John Bailey: A week of tench, trout and tattered tails in Norfolk
My star angler this week is dear old friend Mick Munns, who is in the running for the Rob Shanks Monthly Award.
Of course, we all love it when a junior gets recognised, but we should remember fishing is just as much for 70-year-olds as it is for the kids. In my view, Mick personifies all that is good in angling. I fished alongside him the other day on one of our favourite lakes and the peace he exudes you can almost smell – or is that the smoke from his pipe?
Mick, like me I admit, is at the age of acceptance. He is there because where else would he be on a bright spring morning ? He brings to his fishing decades of experience, skill and knowledge, yet he still keeps up with the best of the new. What's good about modern baits and rigs, Mick absorbs and employs. The commercial nonsense, he discards.
Mind you, I wasn't expecting much on any baits and methods on the day. What is it about East Anglia at this time of the year. Season upon season we are cursed with easterlies that drive the fish down and me, as a guide, mad. It's just like last year at this time Mick said. He could have added just like the year before that for the majority of both our fishing lifetimes.
But no! Miracles still happen. Mick's buzzer beeped, his rod bent, his reel screamed and soon we were looking at a superb tench six ounces under eight pounds. You have to remember, until Mick was in his 30s at least, that tench would have broken the UK record so no wonder we were more than a bit chuffed. We have seen bigger tench, Mick, me, all of us, but there was something about that fish, that capture, that just struck me as right, perfect even. A cosy, companionable fish. A fish to make us reflect on the peaceful glories of the Norfolk countryside and, of course, just how lucky we are to enjoy them.
A couple of weeks back, I lamented in this column a possible decline in the region's stocks of wild brown river trout. Well, I was in part right, but not entirely. On another halcyon day of kingfisher blue skies, Robbie Northman and I went on a recce along one of the tiniest chalkstreams within 50 miles of Norwich. Under streaming sunlight, the gravels sparkled and the ranunculus waved above it, dark, bottle green. Wonder upon wonder, we spied numerous pristine little brownies to nigh on a pound, but in numbers to make our hearts soar. No problem with habitat on this diamond of a stream, we crowed, but there is better still to come.
We entered a wood where the easterly (of course) was hushed and crept up to an old flint-faced bridge. Bridge pools historically are makers of dreams and this one did not disappoint. Like two rabbits smelling a fox, we cautiously raised our heads above the parapet. A trout! What a trout! It was two feet long. It was deep as a bream. It was broad as a pig. And it had the eyesight of an eagle. Four pounds? Five? We never got another look. It could not have left the pool or we would have seen it power across the shallows. It just hid, hid for an hour and how did it do that we wondered? A tiny pool of crystal water three feet deep and our monster disappeared like a snow flake in the sea.
But we have made plans, Robbie and me. Oh yes, we will be back. We know he will be a wily old customer but we will rise him to the fly we are sure. My agony is that we will hook him but find him impossible to subdue. Imagine losing that fish, like lopping off an arm!
You never know it all, or at least I don't. Once again in sunshine I visited one of the old lakes holding what Mick Munns and I would call wild carp. These are the species of carp you found throughout East Anglia for centuries before the stocking boom of big, fast-growing fish in the 70s and since. They have always tended to be long carp, far, far leaner than the porky fish we see today. Whether the monks really did introduce them (or the Romans even) I don't know, but it is truly sad they are beaten back, defending their last redoubts in Norfolk at least. And perhaps not for much longer, even there.
I have always had it that wild fish learn the dangers otters pose and devise all manner of survival techniques. Hmm, perhaps not always. To my horror, the one fish I did manage to catch showed not only old, healed scars on both flanks but also a recently gashed tail. There is no doubt this was an otter attack I would have thought the carp too wise to fall victim to but wrong, Bailey, wrong again. I suppose the only consolation is that the carp did at least get away.
Deep mahogany tench. Gigantic brown trout. Dashing wild carp dating back centuries. What is not to love about East Anglia at Easter time?