Thursday 31 December 2020

Wasn't all bad...

December always seems grey.  Short days and low cloud there’s no light and I wonder if this contributes to me being so grumpy at this time of year?  These last few days have seen plenty of cloud and buckets of rain, enough to raise the river as high as I’ve ever seen it, Xmas eve saw parts of the town under water.  This kind of flood should shift and scour, perhaps making the river a different entity to the one I’ve fished this season?  But here in the east it all drains away quickly and thankfully very few people are affected, today I actually saw the sun which made a nice change.  The season of good will is an obstacle to overcome but once we’ve all paid Xmas tax and the New Year is upon us I tell myself we’re through the worst, the days are getting a few minutes longer now and things will start growing again soon.  But for a couple more hours we’re still stuck in 2020, a year most people want to forget.  

Apart from a few weeks in the spring the angling year was hardly affected and those of us with an angling affliction have probably found the whole lockdown experience less stressful than most.  I’m doubly lucky, living in the countryside meant that even when I couldn’t fish I was able to get out wandering in wild places.  2020 started pretty well with plenty of Pike to upper double figures along with my first ‘target’ of the year, a Pike from my local river.  Then spring came and as usual my attempts to catch wild Tench and Carp were fruitless, my latest grand plan being a total failure.  By the time we were able to fish the rivers in June I’d had enough of chasing myths so set off on a quest to catch a Gudgeon from my local river.  This ultimately proved a failure but I rediscovered the pleasure of watching a stick float trundle down the river and caught plenty of Rudd, Roach, Chub and Dace.  Some were from swims I’d fished as a lad and others from areas I’d never before trotted.  And I have come up with a location where I may catch that elusive Gudgeon next year…

Mid summer brought another change of angling scenery as for the first time in nearly forty years I found myself staring out to sea, watching rod tips and becoming totally hypnotised by the whole experience.  Everything about it felt new, fresh and exciting; with three ‘new’ species caught every fish was a potential PB.  What sea fishing has is an air of mystery that is almost extinct in coarse fishing in an era where fish have names.  A rod slamming bite and a Bass of a couple of pounds was one of my fishing highlights of the year, one I hope to repeat next summer.

But despite the interesting variety 2020 was mostly about the Pike fishing and it all went rather well, in fact I’ve had very few years that have been better.  There was a spell early on when everything just clicked and confidence soared, times like this come rarely so I made the most of it. On one unforgettable occasion I dropped into a spot, swung a herring out underarm and after a few minutes saw the float stab.  After a short but terrifying battle I drew a very long fish over the net and I knew without doubt that I’d achieved my one and only ambition in Pike angling.  This finally came after literally shedding blood, sweat and tears of all types over many seasons but I wouldn’t change a fucking thing!  

However within days I realised that one ambition had been replaced by another and then another! My desire for solitude means there are very few places where these Pikey ambitions could become reality but luckily I know a couple so on I’ll go for as long as I’m still enjoying it.  When I next go fishing, sometime in the early days of 2021 I’ll be after Pike once more and I’m starting to look forward to it already.

Friday 25 December 2020


December, my least favourite month and because I never worked out what was happening with work leave in this interrupted year I have a few days off.  Once upon a time I would have spent every single one of them by the waterside but nowadays I take it easy, a trip here and another one there will do for me.

I woke up on a gloomy, grey morning with persistent rain, enough to flood the river again I expect.  Certainly enough to put me off going fishing this morning, the good thing about keeping diaries, I KNOW my chosen water doesn’t fish well in grey, rainy weather. 

So me and Isaac arrived in the early afternoon by which time the clouds had broken up and at one point there was even a brief appearance from the sun.  By the time we’d got the boat loaded, rowed out and baits in the water it was around 1330.  We shared rods with five deadbaits scattered about the boat, fishing a spot I’d caught a few from in recent times.  It didn’t take long before Isaac was away on smelt.  He wound down, done everything right but for some reason the fish didn’t stay hooked.  I had the next two takes, a bluey on a single hook rig accounted for a seven pounder at 1400 then half an hour later I had a low double on Mackerel.  We moved after a while, back upstream where Isaac had another take but this one was dropped.  By then it was getting dark and by the time we got back to the boathouse I needed the head torch.

Two takes each but on this occasion the luck was on my side.  Its great fishing with my son, we don’t do it often enough.  I struggle to get motivated to fish anywhere other than the special place nowadays but I enjoyed fishing today, the best company and only a short trip.

A few days later I was out of bed at an ungodly hour and soon driving north with ‘Chemical Brothers’ keeping me awake.  I was a little held up at the slip, I wanted to catch some bait and things didn’t go to plan but soon the bucket was shimmering and I was heading out into the wilds.  On paper everything was on my side; just after New Moon, mild with a light south westerly and a bright sky for once.  Maybe it was too bright as the predicted cloud cover didn’t arrive and despite working hard and moving often I failed to find any Pike.  That’s not unusual in these parts but it didn’t spoil my day, still it was fantastic to be back out there after more than a month away, travelling up during a lockdown didn’t sit right.  I didn’t see any Pike but the Harriers were ever present and I saw a Bittern along with a large white heron shaped thing that I think is a Great Egret?  And still I dream of the unknown monster…

After a lay in and a day of rest I was feeling the urge again so the Princess dropped me off on her way to work and the plan was to walk home along the river casting lures, starting at the old ford and heading back upstream.  I also had a plan B worked in should the river be pushing through too hard, the secret pit should be fishable and its five years since I last visited it, who knows what has changed?  It was a beautiful sunny day, mild with a light south westerly and I arrived at the river to find it just about fishable.  I walked along way and cast infrequently but where I did fish, my old K11 Kwikfish seemed to be working in the stream okay.  The water was high which made it difficult for me to read on this little known stretch and I didn’t feel confident.

I got to the pit and as expected it was even more overgrown than before, the water was high but clear enough.  I tried the bottleneck swim but could only manage a couple of casts with a shad because there just wasn’t room.  I walked round to the northern side where there was a bit of space and within a couple of casts the shad was taken and I gladly dragged a Jack into the margins.  After a few more minutes I felt I had fully covered the water available so moved on again.

