Bob Dellar

The Night of the Five Pound Tench

Hollow pond, a century old 13 acre gravel pit on the borders of Snaresbrook and Leytonstone, north east London holds some great memories for me. 

Tearing up and down the hillocks of sand and gravel on my bike with my mates; rounding-up a herd of Epping Forest cattle over the plains adjacent to the pond like a cockney cowboy when I worked as a trainee forester; being chased by a large, half-naked, wild-eyed old man when my dog disturbed him banging one out in the undergrowth; and at the age of fourteen, catching a five pound tench on a balmy August evening as traffic rattled past on the Whipps Cross Road while bikers, skinheads and police mixed affably by a roadside cafe, not twenty yards from my swim.

“I think you’ll find that’s a specimen fish,” said Alan, a mate of my brother in law Steve. Steve mumbled something about me nicking his swim. This was our second evening on the venue and, as the previous one had been fishless, Steve had graciously let me fish the swim he’d been baiting up for himself over the course of the day. “It’s your fault, chided Alan, you put him in that peg!”

“Wish I hadn’t now, moaned Steve, that’s a beast.”

It was indeed a beast. I couldn’t believe it at the time and even now, forty three years later, I still can’t believe it. A five pound tench in 1978 was a very large fish. In 1975,  Len Head’s famous Bures Lake brace of 7lb and 8lb fish was considered groundbreaking and unique, so this may offer some perspective. 

Obviously, I was completely unaware of this. I was just a young lad who loved fishing and loved tench especially. 

It all started when I spotted a group of strange, dark fish loitering in the shallows of Highams Park Lake, Woodford Green, Essex, my go-to water as a boy. I’d climbed an old yew tree, (that’s still there to this day looking much the same), with a view to spot fish. Up until that point all I’d caught from the lake was the obligatory tiny perch that are often the only fish greedy and undiscerning enough to oblige the young, naive angler with his thumpy-feet, too-thick line and too-big hooks. But that changed after I spotted the tench, although I had no idea what they were, I had to look them up in my Ladybird Book of Coarse Fishing. 

Those tench set something stirring in me. They were different. Not silver, striped, red-finned or spiky, but olive green and smooth-scaled with endearing, almost friendly teddy-bear eyes. I really had to catch one.

My local library had a surprisingly good section on coarse fishing. I remember turning a nearly-new copy of ‘Float Fishing With Ivan Marks’ into a dog-eared mud-flecked shadow of its former self, the amount of times I borrowed it and took it fishing. But Fred J Taylor came first, he was my way into the world of tench. 

I borrowed his famous tome ‘Fishing For Tench’ and never looked back.

So, armed with Fred J’s wise words, an Ivan Mark’s ‘Persuader’ float rod and a loaf I descended upon Highams Park Lake in the vain hope of making contact with my very first tench. It was a sunny Saturday morning in June, just a few days into the new season.

On arrival I was relieved to find no one fishing in the yew tree swim, so I shined up the tree again to see if my quarry was at home. They were there, three beautiful tench shimmering olive in the shallows surrounding a small, overgrown island some fifteen feet from the bank. I nearly fell out of the tree in my excitement, to this day I have a scar on my shin to prove it. 

I remember having to sit down for a minute to calm myself. I’d had the tenacity to set up my float rod away from the bank beforehand so all I had to do was bait up with breadflake and cast out, as close to the fish as I dare. For the very first time, I was using the Lift Method, all because of Fred J. 

I cocked the small section of peacock quill with a gently turn of the reel handle, threw in two or three pieces of flake around the float, and waited.

It was text book stuff, the bite that eventually came. The quill fluttered slightly, dipped, and then rose majestically to lay flat in one smooth motion. I struck into a fish that dived deep, shook its head violently, but came to the net quickly, a gorgeous roach of just over a pound, still to this day one of the biggest roach I’ve ever caught.

I was well pleased, but it wasn’t a tench.

Without letting the swim rest I cast straight out again after returning the roach and re-baited with a few pieces of flake, hoping that the tench hadn’t taken exception to me extracting one of their red-finned cousins.

I needn’t have worried. Soon, the float was twitching and dancing again and this time, instead of a lift, it sailed-away, disappearing instantly as the rod tip arched round. This time the fight was a good deal more intense. I’d read that tench fight hard but you’ve no idea how that feels until you’re doing battle with one. I was lucky to land that fish, I just held on for dear life and did my best to keep it from diving for the cover of nearby lily pads. In desperation, I made a great lunge at her with the net that could have been disastrous but suddenly there she was, all 2.5lbs of her, laying at my feet, a wonder to behold, the biggest fish I’d seen at that point in my fledgling angling adventures; stocky, scarred, her flanks a glistening deep olive with tiny flecks of green and gold and of course the red teddy bear eyes. I ran most of the mile and a half back home, despite a protruding rod bag and carryall, to announce my achievement to a surprised and faintly amused mum and dad, who never really got fishing themselves but understood why it appealed to me.

I’d weighed both the roach and the tench on an old brass set of Salter scales that had, until the previous day, been hanging up in my grandad’s shed, supporting a bag of onions, so it’s feasible the weights were a bit out, but I don’t let that diminish the sheer joy of my first tench, and let’s face it, she could have weighed more!

My Hollow Pond tench was weighed on state of the art scales that brother in law Steve used for his carp fishing, and witnessed by his mate Alan plus a couple of bikers who had wandered over, curiosity getting the better of them. One of them clapped me on the back in congratulations and I remember the faint whiff of leather and oil as he walked off, a scent that to this day triggers a Proustian moment of recollection that whisks me back to the night of the 14th of August 1978, the night of the 5lb tench.  

Bob Dellar

The Carp and I. Part 2

I feel, before I continue recounting my carp fishing exploits, that I’m not actually a carp fisherman, more of a general coarse fisherman. I’m certainly not an all-rounder either because I don’t fish in the sea and, although I have fished for trout and salmon in England, Scotland and Ireland I rarely go game fishing because I am utterly shite at casting a fly any distance or with any accuracy. So that’s me-a coarse fisherman.

Also carp are not my favourite quarry, that accolade belongs to the tench. Saying that, the old ticker still misses a beat at the sight of carp with dark, broad backs loitering in the margins on hot, sunny days, and the great watery slap as a big old lump makes its presence known directly above your bait. As a boy and still to this day, I revel in the somewhat surreal tales of mythical carp and characterful carp fisherman related in the writings of BB and of course, his natural successor Chris Yates. 

But, as Chris has alluded to, the wonderful prospect of discovering a carp fishers El Dorado, an idyllic lost pond that is effectively an untapped, virginal water that has never seen a fisherman is nigh impossible nowadays as any such water has either been filled-in, is entirely private or has succumbed to the attentions of a carp syndicate and is busier than Tesco’s when bog-roll’s scarce.

So, in short, the circus that is modern-day carp fishing leaves me a bit cold. I witnessed an example of this phenomenon first hand last summer when I went fishing with a young angler of seventeen who has only ever fished for carp, just like his dad and brother. He’s a lovely fella and good company but the concept of trotting for roach or link ledgering for chub is for him an alien landscape of tiny hooks, rods that actually move when you wobble them and line that isn’t capable of straddling pylons. The only bait he bought to the session were 15mm pink pop-ups. His face dropped when I told him that boilies were banned from that fishery. I gave him a tin of flavoured meat I had knocking around in my bag and a lesson in fishing the margins as opposed to simple launching his rig out into open water but he still didn’t catch anything. He came up and sat behind me when the boredom set in after ten minutes or so and was fascinated by the fact that I was using bread for bait. While he was there I caught a couple of small bream, a baby tench and a crucian. “See, a genuine mixed fishery, not stuffed full of lipless, bashed-up carp and bugger-all else,” I said. “Yeah but bream, I don’t like bream, they’re slimy and they don’t fight,” he replied. 

