Even though we are at the end of January and the days are getting longer, by the time work is done it doesn’t leave much time for midweek forays to the river bank. It’s not very often night fishing is required. I seem to do just as well, if not better, in the daylight hours. But on this occasion that is just what I am about to embark on. After several work meetings it’s 4.23pm before I am in the car heading off to the local River Wensum only two miles away. During the five minute drive the sun sinks into a dim pink grey hue. Fortunately it looks to be a clear and cloudless night, the warmest day so far of 2021, feeling mild in comparison to the previous snow and ice filled sessions I’ve had recently.
Pulling into a sandy layby opposite a rusty five bar gate, I grab the tackle, hop the fence and set off. Two meadows separate the road from the river and at this time of year they are just above welly boot height, donning waders is needed to avoid damp socks. In the distance half a dozen swans are cruising and feeding in the deeper water of the second meadow, their brilliant white standing out in the growing twilight. I can hear their honking chatter even above my splashing as I forge through the knee deep water.
The river curves round on my left, this section is fast and deep with the extra water churning through. I was hoping the level would have dropped more but the water is still running from the river into the fields, I will likely be ankle deep the whole session. I am heading to a spot I have previously done well at landing a PB chub and roach just before Christmas. I have to cross a stile and another field of rough dense vegetation but arrive with plenty of light still in which to set up my rod and organise my bait.
The spot I have chosen is a swirling slack just off the main fast flow in front of an overhanging bush and with an undercut bank on the near side. This is a perfect winter holding spot. Despite the extra water a light feeder still holds bottom, this is stuffed with liquidised bread and a large piece of break flake moulded on the hook. While this won’t last long in the current, the big visual bait might land me a quick fish before darkness.
Unfortunately there is no activity from the river. As the sun sets there is some excellent bird watching to be done as they seek roosts for the night. I spot an egret framed against the distant pale winter sun. This location being close to woodland an owl can be heard off in the distance but it doesn’t make an appearance and as the darkness deepens. By this time I have attached the little glow stick to my rod tip, forgetting my holder I electrical tape it on. Tape is an essential in my fishing box, usually being applied to my fingers as a plaster substitute.
The green glow stick eases side to side as the line is pulled by the rhythm of the current and my eyes accustom to the repetition of this. Waiting for the out of time pull that will signal a fish taking the bait. I check the time, having switched to cheese paste, happy to leave the rig in position for longer knowing the bait will stay on the hook. My plan is to rebait the feeder approximately every 15 minutes to keep a small amount of attraction tempting fish out from under the snags. Now is time to settle in and wait.
Once you overcome the oppressiveness of the dark that limits your vision, other senses seem to expand. The gurgling of the river seems louder than before and slight creaks that would not be noticed in day now emanate from the reeds and trees. Occasionally the swans gaggle and splash in the first field and a moorhen clucks. The moon is bright and full and after sitting for a while the general shapes of the landscape can be seen well, even casting feint silver shadows. Just over an hour into this swim and a fish is looking unlikely, experience of small rivers says it’s time to move.
It takes a second to pack down and move upstream looking for another spot to test. On short sessions I like to pack light; one rod, net, fold out stool and a simple backpack of tackle and bait. Manoeuvrability is key, especially in the dark as I don’t want to be bogged down with bulky kit as I may need to move several times to locate a fish holding spot. While you can use watercraft and target likely areas, fish still have an air of unpredictability. Furthermore, at night, fish cautious by day may explore more widely, feeling safer from predation in the darkness.
The next spot is deeper, faster, but has a large willow on the opposite bank providing respite for fish from the winter flood. Flicking the feeder upstream to the opposite bank the current takes it down to rest close to some overhanging branches. The moon is climbing higher and mist starts to form in the low lying land away to the right. I am brought back from watching the night by the slightest rattle on the rod tip, something is having a go at the bait! Letting the bite develop, another slightly harder tap follows, I attempt to set the hook and connect to the fish. Unfortunately nothing this time.
Suspecting we are dealing with a smaller fish, possible a shy biting roach, I make the substitute to maggots on the hook and add some maggots to the ground bait. This all goes back into river on the spot near the snags. After waiting for some time without any indication I decide to switch back to cheese paste again. A short time later the small taps start again, then a bigger knock and we have a fish on!
I flick the head torch on but with the mist I can’t see much, suspended water droplets from the mist reflect the light and dazzle with a shifting white haze. Reeling a couple of turns onto the spool, the rod is bending downstream as the fish pulls and tries to get in the weed on the bank edge. I push the rod out away from the bank to try and pressure the fish back into the main flow. Fortunately this works and I reel in quickly, extending the net I slipping it under the fish. A nice chub, shining bright in the torch light. Being about as long as my forearm I guess a weight of around two to two and a half pounds. This is a very welcome chub and certainly makes short trips like this one worthwhile. Deep in winter, the fish is freezing cold and I lay it in the net ready to slip back. As I move the net away, the chub lingers in the water motionless for a moment then flicks its fins and goes down into the green tinged water.
Despite the fullness of the moon its light is dimmed by the thickening mist starting to engulf more of my surroundings, so I decide this is probably a good time to head off, having caught one fish and not being completely disoriented by the fog. Upstream I hear a loud plop and see an otter rising and then diving again, a black shape against the silver surface of the water. Through the dedication of time on the river bank it is the privilege of the angler to witness such natural spectacles as the sleek otter, shy water voles and iridescent blue king fishers, not often seen by non-fisher folk.
Folding the rod down all the kit is soon stowed away and I am back across the scrub land, over the style and back into the meadows. As I splash along this upsets the swans and they run before taking off, beating wings and whooping. The final obstacle is the gate and then I am back at the car and on my way home.
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