There’s only one more fishable spot on the pit but it’s a good one, a small point with tree lined bays both sides and a view the length of the pit.  Within a few casts I felt a bump on the shad, definitely a fish but it didn’t hook up.  The same thing happened again a few minutes later which gave me confidence to carry on and eventually I had a proper take and landed another Jack, a little bigger than the first.  After a tea break I resumed fishing and covered the swim with a few different lures working different depths but nothing else pulled back.

It wasn’t long before I got itchy feet so I clipped the Kwikfish back on and returned to the river, trying to fish slacks where I could find them.  I was headed in the general direction of home but soon came up against an obstacle, a ‘footpath closed’ sign blocking the rickety bridge.  To retrace my footsteps would have added a couple of miles and almost an hour to my day so after the briefest of inspections I ignored the sign and crossed.  Another identical sign at the other side seemed evidence that the only obstacle had been overcome but I could see no reason to block the bridge, it seemed perfectly safe to me. So I resumed fishing but nothing grabbed the lure and it had never really seemed likely.  It was nice to bump into a couple of old acquaintances when I returned to civilisation and after a good yarn I packed the gear away and yomped home via the park.  A few hours in the countryside and a couple of Jacks for my trouble, I’d have settled for that.  I grew up fishing the gravel pits but how long since I last caught a Pike from one? 

A few days later I was awake at a reasonable hour, the Princess was off to work again, did I fancy getting dropped off and walking the river home again?  Could I be arsed?  In truth no, through the window it looked horrible out there.  But for some reason I got my bits together and around 0900 found myself walking down a track towards the river.  This time I was a couple of miles upstream and today I found the river lower, flowing nicely with a tinge of colour.  I felt confident fish would at least see my lure and felt I was in with a chance.  The cloud had broken up a bit and by now the morning was a mixture of sunshine and gloomy periods with the occasional light shower, mild with fresh winds from the south.  I began fishing with more confidence than I’d had the last time.

So I made my way downstream towards home, mostly fish shads and sometimes a spinnerbait, casting here and there, gradually waking up.  But nothing was happening, there were no fishy pulls on my line and no sign of any fish of any description.  Much of the river was straight, shallow and uninviting but the further I walked the better things looked.  At last a fish flashed at a shad but from the glimpse I got it looked like a smallish Perch and it never returned.  On a bit further and I felt a definite tap, a few casts later something grabbed the Shad and with no fuss whatsoever I hauled a Jack out of the river.  It may have been small but it was perfect.  I’m easily pleased on a trip like this; just catching a fish makes it a result, especially as Pike seem to be much scarcer on my local river these days.  Why is this?  The river is slowly dying and has been for many years now; the fish are under more pressure from enemies with two feet, four feet and wings.   Still I had another couple of miles of interesting looking river to go at and if I could catch one there was still every chance of another.

Most of the river looks the part along here and I’ve fished it a few times without any real success and this was repeated today.  All of it looked right and there were a couple of pools that looked bang on for a Pike, this may be the case but today they didn’t want my lures.  After a couple of miles of slip sliding through mud my legs were tired as I trudged back up the road.  Maybe I’ll do it again?  Maybe with a stick float and some maggots?  Maybe but first we have to get through the festival of greed…

Saturday 14 November 2020

Seasonal affective disorder

 So here we are allegedly locked down again although you’d never know this by the weight of rush hour traffic.  In reality it’s an evening lockdown, a token gesture and nothing more.  And if the clown in Downing Street has done such a good job then how did we end up here again?  Now speaking purely selfishly I’d have been pissed right off if the country had closed down when the scientists advised.  Autumn is my favourite time of the fishing year and to be kept away from my favourite places at this time would have been sickening.  So I was able to spend the season alone in my boat doing what I love, I fished hard and it all went rather well.  By the time the lockdown returned I was ready for a break and early announcements attributed to the Broads Authority suggested boats would not be welcome on the water.  But it seems the BA had no right to make this pronouncement so both anglers and boaters are going about business as usual.  Living an hour away from the boat yard makes the whole travelling thing problematic for me so I’ll be staying away for a while, even though I could drive up and launch without going anywhere near another human.

The lockdowns have contributed to this being a very busy year for fishing, commercial fisheries are rammed and many local clubs had to cap their memberships for the first time in years.  There have never been so many anglers out on the bank and with this latest period of restriction it could be bad news for the Pike.  That Pike suffer badly from angling pressure is accepted as fact by almost all experienced anglers, tackle shops are running out of dead bait and many waters are now seeing extreme pressure, it might not end well…

On a related theme, a club that is reasonably local to me acquired a new stillwater which has a reputation for producing seriously big Pike.  The club took some steps to regulate the angling pressure by inviting anglers to apply for one of two, ‘Pike tickets’ which would allow them to fish for a two month period. The club also introduced strict rules on the type of tackle people should use and what the tackle trade calls ‘fish care equipment’.  On the face of it this all seems sensible but all sorts of people applied for tickets which means experienced Pikers may miss out whilst Noddy with the big unhooking mat could be staring at a big head full of sharp teeth.  No sour grapes here, I’m not a member and have no interest in fishing the place as, amongst other things, it would mean interacting with people but I wish a couple of friends good luck on all fronts.

Also in the local-ish angling world the EA has been forced to back down on idiotic plans to block a Bure broad off to migratory fish.  Recent research using radio tags has revealed the broad to be a major spawning site for Bream which move into the area from all over the system.  Obviously stopping a species from reproducing is not going to end well and even when EA’s own staff pointed this out they were ignored.  This was part of another fuck witted scheme by which some scientist would splash around for a bit then write a paper that nobody reads and declare themselves clever.  As usual its anglers that have fought to stop this happening and once again PAC’s superstar John Currie has been in the thick of it.  Also rare credit to Angling Trust whose ‘Fish Legal’ team has also contributed to the argument and the blocking of the broad has been postponed.  I must caveat this by saying AT in the east has a habit of swooping in at the last minute to claim responsibility for other people’s work.  I say the scheme is postponed because these quangos are seldom held accountable and I suspect they will come up with a slightly different yet equally ludicrous idea in the near future.