“Not like carp but river bream give a good account of themselves, have you ever caught a bream?” I retorted. No never, only ever carp,” was his telling reply. 

So, if my young friend is anything to go by, the obsession continues into the next generation and very likely beyond. Still, if it keeps them off the rivers…😉

Despite my reservations about modern-day carp fishing, I still find them a fascinating fish. It’s their propensity for huge size, wiliness, sheer power and, let’s face it, breath taking beauty that attracts me to them, although I draw the line at those colossally obese “mud-pigs” banded around in the angling press so often; they’re just plain ugly, in my eyes anyway.

As I said before, I’m not a carp angler, in fact my biggest carp, a common of 44lb, came while I was fishing for catfish, an escapade I’ve recounted in a previous Essex Anglers blog.

But I have targeted them on occasion, mainly on canals and rivers where the fish could be deemed as “wild.” For a few years I was lucky enough to live adjacent to the Stort Navigation in Sawbridgeworth, Herts. The canal there is a beautiful stretch of cascading willows, naturalised banks teeming with wildlife and a permanent flotilla of brightly painted narrowboats. One evening, whilst on a dog walk passed a marina, I noticed dark, mysterious shapes just below the canal’s surface, caught in the glow from the pontoon lights. They were carp, and big ones at that. The very next evening I was back with a couple of carp rods, some white chocolate flavoured boilies and very high hopes. But all that succumbed to my sweet-flavoured bait was a couple of battered old bream, which is better than blanking but nonetheless a bit disappointing.

Next night I was back again with with fish-meal based boilies that I thought might deter the bream. And I was right. At around 11pm a roaring take resulted in a 14lb mirror that, even in the harsh light of my head torch was as black as old mahogany, as if carved from wood. Despite the prospect of work the next day I stuck it out as the carp were on the feed, I could see them patrolling the far bank and occasionally slurping at the marginal lilies. At around 1am the rod was off again and I was attached to something bigger, a fish that tore off towards a raft of stringy, underwater roots. Side-strain and a clamped-down reel turned its head but off it went again in the opposite direction which, thankfully, was open water. After a short but highly energetic scrap, I was face to face with my quarry, a spectacular buttery-yellow common of 23lb. It was a great feeling to have located and caught outstanding fish right on my doorstep. But for various reasons I never went back, just those two sessions. 

Nonetheless, I’d now become aware of the treasures canal carping had to offer and so, on a week-long narrowboat holiday on the Oxford Canal, the rods came with me. 

The Oxford is a narrow, bucolic waterway of gentle meanders and secluded stretches way off the beaten towpath. On a sultry summer’s evening a couple of days in we found a perfect mooring with no other boat, or any other sign of human habitation, in sight. The opposite bank was a tangle of overhanging trees, lily pads and occasionally, patches of fizzing bubbles that could’ve been escaping gas or feeding fish. Just in case, I chucked a few boilies in that general direction. As night fell and darkness enveloped the far-bank I was very excited to hear that slurpy-suck sound, the onomatopoeia of feeding carp.

Just before bedtime, I lobbed a couple of rigs as close to the lilies as I dare, placed the rods on the pod set up on the stern of the boat and settled down for the night. At some ungodly hour the bite alarm woke me up and groggily and in nothing but my underpants, I lifted into a fish. As I played it I realised that the landing net was way out of reach on the boat’s roof. I had to alert the missus who was still fast asleep. “Cath, Cath wake up for God’s sake, I can’t reach the net!” I hissed. The fish wasn’t a monster but there were lots of snags and the night was pitch-black so landing it quickly was a priority. “Bloody hell, Cath!” The dog, bless him, had woken up immediately and in so doing proceeded to jump on Cath’s face making her wake, spitting dog’s hair and swear words.

“Land this fish for me, I can’t reach the net!” And so she did, leaning over the handrail and expertly netting a 12lb canal carp. She’d had the sense to turn on the boats outside light as she got up and I was mightily surprised and amused to see that she was completely naked as she hoisted the fish onto the unhooking mat. It was a glorious sight, the wife and the carp, smouldering in the half-light of a hot summer’s night.

Back in the early noughties I had the good fortune to befriend a tackle shop owner called Barry. He was a highly likeable wide-boy with an uncanny ability to catch big carp. One day whilst I was slavering over the shiny-new rods in his shop, he called across to me. “Fancy some french carp fishing Bob?” I’m organising a trip in the summer, it’s a lovely lake with some fucking lumps, up to 60lb.” “Yeah alright,” I said. And so the scene was set for my first ever foreign carp adventure. 

They were a motley crew, the carp anglers who went on that trip, good natured in the main apart from a bloke called Carl who had a dislike for policemen, especially one called Kevin who happened to be tagging along. After a few days of bickering and mithering at each other the inevitable happened and it kicked off between Carl and Kevin, over breakfast actually. I made a hasty retreat back to my bivvy, dodging haymakers and flying sausages.

The lake itself was set somewhere in Northern France, a relatively short drive from Calais; I can’t remember its name but it was quite big and nice looking with gravel bars and deep margins to fish to. During the course of that week I had nine carp to 36lb and a friendly encounter with a coypu called Colin, or at least that’s what I named him. I never met him face to face but every night he paid a visit, snuffling outside my bivvy at the little pile of boilies I left out for him. 

Carl the cop-fancier was ensconced in the next peg to me. Most nights he would come and chew the fat armed with his weed pipe and a can of Stella. In the end, old Carl actually grew on me. He had major issues, no doubt, but he was likeable, warm and very funny. On the last night he overdid the weed and beer and passed out, dead to the world. In the early hours I awoke to a cacophony of screaming bite alarms, flashing lights and sweary fisherman. Carl had a run during the night but was so inebriated he remained comatose, while the poor old fish tore round the lake taking out numerous lines as it did so, mine included. It was a hell of a job, sorting that lot out. The carp that did the tangling was a mirror of around 25lb that swam away none the worse for its experience. Carl, needless to say, wasn’t invited again.😆

Bob Dellar

The Carp and I. Part 1

My first memorable fish was a five pound common carp, caught from Copped Hall syndicate lake in Epping, Essex, adjacent to Rod Stewart’s salubrious gaff, although Rod wasn’t in residence then, I suspect he was shacked up in some sordid sex-den with Britt Ekland, the lucky so and so. I was about thirteen years old, obsessed with fishing, but beginning to walk the rock-strewn path to manhood, where I’d alternate my attention between the Angling Times and the ladies underwear section in mum’s well-thumbed Kay’s Catalogue. My brother in law Steve had fronted the annual £40 membership fee on my behalf because I’d helped him a bit with some DIY and decorating, although if the truth be known I was more of a hindrance than a help, spilling paint and encouraging my two toddler nephews into frenzies of mischievity. 

Copped Hall carp lake was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen in all my young days, a gorgeous old estate lake, jewelled with vast beds of yellow and maroon water lilies, amidst a mature woodland that seemed to envelop the lake on all sides; oppressive and foreboding at night but sun-kissed and replete with life during those long summer days.

