Winter is all about predator fishing for me, although I did partake of a couple of short sessions on my local river, the Suffolk Stour, trotting for the numerous dace and chub that inhabit this jungly, overgrown stretch, which I’m happy to say is free-fishing and only a five minute walk from my house. It was great fun using my 10.5 ft Shakespeare match rod, trotting a light stick through and enjoying regular bites using maggots and bread for bait. The bread was less consistent than maggots but seemed to tease out the better fish. That little stretch has become even more jungly and overgrown now following the ravages of Storm Eunice and I may have to wander down there with a chainsaw during the close season to re-establish some swims.
But as I say winter fishing is all about the preds for me, especially pike. In 2021 I joined a couple of clubs that afforded me access to some potentially exciting fishing in The Fens, chiefly on the Great Ouse through Ely and Littleport in Cambridgeshire. In October 2021, I made the hour long drive across the Fenland skyscape to Littleport, armed with a lure rod. I surmised that the best way to get to grips with the Great Ouse there was to walk its banks, casting a jig around as I did so. Saying that, I only walked about a mile and a half. It was hard going, trudging on top of the floodbank fully exposed to frigid autumnal winds the Fens are famous for. Nonetheless, I managed a couple of jacks casting along the near bank reed-line, and a nice perch of over a pound. I had a follow from a bigger fish too but fluffed the retrieve in my excitement and off he went, too wiley for my amateurish jig control.
I returned a couple more times during November to give deadbaiting a crack. My plan was to fish into darkness to see if the odd zander might oblige. But all I managed was a couple of pike just shy of double figures and an interesting tête-à-tête with a group of Eastern European anglers who were fishing in a swim fairly close to mine. It looked like an entire family: a couple of teenage kids, a youngish woman and three (very large) guys. The swim was a mini encampment with two tents and an elaborate BBQ/dining area. It was utterly spotless with not a hint of litter or unkemptness. The very moment I landed one of the pike, the three large guys descended on me, each one a potential Bond villain.
“What you catch there”?, one of them barked. “Only a small pike mate”, I replied. And I immediately thought, “bloody hell he’s going to nab it for his BBQ!” But thankfully my fears were unfounded as they were very congratulatory, saying, “we fish all day for no fish and you come and catch fish, what are we do wrong!” (I paraphrase but that was the general gist).
So I gave them a few hints on how to float fish for pike and a couple of sardine and mackerel deadbaits. I’ve no idea if they were there illegally or not but they were making no attempt to conceal themselves and were extremely friendly and good natured, I’m very glad to say!
The Ouse through Ely is somehow a more welcoming stretch of river than Littleport, which I found slightly desolate and barren. At Ely the landscape is altogether more bucolic with water meadows and gnarled old willows to admire. The only drawback is the people and their dogs, which seem to drift by in a constant stream, with the occasional canine raid on my deadbait bucket or lunch bag. Also, there’s nowhere to have a crafty pee so I learnt quite quickly to lay off the bankside tea. I had a few nice pike during my sessions at Ely, the biggest around 15lb. But the icing on the cake was my first zander for many years, nabbed on a small roach deadbait whilst fishing the well-known town centre stretch, an area where the prey fish congregate during the winter creating a predator hotspot.
The Suffolk Stour is a river that has a reputation for consistent pike fishing and I’m happy to say I’ve had some of my best sessions on this lovely waterway, specifically through Sudbury. With the river and air temperature still relatively warm, I had an early season Red-Letter Day in late October, banking six fish and losing two, all on float-fished sardine and mackerel. Most were low doubles and the fish were in fine fettle, still powerful and sleek, yet to succumb to cold-induced lethargy. But that was to be my only pike session on that stretch of river. Whilst I was playing my final fish, an otter swirled just a couple of metres from the struggling pike and I nearly had a cardiac arrest. Visions of me having to unhook an angry, frightened otter had me bully that fish to the net and call an end to the session pronto. I did return on a few occasions as there are a couple of deeper, near-side swims with overhanging vegetation that scream perch and chub, and this proved the case as I managed to catch perch to 2.2lb and chub to 5.2lb. Remarkably, during an evening session, another otter porpoised through my swim and I thought, “that’s that then.” But the second he disappeared I had a decisive bite on the tip and landed the 5.2lb chub! What that’s all about I don’t know, but that otter didn’t deter the fish from feeding, on that occasion anyway.
The re-introduction of otter’s has become deeply controversial amongst anglers and I can understand why. But I for one love to see these animals and I’m sure that before too long nature with prevail and a balance between predators and prey fish will be achieved. Although to see one swirl at a pike I was in the process of playing was disturbing and put an end to my deadbait fishing on that section of the Stour.
I did fish a couple of stillwaters too, with mixed results, but by far the best session was just before Christmas on a lake managed by Clare Golf Club in Suffolk. There’s only a couple of fishable swims, the best in my opinion is directly alongside the course itself, in a sheltered corner. I fished three rods for a change as I had the room to do so but it became apparent quite early on that that was a mistake as bites were coming thick and fast. At one point, I was unhooking a fish when the alarm shrieked and I had to quickly return the fish on the mat to attend to the new run! I wasn’t complaining as frantic sessions like this are infrequent to say the least but fish safety is paramount so I opted for two rods only. Even then I was kept busy. In the afternoon, a couple of golfers wandered by, one of whom had obviously overindulged in the Christmas festivities. First, he offered to land a fish I was playing, only to become tangled in the mesh as he picked the net up. Over he went. His mate picked him up, giggling as he did so. I was giggling too, it was slapstick at its best. I landed the fish myself only to see the same golfer topple into a bunker. His mate was hysterical by this time and too weak with laughter to offer any assistance. So all in all I had a brilliant day. Nine pike to 12lb and impromptu, side-splitting comedy Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of.
Now, with the pike and river season drawing to a close it’s time to focus on my favourite fish-the tench.