Could this have been the best end of a season ever?

John Bailey and friend David Brown with a cracking chub - the new pin does its work. Picture: John B

John Bailey and friend David Brown with a cracking chub - the new pin does its work. Picture: John Bailey. - Credit: Archant

I remember that iconic pike angler and true gentleman, Mick Brown, talking to me a couple of years back. He said that as he gets older, each big pike that he witnesses means more and more to him.

He just wonders how many more he will actually see during his lifetime and this makes them extra special. Age does this perhaps. I guess it enhances each and every wondrous experience and that is certainly how I felt last Tuesday, March 14, as the river season drew to its inevitable end.

I've fished through well over half a century of these bitter-sweet days, but perhaps this was the most lovely of all.

The weather, of course, was absolutely sumptuous. It was a mellow, early spring day, more reminiscent of May than March. Temperatures even hovered around 14 degrees in the balmy mid-afternoon. The daffodils were everywhere and, along with the yellowing willows, brought colour to the otherwise sombre riverbanks. A barn owl hunted in full daylight and a peregrine whistled past. It was a day of miracles.

I was fishing with one of my greatest friends, David, who harboured a desire to up his personal best chub from five pounds to whatever. I was also trying out the prototype of a new centrepin another friend has been working on. So there were boxes to be ticked in the final few hours of the season.


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I'd done my homework. For two days, I'd walked a mile and a half of river, feeding 15 swims religiously. I'd chosen to go the boily route so whilst I'm a dreamy traditionalist on the one hand, I'm brutally realistic on the other. If chub like any bait, it is a boily. Cheese paste and worms will do but when your time is tight, it pays to take a leaf out of the pages of the carp boys.

If the weather gods were generous, so was the river. Pretty well every swim provided action of some sort. Perhaps it was a bite, sometimes missed. Or a hooked fish that sometimes got away. Or a fish that finally hit the net.

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Bizarrely enough, the first four fish that David actually landed weighed 6lbs, 5lb 15oz, 5lb 14oz and 5lb 13oz. Amazing. And in that exact order, too. You couldn't make it up, could you? It was like magic was in the air. Even the centrepin performed with distinction. There are one or two quirks to iron out before it becomes titanium perfection but that is all part of the game. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.

I began talking about age and I'll end that way. You get to know that sometimes you don't appreciate things until they are gone. I look back on my much earlier years when the last day of the season might be spent on estate lakes, perhaps. Where are those delicious waters in north Norfolk nowadays? Or previous March 14s would have passed searching the last big two- or even three-pound roach of the river season. I guess fish like those, in numbers like those, we will never see again.

I have a tiny garden pond. In it there are a dozen assorted goldfish-type things and there were three or four small tench of around half a pound or so. Until yesterday, I hadn't seen them since October and I feared they might be long dead and gone. Suddenly, there they were, jostling with the goldfish, slurping down the tiny floating pellets of food. The chub were forgotten. It's tench time now, I realised.

That's the beauty of the all-round angler's year when one delight follows another and a new species jostles its way to the front of your affections. Oldies will remember this is the Mr Crabtree way and thank the lord for his ancient teachings!

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