Tag: wensum

Where do you stand on the issue of your fishing PB’s?

Bob Mortimer, star of Mortimer and Whitehouse – Gone Fishing, is aglow with the glory of his PB pike. But how important are fishing PB’s ? Is there a danger that obsessing about PB’s can take away some of the pleasure of the majority of the fish we catch,as most will not be PB’s!

Weighing fish

As I guide, I see my anglers excited about fish that could be their Personal Bests and so I can’t just slip the hook and return fish of this magnitude. We have to weigh them and I understand that. But, I guess, we should all make the process as quick as we possibly can. The big issue, I truly believe, is to keep fish wet, especially in the heat of the sun. Make sure there is a bucket full of water so you can douse them regularly. I personally like to weigh fish in a plastic bag just with a skim of water in the bottom. You can make allowances for this when you set the scales. My aim always is to keep the unhooking, weighing, photography and return to under a minute.

Weighing a fishing PB Tench for Anthony Butterworth

I still occasionally wonder why we bother with this process. I guess knowing the weight of a big fish is partly down to simple human aspiration. Perhaps a list of personal bests also is a yardstick to how well we are doing as anglers and how we are progressing in our careers.

The question of postcodes

Compiling impressive Personal Best lists is dependent on more than our skill alone and perhaps one of the most important elements to the whole business is a question of postcodes. That’s where we are so fortunate here in East Anglia. A normal fish for us would be an absolute whopper on Merseyside or in Rotherham! A record fish for Barnsley we probably wouldn’t bother to weigh here in Norwich. We do well, though, to remember that any water’s performance is hugely variable. If we take 2018, we have big specimens of some species we would not have dreamt of 30 years ago and yet other species are in very evident decline and much harder this century than last. Let’s look, though, at some of the big asks in East Anglian fishing today.

What constitutes a big fish?

I guess most of us would say that a 2lb river roach is just about the top of the wanted list for most general anglers. Last century, certainly in the ‘60s and ‘70s, they were just about everywhere. And now? You tell me!

Back in the ‘70s, a 5lb chub was a target but now, I guess, we’ve got to set the bar at 7lb. During that period, 1lb dace were coming out like peas in a pod, but just the other day I netted a 12-ouncer and it made me gasp.

Ping Pong with a 7lb chub from the Wensum

A fish I’ve never pulled off is a 4lb East Anglian perch and there aren’t many anglers that I know who have. It’s interesting you can catch a hatful of twos and threes but that four-pounder is a magical barrier to break.

I was nearly 30 before I caught my 6lb tench and I still remember the euphoria that surrounded it. Today, most of us wouldn’t even get the scales out. Most of the tench fishers I know are after 10s, an unbelievable weight now. It’s the same with bream. Back in the day, my PB was just over 7lb. This autumn, I’m looking to bump that up to 19lb! Would you believe it?

We all have to admit that right now any East Anglian barbel is a mighty challenge indeed. Just 20 years ago, a 12lb or a 13lb fish was about the standard. I’d settle for 2lb or 3lb today. In the rivers, it’s absolutely magnificent that wild brown trout are coming back on several of our rivers. I’ve always longed for an 8lb-plus, naturally-born brownie and I might just have an opportunity in the next year or so.

Let’s talk about the biggies! I suppose for the carp angler, or at least the ones I know, the capture of an unknown 40 is getting close to the dream. As for pike, Fred Buller got it right many years ago in his classic title, The Domesday Book of Pike. Fred, in his wisdom, set the entry level at 35lb and that weight remains valid to this very day. You can read reports of fish of 30lb to 32lb but those extra 48oz take some locating.

Ratters with a previously unknown 42lb Common

The central issue in searching for big fish is to make the most of any window of opportunity. Big fish come, but more importantly, they can go with alarming speed. Many waters have produced extraordinary fish, but for a limited period only. The key is to explore, to keep your ear to the ground and listen for the merest rumours of big fish being caught. Best of all, be first. Try to locate your own big fish, and then, I suppose, keep quiet about their location.

John Bailey

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

The angling week that left me with more questions than answers- part 2

The question  declining roach stocks has been a hot topic on Facebook with many passioned points of view, embellished by the wisdom and insight of Trevor Harrop who runs the Avon Roach Project.

The decline of roach

I’m fairly new to social media but when I posted a message saying I felt the major and central answer to the decline on the river Wensum was the presence of cormorants these last decades, my Facebook account went barmy. It is generally agreed that cormorants are a factor but getting rid of them would be no silver bullet, a phrase everyone likes to use these days.

All manner of reasons were put around why our Norfolk rivers, the Wensum principally, doesn’t seem to support big roach anymore. All sorts of solutions were offered, predictably alliance between individuals and statutory bodies, fundraising, projects, monitoring, data collection, meetings, committees, you name it. Pretty much everything but direct action.

The Snail?

One of the comments really struck me, though. It was suggested that roach grow slowly to about six years of age and then catapult forward in growth, largely because they change their diet to snails. Could it be that the Wensum doesn’t hold enough snails anymore to support big, fast-growing roach? I took this on board and was nearly convinced.

Then, I thought of the stretch of Wensum between Elsing and Lyng a few years back. At the time, it was heaving with good roach between a few ounces and a pound and a half. Over a couple of autumns and winters, I also either saw or caught plenty of fish between one pound fourteen ounces and two pounds nine ounces. Obviously, given a chance, the Wensum can still support big roach. The question is, with the amount of cormorants, do those roach ever seriously get the chance to live for 10 years or more. My gut feeling is a big no.

Cormorant population explosion

I’ve also been trying to find out why there has been such a massive increase in the growth of continental cormorants over the past 40 years or so. Their numbers have spiralled from virtually nothing to over one and a half million. Many of those have come to the UK because the continent has not been hospitable enough for them. What on earth caused this amazing increase in the first place?

Sometimes, it just seems so easy. I remember back 10 days or so, on the Island at Kingfisher Lake, when Enoka and dear friend Mick Munns just couldn’t go wrong. You walk off thinking you know all the answers and that you are really king of the lake.

How quickly you can be brought back to earth.

John Bailey