Sunday 14 March 2021

Ramble on

The last weekend of the season, I want to be in Norfolk, I should be in Norfolk!!  In truth I had been tempted to the point where I’d been watching the forecast and making plans.  But I realised that by knowingly bending the rules I wouldn’t have been able to relax so I’d be going fishing for the wrong reasons, for me there really is far more to it than catching fish.  So that’ll be that for another season and who’d bet against more lockdowns next winter?  Will I ever get back? 

So that leaves my local waters and I felt I needed to have one last go at the river this weekend, while I still could. Even so I looked out of the window on a gale force Friday and though ‘fuck that’, there wasn’t enough motivation in my local waters.  Saturday was still windy but with brighter breaks in the gloom and as it really was my last chance I managed to force my way out of bed around 0800.  After a brew and a leisurely breakfast I picked up a lure rod and a few bits then set off.  By 0900 I was walking the river, heading upstream for a hike way further than I ever had since living in the Town. 

The river valley looks similar throughout its length, mostly being bordered by pasture with regular pockets of old trees.  Gravel pits are also a regular feature, dug in clusters every few miles.  The river was once navigable for many miles and there are still signs of long disused locks at intervals.  Either side of the green strip of wilderness the river is now squashed between modern transport routes.  The railway almost follows the course of the river and the embankments are never too far away, then on the other side is the busiest A road in the country which comes too close for comfort in places.  The river paths close to civilisation are always busy but there are still areas that see relatively few people and today I was exploring one of these.

The morning seemed alive, birds everywhere; Skylarks on the fields, a Wren in a bramble bush, Great and Long Tailed Tits.  Then a movement in the quarry to my left, two Deer were trying to put some distance between me and them.  They would lope along for a bit then stop and look in my direction.  They appeared to be settled so I paused and slowly removed my rucksack, bent over and rummaged for my camera but by the time I straightened they were on the move again. 

I walked on disturbing Pheasants, Magpies and the inevitable Pigeon.  Through a small cluster of trees and there was another Deer just the length of a cricket pitch away from me before it scampered off.  Emerging from the trees my eyes soon picked up movement and there were three deer moving across the field, these soon joined by three more heading for the far corner of the field.  The morning was spitting drizzle at me and the light was gloomy, I’m sure had the Deer just stayed still I may never have noticed them, it was the movement that gave them away.  I realise that I’d accidentally corned them and if they were going to keep any distance away from me then they would have to run back past me which would give me plenty of time to snap a few photos.  I couldn’t have planned it better, the Deer were wary rather than alarmed so I was able to take a good few pictures.  I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to snap a wild Deer before?

In time the Deer disappeared into trees and I remembered what I was there for.  Before long I was at the bottom of the stretch quietly investigating an idyllic mill pond that was, strictly speaking out of bounds.  I certainly had a cast or two in here as a kid but this involved negotiating a barbed wire fence and we would usually be chased off by an angry voice pretty quickly.  A lifetime later the barbed wire is crumbling, the unfriendly signs have gone and getting in was easy.  The tree shaded pool still looked inviting; opposite me water tumbled over a small weir then the current flowed past a fallen tree and swung to the right where it exited through a narrow channel, to the left was a large slack.  The margins in front of me were shallow and muddy but it looked deeper further out. Trees circled three quarters of the pool but opposite me to the right was the back of the old mill building with threatening windows glancing at me.  I decided there just had to be a Pike or two in there and no sane person would be out in a gale to check for unwanted guests.  On went an unweighted Shad in Fire Tiger and on about the third cast a Jack hit it.  I dragged it back towards me but it didn’t want to come into the shallows and thrashed on the surface, chucking the lure back at me.  I carried on for a while, pinging the shad about the pool but I was always aware that I could have been turfed off at any point so didn’t give the pool as long as I might.  Back to the river path then.

