Cow parsley, cuckoos and the catching is much sweeter

The older you get the more summer means. JB and John Pelham celebrate the latter’s PB tench.

The older you get the more summer means. JB and John Pelham celebrate the latters PB tench. - Credit: Archant

It's been a gentle week of wonders now that the northerlies have given away to south-westerlies.

Suddenly, the rivers and lakes have become mellower, more welcoming places and the fish on the stills have become that much easier to catch. The water is still cold to a degree, though, and nothing looks much like spawning yet, not even on the shallows of the river. Feeding spells, though, have increased noticeably.

The lanes to my lakes now are festooned with cow parsley, a real sign that the warm weather is on its way. Just the other day, as I was setting up float tackle, three cuckoos called from different areas of the lake complex. Swallows, swifts, house martins and terns are swooping daily now, ever more eager to feast on the abundant fly hatches.

The Wensum, my river love, is painfully low and we do need rain but so much of the excitement there is startlingly visible as a result. The other day, even though it was early in the month, mayflies were lifting off, singly, here and there, pursued by juvenile chub and, here's a thing, small wild brown trout up to ten ounces or so. What a rebirth there has been of these speckled beauties. For me, even more thrilling has been the sighting of yet more small barbel, vividly-coloured fish, glowing with health and vitality, not one more than a pound. These are river-bred fish, nothing to do with Environment Agency stocking. And where there are babies, there must be mummies and daddies.

Many years ago, I lived at Old Costessy Mill. In those days, I had access to one of the most famous barbel swims of the time, The Point. I was teaching then and in school holidays, I would make it my aim to try to spot as many barbel along the stretch as possible. It was wickedly difficult work. You could spend up to five hours finding a single barbel, almost always entombed beneath alder roots, almost impossible to tempt out. And, of course, this was in pre-otter days.


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Do you know, I'd almost forgotten about this? You expect to see barbel, chub, any river species flaunting itself over the gravels at this time of the year. They don't, though. These are wild, incredibly wired fish and it is down to you to hunt them out. They will be in places where they are almost impossible to find.

I'm happy to say that the heron, too, is enjoying easier pickings as the Wensum floodplain recedes and the small fish are ever more visible. I've known this bird almost 12 years now, recognisable from a broken leg sometime in his youth. I love his eternal vigilance, he's part of my daily fishing scene.

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You can forget so many things in life, especially fishing. Just the other day, I was with friends and we were struggling to catch tench on all the normal baits. They were coming but slowly. Clarky turned to lobworms and success was instant. For the next session and a half, the worms blew every other bait out of the water, yet we rarely use them. Two lobworms on a size 6 or perhaps three or four dendrobaenas on a size 8 make one of the classic tench baits and so many of us, me included, have forgotten that over the years.

So, yes, another summer, hopefully a glorious one, is on its way. I was down on Boat House lake a few mornings ago, quite early for me. There was still mist in the valley but it rose and the sun painted my float a glorious red. Tench were bubbling, the cuckoo was calling and you begin to wonder how good can life get. I had a very dear fishing friend die just two years ago. It was his dearest wish that he would see another early summer morning like the one I described but he never made it. I guess we do well never to take our angling glories for granted.

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