Tench were the target, as they so often are on Opening Day, but it was difficult to ignore the carp nosing through the lily pads in front of me. I had taken a carp rod, the one that Andy had leant me on our Ashmead jaunt in the autumn, and I threaded the rings and tied on a size 6 just in case temptation got too much.
There were bubbles popping above my loosefeed, almost certainly the hoped for tench, but the line on my centrepin was misbehaving and after one tangle too many I reached for the carp rod and a piece of bread crust. It didn’t take long, less than five minutes, before a carp found the bait and slurped it down.
I struck and tightened down to the fish, aware that the lily bed was dense and invariably where the fish would seek sanctuary.
There was a tense stand-off before the carp kited right and into open water. With the opening salvo won, I knew that with patience the fish would be mine, and so it proved.
It was a stunning, fully scaled mirror carp. Two ounces short of ten pounds and a perfect if not expected first fish of the season. I should have called Martin over to take my portrait with her but instead settled for a quick snap with my phone before slipping her back.
A couple of other anglers arrived, but it was nearly 1100 by the time Chris and Merv wandered around the bank. The four of us fished within an easy cast of the lily bed, but my swim was definitely the most productive. Bites came steadily, and after my eighth tench, Chris muscled in for a turn and soon had a brace of his own.
They weren’t especially big fish, all ranging between a pound and two and half pounds (though I lost a bigger one), but they exactly what we had sought for an Opening Day trip and provided good sport until the heat of the afternoon slipped them into sun-drenched torpor.
Odd carp were still nudging through the lilies though, and Chris had brought a bag of bread scraps which he shared around. Again, the fish seemed most active in my swim, and I had a brace of ten pounders and one of eight pounds before a better fish dived deep into the pads.
This time the carp took some teasing before I managed to ease it into open water and as it chugged left and right I could do little but coax it away from the pads and back for another pass. After some minutes it swirled and my heart quickened. Chris had suggested that one of us would catch a 15 pounder, and having already guessed he weight of my previous carp (10lb 6oz) from fifty yards away, I was feeling nervous.
It was a thick-shouldered fish, with a paddle for a tail and barely a blemish. It weighed 17lb 4oz and I was increasingly thankful to Andy for the extended ‘loan’ of his rod.
Martin and Chris had both caught carp of their own, but Merv had yet to cast for one and was ushered into my swim for a go. Chris set up the Barder Bishop and I reached a fixed spool Mitchell from my bag to compliment it.
After a couple of wayward casts (Merv blamed my reel) a piece of crust was landed in the perfect position and was soon taken. It took Merv a little by surprise though, and after a painful game of tug of war, the carp slipped the hook.
Merv was ready second time around though and bullied the fish straight out of the pads. The Bishop took on a most satisfying bend, soaking up all the fish could offer and another double figure carp was soon in the net.
We fished on, but with less vigour. Merv produced a selection of beers and followed them up with a cup of tea and a date and walnut cake. The evening drifted towards darkness with laughter and the flutter of bats.
Opening Day had delivered all we could have wished for, and we headed home happy. It is a long time since my right elbow has ached from playing fish, but hopefully it will not be long before I enjoy a day on the bank as much as that one.