When I go fishing in autumn or winter I go Pike fishing.  Always.  But today I changed the habits of a lifetime.  I left home with minimal tackle but I did take two rods; one was a quiver tip set up with a maggot feeder and the other was a float rod with a wire stemmed stick. A small rucksack, landing net, seat, bank stick and bait box made up my kit.  The morning was gloomy so I waited for the soggy clouds to pass over before leaving home around lunchtime.

My destination was a stretch of river that I’d fished in the summer, on that occasion I’d found it in perfect nick after heavy summer rain but today it ran low and clear, a barren river bed illuminated by the now bright afternoon sun.  I wandered along a muddy footpath, heading away from the houses looking for likely looking pools that may hold a few silver fish or better still a Chub.  When I was younger you could almost guarantee catching Chub between two and three pounds along here but now things are much changed.  The river is much shallower and the course of the main flow is not the same, well at least it had some flow today, that isn’t a given.  The reeds are brown stalks now but still choking the river in many places and look unlikely to be dislodged by winter floods, should we get any.

With half a mile or so in my legs I came to a spot that had looked the part in the summer and didn’t actually look too bad today.  But with the vegetation now flattened there was no cover and this clumsy bastard would have spooked any Chub around long before the float plopped in.  But I didn’t spook everything as my first trot saw the float bury and a nice Rudd was swung in.  The good start promised much but although a managed a couple more fish, pristine river Roach, bites were infrequent and there were other places I wanted to try.

The next spot was a long run that had been full of fish in the summer but today was low, clear and lifeless.  I tried a few trots but what I really wanted to do was have a cup of tea while sitting on my arse looking at a quiver tip so in the next spot this is exactly what I done.  Here a fallen tree almost crosses the river and traps a raft of floating natural debris that is in the process of fading from green to brown but has been invaded by a fleet of coke bottles.  The swim looks the part and was a very good area a lifetime ago so I swung the feeder upstream, perched on a folding boat seat and tried to make a brew.  However making tea proved difficult on a sloping bank but the main trouble was I kept getting interrupted by bites, one a chuck when the feeder landed in the right place.  A mixture of nice sized Rudd and Roach, in different circumstances almost all would have gone in a bucket.  In the end I chucked the feeder downstream just so I could enjoy my tea.  When I recast to the raft the bites came again but the fish seemed to be getting smaller and there was no sign of any Chub.

In theory it should have been enjoyable, catching sparkling fish in the countryside on a little fished river but the reality was different.  A little further upstream is a quarry from which came an almighty racket and away behind me there’s a large building site noisily sinking concrete into a former arable hillside.  Then there were the walkers who aren’t any bother but sitting so close to the path I couldn’t relax.  I’ve found there are three types of walker; my favourites just ignore me which is perfect.  Next are those that utter a polite greeting then carry on their way, these are a just a minor irritant. Finally there are the worst kinds, the ones who want to engage me in a conversation which will follow a depressingly predictable course.  I don’t want to be rude so supress the urge to scream ‘Fuck off!’ in their faces.  Thankfully there were no close encounters of the third kind today but the ever present threat made me nervous and uncomfortable.  I know, I’m a grumpy unsociable bastard but I’ve come to the conclusion that 95% of people are just sheep and at least half of those are fucking idiots.  Dealing with humans is unavoidable most of the time but when I’m fishing I’m too used to solitude.  So I went home. There’s a lot to be said for Pike fishing from a boat…

On reflection my mood may have been due the state of the river, seeing it up close, bare and lifeless was a disappointment.  The spots I’d ear marked for a Chub didn’t look at all likely, if I’m going to fish like this again this winter and I probably will, then it won’t be here.  But there are other places where I’ve seen Chub and I’m far less likely to encounter wandering humans so for the next couple of months I may be going off the rails some more. 

Friday 30 October 2020

Radio Silence


Sunday 20 September 2020

The Cruel Sea

We couldn’t resist, we just had to get down to the beach once more before the change in seasons, one last attempt to catch some Bass, Rays, Smoothound or whatever.  I’d made the decision to put the old and barely functioning Intrepid reel into retirement, relegating it to a spare once again. I’d splashed out and replaced it with a modern Mitchell surf caster meaning I’d be fighting the new tackle curse I’d so far avoided.   Also after rooting through the shed I managed to bodge a tripod out of a vintage carpy one made by Delareed that hadn’t seen daylight since the eighties. I managed to extend the legs thanks to some aluminium tubes I found in the garden.  These came from some kind of lightweight mini greenhouse thing that wasn’t being used, so far no one has noticed.  Some of the crap I’ve been unwilling to dump over the years is proving its worth but there will be loads more stuff that I really should just bin.  On another warm evening I sat in the garden and spent some time constructing a pulley rig and tied a few hooklengths, I also added reflective tape to the rod tips to aid bite indication after dark. 

Leading up to the day everything looked rosy, a dry sunny day with a light easterly breeze, another idyllic evening but with twenty four hours to go the forecast ramped the wind speed up.  Apparently a strong east wind would be straight into our chops but this didn’t matter, we’d be going anyway, confident of catching a bag of fish having got this sea fishing lark well sussed out now.

Giles, Rich and I assembled at the car park around 1400 then trudged across the shingle towards the sea which at first glance looked inhospitable to say the least, big and grey and angry with white capped waves and a roar of shifting stones.  This didn’t put us off, we’d just have to use bigger leads, ignorance is bliss.  Already on the beach were two friends, Trev and Craig who, although they wouldn’t describe themselves as serious fishermen, were certainly more experienced off the beach than we were.  In fact Trev had already caught a small Cod (yes a Cod!) and a Whiting so things were looking good, until we turned to face the sea.  A twenty mile an hour Easterly on a lake or broad is one thing, here it was something else entirely.

