Surrendering to the charms of the Silver Doctor

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The Independent Online

So far my fishing has always ended as the sun set. Night fishing for sea trout, of which I'd heard great tales – how difficult it can be, how every noise makes you jump, was, I thought, something I'd do when I grew up and got really proficient. But, finding myself in Devon and not far from the Arundell Arms, and knowing that they provided guided night fishing I decided to give it a go.

I'm not ashamed to admit that, for the few days prior to the event, I was filled with some small terror which I was trying to conceal as excitement and anticipation. We drove down early so that we could look at the beat we were to fish at night – essential if you don't know the river. When we got there, David Pilkington, who was taking us out, had some news. The water was too coloured to fish at dead of night (the fish wouldn't be able to see the fly) so he suggested we hurry up and fish immediately until there was absolutely no light left. Which, this being July, meant until about 10.30pm.

Quite on purpose, I had left my waders behind because I did not want to wade in my slippery waders, at night, in strange water. Pilkington, however, had other plans and introduced me to a fine pair with felt soles, in just my size. We set off to the Home Beat on the river Lyd – one of the very best beats for sea trout. Actually, waders were essential because there was almost no bank and you had to spend a great deal of time in the water or negotiating slippery near-180 degree banks. Pilkington, in the way that I have come to realise men who know their rivers very well do, had said it would be "easy". Hmmm.

We started on the Silver Doctor pool, apt as that's what we were fishing with. You have to be extraordinarily still when fishing for the lovely silver sea trout as they are very, very shy. We could, however, chat. And we did. Chat, chat, chat. Pilkington, despite being a superb fisherman, was never once patronising, only gently encouraging. He made an excellent fishing companion. We moved upstream, climbing the near-vertical banks and holding onto tree roots as we did so. It was splendidly exciting and, after I had made the trip a few times and knew the terrain, I got addicted to negotiating it in the fast fading light.

We perched high on the bank, fishing out a pool. Stupidly I had only brought my Polaroids (tip, if you go night fishing, bring clear glasses to protect your eyes) and as night fell I couldn't see so had to take them off and fish with unshielded eyes which, especially night fishing, is not recommended. Luckily I was well in control of my casting.

The trick is to slow everything right down. I had a huge pull, so exhilarating my heart beats fast now just thinking about it. But we were talking about the education system at the time and I was too slow to react. Damn, damn. We moved back to the Silver Doctor pool, having given it a rest. In the trees on the other side of the river there was a right old carry on. Something was worrying the blackbirds. "There must be an owl about" Pilkington said. Sure enough out flew a big old tawny.

As the light faded, things changed. The noises, the animals you get used to hearing and seeing on the river bank during the day, faded out and new, strange ones took over. There were rustlings in the bushes, funny looking silhouettes made their way down the river bank; and bats, hundreds of them, came out and swooped down.

I wasn't worried – I know they have fabulous radar and don't get trapped in your hair. But then Pilkington told me they can take your fly as you cast out – thinking them to be insects in flight – and getting them off was tricky (shake them off, don't touch them, they bite). Further upstream we heard a shout. "The bears have got him" said Pilkington of Pete. In fact he had a beautiful two-and-a-bit pound sea trout on.

It was eleven. I was transfixed with catching a fish, but did not. My one mighty bite was to be it. I was also totally mesmerised by the river at night, she had become all mysterious and dark, and I didn't really want to leave. On the way back up I found a wonderful, sturdy branch fallen from a silver birch that made a perfect walking stick. I'm sure we had passed that way before and it had not been there. I took it. The river that night had rewarded me with a silver prize after all.

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