Chris McCully


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The Towton chublet I

Saturday, 25 September 2021 at 14:49

Towton This was the strangest trip. In between failing to catch barbel (the river was too low, too warm, the fish weren't feeding, the sun was too sunny, the garlic-infused Spam was too garlicky....) I visited the site of the Battle of Towton (Palm Sunday, 1461) and also paid my respects at the tomb of Thomas Fairfax in Bilbrough Church. I know, I know: what have Towton or Fairfax to do with angling? Well, here's a thing: Fairfax's daughter Mary was tutored by Andrew Marvell, who in his country-house epic, 'Upon Appleton House' apostrophises the Wharfe and presents himself as an angler on its banks. So if you ask what Fairfax, or indeed metaphysical poetry, have to do with angling, there you have it. Towton has a less direct relationship to the river and its fish but after Towton - one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil - the River Cock, which meets the Wharfe just downstream of Tadcaster, is said to have run red with blood for weeks....and I wondered what that did to the fish-stocks. Still, this was only partly a fact-finding trip and inbetweentimes I tried to catch barbel. I was chastened in the process but I suppose I did learn a great deal. Furthermore, finally - and to re-use a sentence I've often used over what are now nearly six decades of angling - 'at least it didn't rain'.

The Towton chublet II

Saturday, 25 September 2021 at 14:40

Fairfax tomb Between fruitless, noxious barbel-fishing sessions I visited not only the Towton battlefield but also Bilbrough church, where the body of Thomas Fairfax lies buried. Fairfax was Cromwell's most illustrious and brilliant general but didn't support regicide and retired to his estates in Yorkshire. From 1649 he worked in retirement for ten years, composing poetry and working on his memoirs (and working, too, as a Yorkshire MP). He was brought back into public life as the Restoration approached. He was a remarkable man and his tomb - solid and serviceable rather than grand and pompous, as he had specifically requested - gives some sense of Fairfax's modesty.

The Towton chublet III

Saturday, 25 September 2021 at 14:33

Bait I blame Lord Seabrook. He knows what he's doing with barbel and I wrote to him for advice - a big mistake, as it turned out. 'They love luncheon meat,' he wrote, mentioning a well-known supermarket's brand of this delicacy. 'But you should tip in half a jar of ready-chopped garlic and infuse the chopped meat with it. You'll have the barbel climbing out of the river to get at your bait-box.' I did as I was told. I infused another tin of finely-chopped Spam with turmeric. I fried some casters gently over a low flame and added the juice of a tub of dendrobaenas.... OK, only kidding about the casters, but you get the drift. After an hour of bait-fussing I imagined I was turning into a stylish piscatorial version of Jamie Oliver. Unfortunately, neither my bait-boxes, my hands, hair nor the back of the car - actually, the car, back and front - will now ever be rid of the strench of garlic-infused Spam. And of the barbel there was no sign.

The Towton chublet IV

Saturday, 25 September 2021 at 14:23

Monotony I resolved not to weaken (and, for example, fish red maggots for chublets and dace). I stuck - the verb is apt - to barbel fishing, devoting a minimum of five hours a day to the task. I also resolved to bait up and fish at least three swims each session. This devotion involved lugging shoulder- and neck-wrecking amounts of gear from swim to swim. I began to understand why some anglers use wheelbarrows to transport their gear. It was hard, monotonous and lonely work and I began to stink of garlic-infused bait. Even the ducks swam away quickly when they sensed me coming. None of it was any good. It's strange: after several hours watching a rod-tip - a quiver-tip, as here, on a Terry Eustace-designed blank gifted to me by Lord Rhodes - your mind doesn't so much begin to drift as hallucinate. A barbel fin cuts through a sponge cake. Bream float singing through clouds.

The Towton chublet V

Saturday, 25 September 2021 at 14:17

Tadcaster chublet Which brings me to the chublet. One evening I weakened, improvised a trotting rig and fished the fast water - a stream which is inaccessible at normal water levels. This fish represented some of the result: a chublet which inhaled a brace of casters. Never was a man more delighted with a miniature chub than this writer. All the same, this last trip wasn't merely an angling defeat. It was a humiliation.

What a difference a day (or two) makes

Wednesday, 1 September 2021 at 14:02

Lads, Cats and Hogs Two days ago we enjoyed a bumper day on Harray. Today the wind still blew from the North but was slightly stronger and a great deal cooler; the fish were in a different mood, much less hungry and more inclined just to bump sullenly at the flies. We went through a gamut of Cats, Maids, Hogs and Munchkins (and their variants - see image), all tied in sizes 10 and 12, but nothing worked particularly well. We moved some very good trout which didn't stick and in the end - the end of a half-day's fishing - we had half-a-dozen each, with the best few well over the pound. That was good enough.

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