And it was at night that I caught my carp. I’d tucked myself out of the way in a quiet corner where I’d seen fish cruising during the day, convinced that they’d still be there after dark. I baited up with corn and luncheon meat and fished with my 9ft fibre glass leger rod, rigged with a coffin weight, size 6 hook and a big cube of Spam. Bite detection was state of the art, a Fairy Liquid top, nicked from the bottle on the draining board at home long before its contents had ran out, much to my mum’s annoyance. 

I remember the night was sultry and warm, and the close proximity to the woodland’s velvety-black depths and moist, decay-infused scent had me imagining orcs and goblins, vampires and werewolves. Brother in Law Steve was a reassuring fag-glow on the opposite bank, but he was too far away to completely allay my fears. 

As is often the case with an adolescent’s mind, my thoughts scuttled from one improbable to another, namely, what it would feel like to be eviscerated by a werewolf to fondling school nymphet Elaine Archer’s prematurely buxom chest.

But in a flash my attention was centred entirely on the fishing as the red bottle top crashed into the rod butt and line zipped from the reel. A few minutes later, after a short but powerful scrap, I was admiring my biggest fish to date, a common carp of around five pounds, scales all shades of bronze and gold in my head-torch’s harsh-white glow.

I fished Copped Hall with Steve a good few times that summer, watching double-figure carp basking in the shallow margins or slurping at bread crust cast to nestle amongst the lily pads. But they were elusive and wise those carp, often favouring and rapidly devouring all of the crusts apart from the piece with the hook in. This frustrated Steve, a man not renown for patience and c’est la vie, and rods would occasionally become javelins as yet another bite was missed.

I never bettered my five pound carp, but I caught many smaller fish and my very first crucian, on my favourite yellow-tipped peacock quill tight against the lilies.

I only enjoyed the one summer at Copped Hall, Steve never renewed my ticket as my dubious DIY skills became obsolete on completion of his home improvements.

So alternative fishing venues were sought. 

Around that time my best mate was Gary. Where I had near black hair and brown eyes he was Nordic blonde and blue-eyed with skin that quickly reddened in the sun. He was good at maths, me at English; I could beat him in an arm wrestle, he could out-throw me in a stone chucking contest; he liked a scrap, I’d avoid them. But we had one thing in common: a love of fishing. Our hunting grounds were the forest ponds and lakes of Epping Forest and the River Lee at Waltham Cross, Enfield and Cooks Ferry, Edmonton. 

Once, on a school visit to Tudor hunting lodge in Chingford, allegedly frequented by Elisabeth the First when the forest was an exclusive playground for the well-to-do, Gary and me were drawn to a stuffed fish in a glass case. It was an enormous carp, still majestic and lifelike despite being caught and mounted in the thirties, a testament to the skill of the taxidermist.  But what really intrigued us was the location of the capture: Warren Pond, a tiny water right opposite the lodge on the edge of the forest; entirely overlooked by us as it was so choked with tall reeds and overrun with lilies that you could barely see the water. How could such an incredible fish come from that stagnant puddle? We had no concept of the passage of time’s effect on a pond, especially in a woodland where decades worth of autumn leaves and general detritus, plus unchecked vegetation can eventually render it unfishable. Nonetheless it was worth investigating and early one summers day during the school holidays we set off with float rods, bread, worms and maggots in the vain hope that a scaley-backed descendent of that glass-case leviathan loitered somewhere in the ponds silty depths. But all we ever caught were tiny rudd, despite two or three visits, and the odd scuff and bruise after a stone-throwing battle with a couple of other boys bent on  disrupting our fishing. 

One summer’s afternoon two or three years later, I happened to be walking my dog around Warren Pond. The Conservators of Epping Forest had been busy since my last visit. Large swathes of reeds and lilies had been cleared revealing areas of open water that looked eminently fishable. And tucked away in a quiet corner, someone was indeed fishing: an elderly man with a flat-cap and an old glass fibre rod.

‘Had much?’ I asked. ‘Not yet son, but they’re down there’, he replied. ‘What are?’, I enquired. ‘That’s for me to know and you to find out’, was his tight-lipped response. So I walked off none the wiser. At the time I was mildly offended by the the old boy’s taciturn retort. But now I’m mildly amused by it, and grateful to him for preserving the mystery.

When I started work in Epping Forest as a trainee forester, I discovered many more ponds, large and small, at various locations throughout the forest. Some were bomb-craters where V2 rockets aimed at London missed their mark, others were much larger gravel workings dug out to supply sand and gravel for road construction and building materials.

One such larger water was Wake Valley Pond adjacent to the Epping High Road. As a trainee I was consigned many tasks, and one was litter picking. The pond was a popular site so litter was abundant. I always spent more time than I should of there scanning the water, as an elderly forest keeper called Phil had beguiled me with stories of huge, uncatchable carp roaming the depths. And it was deep too, well over 10ft in places. 

I only saw them once, despite many visits. In the reed-lined shallows on a hot summer’s afternoon, seven ancient, black-backed carp basked in the warm, daphnia flecked margins. One or two were well over twenty pounds. I sat and watched them for an age, mesmerised. 

And that was the one and only time I met the carp of Wake Valley Pond. I never fished for them, as a local club’s ticket was required. I could have poached it, as some did, but to have any chance of success night fishing was a necessity and I really didn’t fancy chancing my arm with the nutters and deviants who frequented that neck of the woods at night. And that reality eventually put-paid to any chance of a specimen from the ponds and lakes of Epping Forest. A few years ago, and I have to add allegedly before this statement, many fish were removed to discourage fishing, as the incidence of harassment, tackle-theft and mugging had increased to such an extent that the risk posed to anglers was deemed too great. Maybe the risk of litigation by an aggrieved angler against the Corporation of London (who are responsible for the upkeep of the forest) may have also played a part in the decision, but that’s open to speculation.

Thankfully, according to my nephew Tony who fishes an old estate lake within the forest in Woodford Green, Essex, things are looking up. He regularly catches mint-conditioned baby carp that should eventually replace the lost specimens in that particular water. Let’s hope he gets to those big girls before the electro-fishers.

A pristine little carp from an Epping Forest estate lake. Circa 2020.
The best bite indicators of all time.
Me with a lovely little Copped Hall common. Circa 1978.
Bob Dellar

Stour Diaries: Two Sessions To End The Season.

As the season drew to a close I thought I’d wet a line in my local stretch of the Upper Stour. This was long overdue. I’d been fishing locally to comply with Covid guidelines but not as local as I could’ve been-this river is no more than a five minute walk away. Why I don’t know. Every time I fished it in the past, exclusively link-legering for chub with breadflake, I’d caught fish. I suppose it’s a case of the grass is always greener, or just sheer complacency. On one memorable occasion when I was overseeing the fishing badge for a couple of scouts, the youngest and smallest of these two would-be specimen hunters caught a chub of 4lb, it looked like a mahseer against his tiny frame! Between them they had five fish, four chub and a roach. A female scout leader chaperoning the session, who previously had no interest whatsoever in fish or fishing, on witnessing all the action insisted that she had a go, and proceeded to haul out a half-decent chub herself! So it’s a river with a healthy population of silvers, and if local legend is anything to go by, some fair old perch too. 

I was told this by my mate Jim, a local resident since boyhood, who had witnessed the capture of monster stripey’s in his youth. Jim’s now in his sixties so memories and recollections maybe somewhat dimmed and mythical perch somewhat dead but one summer’s night in 2018, while walking home after a lively night in our local, Jim had the opportunity to check the perch population out for me first hand when he missed the footbridge across the river entirely and fell in. Thankfully, Jim survived his dunking but I’m none the wiser as to the perch. 

