A Day With Yates

Picking my way down the heavily wooded lanes of south Wiltshire, I carefully followed the directions.  I was told to look for a sign, which would signal my arrival.  What sign?  I didn’t know but I had been told that I couldn’t miss it!

Round the corner and into a straight and there it was poking out of the hedge.  An old, green welly suspended on a bamboo pole.  Suitably amused I pulled into the driveway and headed to the door of the cottage.  Before I had time to reach for the bell a cardboard fish caught my attention.  Its message, written along the flank, urged me to pull.  Obediently I gave a yank, tripping the fishing line connected to the mouth.  Upwards it rose and along to the far window before disappearing.  A bite alarm shrieked out and a commotion ensued.

With a creak of the handle the window opened and a head appeared.  ‘Morning,’ came the shout, ‘good job you woke me up!’  At well past 9 o’clock I bit my lip and accepted my companion’s need for more sleep than most men.  In case you haven’t guessed I was at Chris Yates’s home.

Perhaps all genius have an eccentric side and on both counts Chris troubles the scoreboard.  His world certainly couldn’t be described as ‘normal’ while his use of the English language in portraying angling is without peers.

So today I had not only the pleasure of seeing his new book ‘How to Fish’ but also to relive with him that September day on the Upper Stour which proved to be the inspiration for this offering.  In Chris’ own words it was ‘a conversation with the river in autumn’,

An hour later and after countless returns to the cottage for forgotten items we were, at last, on our way – but as indicated in the title of his book would Chris be teaching me ‘how to fish’?  that inference was soon addressed – never judge a book by its cover.  Instead I was told to allow the river to dictate the day for, like a woman, we may find her warm and generous or perhaps bad-tempered and craggy.

As always a day with Yates would at least prove interesting, if nothing else!

Set amongst lush rolling hills and patches of woodland the Upper Stour weaved its course, occasionally drawing close enough to the road to allow us to catch a glimpse.  According to my partner in crime it was the home of monsters, from perch to pike and chub to roach.  In Chris’ world though every ditch, pond or river contains such leviathans and it’s this boyhood innocence and enthusiasm, which is I’m sure, the key to his success.

With tackle loaded I followed him across the field and down onto the meadow.  Choked still with weed the rivers flow was muted but with guidance a dozen glides and rafts presented themselves to any angler willing to go off the beaten track.

‘Where’s the bait?’ I demanded eager to wet a line at these tantalising swims. He didn’t need to respond as I could see it etched across his face as the lines deepened on his forehead.  It had all been forgotten – what could we do now?

Ever the optimist Chris refused to be beaten.  ‘Let’s harvest the river bank’ and with little more in the way of explanation he was off, empty bread bag in his hand and with lanky strides into the undergrowth foraging.   I admit I was despondent – I’m the type of angler who likes to be in control and that means having the finest bait available.

Chris meanwhile scoured the bank to save the day.  Turning over pieces of bark and logs he found a stream of creepy crawlies.  Slugs and worms were on his menu and in fairness the bread bag soon contained a good handful of nature’s finest.

Eager to build up my confidence once again, he proudly opened the bag and proclaimed that we had the finest chub and perch baits in the world.  Peering in every worm and slug had a breadcrumb coat.   ‘Didn’t you empty it first?’ I asked. ‘Of course not’, came the reply ‘don’t you know that battered baits are far superior?’  I felt sure Chris was pulling my leg, but felt that it was best not to question him any further.

At last we could go fishing or so I thought.  Now evidently a tea break was required to replenish the energy already used up!  So out came the Kelly kettle and Chris busied himself in the picnic hamper.  With smoke billowing up through the conkers suspended above us it was an idyllic setting.  Supping on his mug Chris offered some more wise words that only the Dali Lama of angling could:  ‘You do not need to catch big fish to have a great day, never cast with an ambition.’  Impudently I proclaimed that my ambition was to actually cast!

Picking up on my urgency the last of the tea was swallowed and at last the rods were picked up in anger.  Creeping along the overgrown bank we soon came across a fallen tree directly above where the river shallowed speeding the flow and providing an ideal habitat for chub.  With the bank we trod suspended high above we had a bird’s eye view of the swim.

Chris was to make the first cast.  His cane rod and pin readied in anticipation.  Six pound line snaked through the silver rings while the cane itself bowed slightly, testament to the battles it had already fought.  Reaching in to the bread bag he produced a big, fat slimy slug duly coated in white crumbs.  A size 4 hook was nicked through the back completing the simplest of set ups.

With a gentle swing the slug sailed through the air until it ‘plopped’ down on the water.  As if a dinner bell had been rung two chub immediately charged upstream in a race for the free lunch.  With a gaping mouth and a huge suck the slug disappeared from view.  Patiently Chris resisted the temptation to strike and instead allowed the chub to turn and the line snake off in pursuit.  Now was the time, whipping back the rod a healthy arc formed in the cane.  Down below a chub shook its head in anger.  For a bait found under a log and without a price tag the slug had performed admirably.

Soon Chris was smiling at the camera proudly displaying his prize.

Next it was time to test the worms.  These, we felt, would require a deep hole and an undercut bank.  Here we hoped would sit a shoal of perch - Chris’ passion and unsurprisingly a fish worshipped in his new book.  Sitting side by side freelined worms were flicked upstream and the flow was allowed to carry our baits back towards us and hopefully deep under the bank.  Here hiding in the shadows would be the striped warrior.

With a gentle tap the cane tip drew attention to itself before steadily pulling downwards in an act carried out many times before Chris made contact.  By the frantic headshakes he had indeed hooked a perch.  A red tail flapped on the surface and a tiger striped flank boiled and rolled.  From the smile across his face, Chris was a happy man.

Chris Yates’ Top 5 Slug Tips

  1. Batter your slugs in breadcrumbs to send chub into a frenzy.
  2. Don’t fish too light when slugging – combine 6lb line with a size 4-8 hook.
  3. Cast the slug high so it lands with a splash.
  4. Collect slugs on damp mornings when they can be found on a grassy field.
  5. Don’t be a fairy – rubber gloves and tongs are a no-no for collecting them.  Slug slime on your fingers will attract fish.