Some painful fishing lessons in the sun

Naturally-born fish in clear waters under a bright sun can be a nightmare to catch. No. Make that impossible.

No 1 – the carp

It’s last Wednesday and Steve and I have crept into position on the carp lake. We are out of the northerly wind, facing a pocket of calm, warm water. Sweat is on our foreheads. Horseflies are playing around our arms and our ankles. We are watching two very large carp looking suspiciously at our piece of floating crust.

I’ve made sure that the hook is hidden and that the line close to the bread is buried under the surface film and nigh-on invisible, but the carp aren’t liking it. One, the bigger of the two, comes so, so close and simply noses it, almost letting the bait rest on its forehead. Suddenly, as though a secret word has passed between them, they swirl and power off into the depths of the lake. That’s it. The end. How on earth had those carp divined our presence?

No 2 – the chub

On the Friday, I have dressed myself up to look just like Davey Crockett and I’m pushing through the riverbank undergrowth as invisible as a man can be. I’m watching my footfall and keeping my eye on my shadow so that it never falls on the water. I haven’t even got a rod with me and I’m simply watching for chub, plotting their future downfall. Hah! Not a chance. Within the hour, I have found 10 chub, five of them I would say are pretty large. I know I have not disturbed them because I have looked at them all in detail, noting their scale patterns and any possible blemish or old wound. The point is this. I have thrown pieces of slowly-sinking flake to each one of those chub and all 10 have scattered in terrified haste. Nine barrelled off downstream and just one fled up. Catchable? Not a chance!

No 3 -the trout

It’s the weekend now and I’m with Robbie Northman. Robbie is drop-shotting expertly for big perch in a secluded mill pool. You can see his tiny, silver lure glinting about four feet down, perhaps, attracting shoals of minnows and the odd baby perch. Then, from the lilies, a massive, colossal brown trout emerges. Robbie says it’s seven pounds, I am thinking eight. The fish, spotted like a leopard, roars into the attack, its mouth agape. It’s a heart-stopping sight but the fish stops short and, in a boil of angry water, disappears. What a fish. What a dream shattered. How on earth did the alarm bells ring for it at the very last moment?

No 4 – the tench

It’s last Thursday morning, very early and I have a tench swim, all weed dragged out and heavily-baited on the previous night. It’s a cool dawn but the swim is a cauldron of bubbles produced by feeding tench. I have fed hard with boilies, chopped worm and corn so these are the baits that I am advising Anthony uses on the hook. We fish each bait in turn, but the float never dips or wavers. Calm confidence is giving way to vocalised desperation. The sun climbs higher in the sky and in the crystal water we begin to see a legion of dark shapes, tench coming in to feed and going down over the bait. We can even see their mouths working as they drift back to mid-water, munching on the food. They are balletic in their poise, their effortless elegance and completely baffling in their brain power. Our conservative guess is that there are 50 fish there in the swim and yet, we are hopelessly outfoxed. Right at the end of the session the float dips and one fish comes to the net. We suppose it is a triumph but one of sorts.

No 5 – the barbel

Finally, after two years of working on a particular barbel swim, perhaps one of the last to hold Wensum fish, I achieve my aim and actually hook one. I’m tooled up, I think, to cope with a bus. But not with a barbel of furious magnitude. My clutch is screwed spanner-tight. My 10lb line seems impossible to break, the rod, though, is my weak point. Its give, its softness is my undoing. The fish powers towards sanctuary and I face oblivion. I pile on every ounce of pressure that I can muster, almost holding the rod straight at the fleeing fish. It’s to no avail. I’d woefully underestimated the sheer, roar brutality of an enraged double-figure barbel. In previous days, I’ve been done by the brain power of my fish, this time by their athleticism.

Carp, chub, trout, tench and barbel. I’m sunburnt, crestfallen and battered by them all. Still, what on earth would I rather be doing this glorious Norfolk summer of ours?

John Bailey