felt tempted to make a long downstream sweep.

I moved very slowly a shade higher up, where I heard another promising ploop in mid stream. He rose again. I could see him take a fiy: and the next moment he took mine. After a disturbing spring and splash he made for the opposite side, just where peace and quietness ought to reign; so he was given a tight line, pulled into the current, until he ran close in to the rushes, got the cast round one, and kicked and splashed on the surface. I managed to slide him over the rim of the net, but had great difficulty in freeing the gut without fraying it badly. Gradually it cut the rush up its entire length, enabling me to reel in and life out my capture. He was a golden beauty, full of life and vigour; not three quarters but near it, a fish to raise the average of a catch and not lower it - that is always a satisfaction

The gut was smooth and round. A touch of the oil brush quite restored the disarranged coiffure of the fly, and made her as attractive as ever. There were two other midstreamers rising, but they sounded too noisy to be of any size, so I kept my eye on the deeper water under the sloe bushes.

In one little embayment there was a tiny ring, the suck down of a larger fish probably, and after a false cast or two the olive came slowly over the place. He would not have it, nor again, - nor again. I felt that the second and third casts were a mistake; for though I waited, and watched, like a toper at an inn door, that trout never showed his nose above the surface. The same thing happened in the next opening: this time two flies were taken, and mine offered him a third, but he too treasured some experience of bygone days, and retired a cheerful but wiser fish.

The time was getting on; I looked at my watch with apprehension, a quarter to nine, and only one as yet. The next promising rise occurred so close under an overhanging prickly branch, that I had to move up opposite to it before a cast was possible. The fly drifted over the spot: then a foot lower down was taken well, whether by my riser or another below, I cannot say. Not a. sign was made and I could not remember whether I had struck him at all.

Something was ' on,' and that something heavy, quiet, and uneasy. (Jetting the line in, I moved quickly downstream before attempting to feel the fish's pulse. He had not weeded me, and the vibration of the line showed that it was round no obstruction. For perhaps a minute nothing happened. Then, up he came, showed himself to be a real pounder, and began a series of desperate tugs that looked as though he had seen a friendly root to make for. Both hook and gut held: he was in midstream, losing ground at each struggle. Not until he had been worked into the shallow water below the rushes could he be netted; a solid lumper, one pound one ounce, with the fly scarcely barb deep in the horny roof of his mouth.

Here was a prize that made me thirst for more; but I wonder whether other anglers suffer from the same disturbing want of resolution. Much as I wanted to move up, I had to linger and see whether there was a dimple to be imagined under the sloes.

Where the water became shallower the evening rise was in full play; so pushing up to the end of the rushes I took stand under the high bank. It had then always been given me as an axiom, that when trout are rising in the stickles they mean taking; so acting on this, presumptuously, I began throwing for fish after fish, and found that there are several exceptions to the rule; for, after being touched by some of no size, I only hooked and landed two, both of which were more found drowned, as a coroner would say, than wounded by malice prepense. I grudged every second that went by, even the time occupied in taking them off the hook.

It was now less necessary to take cover, and as the larger fish seemed well above me in the smoother water, I cut off the fly, and tied on a fair sized hare's ear with gold ribbing, mounted on rather stronger gut which if it survived could De used at first dry and ultimately wet. Right over on the far side a trout rose repeatedly, almost savagely, and yet would not see it. The shadow of a large elder bush made it difficult to judge the exact distance, though from the desperate gulps he was giving every half minute, it was certain he could not resist.

I got right opposite at last, threw across, a yard above him, and simply knew he would come. A snap, a strike, three ' rugs ' and he was on, bolting down stream as though he were on fire. A vision of the catch of the season, a two pounder, added excitement to the noise of a stridulous reel. Then I thought he was foul hooked in the tail. Anyhow, his attachment was secure, and after taking me back to the rushes again, he was collared, an ugly black headed chap of fourteen ounces with the expression of a bull dog.

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