It must be nearly forty years since I last walked along this part of the river, in fact it must be the most remote and least visited stretch of all which is certainly something that appeals to me.  Also I was pleased to see more deeper glides than anywhere else I’ve fished in the last couple of years.  It screamed ‘Chub!’ at me and I’ll have to have another look later in the year…  But today no Pike of any size put in an appearance.   I almost expect to see Egrets nowadays and sure enough one was fishing in one of the shallows stretches.  I also disturbed a noisy Jay and yet another Deer.  At this stage these were still of the ‘No I’ variety but by the power of Google I have deduced they were almost certainly Roe Deer.

The trouble with a stretch of river that isn’t fished much is a lot of it, including some nice looking parts are unfishable due to bankside growth. There are places where I could feasibly have a cast but if I hooked anything there was no point where I could net it.  Then there are parts where the branches make casting impossible with a multiplier set up, I really needed to under arm with a fixed spool.  Maybe I should come back with a saw and scythe but that would just draw attention to it…  As I wandered back upstream I passed a gent with a camera, the first human I’d seen all morning.  I hope he found the Deer too.

 Soon I was at the ‘Not so secret pit’; this time I approached it from the other end where I found a gap in the trees which made a corner swim just about fishable.  I clipped on a weighted ‘Real eel’ remembering that years ago the Pike here loved curly tailed lures.  In fact it was this place where I really gained confidence in ‘Dawgs’ and if anything I like curly tails better than shads but the latter are often bigger and come in more variety.  I suppose soft plastic lures in general are my first choice these days, I think the fact that they fold up when a fish hits them means you get better hook holds and less damage from flying trebles.  The Real Eel almost done the trick but the Pike that followed it was tiny and disappeared in a puff of silt, never to return.  This was a tight swim which I quickly felt I’d covered as well as I could.  Also the branches above me were making some worrying creaks and cracks in the wind.

I made my way around the pit, the few gaps in the treeline would be difficult to fish at the best of times but today the raging wind made me think it just wasn’t worth the bother.  I came to the small point I’d fished a couple of weeks back, this is the best vantage point on the pit and the only spot worth giving any time to.  This would be my best chance of actually catching a Pike today and if the Real eel didn’t do the business there was scope for chopping and changing with lures and retrieves.  But I didn’t feel confident, not at all.  After several casts and nothing doing my mind was wondering what lure to try next while my eyes tracked the rippling tail through the clear water beneath me.  With only a couple of yards to go I spotted movement and slowed right down, a small Pike just kept on coming and engulfed the lure at my feet.  I just allowed the rod to continue the Pike’s own momentum and before the fish realised it was splashing in inches of grass and water where I simply picked it up, result! 

The hook came out easily so I slipped it straight back then decided it was time for a short sit down, a sandwich and a brew.  I settled down behind a natural barrier which gave me shelter from the gale, sipping tea and feeling content with how my morning had unfolded.  The pit did not look as picturesque as a fortnight ago when it was bathed in sunlight but still a nice quiet spot.  As if to confirm this two Egrets flapped into the trees along the bank to my left and shortly after a pair of Buzzards danced overhead.  All in all a pretty good place for a tea break!

After my brief pause I resumed chucking the Real Eel around and once more I had reached the ‘what lure next?’ stage when it was hit again.  There was no weight to it but the fish tried to run round to the left and pull back but to no avail, I soon had it at my feet.  This one required forceps so I thought I might as well snap a quick photo too.  I like to capture these moments but I know the ‘I only photograph twenties…’ people will never get it (and most have less photos than they’d like you to think).  After a few more minutes here it was time to move on so I walked around the other side of the pit, the fishable areas of the recent past were now obstructed by fallen branches.  On another more pleasant day with more energy I should be able to clear these but that wasn’t happening today.

So I returned to a very shallow and uninviting stretch of river, I did have a cast here and there as I retraced my steps but never felt close to catching a Pike.  By the time I’d made it back to the car I’d walked about 3 ½ miles and had worked up a bit of a sweat despite the still wild wind trying to remove my hat.  Two very modest Pike had put in an appearance but this morning I’d experienced so much more.