So anyway, off I went with my new Shakespeare 10ft trotting rod, (great for small rivers), a pint of mixed and my dog Indy. It was a bright day with a brisk easterly wind but the river itself had some colour and a bit of pace so I was hopeful.

The swims in general are overhung with vegetation so not ideal for a roving float angler, specially a crack-handed one, so I struggled a bit to achieve that rhythm so important when feeding and trotting a peg. Indy didn’t help when he decided to take his morning bathe in the margins, and then continue his ablutions nearby which resulted in me downing rod and rummaging around with a poo-bag for five minutes. 

Despite the distractions the fish soon obliged. I had eight in total, mainly chunky, fin-perfect dace with  a nice roach thrown in for good measure. This was all in the space of an hour or so. I’d have stayed longer but the easterly was biting deep and my teeth were beginning to chatter.

Back at home in the warm and sipping tea, I vowed to make the most of this fabulous little river right on my doorstep. So next season I’m planning a campaign. Fish my local stretch of the Upper Stour between the weir and the road bridge as often as is practical over an entire river season, using a range of methods, and keep a record of fish caught, weather and river conditions and anything that springs to mind, just to find out what’s in there. I’ll let you know how I get on.

A few days prior to this local river session I’d managed an afternoon on the majestic middle reaches of the Stour. I’d piked fished this stretch throughout the winter and had good sport so I decided to have a crack at the silvers because there had to be a reason the pike were so abundant! I’d also witnessed an incredible number of roach and dace flitting around in the weed when I hired a canoe and had a fish-spotting expedition in the summer. There were some big old lumps amongst them too, roach to well over a pound, and I came across a dead perch that must have been getting on for 2lbs floating in the reeds. A sad sight but indicative of the river’s potential.

The day itself was far from perfect, with the wind in the east, (the fish bite least, so they say), and the pressure rising steadily. It was technically spring but winter had yet to do one, and the sepia-wash landscape was still firmly in its grasp. As I settled in my swim, the eye-popping orange and yellow of a pair of passing kayaks, paddled by two heavily bearded arctic explorer types, left an after-image of bright colour on my retinas, a stark contrast to the iron-grey of the river.

I’d opted to fish from a small island that’s accessible via a combi-lock gate. It’s an unusual spot because it’s moated on one side by a shallow, weedy back-channel that is in fact the original course of the river. The straightened section I was fishing was man-made in the 60’s for flood alleviation. As a result depths are around 4-5m, maybe 2m deeper than the majority of the river locally.

Despite the potential of this extra depth covering the backs of the colossal roach and bream shoals I was expecting to empty the river of, my quiver tip didn’t quiver, it barely even twitched. Too cold at depth I suspected. I gave it two hours to no avail so a move was in order. The shallower, warmer water where the old course of the river gradually melts into the deeper section was looking tempting. First chuck produced a glistening roach of about 6 oz, second chuck another chunky red-fin, then another-I was having fun. Then Pete the pike turned up. He scattered my shoal, as well as my dreams, to the four winds. They flashed and skittered for their lives and that was that. The Stour is well known for pike and I’d enjoyed catching one or two during the winter so I couldn’t really complain, although I did swear a bit I have to confess. While I was lamenting the demise of my sport, I noticed a man staring at me from the footpath on the opposite bank. He was elderly with a shock of white hair, like the “Doc” in Back To The Future. I gave him a cheery wave and shouted a hearty ‘alright!’, but all he did was stand stock-still and stare. He carried on this strange behaviour for at least five minutes, and frankly, he was beginning to make me feel uneasy and I was glad of the river between me and him. Thankfully, he was disturbed by three young blokes, smoking ghanja and chuckling as they plotted a meandering course along the path. He wandered off slowly and eventually disappeared out of site. It was a weird experience.

Despite a few more casts it was obvious that the roach were watching their backs or had buggered off all together. I wish I’d brought my lure rod, I could have had a pop at Pete. But all was not lost, because I had worms, big juicy ones. So rather than trudge home defeated, I slung on a single hook trace, hung it with four fat lobs and twitched them along the reed-line right under my feet. It was instant. Pete obviously loved worms as much as he loved roach. He provided good sport on light tackle, and I had to dissuade him from diving for the many snags a couple of times before he was on the bank. Pete was no monster, maybe five or six pounds, but I’d had my revenge, although Pete got the last laugh. 

While I was unhooking him he suddenly twisted and lacerated one of my fingers. The cut turned the water red as I slipped him back. As I was attempting to staunch the flow with a festering handkerchief, the East Anglian Air Ambulance landed in a field opposite! Now apart from marvelling at the truly remarkable response time of Suffolk’s Ambulance Service, I wondered if, after the overthrow of Pete the pike, another cast for the roach was in order. Well, it turned out it was. I had three more within twenty minutes before it turned off. Maybe Pete had regained his composure.

A lovely roach from my local river Stour…
And a chunky dace…
Look at the stamp of dace and roach in there…
Bob Dellar

A Tale of Four Weir Pools

Recently, I had the pleasure of wetting a line on a majestic section of the Upper Thames near Wallingford, Oxfordshire, famous for its barbel and large shoals of nomadic bream. I fished downstream from an impressive weir pool, massive and turbulent, its waters giving rise to that gorgeous scent of soaked greenery and freshwater mist that triggered a Proustian madeleine of fishing and swimming in Dobbs Weir on the River Lea in Hertfordshire when I was a kid. 

My mum used to drive us, my sister and me, for an occasional day out during the school holidays, where she sat in the sun reading crime novels as we swam and fished the river. 

I panicked her once by swimming too close to the weir’s apron, well out of my depth in the deep, choppy water. I tried to swim to a calmer spot but was making no progress. All I could hear and see was the weir’s thunderous melee and foaming white water; I had no idea my mum was jumping up and down on the bank waving her arms and shouting at me to swim clear. I remember a wave of rising panic as my strength waned, but suddenly like flotsam from a flood, I popped clear of the main flow into a back eddy which delivered me near enough to a fishing platform to grab hold. 

It was a weird day altogether, because not only did I nearly drown, I saw my very first pike. And it wasn’t skulking in the river amongst marginal weed waiting for an unfortunate roach to swim by but lying like a defeated dragon in a landing net held aloft by a little girl with brown curly hair and pink and white polka dot wellingtons. 

Then there was the chub. On another visit, as we lounged around on the grass by the weir pool, a gang of young boys trooped by, garrulous and jostling. At their head was a blond lad of about twelve or thirteen carrying the biggest chub I’d ever seen. It was very much alive, and it made a couple of attempts to squirm free of his grip, its scales glistening like quick silver in the sunlight. The boy could hardly contain it and while his friends chattered excitedly around him, he strode on, grim faced and resolute. Years later in March 2003, that weir pool produced a British record chub of 8lb 13oz and the sight of it in the angling press reawakened the childhood memory of the boy and his prized chevin. 

Kings Weir on the river Lea is a fishery where anglers have flocked for decades hunting specimen fish of all species but especially barbel. A lustier, older brother to Dobbs Weir, its watery mist hangs in the air above the sill like a baby Niagara, bedewing any angler who fishes nearby. 

It’s a fine spectacle but when I used to fish it, some fifteen years ago now, it was a source of constant frustration as I blanked time after time. That is until I discovered an enclosed stretch at the tail end of the weir run by the London Angler’s Association. 

