Rod and line: poachers

Arthur Ransome
Friday September 4, 1925

There was just the beginning of light in the sky and the thick mist over river and meadow was already white. When we came to the Marron Pool nothing was visible more than a few yards away. `Where are we?' `You'll find the big stone just before you. The thirty yards below it are the best.' Our voices were low, but in the windless quiet were enough to give warning. Somewhere in the mist below us there was sudden loud splashing. An otter? Then angry low voices. More splashing. Poachers! There was a minute of silence. Then a shrill whistle between the fingers produced a thunderous splash some forty or fifty yards off. Someone had been startled and missed his footing in the river.

We moved along the bank to Marron Foot, watching the ground. The Poachers, however, had crossed the river and taken to the high wooded bank on the far side, from which they have been known to stone anglers in the water. The pool was useless anyway, and as we walked upstream again, while the light grew and the mist rolled up, we found the tracks in the wet grass showing how the men had come. There could be no fishing in the Marron Pool that dawn.

Poaching in the Cumberland Derwent is not what it was five years ago nor what it is to-day in Wales, but the long drought has worn out the watchers, who have to be busy protecting the fish from every kind of disaster, and, after all, watchers are few and poachers know that they must rest sometimes. The poachers had probably seen us fishing the pool at dusk, and, when we went off to brew coffee in the fishing hut and to talk the darkness out of the sky, they must have made sure that place was left to themselves and others on the same bad business, like the heron who, when we disturbed him, went off with loud indignant curses, most unlike the muffled anger of the humans. His attitude towards us was probably like ours towards them. He looked upon us as poachers, creeping quietly along his river to disturb by our crude methods his private, skilful fishing.

Most fishermen have a softness for the heron, as they have for the kingfisher and as they have not, usually, for the otter, though `G.W.M.' of the Derwent, who knows the otter more intimately than most men know their household cats, assures me that the otter is a harmless, not too successful fisherman - fit almost to be a member of an exclusive angling club. The poachers and the heron may have done better than we, but we found the sea-trout at their dourest, hooked one and lost it, rose another, but otherwise, except for the troutlings, might have been fishing an empty river. They were not feeding. That was all, for the river is full of fish.

• Arthur Ransome's Rod and Line was for several years a regular Friday feature.

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