You can turn back the clock – but a fish’s habits remain the same
06:30 03 December 2015
You will have heard the popular song Moon River.
Does it remind you of the 20th century screen goddess Audrey Hepburn serenading us in the 1961 box office hit Breakfast at Tiffanys?
Or perhaps more recently you spotted Cromer’s Hepburn lookalike – the teenager Allie Burton – in a TV advert propped on the back seat of a Mercedes 300 while peeling the wrapping off a chocolate bar in tune with the melody.
For most of us the answer is neither of the above. From the angling viewpoint, a moon river reflects shadows of bankside alders and willows extending searching tentacles across the water reminiscent of some prehistoric monster from outer space, caught in the backdrop of a settling satellite.
And to add to the eerie stillness of the night, faint ripples radiate from a disturbance beneath the far bank, which turns out not to be a nocturnal beast out to devour us but an innocent little water vole (aka Ratty) nibbling its vegetarian supper.
For those of us early post-war anglers not afraid of night fishing our Broads rivers during the autumn and winter, it was a favoured form of recreation after the pubs closed (weekdays 10.30pm, Sundays 10pm).
With our body fluids suitably strengthened against the chill of the night by nature’s ‘antifreeze’, administered in small measures from an array of bottles on the top shelf, we staggered out to our bikes, rods and baskets already bound to the crossbars and carriers.
Thus, we pedalled erratically to our favourite river venues and, since petrol remained rationed until 1950, we were at less risk of becoming a victim of a traffic accident than those carefully sober today.
Home was a place to return to when there was nowhere more exciting or appealing. Quite literally, we were nighthawks.
Like today, the River Ant was teeming with hefty bream, as was the Dilham canal at its confluence with main river above Wayford Bridge. It was at the latter an otter family of three fished alongside us, catching and eating skimmer bream until they were replete.
Some of us took home a bream for the ferrets and perhaps another scheduled to be filleted and soused in vinegar for the table since food rationing did not end until 1954.
Our baits were mainly stewed wheat, with three or four grains impaled on a size 12 hook for the bream, while we offered worms hoping for nutritious eels. Groundbait consisted of mashed potatoes mixed in chicken food.
The odour of the groundbait attracted bream from far and wide and inadequate keepnets had to be emptied a distance from the swim in order to start again.
In winter, giant roach sometimes swam in the bream shoal, as well as hybrids, and in 1942 a Dilham primary schoolgirl, fishing with us lads, reeled in a red-finned beauty of 3lb 4oz, weighed on the kitchen scales before meeting with the filleting knife preparing for the family supper.
Fishing tackle in those years was still rudimentary, with rods of cane and fishing line of thin twine. Although invented in 1938, mass production of nylon monofilament line did not commence until the early 1950s. Most floats were home-made from bird quills and balsa wood or manufactured from celluloid, now considered collectables.
At night, we used the red-topped celluloids illuminated by lanterns or clip-on cycle lamps.
Fishing tackle has become ever more sophisticated, but the feeding habits of fish have never changed. Then, as now, they eat when they are hungry as long as water temperature remains above 6C.
So this message is clear. When the landlady calls “time gentlemen please” it’s time to drink up, exit the pub and mount the bike ready and waiting. There was, and still is, a vast range of Broads river venues for night fishing and fish will feed until the new day dawns over the eastern horizon. The benefits, other than nets full of fish, is the natural night air dispersal of potential hangovers.
• Tempting fish on the match lakes is becoming harder as the days shorten. Best result last week was a carp catch of 102lb 8oz for the Oddfellows winner Colin Stevens at Colton, while the nest on the open circuit was 85lb 4oz for Dave Jarvis on the Railway.
At Hinderclay, the winner of the two-day silver fish challenge was Tony Anderson (Suffolk AD) with two perfect penalty points, followed by Simon Newman of the same squad totalling three.