Calculating price of Norfolk’s yard of silver – 40 years later

John Bailey on the remodelled Glaven. Can it host sea trout in the future?

John Bailey on the remodelled Glaven. Can it host sea trout in the future? - Credit: Archant

It was in my first incarnation as a writer for the Eastern Daily Press that, getting on for 40 years or so ago, I wrote about sea trout under the title, A Yard of Silver.

My fascination with sea trout along the North Norfolk Coast in the late 1960s and early 1990s was immense. I was at university in those days and an almost complete lack of any academic discipline meant I could fish pretty much when and where I liked. It's hard to credit nowadays the number and the size of the fish that I caught at that period.

I basically fished from The Wash to as far as Cromer Pier or thereabouts, investigating the lower rivers, tidal creeks and any features available to me.

I caught one or two on the fly, a few spinning and quite a number on crabs, worms and sticklebacks, especially in the brackish reaches of the rivers.

For what it's worth, I found that incoming tides were the best, that high water was often slow, but low water would often congregate fish in pools, for example, in Blakeney Pit.

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In short, you had to be willing to be out any time of day or night and keep exceptionally mobile. It was a good job I was fit as a bonefish in those days because the species allowed you no rest.

Memory recalls that I had scores of fish during those years with plenty of double-figure specimens. My best were nudging just over the 14lb mark, although I lost a couple that were nearer 16 or 17.

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As I say, hard to credit in this day and age.

I mention all this for two reasons.

Firstly, a massive amount of the conservation efforts that we're seeing now along Norfolk rivers are specifically designed to help re-establish sea trout stocks. This is excellent work and it's heart-warming to see the number of fish passes designed to help sea trout negotiate obstacles, such as mills and weirs.

It's long been a debate whether our sea trout actually spawn here in Norfolk and Suffolk or whether they are immigrants from the north-east especially.

For example, when I was a kid fishing for them, science had it that most of our fish came from the Tweed river system and fed in the rich warm seas off Norfolk throughout the summer before returning north to spawn.

And here's the second real crux of this piece. Of course, we're coming to just the period when we might expect to see East Anglian sea trout spawning in East Anglian rivers.

Now, I have to say that, hand on heart, this is a sight I've never personally witnessed.

That doesn't mean anything in itself. I can't begin to claim that I know every possible reed on every possible river and, of course, sea trout are notoriously secretive and difficult to approach and study. What I would like to know, however, is how many of us here in East Anglia have actually seen sea trout spawn locally, either now or in the past?

Whatever the answer to that one, it's great to think that the work of the Wild Trout Trust, for starters (magnificently supported by many other groups, I know) might soon bear fruit.

Sea trout are the most glamorous of species and the more of them we have locally, the more exciting and mouth-watering the prospect becomes.

Whether or not we're all armpit deep in sea trout within the next 10 years is not exactly the issue here, I feel.

The wonderful thing about the years we are living through is the fact that so many individuals and so many organisations are taking note of the health of our river systems.

As far as I can see, it's rather like the global warming debate.

Whether or not we are as a race responsible for climate change is not necessarily the whole point here either. The fact that every nation in the world is now trying to clean up its act is obviously a hugely laudable thing.

Even in Spain, for example, the amount of river restoration that has taken place over there in the last five years is quite extraordinary, even despite the financial collapse there.

A Yard of Silver, eh?

That's how completely magnificent sea trout can be and they truly deserve to be the iconic symbol of this new dawning of river management.

Whether in fact they spawn here or not.

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