I saw the tail first. It waved momentarily above the surface then disappeared instantly below the ripples. The rod jerked and dipped alarmingly towards the water; the reel screamed.
“Keep the rod point up” I shouted. “Keep the line tight!”
My instructions betrayed as much excitement as the young man’s face. Terror, concentration and elation together produced momentary paralysis. For a few seconds the fish on the nymph, deep below, had the advantage.
Then control was achieved and amidst swirls and flashy dashes the trout’s head was up and he was ready for the net. But the excitement was not over.
The eight foot bank was steep and the net handle too short. I was forced to lower myself down into the water’s edge which was much deeper than I thought. Soon the water was lapping over my wellingtons and continued to rise till it was above my knees. Yet the only thing on my mind was the fish and an excited fisherman.
“Swing the fish through the water into the net!” I barked, certain I had him. I lifted triumphantly then stretched up landing the catch on the bank above my head.
I squelched to a nearby withy bush and with great difficulty hauled myself indelicately out of the Rother to witness an ecstatic young man examining his first two pound brownie. Much to his surprise I shook his hand following the tradition, I informed him, that a fisherman shakes the hand of his gillie after landing a fish.
This special moment took place on the Leconfield Club stretch at Rotherbridge. I had bought my grandson junior membership for his birthday and we were having some casting practise. The setting could not have been more perfect; a warm summer evening with swallows dipping to the water, lambs bleating over the hedge and pheasants calling from the nettles.
We found a place clear of bushes and weed and started to cast. Selecting a pheasant tail nymph I showed my riveted pupil how to tie it on. A few attempts and some serious coaching saw him attach it correctly. Then casting practice commenced. A few caught in the grass behind by grandson whilst others wrapped themselves around his body. Yet, satisfyingly, pennies began to drop and straight casts were achieved.
Then it happened. Twenty yards away a splash and then another as our fish came to life. Irresistible. We hurried along the bank and made our cast and miraculously landed the fly in exactly the right spot. The fish was ours.
My eight year old grandson had his first trout.
The Rother flows through the finest countryside in England. It may be seriously silted in some places and look a bit sad in others, but that summer evening it was the finest place in the world as it gave up its trout to a small boy with an inexhaustible smile.
I belong to the Arun & Rother Rivers Trust, preserving our rivers, for the sake of that smile.