We walked on in order to give the lads some space as it was obvious even to us that leads and lines would be getting shifted.  I had arrived with a plan which I stubbornly tried to put into action.  A whole squid was hooked onto a Pennell rig then in turn attached to a Pulley rig before being hurled into the boiling grey stuff.  With this rod I wanted to fish at longer range with a bigger bait hoping for a big fish but into the wind the splash didn’t look very far out at all.  My second rod was the old carp rod again on which I hoped to fish a running leger and a long hooklength.  This I intended to bait with Ragworm and drop in close hoping for a Bass however it only took one cast for me to realise the set up was hopelessly inadequate for the conditions.  The wind was forecast to ease through the afternoon so I scrapped the light rod for the time being.  Giles and Richard were fishing and faring a little better than me, at least managing to keep two rods going.

So we sat back to relax and enjoy the fishing.  Despite the wind the temperature was pleasant enough and we were comfortable staring at the bouncing rod tips but would we ever be able to tell a bite?  Evidently Trev could as he soon added an Eel and a Bass to his tally making it four different species and Craig had managed a couple of Whiting.  Giles, Rich and I had all attempted to fish the long trace running rig on one rod but Giles had been on Google and constructed some impressive and complicated multi hook rigs for his second whilst Rich was sticking to his tried and trusted paternoster.  Recasts were regular as the wind and tide kept shifting everything southwards.  Whether it was this bouncing along the sea bed, fish or crabs that were mangling our baits we were too inexperienced to know but we kept at it.  Giles was particularly keen, standing facing the blast holding his rod and touch legering for a time, hoping to spot a bite.  Me and Rich just sat looking at the tips, hoping a fish would hang itself so obviously that we’d know. 

Then we heard a shout and it seemed Giles’ perseverance had paid off as he winched his multi hook rig up the beach with two small Whiting attached but he confessed he hadn’t seen the bite and was as surprised as we were.  Despite my friends success I didn’t feel the slightest bit confident of actually catching something today, I was simply going through the motions.  Later in the afternoon a drop in the wind allowed me to get my second rod fishing at close range and I was pleased my improvised tripod was holding up much better than I ever thought it would or could.  For a while it looked like the weather was calming down and getting the sea seemed more manageable, for an hour or so the evening promised to be comfortable.

Just before dark Trev treated everyone to barbecue cooked burgers which went down a storm but as we fed so it seemed the fish had stopped.  We’d been expecting the wind to abate with darkness but if anything it had got worse again and as the tide rose up the beach the waves became ever larger.  We had also been told to expect hordes of Whiting after dark but this didn’t happen either.  I’d been recasting my close range rod often, on several occasions retrieving to find my bait had gone.  The reflective tape I’d put on the rod tips worked a treat but if anything tonight it made it obvious that the lighter rod was in constant motion and I couldn’t possibly have a clue if I had a bite.  I had to concede defeat and pack that one away for the evening, concentrating on the one rod might give me a chance?

Our first two trips on the beach had been idyllic and the conditions had made the mechanics of the fishing easy for us but tonight we were way out of our depth.  I certainly had neither the experience nor equipment to feel like I was fishing effectively, a good reminder that I am a novice and have a lot to learn about beach fishing.  Tonight I was learning that there will be times when I need heavier leads and a stiffer rod or maybe I should seek more sheltered water in one of the estuaries when the weather is rough?

One by one the other lads packed up and bid us farewell until it was just me and Giles left on the beach, ‘one last cast’ or so we said.  It struck me just how loud the crash of waves and the shifting shingle was, we almost had to shout to be heard.  By now I was fishing half a bluey on the Pennell/Pulley rig and the tip was bent and nodding rhythmically.  I remarked to Giles that I hadn’t seen a definite bite all evening then shortly after my tip banged and slackened off, surely that was a bite?  I wound down and yes there was definitely a weight on the end that required me to pump it back towards me.  I was expecting to wind in weed or Giles’ line but no something long and fishy was wriggling up the beach.  Was that an Eel?  No it was a Dogfish!  But it was somehow foul hooked in the belly, though the sliding hook had moved a foot so it may have been hooked fairly at some point?  It doesn’t matter, I’d seen the bite and experienced the thrill of hauling something unknown onto the beach in the dark.  The dogfish was soon back in the sea wondering what the fuck had just happened.  We gave it one last cast, then one more but neither of us managed to catch anything else by fair means or foul.

This evening had been a totally different experience to our previous trips.  In fact sitting in the dark being blasted by the wind and not having a clue if I was seeing bites was much more like my childhood experiences of beach fishing.  I enjoyed it but it enforced for me that it isn’t the kind of beach fishing I want to do.  Am I a fair weather sea fisherman?  I plead guilty as charged but with renewed respect for the enthusiasts for which the cold, dark and rough sea is normal.  Tonight it was good to shut the car door and block it all out.  But come spring I will be back!

Sunday 30 August 2020


We had to squeeze in another trip to the beach before the arrival of autumn and an obsession with Pike, that first time had been so much fun, we had all loved it.  But as we got closer to the arranged date the forecast made it look like the weather might intervene with a monsoon.  We’re beginners and not equipped to survive on the beach in rough weather and with twenty four hours to go it looked like we might have to call off.  In fact I was so sure we wouldn’t be going I didn’t bother to pick up any ragworm.  But on the Thursday evening the forecast looked a bit more manageable and as Rich had an old and very battered umbrella we thought we could handle showers so the trip was back on, although we’d have to rely on frozen bait.

We were due to fish from early afternoon on a rising tide then stay on into darkness for as long as we were enjoying ourselves.  Here at home, twenty miles from the coast it rained most of the morning and this continued on the journey east but by the time we met at the allotted car park the clouds were breaking and the sky was as bright as my mood.  Rich, Giles and I loaded up then trudged across the shingle towards the grey expanse of salty stuff.  There were already three anglers in situ so we decided to walk on past them and give them a wide birth.  They looked like they knew what they were doing and we didn’t want to embarrass ourselves.  This part of the world could be described as bleak; flat as a witch’s tit with a few blasted buildings and sparse vegetation.  And stones.  Miles upon miles of pebbles dumped by the tides.  It’s a world away from a shady, lily fringed pool yet still impressive in a different way.

