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A Word of Advice, Son
by Mike FitzGerald

"A word of advice, son. Dinny pit yar light on in the wids, ya light yersel
up like a bloody beacon."

I dropped the cleek behind me, hoping it hadn't been seen. Their hunting lamp
was right in my face. I was ready to bluff my way out of it but there was no
need, they were after the salmon too and wanted to get on with it. They
slipped upriver as quickly as foxes, leaving me blind after their torchlight.
I fumbled through the moss for the sharp cleek then trotted back in the
poachers moon, shaken but unharmed. Spilling out the hairy edge of the wood,
the brightness was astonishing; you could have read a small bible. You can't
see colour in moonlight but on a night like that you think you can. The frost
was clearly enjoying its freedom, grasses moved into threads of glass and
shattered underfoot, breath was thicker than chimney smoke. There was an
audible buzz in the air, pure excitement. Thin ice was creeping out on top of
the water from the edges of the bank. When it caught the light there were
hundreds of eyes looking at you, maybe frogs, maybe salmon? No, just ice,
alive ice. Two miles away a car weaved its way up to Stichill, you could hear
the caution in its engine. It was going to be a hard one.

A heavy smack in the swollen water shot across the orchards, no way was that
a trout. They've arrived, definitely they've arrived, all the way from the
dark Atlantic, through the grey North sea, Tweedmouth and Berwick, past the
Geordie gill nets and trebles, unflinching past the well placed flies of the
upper beats and hovering patiently at Edenmouth for the rains to start. Now
the river was high enough and they were here, the strong ones, silver bars,
blue in the moon. I could be a part of it if only I could take one. I wanted
to be inside those stories, not just a listener. The trout seemed to know
they were second prize now, I'm sure they showed themselves more freely, like
mischievous children behind a locked fence, using my obsession to tease me.
Trout were out of season until the spring and the grayling are too sluggish
to take seriously, just light relief through the winter, a chance to use the
new Christmas tackle.

There was a long gravel bed under Lodge Bridge, a good lye were a strong tail
could scoop a trough for its eggs. I was taking the long route, following the
edge of the copse, taking it slow. I wasn't going to be shamed a second time.
Stopping every couple of minutes to listen, you would hear a person long
before you saw them on a night like this. If the wind picked up you could
pass a person in the dark very easily but as it was, as still as a painting,
you could hear every leaf and every cough. You stay clear of the rapids, they
are too noisy to be safe, it's the thick heavy pools you fish, slipping into
them in slow motion, wading across them like a cartoon giant. Then you burn
the water. That is what they call it up here. They used to do it with flaming
torches and rags tied around their faces, there is a photograph, and it is
amazing. A flash in the dark and these frozen poses, caught red-handed with
fire in one hand, a spear in the other, doing this thing at night while
everyone sleeps. Any boy would be taken by this, it was the furthest you
could go, pure magic.


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