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John Bailey: An angling week that has left me with more questions than answers

PUBLISHED: 10:27 08 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:27 08 May 2018

Enoka and Mick Munns with lovely tench. Sometimes it seems so easy. Picture: John Bailey

Enoka and Mick Munns with lovely tench. Sometimes it seems so easy. Picture: John Bailey

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Sometimes the truth is unpalatable to take and hard to write down.

Simon Ratcliffe and JB – one bream came our way during the baiting campaign – on a different lake! Picture: John BaileySimon Ratcliffe and JB – one bream came our way during the baiting campaign – on a different lake! Picture: John Bailey

Still, when everything doesn’t go right in an angling life, it can lead to deeper questioning and sometimes more profound answers.

That’s how it has been for me. And probably for you, given the outrageous ups and downs in weather systems that we’ve been experiencing these last few weeks.

If there’s one thing we all know it’s that fish appreciate stable conditions, to an extent, either good or bad. They like to know where they are if they are going to feed with anything like confidence and that goes for all freshwater fish.

I’ve believed for two or three years now at least that a heavy baiting campaign will pretty much always switch tench and bream on when the approach is applied to our gravel pits. It’s an attack that has barely ever failed for me and I accept that it is a means of buying your way to success. Simply filling a swim in with food and waiting for the fish to congregate there isn’t the most intelligent form of fishing but it can be very productive and it virtually always is.

So, when Simon and David came down to fish with me the other Monday that was the attack that we decided upon. We spent a couple of hour’s spombing out bait – what a wonderful word that is – along a deep channel between two plateaux where fish are often seen. The whole project was set up with extreme precision, no heed for the amount of bait and the tackle was finely tuned. We sat back to wait.

And, cor blimey, did we wait. We waited all Monday, all day Tuesday and till four o’clock on Wednesday when the only run of the session was missed. We might just as well have thrown a hundred quid in coins into the swim rather than feeding it with the most lavish of fish goodies. How on earth do you account for it? The Tuesday, admittedly, was pretty dire but, still, pressure was rising and warm weather was on the way, so you would have expected the fish to have responded to that. We tried absolutely everything in our combined repertoire of skills and experiences. The only thing we did not put on the hook were caddis grubs, the bait that worked phenomenally well last spring. The reason? We couldn’t find any! Explain that? Why does a lake heave with caddis grubs in 2017 and seem completely bereft of them 12 months later? There are at least two fishy questions that never got answered.

Then we get to the question of the River Wensum and its declining roach stocks. I’m fairly new to social media but when I posted a message saying I felt the major and central answer was the presence of cormorants these last decades, my Facebook account went barmy. It is generally agreed that cormorants are a factor but getting rid of them would be no silver bullet, a phrase everyone likes to use these days.

All manner of reasons were put around why our Norfolk rivers, the Wensum principally, doesn’t seem to support big roach anymore. All sorts of solutions were offered, predictably alliance between individuals and statutory bodies, fundraising, projects, monitoring, data collection, meetings, committees, you name it. Pretty much everything but direct action.

One of the comments really struck me, though. It was suggested that roach grow slowly to about six years of age and then catapult forward in growth, largely because they change their diet to snails. Could it be that the Wensum doesn’t hold enough snails anymore to support big, fast-growing roach? I took this on board and was nearly convinced.

Then, I thought of the stretch of Wensum between Elsing and Lyng a few years back. At the time, it was heaving with good roach between a few ounces and a pound and a half. Over a couple of autumns and winters, I also either saw or caught plenty of fish between one pound fourteen ounces and two pounds nine ounces. Obviously, given a chance, the Wensum can still support big roach. The question is, with the amount of cormorants, do those roach ever seriously get the chance to live for 10 years or more. My gut feeling is a big no.

I’ve also been trying to find out why there has been such a massive increase in the growth of continental cormorants over the past 40 years or so. Their numbers have spiralled from virtually nothing to over one and a half million. Many of those have come to the UK because the continent has not been hospitable enough for them. What on earth caused this amazing increase in the first place?

Sometimes, it just seems so easy. I remember back 10 days or so, on the Island at Kingfisher Lake, when Enoka and dear friend Mick Munns just couldn’t go wrong. You walk off thinking you know all the answers and that you are really king of the lake.

How quickly you can be brought back to earth.


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