We three set about tackling up with unfamiliar tackle, I’d got adventurous and brought a second rod with me.  This was a 1980’s vintage Daiwa carp rod that had originally been brown but at some point I’d painted it matt black so it looked cool.  This is another piece of old tackle that is full of memories but hasn’t been used for a very long time.  I put on a rarely used Shimano reel of a more recent vintage and on this rod I fished a running leger with a 3oz flat lead, a long trace and a size 2 Aberdeen, just up from the hook I’d attached a large buoyant bead because it seemed like a good idea.  As we had no live worms I decided to try one made of rubber and plopped this out only about twenty yards.  On my other rod I was going more adventurous and fished a whole squid on a 2/0 Pennell rig.  Once again I used a running rig with a long trace but the lead was a 6ozs breakaway and I hurled this as far as the ancient Intrepid could manage.  The floating bead and rubber worm had been my idea but for the rest I was simply fishing as the friendly bait digger had recommended.  Giles and Rich were doing it a bit different, using paternoster rigs and a variety of baits; squid, sprats and fillets of bluey.

Last time we’d fished we had bites from the start but not so tonight, the tips remained motionless, the sea was so calm not even the waves could make them nod.  We settled in to wait, chatting and chilling out, staring out to sea and cautiously behind us to check what weather was blowing our way.  There was lightning and threatening clouds to both the north and the south of us but these seemed to be following the course of estuaries and we were fishing on an island of sunshine and calm.  For most of the afternoon we sat in tea shirts and sunburn seemed more likely than a drenching.  But still the tips remained motionless.  Should I take off the silly rubber worm?  As none of the fishy baits were being touched, (apart from the starfish which had attached itself to Giles’ sprat…)  I decided to stick with it.

A couple of hours passed, the tide was creeping higher up the shingle but although the odd movement on the tips had us leaping from the chairs there were no definite bites.  We’d stayed dry so far but the weather looked like it was closing in on us.  The rising tide meant we had to move our camp higher up the beach and thought it sensible to put the brolly up when we did so.  The move was barely completed before a heavy shower hit us and had the three of us huddling under the small brolly, hoping we didn’t get a bite just then.  After ten minutes or so the worst of the rain had passed over, we were damp but not cold and uncomfortable.  The shower moved out to sea but the clouds had brought a cool breeze with them and we went from tea shirts to layers in no time.  I decided the rubber worm was a terrible idea so switched it over to a small piece of squid.

We settled back into chatter whilst staring up at the hypnotic rod tips but suddenly the calm was shattered by Rich leaping to his feet and shouting “Shark!”  I wasn’t sure if this was Richard’s sense of humour surfacing but he seemed convinced and as we stared out to sea we all saw a triangular fin breach followed by a dark back slipping beneath the calm sea.  It wasn’t a shark but a porpoise of some sort, possibly more than one showing regularly as it/they moved purposefully southwards.  This perked the evening up no end and seemed it might change our fortunes as the tips started to rattle irregularly.  For a while we all had tremors, not definite bites but movements out of synch with what had gone on before.  Had the Porpoise(s) moved some fish into our area?  By this time we’d fished for over four hours without anything other than Giles’ starfish and a crab which had clung on determinedly to Richard’s bait.  But as the light began to fade these occurrences had lifted our spirits.

We were joined by another old friend that I don't see often enough.  I’ve known Kev for forty years and he is excellent company but as he is a carp angler so we rarely spend fishing time together.  He brought a chair and Cooper the amphibious Retriever (dog) and settled down to see what this sea fishing lark was all about.  We told him our tale of woe, brightened by the porpoise sighting and tried to remain upbeat about our chances though it was looking like a blank was on the cards.  Just one fish between us would save the day.  We managed a succession of miscasts which saw us passing rods underneath each other in an attempt to unknit our lines, disasters were mostly avoided.  We all got bored of throwing the ball long before Cooper was tired of chasing after it.  The porpoise(s) returned briefly to prove to Kev that we hadn’t hallucinated and once again this seemed to stir some fish up.  Still no strike-able bites but as darkness fell we were getting definite taps and rattles.

Then around eight o clock Rich yelled once more and I looked up to see my close range rod bent right over as something tried to pull it into the sea.  The next thing I remember I was standing up, holding the rod and pulling back, I’d actually hooked something substantial and on the light gear I could feel it running up tide as a trudged down the beach.  Even with the carp rod the fight was one sided and I soon saw something glowing in the surf, I grabbed the trace and dragged a Bass up onto the shingle, its silver flanks shined in our head torches and it looked fantastic.  This was far bigger than any of the Bass I’d caught last time and would easily have fed two people but I was delighted just to catch it and taking it home t didn’t feel necessary so it was released to grow bigger.

That one fish had made the evening but also gave us renewed hope, where there’s one there are very likely to be more.  The wind had dropped by now and the temperature seemed to have risen, Kev remarked that it was far more pleasant than when he’d first arrived.  The tips were being lit by a strong torch beam and four headtorches and we couldn’t keep our eyes off them, darkness had brought the fish on and squid baits fished at close range were producing bites to all of us.  However for some reason the rattles on Rich and Giles rods didn’t develop whereas the ones on my rod developed into proper pulls that I was able to strike at.  My next proper bite produced another species, a small Whiting the first I’d caught since the early eighties and shortly after this I had a second which was slightly larger.  These were of a similar size to the Bass I’d caught a month ago but were much more fun on the lighter gear and definitely big enough to make me smile broadly.  My close in rod was doing the trick, it could have been the light running lead and long hooklength was working better than the paternosters on the day.  It could just be all down to luck.  For the next hour or so the fishing was engrossing and we were all rapt but we couldn’t hit anything.

Someone looked at a watch, it was gone ten o clock and we knew we better think about packing up but another good bite on my rod slowed this up.  The culprit was soon winched onto the shingle and was being dragged up when it unhooked itself and rolled down the slope, back into the surf and away.  It had looked silvery in the torch light so could have been a Bass but was a similar size to the Whiting so that was what it most likely was.  Still the plucks and rattles came and every now and then a longer pull that might have produced a fish had any of us been quicker.  All of the action had been on the close range rods, the big baits on longer casts remained untouched.  We dragged ourselves off the beach around eleven o clock, had we stayed longer I’m sure we’d have had more bites and possibly more fish but we were all knackered and had homes to go to.

