Monday, 28 July 2008

Fun in the Fens

0830 Saturday morning, I had just put the kettle on when Isaac bounded excitedly down the stairs; “Dad! Are we going night fishing today?” My kids have been coming night fishing in the summer since they were three or four years old. I don’t have to press gang them into it, they love it! This is great because I’m able to share my passion; show the kids some nature in wild places, hopefully educating them a bit in the process and it also gives me the opportunity to fish for Zander a few times each year. A few hours later, the car had been packed to the roof with gear and provisions for the kids; Madison, Isaac, nephew Oliver and myself. There is a spot I know on a large fenland river, quiet, miles from anywhere, safe and child friendly. We arrived there in the early afternoon to find the gate locked, bugger!

Now that really pees me off because I’ve been fishing that particular stretch for about fifteen years without any problem. Last summer there was an accident on a railway bridge about half a mile downstream. Lots of lifting equipment had to be employed and there was a major hassle repairing the damage, gates were installed at access points up and downstream which was fair enough. Now a year on the work is finished but we are still locked out. It seems some selfish bar steward doesn’t want us to enjoy ourselves on a free stretch of river.

All was not lost, half an hour later we pulled up at another stretch which was shown to us by a friend (Thanks Chris!). It was a very hot, humid afternoon and by the time we had carried a mountain of equipment across the field I was sweating my cobblers off. The kids began fishing almost straight away, using a whip, maggots and a little groundbait to catch whatever swum past. Meanwhile I began setting up the tent, sleeping bags and equipment for the kids before beginning to organise my own fishing equipment. The first rod I put out was a feeder to target the Bream that can sometimes be caught in large numbers on this river. This stretch is lovely and perfect for our requirements with a nice meadow between the flood bank and the river. This area is usually quiet with very few other anglers which has to be a consideration when I take the kids. They are not there purely for the fishing and during the daylight hours they love to run around, explore the meadow and search for the animals, birds and bugs. Another consideration has to be safety and here we have nice shallow margins and I they have to stray a long way to be out of sight. A gravel pit carp fishery would not suit our needs in any way although I must admit I would get a laugh fro my kids winding up the bivvy brigade.

One slight drawback of fishing this river is the holiday boat traffic. As an angler I can fully understand the appeal of a week afloat like that but there are a few things that puzzle me. For example; why oh why do people buy those bloody stupid captains hats when they commence their holiday? Do they really think they are funny? When there is the whole width of the river why do they feel the need to brush the edge of the lily pads so close to where we are fishing? Finally, when there are hundreds of miles of river in the fens, why did that elderly couple choose to moor up for the night virtually opposite us? I’m sure this was a decision they regretted when the kids woke up noisily at 5am the following morning!

As usual setting up the Zander rods and getting everything ready for the night ahead takes all afternoon as I had to be constantly untangling lines, removing weed, unhooking fish and generally doing all the things a Dad does when he takes his kids fishing. Isaac seemed a little bored as the Bream, Rudd, Roach and Perch they were catching just weren’t as exciting as the Pike he’s become used to seeing. Madison hadn’t been fishing since this time last year and I was really pleased to see that being a year older, bigger and stronger she could handle the whip easily on her own. Oliver hasn’t fished much in the past but as the afternoon wore on he got more opportunities as his younger cousins became distracted by chasing butterflies and making friends with horses. It’s not just the fishing that the kids love; it’s the whole experience of camping in the countryside. Not forgetting the sausage sarnies of course!

By the early evening we had a net full of silver fish, plenty of bait for the night ahead and the occasional larger Bream has succumbed to the feeder rod. The kids had become a bit more settled now, either in the tent or sitting on chairs. Isaac drew pictures whilst Madison made a list of all the animals, birds and fish she had seen during the afternoon. Oliver was still enjoying catching fish and I promised him the next bream on the feeder rod. By 8pm my Zander rods were baited and ready; A running Paternostered livebait in the middle, a ledgered deadbait upstream and a popped up live downstream. All we needed now was something with teeth to swim along. It didn’t take long for the Paternostered bait to be taken but the culprit removed the bait from the hooks and made its get away.

I love it when the sun slowly sinks and the sky becomes full of colours, not only does the river scene look beautiful with this backdrop but I feel confident that a fish or two will come on the feed. The kids were still wearing tee shirts but had a heavy coating of bug spray to keep the swarms of gnats away. Luckily none of us are of the Mosquito’s preferred flavour as we rarely suffer from their bites. Some people really suffer but not us, maybe we have tough skin? With sausage sandwiches and hot mugs of tea inside us we watched the sun sink and enjoyed each others company. Gathering clouds prevented any star gazing but Isaac looked skyward and was excited to see the first bat of the evening fly over. The Zander were not playing ball as all I had was a couple of bleeps on the paternoster rod that I put down to an over active bait. However when I wound that rod in the bait had been robbed again.

By eleven o clock the kids were yawning and were ready for their sleeping bags. I switched the upstream deadbait rod for another popped up livebait. I used to feel confident with fresh deads but in recent seasons, all these have produced are Eels so it was three livebaits for the night. Just as I began to settle down it started raining, quite heavily and I dozed off to sleep with the sound of increasingly heavy rain pounding on my little pop up bivvy.

Perhaps ninety minutes later two quick bleeps on the alarm had me wide awake and bolt upright, however nothing developed. I sat feeling very damp around the usual place and unable to sleep, my confidence was draining away. No Zander had put in an appearance and after having my bait robbed twice I was beginning to wonder if I had anything on my hooks. My doubts were shattered when at around 2am the BBBB alarm signalled a take on the upstream rod and I wound into my first Zander of the season which was soon bullied into the net. The kids had assured me they wanted to be woken up if I had a Zander in the net but I failed to rouse them though it has to be said I didn’t try too hard! The fish would have weighed around five pounds, by no means a monster but a first of the year and very welcome.

The night passed slowly with hardly any sleep despite trying to imagine being on a desert island with ‘Destiny’s Child’. However I was happy to witness the silhouettes of a pair of foxes as they stalked along the floodbank opposite. How many people see these things without the aid of David Attenborough on TV? Usually when I fish a night like this I tend to sleep when the sun comes up, which is a bit strange but this time it was not to be. At 5am the upstream rod screamed off, which woke Madison who in turn woke the whole camp and almost certainly the boat moored just upstream LOL! This was another Zander, slightly larger at around six pounds and all three kids were up and out of the tent in time to see me slip it back. There was no chance of anymore sleep now so the kids began fishing with the whip and I made us a nice fried breakfast. By seven o clock we’d taken our species count to seven by catching Bleak and Gudgeon. A little while later the Paternostered livebait was taken, this time a small Pike was responsible taking the count to eight!

By now the sun was up and the overnight rain was evaporating, allowing me to pack up the tent and tidy the gear away. Chris came down for a chat and helped us pack away. We were treated to the spectacle of a brood of young Kestrels flapping about a willow tree. The kids would have gladly stayed a while longer and continued fishing but I was knackered and needed to get away. The humidity was intense and I was glad to pull away with fresh air blowing in through the open car windows. A really enjoyable night and before long we’ll be back again, I can't wait!

1 comment:

T. Brook Smith said...

Terrific trip, Michael!

That all looks very familiar and incredibly fun. My own son is getting "too cool" to fish with dad at the ripe old age of 16. I'm hoping he'll reconsider in a few years when his dad is a bit less of an idiot. The 4 year old seems marginally interested so far. We'll see. She does love the woods so there is hope.