With padlocked access and entirely fenced off, it was a rarely fished, wild paradise inhabited by kingfishers, water voles and my raison d’être the magnificent, gold-backed barbel. Once I’d locked that gate behind me, I was on my own amongst a beautiful tangle of frondescence with barely discernible swims and knee-high nettles that my legs and arms remembered for days after. The unkempt banks made for real jungle fishing, and swims were more like lairs. More often than not I’d fish into the night to exploit that magical witching hour when day becomes dusk becomes dark and fish shrug off their coyness and jostle to make your acquaintance. It paid off too. I met two of the rivers old warriors over the course of those sessions: a 12lb barbel and a 6lb 8oz chub. I also met two bailiffs who thought I was poaching. It was a particularly dark night, the only source of light my Star-Lite bite indicator on which I was concentrating very intently. Next thing, the night literally exploded into eye-stabbing torch light and shouty voices. If there had been a roof I would have hit it. Instead, I resorted to arming myself with a rod rest which I jabbed at the intruders like a rapier babbling, “fuck-off! fuck off! fuck off! repeatedly like I’d invented Tourette’s. I could have seriously injured one of those bailiffs. Thankfully their obvious amusement at my manic blathering eased the tension. I thought they were muggers after my gear, and they thought I was a team of poachers stealing fish and trashing the fishery. Why they just didn’t ask to see my permit without creeping up on me I’ll never know. I’ll think they just wanted a quick laugh and they certainly got one. 

At the end of summer 2020, with the world on a trajectory to God knows where, I fished another weir pool, this one on the Suffolk Stour. It’s a fantastic spot, nestling deep in the countryside amidst water meadows and roaming cattle. There’s only a couple of swims on the pool, such is its size and profuse bank-side vegetation, and I decided to fish the one nearest to the weir itself, enticed by the pacey main current and swirling back eddies. 

But, despite the very fishy nature of the pool and mild, overcast weather, nothing happened, hardly a twitch for an entire afternoon. There was a brief gudgeon interlude, where I managed a couple of fish in quick succession, and then a microscopic dace, but that was it. This lack of action galled me. I had tried everything, different baits, different methods; short casts, long casts: nothing. Then, just I was thinking about packing up, there was an oily swirl some two metres from the bank. “Carp,” I thought. I scanned the depths for the fish and saw a shape that bore no resemblance to the rounded, olive-brown shoulders of a river carp, more the sinewy sleekness of a river predator. It was an otter. It porpoised briefly and was gone, out towards the deeper water. I was transfixed, and grinning ear to ear. To witness such an iconic creature made my day, but it also accounted for my lack of fish. 

I’ve reacquainted myself with Dobbs Weir in recent years, and it was by chance. I happened to be pricing tree work somewhere near Waltham Abbey, Essex when I noticed that landmarks and street names were beginning to look familiar. On a whim, I turned left off the main drag heading home and found myself driving down a road flanked by enormous glass houses, dazzling in the afternoon sun, all part of the local market garden industry that the Lee Valley is famous for. 

Then I saw a sign that read Dobbs Weir Road and I was off down it in a flash, remembering with a judder of déjà vu the same journey twenty five years before in the back of my mum’s mini she named Dandy Red, although it was more orange than red. I parked in the very same car park we had always parked in and there was the same cafe where we bought ice cream and the same pub, The Fish and Eels, by the road bridge. It was a winter’s day and I was completely alone, the only car in the car park. I headed for the footbridge over the weir itself and sucked in the damp air and the weir scent that I knew so well and there was our spot, by a picnic table adjacent to an old gnarled willow. The tree had been pollarded and was much reduced but it was still an imposing sight. The whole scene was deserted and dreary and it was a task to overlay my memories of warm summer days teeming with picnickers and embullient children. I decided on the spot that I had to fish it again, and I headed back for an evening session no more that a week later. A bailiff had told me tales of massive perch loitering in the slack water by the weir pilings so I fished a ledgered  lobworm down amongst the sunken lilies, hard against the algae cloaked concrete. As the light waned and the air chilled my quiver tip arched round and I struck into a fish that juddered, dived and shook its way to the net, a beautiful, bellicose perch of 2lb 14oz, that, as I unhooked it, arched its spiny dorsel and spat back the worm that had tricked it. Not one of the monsters, but at long last a worthy fish from a river that reminds me, with a bitter-sweet edge, of being young. 

As you may have guessed I’m drawn to weir-pools, from boy to man they’ve always held a fascination. It’s their differentness, and the fact they add mystery and potential to a river that for the majority of its course flows evenly and true and then there’s a weir, like a twist in a novel you didn’t expect. Big, small, shallow, deep, snaggy, weedy; a scoured river bed of gravel or a soft silt; a fast food outlet for fish of all species; an oxygen rich life-line; a snag-laden predator-paradise, and a magnet for wildlife in all its myriad variety, including me.

Kings Weir. There’s some big barbel down there.
Dobbs Weir with the picnic area in the background.
Bob Dellar

Clarissa, a catfish and the Frankenpike.

In August 2004 I caught a 44lb carp, the same weight as Richard Walker’s record breaking common back in 1952. He named his fish Ravioli but thankfully someone else decided Clarissa was more flattering. My Clarissa was a common too, but I’m not a carp fisherman, I was after catfish.

Waveney Valley Lakes in Norfolk, a nature reserve and fishery endorsed by the late, great (albeit climate change naysayer) David Bellamy, is a beautiful place to be let alone fish. I booked a week on Marsh Lake, with a view to catch a catfish, beguiled by their uncomely strangeness and brute fighting strength, not to mention their size. Those big slimy tadpoles go to 65lb at Waveney Valley. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the sort of fight a fish of those proportions would give so I hoped I’d start off small and work my way up.

There was only me and one other fishing Marsh Lake, an unusual looking, elderly gentleman with more than a whiff of Catweazle about him. He had coarse grey hair to his shoulders, wore galoshes and an old waxed cagoule and wouldn’t have looked out of place on Ahab’s Pequod.  He had the perplexing habit of exclaiming “who me?”whenever I asked him a question when more often than not it was just me and him talking. I had to suppress the urge to shout “WHO ELSE FOR CHRISSAKE!” a lot during our chats. Despite his archaic appearance, his tackle was top draw, the very latest in carp fishing innovation, and his set up looked like a feature spread for Carp World. He was very proud of it and took great pleasure in cocking a sneer at my mishmash of assorted rods, reels and  threadbare brolly camp.

When I hooked my Clarissa her initial run were so powerful that before I could slow her she tore off parallel with the near bank straight through all of Catweazle’s three lines. The bite alarm’s catawaulling and light show alone could have filled an Ibiza dance floor. I felt very guilty at the time, more for the fish than for him but miraculously when I netted her the only terminal tackle visible was mine. He didn’t seen perturbed, however, and was gracious and congratulatory. “That’s the biggest carp in the lake,” he said, quietly. I wasn’t surprised, she was massive, the biggest freshwater fish I’d ever seen. Although saying that I had once caught a pike of similar rare proportions, but the two events couldn’t have been more different. 

Being in the presence of Clarissa was a joy, made more special by a fine, late summer morning with sunlight playing on her doubloon-like scales, whereas my pike was caught from a huge pit in the Lee Valley on a frigid, overcast December day and was a mottled, deformed leviathan so battle scarred she looked like she’d been swimming around since the Cretaceous. And to make her appearance all the more frightening, her entire left eye and part of her head was engulfed in an ugly tumorous growth of a ghastly mottled grey/red that looked like her brain was seeping through her eye socket. That December day was a fitting backdrop as it felt almost apocalyptic. I encountered no one else during that session, saw no one, spoke to no one. It was if the world had ended, and all that survived was me and the monster.

