The secret location - by David O'Sullivan

          It’s June 2002, the effects of radiotherapy have finally worn off so it’s time for a drink. I can’t understand why we are all in downtown Warwick and not Leamington Spa. I never used to drink south of the river, but a chance meeting was about to happen. Was it an accident of circumstance or destiny? I like to think it was divine intervention.

          I was talking nonsense as usual to my mate Dom, when one of his lodgers -Jim- came over. I’d never met Jim before, but he said to me “Alright Sully! I believe you’re in to eel fishing”
He had me interested so I quickly said “Yes” wondering what he might say next. He went on,
“Well I know a water that must be packed with eels, and never gets fished”
          Before he could say where, I instinctively knew the Location. So let me explain how…..

I always knew this water existed- it said so on the map. But it had become a myth to me, an urban legend and the Kaiser Soze of secret locations. I tried to imagine what it would look like. When you first see a water it can turn out to be nothing like you expected and a bit of an anti-climax. A couple of years before, my mate Pete and me decided to find this particular water. We slowly found a way through the woods around it, and moved very uneasily across very “Private-Keep Out” land. My mind was working overtime; would I see the lake before I’d meet the figure with the shotgun?! It was tense; we were close. Then, through a clearing we came across the old estate lake. It was not as I’d imagined. But it was no anti-climax.

         It was an oasis in deepest Warwickshire, a beautiful, blue jewel forgotten by man and time. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. There was a certain haunting quality to the lake, and I felt inspired to write this poem.

 

The Boating Lake

 

He glides through the leafy hood,
And the trees shiver from head to toe.
For he is no stranger to the wood,
Yet his track never seems to show.

 

The hares hide and the deer dart away,
Even the adders fear his bite.
For all in his path are prey
Be it day or be it night.

 

Over the fence and through the nettles,
He passes unseen and unheard,
Until a mist over the rushes settles,
Which scares out the hiding birds.

 

He hovers over the old neglected lake,
For it has returned to its former glory,
Where no fishermen keep fish awake,
And no boatmen tell his story.

 

His vengeance ends on the dam,
As he disappears into the water,
For this ghost was once a man,
Who drowned to save his daughter.

(I don’t know why, but I felt that something tragic had happened there 200 years before.)

So back to the pub!

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“How do you know about this water, Jim?” I asked with anticipation
“Well, I used to work there with the gamekeeper,” he replied.
“I’d love to fish there,“ I said, chancing my arm.
“ Don’t think anyone has fished it for 80 years! But I reckon I could get us on there. I’m still mates with the gamekeeper. You could go for the eels and I could go for the trout and wild carp.” he replied.
“ Do you want a drink, Jim, because I’m buying?” I said, and the room fell deathly quiet.
Next time I saw Dom, I said “ It was nice dream, but I don’t think I’ll be hearing from Jim again,”
Dom replied,” To be honest, if Jim says something he means it.”
And sure enough at the start of August, my phone rings one Saturday afternoon. It’s Jim!
“ Do you want to go fishing for those eels tonight?” ( talk about short notice!) “ I’ve got it sorted- It’s on!”

        

           Whatever I was meant to be doing with my family or mates that night got cancelled pretty sharpish, and at 7.00 pm Jim came round and I followed in my car. We finally got to a gate I never knew existed. How bumpy was that track? It was pot-hole central. We passed an old hunting lodge, then a house straight out of a Hammer Horror movie and on into dark woods. I knew we would be there for the night, as there was no way back in the dark- but did Jim know this? We slowly snaked down the tracks, until through the trees I saw daylight and then water. It was as if it appeared from nowhere. I stood there in a euphoric trance of expectation.

          Jim had brought a barbeque, half a cow and lots of beer. I had a bottle of squash. I was more than a little embarrassed to be tucking in to burgers later that night ( but this year my sausages were bigger than his, and I had more beer!) I try to take it all in- it’s an eel angler’s paradise.

          Jim is in the corner, at the end of the dam wall, fly-fishing. He shouts over to me, “Hey Sully, I think I just saw an eel!”

          I think to myself- yeah, right! It must be a stick, or he’s trying to humour me. He’s just seen an eel after 5 minutes- pah! Then as I was throwing some ground bait in, the strangest thing happened. I see an eel jump out of the water- about 2-3 lbs of it launched in to the air, and then it drops back in to the lake. I stood back in amazement and feel like Roy Scheider in Jaws, when he was chumming the blood and guts over the side and the shark surfaces right in front of him. Imagine the camera focusing on my face, but instead of “ we’re gonna need a bigger boat” I tell myself, “stop faffing about and get the flippin’ bait in!”

          The night was humid and heavy, and when first light came I’d caught 9 eels to 2lb 8oz (not a huge catch I know, but I was still over the moon!) I would have loved to have caught the leviathan that must exist in there, but it was just a pleasure to fish it and get so much action- which I’m not used to.

Some modest eels from the secret location over the years

          Jim had caught eels too- I can’t remember how many, and we had both caught a lot of roach as they never stopped feeding all night. Jim was trying to catch me some dead baits, but the roach were just too big. He finally did manage to catch some small ones, and one of the eels was caught on a roach tail section- the rest were on worm.

          I shook his hand, and said, “Thanks“. He said “ No problem! We’ll do it again next year”
And true to his word, we get permission once a year. Plenty more bootlaces have been caught and some better fish between 2-3 lbs. The dead baits seem to get the bigger ones. Still no estate lake monster yet, but even if I don’t catch it it’s a bonus just being there and God willing we’ll be there again in 2009 for that one summer shot. I’ve taken 3 other mates along over the years. They‘ve been sworn to secrecy but felt the blindfold and gaffer tape in the boot was a bit over the top.

Heron - nicking eels
David O-Sullivan

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