Many years ago, I was seeing a girl whose parents lived within a stone’s throw of Grafham reservoir. Needless to say, this was a happy coincidence and I was always keen to come along when she went down to visit them – she could get some quality time in whilst I spent the day fishing. Result! However, I’d never fished such a big water before and really struggled with finding fish. In fact it would be fair to say my visits to Grafham were an ‘epic fail’ as they say, not a single touch during my first 3 trips. I was young and enthusiastic though, and determined not to let Grafham get the better of me.
My 4th visit came with high hopes. I’d bought a Bank Angler’s guide to Grafham and having reviewed the conditions decided to fish the area of bank known as ‘The Seat’ which supposedly fished well this time of year. Bank ticket purchased, I eagerly made my way along the track past the sailing club and plotted up at the aforementioned spot, a thin film of enthusiastic sweat coating the inside of my £20 PVC Mullarkey’s thigh waders despite the gentle cool breeze. I put up my trusty Daiwa Whisker 10footer with a floating line and cast out a hard, northern lure that would almost certainly revolutionize the way these clueless Southerners fished their reservoirs. I knew it was going to catch a LOT of fish, this was it, they’d be crowding round me back at the lodge pumping me for information, congratulating me on my crafty Northern ways.
Half way through the first retrieve I felt a gentle tug, an inexperienced angler would’ve dismissed it as weed or something but instinctively I struck.. There was a damp ‘fwap’ as a lump of weed landed at my feet. I looked closer at the area I was fishing and realised there was weed everywhere. EVERYWHERE! Even if I’d waded out up to my bobbins I wouldn’t be able to cast beyond it, this was unfishable. In fact, wherever I walked the whole bank was unfishable – every cast would result in a cloyed up fly within seconds. Deep breaths. I swilled down a brew and threw a mars bar down my neck, Andy Mcnabb style, then wearily made my way back to the lodge.
“Any boats left?” I enquired
“Actually you’re in luck! One left! Hope you’re not superstitious, hahaha”
“Ha ha ha”
“Ha ha ha”
Boat 13 and I motored out with the cool breeze behind us, which had actually picked up to something more like a light gale. Despite the tailwind it seemed to take a long time to get over to the other side of the reservoir that had been recommended (the Stumps?) but if that’s where boat anglers had been catching fish, I had to be there. A 100 yards or so out from the bank I dropped anchor and this time put out my trusty medium sink line and began fan casting to search for the fish. For maybe an hour I aimlessly flogged the water as the light gale grew exponentially until it felt like I was out on the North Sea. I have no affinity with the briny depths, and decided this was unpleasant enough to warrant the long motor back to the other shore where the water was still relatively calm. Rod back in boat, Barbour battened down, anchor up, outboard in neutral, touch of throttle…let’s roll. I yanked the pull cord. Putt Putt. I yanked again. Putt Putt Putt. Again. Putt. Again Putt. Again….Again…..Again..
The starter cord hung limply in my hands, not even bothering to retract anymore, never mind start the engine. Glancing up I realised I was drifting toward the shore fast, so dropped anchor again before returning to my battle with the outboard.
After 30 minutes I knew she’d never start again. The wind and waves battered my boat, spray kicked up against my Barbour, and my leg began to develop an almost imperceptible tremor. “Shit. Now what?”
Just as I began to eye up the flare gun, I noticed another boat angler chugging towards me, obviously having witnessed my desperate yanking. “I’m heading back in, shall I go get help?” he shouted above the wind.
“Um…” I paused, shame welling up from my gut into my wind-burned cheeks. “Um..yes, I think you’d better . Thanks mate”
I watched him bouncing back across the waves to the lodge and sank into the bitterly uncomfortable thwart board on my impotent boat. No point holding back on the provisions now. I raided the goodies my girlfriend’s mother had kindly packed for me, and by the time I’d eaten my 6th Orio I felt quite chipper.
After what felt like a very long time, the comforting sight of the orange ‘rescue’ dinghy brought renewed hope. The warden pulled up alongside, lashed his boat to mine and quickly began attempts to restart the outboard. I felt sure he looked upon me as some form of nautical dimwit which, to be fair, I probably am but no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get the engine started. “I’ll have to tow you in mate”
He rigged up a towrope between our boats, then gave the nod for me to pull up the anchor.
After 10 minutes it was clear the anchor was well and truly anchored. I’m a big lad, I reckon I could pull the ears off a gundog, but this anchor wasn’t budging.
“I said, the anchor’s stuck”
Again, he manoeuvred alongside and tried where I had failed. He too failed.
“We’ll have to cut the rope. Have you got a knife” he asked
Minutes passed until he finally dug out a tiny pocket knife and proceeded to hack and slash at the thick rope. Eventually, he was through. We both cheered, and laughed, and let out sighs of relief. “Right, let’s get you back to the pier”
The orange dinghy could only have travelled a 2 or 3 yards before a there was a horrendous discombobulated chobbling noise, followed by a portentous silence. We both stared at his outboard. No. No. NO…. he lifted it up and there was the loose end of my anchor roped coiled into a Gordian knot around the propeller. I slumped back into the boat, no Oreo could solve this fug, nor would his tiny penknife undo this hemp horror anytime soon. This was bad. We were drifting towards the perilous shallows like daisy-chained Cuban refugees, driven by the incessant wind. But lo, what’s this? The pull cord on my outboard was miraculously back in its place! With a mighty heave the engine sprang into life! I looked back at my would-be rescuer. He briefly glanced up from his monstrous tangle, bid me farewell and suggested I tell the lodge to send out a search party if he wasn’t back in a couple of hours.
Never again would I go afloat in a boat numbered 13, nor will I go fishing without a knife on me at all times. I did finally catch a Grafham rainbow, on visit number 5 with my feet planted firmly on the dam. There was no 6th visit.