• Joe Walker

Fat Lady? What Fat Lady...?

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

I’ve always wanted a boat. Always. When I started fishing 40 years ago (jeez) as a kid, it was right up there on my Christmas list. If only I’d learnt how to hollow-out the numerous satsumas Father Christmas seemed moved to give me, stitch them together and make them waterproof, I may have been on to a winner.

Roll the clock forward four decades and whilst gravity has ravaged my body, even somehow managing to drag my hair off the top of my head and redistribute it to parts of my body that, by rights, shouldn’t have any, one thing stays constant: I still want a boat. Which is why I take every opportunity to get out in my float tube as it is, frankly, the nearest I am likely to get.

The problem is, I live in South Wales and unless you have a burning desire to visit Ireland via the cheapest route possible, using a float-tube in the Bristol Channel is ill-advised. So, it’s a case of ‘have float-tube, will travel’. In many cases it’s not even used to fish from but more as a means of shortcutting an otherwise tedious walk to get to a desired mark.

This week, amidst the forecasts of doom (weather, not No-Deal Brexit) there was just a single day, the proverbial ‘calm before the storm’, that yielded an opportunity to get out, team up with fellow occasional ‘tuber’ Colin Macleod, and chase down a few more truculent mullet.

Hopes and excitement, like the inflation of our craft, were running at levels fit to bust. Colin and I set out to reach our venue via the shortest route. It was perhaps (with hindsight) portentous when both Colin’s fins fell off half way across and some hasty thrashing was required by the mullet guru to regain control of his craft. Nonetheless, crisis (and an air/sea rescue call) were averted and we arrived to be greeting by numerous swirls and splashes, as mullet cavorted in the shallows.

We deployed with all the ruthless efficiency of a squad of navy seals (apart from the swearing, precarious wobbling and fumbling required for 10 minutes to get fins off and boots on) and approached the flashing silver in the water. My very first cast was met by a sharp pull and resistance. I pulled back on the line and lifted the rod, too hesitantly as it turned out, and the connected fish convulsed briefly before disconnecting, an act met by a suitable expletive from yours truly.

Within seconds a similar scenario played out to my left as Colin also felt weight come and go at the end of his line. Being ludicrously optimistic by nature, both of us registered this as a superb start to a potentially epic session; It’s amazing what a glass-half-full approach to mullet fishing on the fly will do to an otherwise rational man’s brain.

At this point I could witter on endlessly about close calls, and “Ooooooh…I nearly had that one!” and “Argh, Col…Unlucky!” but frankly it would result in pointless keyboard fatigue. I’ll sum up.

It was damned hard work. The weather behaved perfectly. The fish had other ideas. They bloody-mindedly refused to shoal-up, carefully cordoning off their personal space. Perhaps they were feuding with one another due to what Shaz Mullet said about our Mabel Mullet at Doreen’s wedding or something, but whatever it was, they spread themselves out and skulked aimlessly like teenagers when the wifi goes down.

We cast and cast and cast ‘till our shoulders rattled. That’s not to say we didn’t get some positive engagement – we did lose several good fish between us (thumbs up, positive spin etc), topping out when Colin’s battle was interfered with mid-flow by an oblivious wandering swan, and my best effort was thwarted by a mysterious leader breakage.

File under ‘OOTD’ (One Of Those Days).

We did persevere though. We trudged the sandbanks, dragged ourselves through the mud, went willingly without sustenance and hydration lest we miss a single atom of opportunity, and scanned the cloudy flats until our eyes ached, but the mullet quietly scoffed at our sacrifices.

Colin made good with a couple of plump 2.5lb bass, but even those were netted with a certain eroded glee…like being told you’ve won the lottery jackpot only to find out that so did 13,900,000 other people. I tried to bolster Colin’s growing frustration by helpfully pointing out that I’d had a dozen bass by that point, but laid end to end they would not quite span the width of his catch’s gaping mouths. But, whilst bass are better’n nowt (and to be fair, Colin’s had some darn fine specimens of late!) they just aren’t the same as our fickle fishy target.

Waters drained off the banks and out of the channels, paused and slunk back as the tide exhaled and inhaled. Under leaden skies, rain made a mocking appearance, just to compound our problems, and the sea once more swallowed the bank, leaving us squarely at Last Chance Saloon.

Kudos then to my most learned colleague; As we swept the far end of the submerged bank in formation, his keen eye spotted that rarest of things on that day…an actually feeding shoal!

Fatigued arms punched out desperate casts into the languid melee, and Colin’s rod bucked and bent but another pesky bass had hijacked his efforts. Seconds later my line jerked taught and the rod tip zipped over as an unseen and energetic fly-snaffler made a run for it.

The bouncing, twanging movement felt for all the world like yet another bass, but for a second the fish lifted its head and, praise be, it was mullet shaped! A couple of minutes later a modest, shiny thin-lip was scooped up in my net, sporting the Romy’s Sand Shrimp on the dropper smack-bang in the middle of its lower lip.

It wasn’t big. But look at my face in the photo (a thousand words etc). I’d driven 169 miles to wear that grin, and I’d take it 169 miles home with me that afternoon (disconcerting for the woman who served me in Starbucks at Membury services for sure). It would have been easy to call it quits and paddle forlornly back on our tubes without a mullet between us for all our efforts. But we refused to listen to the fat lady singing, and although that fish finally happened to fall for the fly on my line and not Colin’s, I can’t help but classify it as very much a joint success in the face of adversity, and therefore share unreservedly any plaudits for sticking it out to the bitter end.

You’ll be pleased to hear that Colin paddled back without incident by wearing the fins on his hands. He is nothing if not inventive.

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