It all started with the rat. With a faint rustle, he popped out from the reeds only to immediately spin round and dive back in when he saw me. Next thing there was a plop as he’d apparently opted to travel by water rather than land. As he swam from left to right in the margins creating a little bow wave, a huge dark torpedo shape emerged from nowhere, tracking his progress. It hung motionless below the rat, which appeared oblivious to the threat. I braced myself for the strike, but it never came and the torpedo slid back into the shadows. 

It was an eerie sight, that pike. With trembling fingers I gently reeled in my popped up mackerel tail to within three metres of the bank, and waited. 

Five minutes later I was staring at a stygian creature on my unhooking mat, laying there in all her deformed glory. She had barely struggled during the fight and came to the net like a wet blanket. 

I tried to weigh her with freezing, shaking hands but my scales only went up to 25lb and, with a crash and a rattle, they bottomed-out.  At a guess I’d say she was well over 28lb but she could have been a thirty. When I returned her she loitered menacingly in the margins for a moment before slowly vanishing. I had no desire to fish on, because of the dreadful prospect of hooking her again. That was the one and only time I fished the pit with the Frankenpike.

I did manage to catch a catfish at Waveney Valley, and as they usually do it came at night. I didn’t hear or register the bite alarm initially as I was sat up in my brolly camp, struggling to breathe, suffering a hay fever induced asthma attack. They’d been coming on and off for about three days, depriving me of sleep, energy and enthusiasm. As I played the fish, in the dead of night with rattling lungs and crumpled under-crackers, the shocking, lunging power of catfish became all too apparent. Sapped of strength and vital motor skills, I tottered around the swim totally befuddled, head-torch on flash, trying to take control of a fight that was all too one-sided. I could feel the line grate ominously on the lip of a gravelly drop-off about eight metres out and gritted my teeth in anticipation of a break-off. I was still struggling to gain line when, to my tremendous relief, the cat seemed to turn-tail and head straight at me. After thrashing about in the margins for a few seconds, a commotion that drew the attention of Catweazle, the fish was on the bank. “Look at you covered in slime, they stink too don’t they?” This was his commentary on my slithery attempts at weighing my very first catfish, which was a muscular 25lb. In the end I was glad that all I was wearing from the waist down was underpants. For one it makes the photos more of a talking point, and for two it’s easier to wash catfish gunk from bare legs rather than fishing strides.

Out of all these angling escapades I think the capture of my Clarissa was the most special. From the minute the bite alarm announced her presence on that beautiful late summer morning to the bitter sweet moment I watched her great, golden shoulders slide back into the pellucid depths of Marsh Lake, I knew I’d been in the company of one of nature’s rarities, a real gem. 

Bob Dellar

Call of the pike part 2 (with a chub thrown in).

There is something compelling about pike. Of all our freshwater fish their call, for me, is the most insistent. They are the black-eyed death-dealer of our fresh waters, the equaliser, the remorseless destroyer without whom natural balance would falter. Their narrative coloured by tales of dark, bottomless pools where monsters capable of devouring small dogs and even toddlers lurk. A fish adored and despised in equal measure, persecuted, like raptors, to perpetuate the manufactured hunting grounds of the privileged. Removed from some commercial waters to protect the interests of the owners and the sensibilities of the anglers. 

I suppose in some ways it’s understandable. They are a bit scary, and those teeth are sharp. They’re the only UK fish that can inflict real damage to a careless angler. I’ve known many a fellow fisherman who regard them as a nuisance and would no more fish for them as sell their favourite match rod. 

But the pursuit of pike is fishing at its most primal. It’s almost audacious, hunting a hunter. To outwit a pike of any size and trick it onto the bank is the defuser of myth, the proof that the monster is fallible, vulnerable. It’s a privilege too because they are creatures of great beauty and surprising fragility. Handling and unhooking them requires love, respect and, occasionally, a surgeon’s dexterity. And they have the added attraction of growing big, on a par with carp weight-wise but bulk based on natural food not man-made protein balls.

There’s not much to look forward to in winter apart from pike fishing, and pubs serving dark, malty ales. (Pubs, how I miss them.) 

Also, winters have less allure now as far as general weather. The crisp, cold, snowy and white frequently replaced with drab, damp, muddy and brown due to climate disorder. And the seemingly endless winter rain plays havoc with river piking. It’s only December but my local stretch of the Suffolk Stour has been up and down like a Bo-Jo’s Barnet. I did manage a fruitful session or two in mid-November, however. 

I’d become drawn to a prime stretch of the Stour near Sudbury Town centre known as The Priory. Adjacent to this is another more open section called Friars Meadow, nomenclature no doubt based on the Dominican communities that occupied the area in the 13th Century. 

I like a degree of isolation when I’m fishing and the Priory section offers that despite being in the middle of town. There’s ample riverside cover and a formidable belt of willows and vegetation between the railway walk footpath and the river itself which separates the angler from passers-by. 

The Stour was fining down nicely after autumn rain, which coincided serendipitously with a mild spell, so an ideal opportunity for a go at the Stour pike.

A opted for a mid-week session and off I went my my German Shepherd Indy who makes for a fine fishing companion as long as I keep him onside with Bonios. We found a likely-looking, spacious swim on the Priory, enough room to fish two float rigs tight to near bank features. The swim had the added appeal of being opposite a majestic sweep of water meadow and the moment I settled in my seat I spotted a nosy muntjac checking us out from the far bank, all ears and nervous curiosity. Indy stared back, ears up, hackles twitching. “Go on then, if you think you’re hard enough,” I chided. The dog might’ve if there wasn’t a river in the way. As it was he turned his attention to my rucksack, probing for Bonios.

Even a half-arsed angler like me was in with a fair shout of catching, such were the almost perfect conditions. I felt confident, and so it was that within twenty minutes of casting out, the right hand float bobbed and danced and disappeared and I was into an angry Stour pike. The fish fought hard and thundered around the swim in tight, powerful circles. It felt excellent to be connected to my first sizeable pike for years, and my first river pike for even more years. 

Indy’s quite funny when I’m playing a fish. Despite the commotion, usually involving me puffing, swearing and thumping around looking for the net, he just sits there nonchalantly, some may say indifferently, picking burdock seeds out of his coat or something. He may come and have a gander once a fish is on the mat, but only if he can be bothered. This is in stark contrast to my previous German Shepherd, Harry, who happened  to be Indy’s great uncle. I only ever took Harry fishing once, such was the extent of his copybook blotting. We were on the famous Met Pit in the Lee Valley, fishing for pike. Harry was his normal well behaved self until I cast out my dead bait, then he went totally insane. Before I could stop him he dived straight in and struck out towards my pike float, which was only a few metres out, grabbed it in his jaws before I could reel it in, and swam back to the bank, dragging float, trace and dead bait with him. He nearly became the biggest live bait in pike fishing history. But that wasn’t the end of it. To keep him contained I had to tie him to a tree, he was literally straining at the leash to dive in again.

He settled down eventually, mainly because I hadn’t cast for a while. Then I hooked a jack of about six pounds and he became a monster. The moment I laid the netted pike on the mat the lead securing Harry to the tree broke, unable to withstand his lunges. He was on the fish in a flash, jaws snapping, eyes bulging. Quick as I could I lifted the net plus the fish back in the water, trying to block his advance with my body. I shouted at him so loudly that my voice echoed around the pit, startling me as well as the dog. Having lost sight of his prey he calmed somewhat giving me time to unhook the fish and release it pronto; I was thankful it was lightly hooked.

