So on this day, I took the heavier gear and some jerk baits around 10cm and smaller. I went to the clear part of the river it sits at about 2ft with deep holes of about 4ft chub central. I found a lot of shoals but being a bright day it’s difficult fishing and managed to get a lot of followers however no takes.
I stopped sight casting thinking that the fish were not gonna be in the shallows, one blind cast resulted in a fish within the first twitch of the lure. The fish was fighting like a chub but when it showed up it was a pike of maybe 3-4lb I landed it in my 30cm trout net which was a comedy show in itself. but finally got the tripod set up and a nice fish
After spending more time with it going extra quiet I decided to move to deeper darker more weeder sections of the river I found a particular bridge I had been looking for for a while I knew it was covered in perch so I just wanted to find a couple of perch to save a blank. I ended up with one first cast which came out as a nice fish.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.