My memories of beach fishing from childhood are of being fat with knitted layers, huddling around the warmth of a Tilly lamp on a cold, dark night in autumn or winter.  We’d be hoping for Cod but would settle for Whiting and in reality mostly caught nothing.  But despite this I loved it and couldn’t wait to go again.  When I discovered coarse fishing this was something I could do on my own whenever I pleased and I forgot about sea fishing.  Nowadays the fishing on the Suffolk beaches is vastly different; the Whiting are small and Cod are infrequent visitors.  Whereas beach fishing was a cold weather sport nowadays the summer fishing is much more interesting with a variety of species possible, far more than the handful we’ve been lucky enough to catch. 

Even ignoring the obvious this has been an unusual fishing summer for many reasons.  After the predictable but glorious failure to catch a Tench or Carp at the Valley in spring I decided I needed a change.  I’ve unconsciously found myself fishing how I did as a kid and despite not catching a Gudgeon I’ve enjoyed wandering along the river and following a stick float down but my local river can’t hold my attention for long.  It seems I have a choice of either travelling further for my summer fishing or just chasing Carp like every other fucker.  Perhaps I’m particularly grumpy today but I look at coarse fishing in my area and it all seems artificial and boring or it requires a level of effort that I can’t put in.  Worst of all the air of unknown is no longer there, any mystery there might once have been has vanished and many local myths are sadly just that alone. But thanks to a social afternoon on the beach a month ago I seem to have found something that might motivate me in summers to come, the fish don’t have pet names and in theory you could catch literally anything.  I probably won’t have time for another session this summer but I’ll definitely be back on the beach next spring.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Sticking it

The withering heat of last week seems so distant now it’s hard to believe it happened, since then we’ve had lots of rain and even a couple of storms.  I had to drive to Norwich on Friday so it would have made sense to take the boat out while I was in Norfolk but the weather forecast threatened strong winds, enough to make boat fishing uncomfortable bordering on reckless.  But with all the rain I figured the river should be in decent nick which would mean another opportunity to wander along dropping a stick float in here and there.  Of the two options this would be by far the most sensible.

So on Friday morning the princess dropped me off in a lay by a couple of miles out of town, my plan was to walk the river and make my way back home.  The harvest is in and I walked across fields of stubble to reach the river but what I found was a little disappointing, I expected a bit more pace and maybe even a little colour.  Also the wind was as strong as the forecasters had promised which would make it tricky controlling light tackle in tight swims.  The morning was mostly cloudy with the sun peering through every now and again. 

This area is unfamiliar from a fishing point of view.  I’ve walked it many times and have chucked lures around once or twice though not for many years.  I leant on a tree, chucked a handful of maggots in then dropped my float in at my feet.  My rig is simple, a wire stemmed stick with four no.4 shot bunched together six inches from an 18 hook.  Set like this I can easily adjust the depth and fish even the shallowest swims.  On the first trot the float plopped under but I was so surprised I struck when the float had popped up again.  On the next trot I hooked something but it fell off before I could swing it in, at least there were fish about and feeding.  Eventually I managed to swing a couple of small Dace to hand but missed several bites, it seemed the fish here were small.  I stuck it out a while hoping for an elusive Gudgeon as it looked a swim that would give me a chance but no such luck.

I moved on, first wandering downstream for a way but with no fishable water I turned and retraced my steps back upstream towards home.  There were stretches that looked good and I even saw a few fish through the Polaroids, most looked like Dace but there were a few Chub present too.   Unfortunately due to the undergrowth I couldn’t get near enough to the river to fish it sensibly.  I could have dropped a float in but would have struggled to extract any fish I hooked.  So I kept walking, past long stretches where you could hardly tell there was a river there at all.  Eventually I found a clear pool with a bit of flow, some thoughtful person had even left some cut tree trunks which made a nice seat so I sat and made a brew while feeding the swim with a few maggots every now and then.

After drinking my tea I commenced fishing again and managed to catch a couple of small Dace.  I could occasionally see some slightly bigger fish moving and soon hooked a Chub that was a far better size than the bits I’d been catching.  I probably should have used the net but managed to swing it to hand, a nice fish that would have made a river Piker of my acquaintance sharpen his trebles.  Shortly after this I hooked another fish with a bit of spirit and as I brought it upstream I could see it was a nice Perch but just as I brought it close the hook pulled.  This disappointed me as I haven’t caught a Perch from this river yet this year, once they were plentiful.  I wonder if their decline is linked to the disappearing Gudgeon?  The hope of a Perch kept me in this swim longer than necessary but bites were slow and eventually I wandered off again.

There was a spot I really fancied, here two streams converge and a deep pool has been scoured out.  I hoped to wade into the stream to fish but when I reached it was deeper than I thought and I realised I couldn’t cover it properly.  This has happened every time I’ve wandered the river this summer.   I have a swim in mind and a plan of how I intend to fish it but it never works out.  I tried but the areas my float could travel through didn’t seem to hold any fish so I was back on the move again.  I thought my fishing would be over for the morning as I knew the stretches I was approaching looked uninspiring at best.

I came to a small weir which water tumbling steadily over it.  Above the weir was a sheet of duck weed which I passed before coming to a little run that had a decent flow, the current was carrying leaves downstream past a couple of patches of weed.  I almost kept walking but something made me stop and throw the float upstream, it travelled a few feet then buried and I found myself attached to a small Roach, my first of the day.  After that it was virtually a bite a chuck and I stayed here for almost an hour.  To begin with I caught fish by casting slightly upstream but after a while the sun lit up the swim and I noticed some moving at my feet so dropped the float here caught a few.  As time passed they moved to the downstream end of the swim and I had to let the float travel further and further.  Most of the fish I caught here were lovely river Roach up to 4ozs but there were a few Dace and the best of all needed the landing net.  It must have been around half a pound and I’m sure was biggest Dace I’ve caught since I was a teenager.

