I’m afraid I’m a tad indifferent when it comes to football. I only ever take a mild interest if Spurs, the team favoured through family tradition, or the national side start to perform well and show signs of actually winning something significant. Such was the case with England’s recent Euros performance but I have to admit as the final drew close I had a desire to escape the build up and hype as the doubts, anxiety and inevitability of failure came to the fore. So I decided to go fishing, and although failure is often inevitable with this pursuit also, at least I’d be outside enjoying the natural world.
The local river Stour in Sudbury was my chosen venue, and on arrival it became apparent that large swathes of the river were unfishable, either because of overgrown swims or copious weed growth. I should have known really. This year, probably due to the wet, warm summer, grasses, nettles, bankside reeds and all manner of vegetation has grown with wild abandon, completely transforming spacious, comfortable pegs into impassable jungles that would make even Indiana Jones hang up his machete. Nonetheless, there were enough accessible swims to make a cast or two worthwhile, so I thought I’d have a go with the lure rod as I love the roving nature of this type of fishing and the opportunity it affords to reconnoiter stretches of the river I’ve yet to explore. Also, I’d recently seen a photo of a 3lb perch caught from the Stour in Sudbury which had whetted my appetite, as had a dead perch of well over 2lb I’d discovered on a canoe trip last summer. But I’d have to contend with the pike, which the river is famous for.
My dog Indy was my fishing buddy for the day and true to form he did his usual impression of a rhino and bulldozed his way through the undergrowth totally oblivious to the stingers and brambles that were tearing holes in me and constantly snaring my landing net.
I had a few casts to no avail, constantly thwarted by the weed and cabbages, so I changed from a jig to a Cheb rig, with a view to fish a creature bait using the “weedless” approach where you hook the bait in such a way as to conceal the hook to reduce snagging up. As I was rearranging my tackle (?!) I noticed that Indy had disappeared.
I needn’t have worried. Tucked around the corner in the next swim were a couple of Polish anglers who had taken a shine to the dog and were feeding him bits of their lunch.
“Nice dog”, the older one said as I walked up to them. “He’s always nice to people that feed him” I said. “Nice dog”, he repeated, nodding his head.
They were both smoking fags that smelled mighty pungent, not ghanja, more likely cheapies brought over from Poland made from weightlifters jockstraps sprinkled with festering grass cuttings or something. I bade them farewell and left before my nose fell off. After a few more fruitless casts, I found myself at a familiar spot, an old railway bridge spanning the river, with arches casting deep shade and wide brick pillars descending into the depths; perfect ambush points for perch and pike. In addition, below a straggly willow is a back eddy above a very deep hole that on a winter’s evening the previous year delivered a nice brace of sizeable chub and a perch of half a pound or so, all on legered lobworm. I’m sure I’d have caught more had I not been scared half to death by the dog, who suddenly started growling low and deep and staring fixedly into the blackness beneath the bridge. It was all far too “Blair Witch” for my liking so I buggered off sharpish, dragging the dog with me who carried on growling all the way back to the car!
This time, however, it was broad daylight and the sun was out, perfectly illuminating the space beneath the bridge along with all the beer cans, plastic bottles, fag packets and general detritus common to river banks nowadays; bloody horrible but not a knife wielding maniac.
Annoyingly, the bridge swims produced nothing so I flicked the creature bait into the hole beneath the willow and was rewarded with the smallest pike I’ve ever seen, a micropredator not much bigger than the lure. And that was it, not a sniff for the next twenty minutes so a move was in order.
I headed for a stretch of the river that’s maybe three or four foot deeper than the general course where apparently dredging work was carried out in the sixties. I figured they’d be less weed in deeper water. First cast proved that theory was flawed when I reeled in a big chunk of lily rhizome but it was definitely less snaggy than the shallower area where I’d started, and there was also more fish action as I caught two jacks of about 4lb in quick succession, one of whom nearly tore the rod out of my hand with a thwack of a take. I was beginning to enjoy myself, and light levels were dropping as the evening rolled in so I begun to work the deep margin cover for perch.
But then what can only be described as rowing rush-hour began. One man sculls, two man sculls, four man sculls, they all kept coming in what seemed an endless regatta of men and woman in boats; puffing, blowing, shouting, splashing, laughing, swearing and even some waving at me and the dog. It was practically impossible to fish. During a brief lull in the paddling I chanced a quick cast and, unbelievably, hooked another jack! I just managed to land it before it was keelhauled by a single rower totally oblivious to me and the tussle going on beneath his boat. As I unhooked it, a passing two man scull shouted “show us the fish mate!”, which of course I did. And that was that, the boat traffic seemed to fade away and with it my enthusiasm to fish on. So my football avoidance session hadn’t exactly been Premier League but I had some sport from those lively jacks and had spent a couple of hours walking a river that was a pleasure to behold, watching ethereal dragonflies skim and dart and kingfishers hunt for fry from riverside perches. Which was, of course, way, way better than watching football.