I loved that dog. He was a beauty, a great companion with a flawless temperament, until you took him fishing!

Me and Indy managed to catch three pike during that first session, smallest nine pounds biggest twelve. We lost a bigger fish that could have been a mid-double. And we were treated to numerous fly pasts by a kingfisher, the bird with the sky on his back. All in all a satisfying and enjoyable day for man, (and as far as I know but it’s hard to tell), dog. 

Footnote. It wasn’t all satisfactory. I collected two bags of litter from around my swim before I left, almost certainly discarded by anglers. There was a good deal more too but I only had two bags. Some say that littering has become a collective myopia, which is galling enough but for fishermen to litter, to discard dangerous, wildlife threatening, river polluting, unsightly waste while they fish is the antithesis of what angling represents and embodies for so many.

Pike No 1
Indy enjoying himself
Pike No 2
My wife happened to wander by in her kayak (fishing went dead after)😉😆

From deadbaits to breadflake

The river at Wixoe, on the border of Essex and Suffolk, is a craggy old piece of the upper Stour running alongside a large pumping station. Sadly, its banks are liberally strewn with the detritus of humanity, aided and abetted by a succession of floods that have become the trademark of the wet winters during this age of climate change. 

It’s a stretch run by Sudbury and Long Melford AC and according to some of the club’s more established members it’s well past its heyday, where good bags of roach and dace as well as sizeable perch and pike in the winter are distant memories. But isn’t that the depressing mantra so familiar to anglers nowadays when discussing river fishing in the UK? There’s little doubt that river systems in general are at the mercy of agricultural run-off, excessive sewage discharge and poor management but, thankfully, it’s fairly obvious from reading the angling press that it’s not all bad, that there are rivers that still produce good fish, and that the natural cyclical high and lows of fish stocks and specimen fish still prevail.

Saying that, I’m not specially enamoured by this stretch of the Stour. The whole area has a deserted, frontier town feel. Local businesses seem to eventually fail. In the 15 years I’ve lived nearby, a pub and restaurant, a garden centre, a garden machinery retailer and a hairdressers have floated down the Swanee, or should I say Stour. Probably a convergence of negative ley-lines or something. Anyway, bad energy hotspots aside, and now we’re in lockdown no 3 where fishing is acceptable but must be ‘local,’ I find myself drawn by circumstance to this fishery. 

But it’s definitely got something. 

If you can somehow ignore the mud-flecked plastic bottles, beer cans and polystyrene chunks bobbing about and concentrate on the wintered reed beds, willow-lined bank, near-side slacks, and rafts of accumulated vegetation it all begins to look very fishy.

I decided to try my luck for the first time one cold, bright January afternoon when the river was practically devoid of colour and frankly, about as appealing as a cold shower. Predictably, my trotted single red maggot was flatly refused for two hours solid so, as the light faded, I opted to hoick the light ledger rod out and fish the features with breadflake. Again, nothing, save a few trembles on the tip. But as the magical last hour of daylight came and went, that erstwhile sterile river burst into life. Right under my feet in fact. I’m pretty sure it was a big chub, that great silver head that popped up. Whatever it was it  definitely tickled my enthusiasm. I was pleased as it had corroborated my gut feeling: that this uninspiring river held good fish.

Despite the promising sighting, however, I remained fishless but nonetheless cautiously optimistic. I second visit was a necessity.

Less than a week later I was back, and after some more heavy rain the river was fining down and looking far more angler-friendly than the previous visit. The banks were treacherous, however. Perpetually muddy and sloping, on this occasion the post flood mud was like a quagmire, oozing moisture and offering no grip whatsoever. This is an under-fished water, which is not a bad thing but can also lead to neglect. The banks are a Jack-Straw tangle of windblown willow limbs and deadwood. So getting to my tucked away swims in the near darkness was a trial. And I’d forgotten my head torch.

As quick as I could I knocked up some bread mash and fed two small balls to three swims some twenty yards apart. In my haste to get a bait out before dusk descended I hung the rig up on a willow twig and lost the link ledger in the process. Frustration was setting in now. I’m not the most adroit of anglers. I have my days but generally it’s not second nature to me, I have to concentrate. So it came as no surprise to me when a second cast was as bad as the first and hung up too. Thankfully the fishing gods were sympathetic and the rig dropped clear just where I wanted it. I’d hardly settled on my bucket stool when the tip arched round. It didn’t register at first, it happened so quickly but the penny dropped when the rod thumped, thumped, thumped and the drag groaned. Immediately, the fish made a sprint for the snags. Side-strain thwarted that lunge but two more shuddering runs followed before it broke surface. I knew it was a chub before I saw it, the fight gave that away. But it’s size made me swear, loudly. 

It was a pristine fish, utterly flawless, probably never seen a bank. Along with my torch I’d also forgotten my scales so I can only guess at its weight but it looked like a five pounder or thereabouts.

In my reverie I’d failed to notice that the dwindling light had dwindled entirely and I could barely see the ripple as I slipped that lovely chevin back.

The short, dark walk back to the the car was a tad fraught and I nearly went over but I didn’t really care. That tip of a river held good fish as well as the contents of a dustcart, and I couldn’t wait to get back there, but next time I’d be sporting a head torch, a set of scales and hopefully a rudimentary grasp of casting.

Bob Dellar

The Call Of The Pike Part 1

Jig fisher virgin.

And so the colder months are upon us and I’m keen to get amongst the spikes, teeth, stripes and manly jaw-lines of our native piscine predators.

Although I’ve had the odd dabble already, if the truth be known. And I’ve discovered a new way of catching them, well new to me anyway. Jig fishing. 

My very first outing was an opportunistic one, when I sneaked the jig rod in amongst the chainsaws and climbing ropes before I left home in the hope of nicking a quick session on a lovely stretch of the Upper Stour near Liston, Sudbury after a morning’s work. The weather was red hot, bright and sunny with a brisk wind so not that perfect! Nonetheless I was keen to take my new six foot rod out for its maiden voyage and to pop my jig fishing cherry at the same time! I’ve fished with spinners and plugs on and off for years but the jelly-like jig lures with all their assorted names, colours and strangeness are new to me. When I arrived the river was crystal clear and what was really pleasing to see was the sheer number of fish from fry to the more mature flitting around in the shallows. And where there’s prey there’s predators, so the sight of all those silvers boosted my confidence. Features abound in the Stour at Liston with lilies, cabbages, reed beds and overhanging as well as submerged branches. All great to cover the backs of a spiky-toothed pike or a bristling perch but a bit of a snag-magnet for a cack-handed jig-fisher virgin.

Incredibly, my first cast with a perch fry micro-lure had a follow from a little jack which might well have had a pop had I not panicked and plucked the lure from right under its nose sending it skywards into a hawthorn. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the pike. It hung in the water stock still for a second or two and if it had blinked and shaken its head in disbelief I wouldn’t have been surprised.