The bites slowed up and the wind was making a long trot difficult so I moved on again.  I did try a couple of other spots, including a sweeping bend which produced a huge Roach for a friend back in the eighties.  Once again access to the water was the biggest problem but were I could fish I didn’t get a bite.  It occurred to me I hadn’t seen a soul all morning but this changed when the path took me past a busy carp fishery.  By the time I was walking through the Town Park I was surrounded by hundreds of humans.  I noticed that young children and social distancing don’t go together.  Also people look at you funny when you’re wearing wellies and carrying a net, I could almost feel the suspicious eyes on me.  By the time I walked through my back door my legs were tired and my stomach was growling but it had been an enjoyable morning.

Sunday 16 August 2020

More to it...

Why do I do it?  Why do I spend time sorting fishing gear, preparing bait, loading up then driving miles when I know deep down I have little chance of actually catching the fish I’m after?  Why do I go out on a horrible, dark, drizzly morning when just walking through the long grass makes my legs soaked before I even start?

But here I am, hidden behind a wall of reeds and beneath a low set oval brolly that I’ve just about managed to squeeze into a tight gap in the undergrowth.  I’m looking at a pod and three rods with baits cast into clear patches amidst a weed chocked swim at ‘the Valley’.  I haven’t been here in weeks, in truth the place has beaten me.  There are still a few special fish that have avoided the otters but finding them has always been the problem.  Yes it’s an idyllic place to be but I can’t keep coming back, time after time, knowing all the odds are against me.  Yet here I am again today, why?

I needed to fish, that’s why.  The oppressive debilitating heat of the last week has gone and now it’s much cooler, grey and drizzly which may be unpleasant but at least it makes me feel I might have a chance.  Well more of a chance than that last week when it was too hot to even go outside for long.  At least here I can relax in the solitude and enjoy the wildlife.  A Wren has been bustling about, using my rods as a perch at times.  A Buzzard flapped lazily across the fields on the far side and I followed a Hare when I drove down the track earlier.  Not that I got down early, I wasn’t motivated enough to drag myself out of bed at a respectable summer hour.  But here I am nonetheless with baits dropped into clear patches hoping a Tench or Carp might find them.  I tell myself I have a chance, no matter how slim.

At 1055 I tuned in the radio only to find it’s raining in Southampton with no cricket imminent, I’m disappointed but not surprised.  The Huey show on 6music will have to do instead.

By the early afternoon the gloom had lifted and the wind dropped away, here but not in Southampton.  It had turned into a still, muggy afternoon.  The calm surface is showing every bubble and fishy disturbance and reflects the Hobby which darts upstream on the hunt.  I try to stay confident for my own hunt but I know it’s not going to happen.  Why am I here?  Why do I do it?  A well worn anglers cliché springs to mind…

Saturday 1 August 2020

Noddy goes Sea Fishing

“Fishing for Skate and Smoothound…”  It was Richard’s idea and before I knew it I was making plans to go beach fishing for the first time since the early eighties.  Giles was up for it and hopefully Trev too.  The major problem was I didn’t have any gear, or did I?  I remembered I had an old beachcaster at the back of the shed though I can’t remember how or why I had acquired it?  Then I remembered I had my Dad’s old reel, an Intrepid fixed spool, bought in the mid seventies which he’d used on very occasional trips to the local beaches and with more enthusiasm to catch Mackerel on family holidays.  It probably hadn’t been used since my very first attempts to catch Pike in the late seventies.  In fact I’m pretty sure my first ever Pike was caught using that very reel in 1979. 

The motivation was simply to do some fishing that was totally different but there was the chance to catch mini sharks in the form of Smoothhound and what is known locally as Skate, though I’m fairly sure they’re actually Thornbacks.  Rich had some inside information and a location where we had a good chance of catching these species.  However I didn’t really care what I caught and as I’d never caught a Bass I really fancied putting that right.  Best of all would be spending some responsible, sociable time with a couple of my oldest friends.  If we caught bugger all it wouldn’t matter much.  The emails pinged back and forth, baits and bits were acquired but the weather wasn’t looking great, very hot with a fresh south easterly.  Apparently this is the wrong wind for where we were heading but in the end we just thought ‘fuck it’ we’ll have a go anyway.

Thursday at work, I nabbed the friendly bait digger and picked his brains.  He advised fishing ‘ragworm on a long trace in the gutter’ if I wanted to catch Bass, and to use ‘dirty squid on a pennell’ if I wanted Rays or Hounds.  I understood some of this language but Google filled in the blanks.  So on the day before our trip I brought home frozen squid and some blueys along with a wrap of live ragworm.  Friday morning was spent hacking the garden before the heat got unbearable then I spent some time tackling up as I’d been instructed and getting together some bits and pieces to allow me to survive on a hot beach for a few hours.  Spooling up the old Intrepid with fresh line, the ancient reel was making a horrible clunking sound every few turns of the handle, would it survive the trip?  I cooked sausage and chunky chips for dinner, quick but substantial.  The designated time and meeting place could not come round soon enough.

In the car, just a couple of miles out from the rendezvous the phone woke up.  Rich was ahead of me and from what he was saying it seemed the hot weather had everyone in Suffolk heading for that particular beach, apparently the place was rammo and there was no chance of even getting a car parked let alone find space to fish.  After a bit of consultation we came up with a plan B just a couple of miles down the road, hopefully things would be calmer here though we didn’t have a clue what the fishing would be like.  The three of us; Rich, Giles and I, eventually met up an hour later than planned, it was busy here too but we could at least park and have a look around.  This car park was tree lined and shady, there were a lot of happy, slow moving, white haired people sitting on folding chairs, having picnics.  They were close to the beach but not within sight of it.  I realised I am now at an age where elderly people are no longer frightened of me.

It was a good job I was prepared for a hike because that’s exactly what we did, a good mile on tarmac, sand and shingle.  The beach was busy with families so we kept going past them all until we reached a bit of beach that was quiet and we’d have space for all the cock ups and disasters that would inevitably occur.  I use the word beach but in this part of Suffolk what this generally means is stones, there is very little sand and certainly no palm trees.  We found ourselves close to Bawdsey Manor which is where Radar was developed in the 1930’s.  Thankfully there were no other anglers around to mock our amateurish attempts to extract something fishy from the large expanse of murky water before us.  By now it had gone five o clock and we were fishing a tide than had been coming in for a couple of hours but whether there was any significance to this we had little clue.

