Robert

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Tea-leaf! Tea-leaf!

Fishing Magic member Gary Cullum reminds us that fishing is not all just about the creatures beneath the surface. (Warning! The following story contains the word maggot!)

If you had to name one feathered bird that is synonymous with angling….what would it be? Heron, mallard, the rather annoying tufty? Tern, kingfisher, in some more northerly regions the dipper? Canada goose? Swan? The only good swan is a dead swan, said Dick Walker rather uncharitably. A wagtail of varying colourful names?

Ok , I’ll give you a few moments to think about it………………

……………………That’s it. Time up. For me it has to be the tea leaf of thieves.. Mr Robin Redbreast.

Our national bird, the Christmas card favourite, every gardener’s favourite, the worm stealer. Who can resist those large dark, trusting eyes, the slender, delicate bill, the beacon-like breast and the jaunty manner?

To me he’s a Robert – all the Robins in our garden over the years have been called Robert, male, female or speckly chest juvenile. All have been Robert, proud, aggressive, territorial. I haven’t found them the same while fishing; they seem somewhat more friendly, perhaps as they are chasing food in a larger area so they can afford to be less territorial.

There is nothing a Robin wouldn’t do for a mealworm, but cheese and currants are highly acceptable in the garden.

GCrobert1.jpgBUT. On the river bank or beside the lake, the Robin is a proper maggot tea leaf.. so brazen, so ‘in yer face’ so doesn’t give a damn that he’s stealing your bait. But he is a cheery soul and often obliges by singing almost throughout the year and how welcome that silvery thread of sound can be on a cold and dreary winter’s fishing day.

Their natural food consists of insects, spiders, worms (hmmmmm!!), also some seeds, fruits and berries…and my maggots. And your maggots. How many times have you looked round to see him (I’m calling Robert a him, though accept she may be a Roberta) striding across your maggot box, helping himself, not just to one rather gentle gentle, but to a beak full of maggots.

He’s a hard worker, for he is a busy family man. Look around further and you may see where his nest is – for it could be anywhere. In a hedgebank, an ivy covered wall or tree; it could be in an old tin can, a bucket, or a kettle – and we have plenty of those down our club. His nest will be built of of leaves and moss and lined with hair. And the family man I said he was. Mrs Robert lays five or six eggs and has two, and sometimes three, broods. Assuming Mr or Mrs Magpie doesn’t manage to steal most of the eggs, there’s a potential for a dozen or so Robbies each season.

GCrobert3.jpgI have witnessed robins doing battle in my worm tub on the Grand Union Canal, struggling to get the better of a large lobby; observed redbreasts bringing their speckle chested brood down for feeding time – and I have missed the photo call on so many occasions, opting instead to savour the magic of the moment. Or moving slowly for the camera in my rucksack only to spook the bird as if hurling a brick at a rising trout.

But the funniest occasion was on a summer’s longest day when I was tench and bream fishing at Snook’s Pool, our club‘s beautiful lily clad water at the southern end of Westbrook Mere, the Boxmoor & District AS club water that produced the country’s second ever largest carp behind the Walker 44. Well joint second, for Eddie Price also had a 40 lbs 8oz monster, his coming from Redmire in 1959. The Westbrook mirror of the same weight falling to the rod of 18-year-old trainee carpenter Ron Groombridge on 23rd June 1966 – just five weeks before Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in front of a Wembley Stadium crowd of 100,000. Anyway, that’s probably another carp history lesson for another day.

But on this longest day, Robert appeared…as a tightrope Dick(y Bird) Walker, or rather a walker of Barder cane, for I was using another bird that day – an 11ft two piece Merlin.

GCrobert4worms.jpgRobert jumped on the lightweight tip overhanging the marginal rushes and walked the full length, hopping off at the butt to steal my gentles. Then jumping back on and walking the gang plank again, spring boarding off from the tip to feed the family in the ivy on a crack willow trunk on the roadside bank – not that far in fact from the tombstone on the Moor of another Robert - Robert Snooks, the last highwayman to be executed in England. The date, for those interested, was 11 March 1802. He was buried where he fell after cutting the noose from the bough of the old chestnut.

Six times Robert walked the cane and I only managed one decent camera shot – a wobbly bony wingspan, but I caught the tea leaf – his mouth crammed with reds as he turned and gave me the wings up.

But I bet every angler has a Robert shot somewhere in the archive and a Robert story to tell; despite his aggressive tendencies, he’s a friend to us anglers, and his visits to our swim brighten even the coldest day.

Gary Cullum







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