After disentangling my lure and trace from a particularly vicious hawthorn branch I continued my trek down the bank on the hunt for more predator holding hotspots. The wind had whipped up sending tiny manes of white water across the river’s surface obscuring potential snags and hazards, so every cast became a lost-tackle lottery. At one point, the eddying wind and water subsided briefly offering a brief glimpse into the depths like a porthole on the Nautilus. It was then that my spiky little lure came into view no than than four metres from the near bank. Just as my wrist tensed on the rod handle to induce a last enticing flick, a jack pike shot out from his liquid lair with astonishing speed and grabbed it. I still am astounded, when I think back, at the sheer pace and savagery of that lunge. What ensued was a brief but powerful tussle with a summer pike of no more than two pounds. He gave it his all that little pike and I’ve had less enjoyable tussles with Esox many times his size who have thrown in the towel early and limped to the net like a hooked bin-bag. A second, slightly bigger fish of about three pounds followed from a swim overhung by one of the oldest and gnarliest white willows I’ve ever seen, it’s squat, fissured trunk rubbed smooth and shiny in places where generations of cattle have scratched an itch or sheltered from sun or rain. It must have been pollarded countless times over the years as well as thrashed and decollated by countless storms but as is the way with willows, new growth soon emerges to replace the lost and damaged. There must have been an absolute maze of fibrous red-tinged roots wafting in the flow where the tree’s huge buttresses enter the water, a perfect ambush point for that hungry little pike.

Little pike from below the willow

Next swim was a tight one and I had to kneel to cast. The jig was snapped up as soon as it hit the water and I fell back in surprise and flailed about in the nettles before I regained my composure. I was attached to a lively perch of about half a pound which, as it thrashed about in the margins, was escorted sympathetically by three or four of its shoal mates to the waiting net. Anthropomorphism is a dubious trait I know but as I released him back into the flow I like to think that his mates took him to one side, checked he was ok, and gently rebuked him for being so impulsive. 

So, for a first session on the jig as it were, things went quite well and overall was an enjoyable experience. Remarkably, I didn’t leave any lures, lost and forlorn, snagged up in the underwater jungle, but I did crush my fibre glass landing net pole when the perch pounced and I fell back on my arse.

First perch on a jig rig

Jungle jigging

I’d recently joined Sudbury and Long Melford Angling Club, impressed by the range of river fishing they offered, mainly on the Suffolk Stour. But amongst the river delights were an intriguing trio of well established gravel pits: Glemsford 1, 2 and 3. The pits are collectively a nature reserve and an SSSI, primarily down to its outstanding population of dragonflies.  I love dragonflies. If I spot one I’ll stand and watch, because every time they enthral. Absolute masters of the air, and aerial predators par excellence they can turn on a sixpence to grab an unsuspecting fly, midge or mosquito mid-flight. Without them they’d be a lot more mossie bites to scratch, a lot more hydrocortisone anointing. And their names are perfect aptronyms: darters, hawkers, chasers. On the Norfolk Broads, I once witnessed a southern hawker doing battle with an angry hornet, a bout that the hawker lost but the ensuing dog-fight was a spectacle as both insects wrestled mid-air, end over end, free falling then ascending, a contortion of brightly coloured abdomens goring at each other until the hawker was thrust away defeated, its perfect wings trashed and crumpled as it ditched in the river Ant and gently floated away, a fitting Viking burial, back to the water from whence it came.

And so for my first trip to Glemsford I opted to fish No 3, a fantastic, prehistoric looking water, wild and swamp-like, a Louisiana bayou without the heat and alligators . A maze of spits, islands and craggy-old willows with dislocated, fractured limbs hanging precariously in the trees or strewn around, as if an angry giant has crashed through. 

The weather was mild and overcast, absolutely ideal so out came the jig rod again for a couple of hours of jungle fishing. This is about as near to wild angling as it gets round these parts. Every swim I cast into screamed fish, such was the abundance of predatory lairs and ambush points. And such was the case as I netted three perfect little Jack pike and a couple of bristling perch up to half a pound within the first hour. I’ve been told that the pike are restricted to youngsters at the moment as a couple of unfortunate summer oxygen starvation events put paid to the older fish. But the perch are an unknown entity. There could be some big girls down there, hopefully I’ll find out.

Conversely, next door is a commercial fishery that’s the polar opposite of Pit 3. Comprising of a ‘traditional pond’, a ‘pleasure/match’ pond and a larger, ‘specimen’ lake, the two ponds are barren puddles with the odd drift of sick looking lilies, no bankside vegetation, very few features and certainly no fishing appeal. A rusting JCB that may well have dug them out skulks nearby, giving off an air of after-thought and that’ll do to the fishery as a whole. The specimen lake is behind a gated fence so is difficult to see. It does look slightly more appealing with some reed beds and a couple of islands, but comparing this fishery to Pit 3 would be like comparing Stephen Fry to Joey Essex.
But I suppose it’s a case of horses for courses. No doubt these ponds are packed full of fish and would provide a a welcome bend in the rod if you’d suffered a few blanks elsewhere. And these fisheries are often fantastic confidence boosters and training grounds for new fisherman. But I’d prefer a wild-water, any day of the week.

The bayou that is Glemsford Pit 3

Apologies to the pike. Winter, 1977 (or thereabouts.)

As a schoolboy of twelve or thirteen, I fished fairly often with Steve, my brother in law. I remember fishing a stretch of what was probably the river Roding in Essex; a small, narrow stretch festooned with vegetation and overhanging willows, a chub fishers paradise. 

One Sunday afternoon during the winter, while Steve and I immersed ourselves in this chubby heaven, probing the depths with ledgered luncheon meat, I got bored with the lack of action and slapped on a rusty old Mepps spinner that had been knocking around in my tackle bag for ages, regularly puncturing my fingers if I delved too deep. I just tied it straight to the nylon mainline, no trace, and no thought to the consequences.

I think I had perch in mind as Steve had said that fishing near features like bridges and weirs, especially during the winter, was a useful tactic for big stripeys, so I blame him entirely for the years of guilt and trauma I suffered as a result of my foolhardiness! Just upstream from our swim was a small weir coupled with a small footbridge; perfect perch territory according to angling oracle Steve, so off I trotted in the naive hope of snaring a giant stripey . I’m not sure if it was first cast or not but everything seemed to happen very quickly. As I reeled the spinner back towards the bank I had a great, lunging take that very nearly ripped the rod from my hand and sent a great shudder of shock and fear right through me. This was no perch, for if it were it would have shattered the British record, and I would have been a famous schoolboy fisherman. What had grabbed my rusty old Mepps was an enormous pike. I’d been a fisherman for about three years up to that point and my biggest fish to date had been a five pound common carp. Now I thought that fish put up a fair old fight but it was truly nothing compared to the pike. I had little concept of playing a fish of any size, and the clutch on my Intrepid ‘Boyo’ reel was cranked up far too tight, so that poor old fish jagged, tugged and tail-walked right under my rod tip. I held on for dear life; from a distance I probably looked like a manic conductor suffering a fit during the final movement. But as soon as it started it stopped. I have a searing image, still vivid to this day, of that great pike’s head disappearing below the foam it had whipped up, my rusty old Mepps spinner, with its flash of red-wool, dangling from its face like some cheap, back-street piercing. I’ve caught pike to 25lb since then, so I have some idea of pike proportions. I’m guessing that pike could have easily been a mid-double and I hope it shed that spinner very quickly and lived a long and happy life, or maybe grew to love its facial adornment and wore it as a token of its prowess in battle. Puerile musings aside, I still feel guilty about that pike. And now, as a convert to the art of jig fishing, drop-shotting, ned-slinging, creature chucking and so forth, I always use a trace, despite the general consensus amongst the lure-fisher fraternity that it’s ok to use fluorocarbon hook lengths, because if you do hook a pike and it bites you off it’ll soon shed the hooks. I think to a great extent this is wishful thinking, so I’m a trace man, in memory of the Mepps spinner pike.

My Mepps was rustier than this