John Bailey: A bridge is never too far
I'd like to thank Colin Parfitt of Hall Road, Norwich, for his recent, generous letter saying how much he enjoys my pieces in the Eastern Daily Press. Colin – it truly is nice to be appreciated. If I may, I'll quote a few lines of what you say verbatim because I think they make the nicest of points.
Colin writes about his childhood when, 'My pal Peter and I regularly fished a stretch of the Wensum from Mile Cross Bridge in Norwich, up past the back of the city waterworks to a spot known then as Horseshoe Bend. This stretch was alive with massive shoals of roach. We would stand and peer – just – over the parapet of the bridge and watch these quality fish just inches from the bank in very clear water.'
Colin, I love the idea of you two kids standing on tiptoes to see the fish beneath and, speaking for myself, there isn't a bridge in the land that I ever pass without pulling in beside to investigate with hope and enthusiasm. The bridge and the angler were simply made for each other. There's no such thing as a fisherman who can resist a bridge.
East Anglia has some wonderful bridges. Think of Wiverton Bridge over the Glaven and the number of fish I've see beneath the ancient, stone-clad arch. Of course, you don't see the big sea trout in the numbers that once ran that river but, if you're lucky, you will still see fine browns nosing the current. The bridge over the Wensum at Lenwade is another must-investigate. There are times that you'll see big chub moving through along with roach and perch and, occasionally, if I stop after dark, I might just see sign of a serious barbel illuminated by the street lights. It's strange how those coral pectorals of theirs seem to focus the light and give their presence away. It's nice that you can wander into the Bridge Inn, buy a ticket and know that you are at least in striking distance of a whopper.
Like Colin, I can't pass any of the bridges in Norwich itself without stopping to stare. It's a great testimony to what the Environment Agency are doing that you can see so many very good fish indeed within the city limits. It wasn't long ago, walking back from the railway station, that I saw a roach that could not have been far short of the magic two pound mark. To catch that within earshot of the Canary roar I would count as a highlight of a fishing life.
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How about the bridge over the Bure in Itteringham, right next to that most excellent of pubs, the Walpole Arms? There used to be roach there amidst the wild brown trout and I've got a feeling both are staging something of a comeback. How about the Walpole for a Sunday lunch out? You can always pop down the road to Blickling Lake afterwards for a spot of tenching or breaming before the dusk creeps in.
I love the little bridge over the River Stiffkey in the village of the same name. Shut your ears to the traffic and you could easily be three hundred years back in time. How about that bridge pool on the River Burn on the North Norfolk coastal route towards Brancaster Staithe? I've seen trout in there big enough to make me stay and hour or more and, sometimes there, too, you will spy a big silvery sea trout wondering whether to push up into the fresh water.
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My best bridge in autumn 2012 must be the one I looked over just a few days ago. It's in mid-Norfolk but I'm not telling you exactly where. For more years than I care to count, whenever I've been that way, I've pulled in to watch shoals of dace and gudgeon play on the shallow gravels beneath.
Around 10, or perhaps even 15 years ago, both species seemed to vanish and the little river was very much poorer for their absence. In fact, I'd nearly stopped even looking so depressing an empty stream can be. It was only because my mobile rang that I stopped the car to answer it and decided I might as well make the short walk to the bridge as I coped with a phone call from my ever-attentive bank manager. The call was fine but even better was the view that greeted me. Unbelievably, the gravels were swarming with dace. I couldn't even begin to count how many played there, highlighted in the shafts of sunlight. And they weren't all small fish, too.
A couple looked close to the magical pound mark, though I guess they might have fallen an ounce or two beneath. It didn't matter. My day had been made quite complete, along with the knowledge I was still just about in the black.
Later, I talked to Rob in Fakenham Angling Centre who told me where I might see some gudgeon within Fakenham itself. He was right. I came across a shoal of thirty or perhaps forty of the blue-sided little fish exactly where he told me I would. Dace and gudgeon in a single Norfolk afternoon. Riches beyond compare if you appreciate the subtleties of life.