In the latest of a series on his beloved Norfolk waters, John Bailey takes a look at pits and ponds

In this third part of my Norfolk reminiscences, I’d like to begin with the ecological prognosis because of its importance.

Many, if not most, of the ponds I knew as kid in north Norfolk collapsed predominantly between 1965 and 2015.

We all know the reasons for this and I have mentioned the work that Carl Sayer and his crucian carp crusaders have done many times before. Carl’s team have shown time and again how even the meanest puddle can be restored to life, along with a fish population. If there ever were a successful marriage of science and commitment, this is it and I believe the importance of this statement cannot be over emphasised.

We seem to live in an endless state of talk without action and Carl has shown how to cut through the paralysis. I would never remotely suggest that Carl’s work has been easy, but he and his team have shown repeatedly this century that aquatic abuse can be reversed for the good of fish, fisheries and the environment as a wider whole. Moreover, I know this work has always been done on the tightest of budgets, because Carl has not had money to waste. I cannot fathom why our statutory authorities seem incapable of following suit.

Norfolk’s ponds have always been oases, aquatic treasure troves. Even as children, my mates and I realised there was more to them than crucian carp (seemingly everywhere), mini tench, roach, rudd and perch. We saw and appreciated the damsel flies, the newts, the lilies, the water voles of which, then, there were legions. Splash. Plop. There goes another one!

My favourites? Surely Mere Farm pond at Saxthorpe 55 years ago when it was all but unknown and bubbled with long, lean wild carp. “No deeper than the average duck,” I once wrote, and how those carp survived winters like the one of 1963 is a feat even beyond science to explain.

Ponds at Salle, Bodham, Saxlingham, Edgefield, oh my goodness, they were everywhere and so many within peddaling distance too. Blissful childhoods then, now robbed from children today. What a loss of youthful freedoms we have witnessed these 40 years past.

Once again, I have written about Norfolk gravel pits before and at length, so I’ll be brief. What I have not always admitted to is the fear I felt for them last century. Brought up as I was on ponds and estate lakes, they appeared vast, deep, bleak and unreadable to me. By the early 70s, pals and I were aware that big tench lurked in them, but our early attempts were superficially futile and it wasn’t till the 80s that I concentrated on Lenwade’s Station Lake and began to make inroads.

Eric, one of Norfolk’s first and most notorious 30lb carp, was my target, one I missed by a mile. Still, the experience served me well and soon I was tackling Lyng’s Kingfisher lake with real gusto and confidence. My 40-year relationship with Kingfisher was and remains one of the highlights of my angling life. Yes, I’ve recorded PB pike, tench and bream there, but the anglers I have met have made the place even more special. Thank you, Mick, Tretty, Lee and so many others for that.

My suspicion is that very slowly the huge clusters of pits along the Wensum valley might be slowly losing their vibrancy. They are old (how many were largely dug in the last war?) and experience elsewhere suggests that age blunts fish size potential over time. Unchecked predation has undoubtedly altered the fish dynamic of many pits, something again the authorities seem not to give a fig about. And it has to be admitted that the exponential growth of carp stockings has not helped indigenous tench and bream populations in some smaller pits especially.

But above all, I do worry that the various malaises affecting the Wensum are having an impact on the pits lying along its floodplain. I stress I have no science to back me up on this and I pray I am wrong.

So, there we are. A very brief round-up of many of the Norfolk waters that have made my life and have been dear to so many over so many years. I have by and large no love for commercials and I guess that like most anglers my age I’d happily go back to the fishing scene we enjoyed in the 60s. Carp and tench might not have been as numerous or large as they are today, but wild fish flourished to an extent it is hard now to believe.  And aren’t wild fish really what angling is all about?