Light was already fading as I approached the water, flushing the obligatory pair of mallard into a syncronised vertical take-off (& yet a harrier is a floaty bird of prey?!). Sunset was to be at 6.27pm and camp was made at 5.50pm
The increased acceleration of a narrowboat could be heard penetrating the arch of the traditional brick humpback bridge as I emerged from the muffled sound within the car. The impact remained visible closer-to with clouds of silt swirling a channel like cold tea. 'One lump or two?' I murmured, as I took pole position two swims east, and concluded 'probably none!' with only a few minutes until dark and little time to build any interest
Such a long time away from such a scene had erased the memory that Friday evening was the antithesis of pleasure, as would be Saturday morning, with instant narrowboaters charging back to madly multiplying marinas at full throttle for changeover to the next...and end of school term imminent
Undeterred, I assembled the minimised kit having discarded all manner of, now pointless, competitive attachments and fry-seeking enhancements in the back room to gather dust until the Lady Burton could explain the machinations of 'sell one like this' to me
Selecting a rig from the myriad multicoloured bars of the 'gaudy fishing heaven' tray was a challenge...all too light, until I found one I could make do & mend with and attached an 18 to take two maggots
A regime of introducing 3-6 wriggly carrots & turnips every few minutes commenced, the gable of a building opposite served as a perfect target as the effort concentrated in the gap between a window and the alarm box in its reflection
Things were always going to be hard, this was at best a location from which I had occasionally mustered two pounds of fish and at worst a place to avoid an unequivocal water-licking but I was there & approaching a potentially good time of year
The water pulled left then right and refuse to settle, with locks 2 miles west and 6 or 7 miles east to battle over the water volume; the tug of war continued into the gloom until, at the point when I had again blanked-out the possibility of further disturbance, a second narrowboat with headlamp blazing chugged out of the bridge arch to my left, slowing-down as it passed - the cafuffle thwarted - but at an optimum time to terminally delay the likelihood of a bite
By this time a precious hour had passed and I reached for a headlamp to illuminate from above. An ultrasound device, seeking out the night's first common pipistrelle at around 10degC gently glowed next to the piercing brightness of my phone clock while the headlamp bizarrely picked up the reflecting white back of a common frog's eye as it passed the blazing float tip. It moved as if breaststroking against the grain of a ploughed field toward the near bank and out of view
The bat appeared at 7.10, with its slappy sound somewhat distant and fleeting, accompanied by the probable pre-nesting nocturnal peewit-ing of green plovers in a meadow to my left, abruptly returning later to forage briefly nearby and depart as instantly. 40 minutes after sunset suggested the flying marvel was a long way from its roost given that they tend to emerge after just 20.
The water continued to pull to the right and by now I was seriously beginning to contemplate the prospect of another trip without any fish on view but with the steady trickle of free maggots continuing and the float held back against the flow with a hookbait 6" over-depth it was still possible that a monster of the not-so-deep would trip over the bait so I told myself 7.30 would be the deadline
A few tiny fish had been topping just prior to dark together with the hint of a couple of their larger brethren beneath the surface but insufficient evidence to give cause for confidence as I started to chill and drew a soft fleece-lined collar over my neck
More mallards continually quietly muttered their irritation at my presence when at 7.29 the float seemed to have disappeared. I looked to the right of my float to get that additional focus of the natural human night vision ('searches schoolboy biology memory bank - rods and cones?) and became certain I struck up and left and the blue elastic extended two feet then more accompanied by the momentary suggestion of hooked heavy debris when a motion reminiscent of piscine digging commenced, after alternate spells of kiting and more digging the predicted perch appeared a deep green in the lamp beam and slipped into the net
On inspection this footballer was remarkably brightly coloured for a murky North Oxford Canal inhabitant, and notably rotund, sure enough this female fish was eating for hundreds! At 14ozs she was probably 4ozs overweight but would soon return to fitness once the excitement of spring was over
Fifteen minutes later the call of the square section potato we know as chips overwhelmed me and the scene was deserted, next time I'll remember to avoid the prime boating periods!
[Species list: Jackdaw, lapwing, mallard, robin, great tit, fieldfare, common frog, common pipistrelle, perch]