I hadn’t fished off an English beach since the eighties, Rich hadn’t been for nearly two decades and Giles couldn’t remember ever fishing like this before.  But we got busy putting together rods and attempting to assemble it in a sensible order.  It took a while to get a rod in the water, I don’t think any of us wanted to be the first to crack off.  Rich and Giles tackled up with paternoster rigs baited with squid or bluey and were soon fishing.  Eventually I was ready; a six ounce breakaway fished as a running leger, a hooklength of about three feet made from 15lbs Amnesia then a size 2 Aberdeen hook baited with a Ragworm which I’d hooked as if it was a lobworm and I was after a chub.  I hurled this about twenty yards out then walked the rod back up the beach and rested it on the tripod which Giles had come up with.  After staring at the tip for a couple of minutes I slumped back into my chair.
By this point Rich was insisting we sample the home brew he’d made which was certainly drinkable and didn’t result in any disasters, as my own home brews had done in the distant past.  But I couldn’t take my eyes off the rod tips which were nodding and bumping, would I be able to even tell when I got a bite?  Then there was a proper rattle and I was on my feet again, that was definitely a bite, wasn’t it?   A few minutes later I wound in to find my bait had disappeared.  The next cast didn’t produce any obvious bites but once again my bait had gone.  What kind of creature was responsible for this?  I wouldn’t be the first person to catch crabs at the east coast.  My next cast produced another proper rattle and I was quick enough to pick up the rod and strike.  I thought I’d missed it but noticed my line was behaving strangely and when the lead started skipping over the shingle I laughed out loud as a tiny silver fish followed it up the beach.  To cheers from the lads I held my first ever Bass aloft!  It may have been the smallest fish in the North Sea but it was a first and I was delighted.

This galvanised us, if there was one fish out there then we must have a chance of a few more.  We watched our rod tips, mostly unsure whether the dips and rattles translated to a bite but every now and then came a proper indication.  I struck at one and winched in another Bass, this was much bigger than the first though still what would have to be classed as ‘small’.  Every time I wound in the old intrepid was clunking and grinding as if giving me a round of applause.   By this time Giles had switched over to Ragworm while Rich having caught a few bass in the past persevered with the bigger baits.  This sea fishing lark is quite busy, lots to do for anglers more used to chucking rods out and letting them fish.  I detected another bite like movement, managed to strike then completed a hat trick of Bass, this one bigger than the first but not quite as big as the second.  It wasn’t long after this when Giles’ rod which had a much more sensitive tip was rattling obviously, he picked it up and quickly winched in his first ever Bass which he held up for the camera, another happy angler.  No sooner had he got another ragworm into the big grey swim than his rod was rattling again with a proper unmissable bite and he made no mistake.  Unfortunately the culprit was a small Eel, something much more familiar to us and a source of more laughter as Giles wrestled with it.

The bites slowed up but I stayed on the ragworm for a while longer.  Around seven thirty Giles wandered off to his car for supplies leaving us in charge of his rod baited with ragworm.  This seemed a good time to switch mine to a squid, fished with a long trace and a 2/0 pennell rig.  On my first cast with this bait I was trying to wash the muck off my hands when Rich started yelling and I looked up to see my rod bouncing.  I struck and for the first time found myself attached to something that felt like a fish, it could be weed but I felt confident it would be something with fins.  I saw something flat and brownish in the surf so in the end I was half right, it was a fish but it was a Thornback and it didn’t have any fins.  This was another first for me and I once again I was well chuffed.

With that rod rebaited and recast I sat down again grinning but I’d hardly got comfortable when Giles’ rod baited with rag was bouncing.  Rich was busy baiting up and declined the offer so I picked it up and wound in another, slightly smaller Ray.  It now seemed like we could catch anything at any time and when Giles returned a few minutes later we were all confident of more bites.  However things didn’t so much as slow down as grind to a halt, there were the occasional rattles but no more obvious bites.  Things were more measured now, we were all fishing big lumps of squid or bluey hoping for something bigger and leaving it longer between casts. 

We moved our camp back up the beach for a second time, now sitting at the very top.  The beach was almost deserted now, the day trippers mostly heading home.  Way off shore was a never ending procession of ships heading to and from the ports of Felixstowe and Harwich, a few would be headed further up the Orwell to Ipswich.  One I recognised as the ferry coming back from the Hook of Holland, I’ve been on this boat several times, returning home after misadventures and other holidays.

As the light began to fade the ships were lit up and so was the sea as a storm travelled northwards.  We saw the lightning and heard the thunder at times but thankfully it didn’t come ashore.  By this time the tide was on the turn and it was dark enough for us to switch on head torches to illuminate the rod tips but these weren’t showing much movement.  Some other anglers had arrived at dusk and set up some way from us.  Thinking back to when we’d walked along earlier this was an area of sand banks and gullies, it looked good but was busy with people at the time, and it would surely appeal to the fish now the sea was covering all these features.  Maybe the fish had moved, the bites had certainly dried up for us but going into darkness we told ourselves that we were fishing for something bigger now.  Surely if a fish came now it would be a proper one? 

We stayed until after ten then packed up and trudged back along the top of the beach towards the car.  The other anglers were still in situ but we didn’t disturb them, I hope they had a good night.  Back at the cars we agreed it had been a bloody brilliant night getting out of our fishy comfort zones and doing something alien to us.  This evening it had ticked all the boxes; the very best company, a secluded beautiful spot, any unnatural sounds drowned by the crash of the waves and interesting fishing with a few catches that were significant to us at least.  Giles had set a new PB and I’d set two.  I will do this again!  I said this after I’d caught Barbel and I said it again after I’d caught a Catfish and so far I haven’t  but one requires time I don’t have and a long drive while the other means being surrounded by idiots.  This type of fishing is an easy drive, I can do it in an evening and I should be able to find myself a bit of space.