John Bailey: It takes a tench to tell a tale

John Bailey with best friend Ian Miller and a coveted 7lb 5oz chub. Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey with best friend Ian Miller and a coveted 7lb 5oz chub. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

The other evening, just as it was getting dark, I wandered around the little Lobster Pot lake with dear friend, David, aka The Vicar. He looked at the little pool longingly with memories of summer tench very visibly on his mind.

The vicar with his lovely January tench.Picture: John Bailey

The vicar with his lovely January tench.Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

It was a cold, dour sort of night and the spring and tench time seemed a long way off. But no. There, right in our path, lay a tench. Extraordinary. It was a yard from the water's edge, but there it was all right. What on earth had happened?

My first reaction, of course, was to think that it had been dragged from the water by a marauding otter and just left there. As we got closer, it was very obvious that the tench was completely unmarked and, amazingly, actually breathing. We picked it up, examined it and slipped it back unharmed into the margins. In a trice, it had flicked its tail and disappeared completely.

What on earth was behind this extraordinary, and for me, unique happening? Perhaps the fish had been chased by an otter, pike or some other predator and actually left the water to escape? Or perhaps the fish had been foraging in the very shallow water at that particular point and just beached itself? Perhaps in its efforts to flip back into the water, it had simply forced itself further onto dry land? Any other suggestions would be gratefully received but what was quite obvious was the smile beaming on The Vicar's face. 'Blimey,' he said, 'perhaps there's a chance of a tench?'

Thursday night into Friday morning was bitterly cold with air temperatures down to minus three degrees. There was frost on the car and cat ice around the Lobster Pot. I shook my head sadly, considering tench were an absolute no go. The Vicar disagreed. He piled a mixture of maggots, corn and hemp into a favoured swim, just a couple of yards from the bank, under an alder bush. This was at 9am and he told me very firmly that he'd be back by 3pm once the water had warmed up a bit, once the light had faded a bit and once the tench had found that food. Then, rod in hand, he wandered off to the river.

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At 3pm, The Vicar and friend, Ray, were back in the same swim. I have to point out that The Vicar never uses anything but worms, fished in the margin, under a float. He has complete confidence in the method, even on a cold day when tench are the target. However, on the point of darkness, just as you've guessed, his float slid away and a fine, fit tench came to the net. Another fine fish to have fallen to the worm. The Vicar's glowing smile told it all.

There are quite a few lessons here. Firstly, you never know it all. Secondly, pre-baiting can't half pay off, never overlook the margins and never despise the humble worm.

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On the Saturday, I was out with yet another best mate, Ian, aka Ping Pong! We were on the river this time and, once again, rather extraordinarily we saw a couple of chub feeding just feet out, in amongst the rushes. Ping Pong decided to do a Vicar and fished the margins of the river with two lobworms on a size six. His reward was a 7lb 5oz chub, a quite magnificent fish. Its weight fooled us both. I put it down as a large six until we saw its depth and its girth which were both massive.

I was overjoyed for Ping Pong even though I have never had a seven myself, despite landing nearly 70 fish over six. Perhaps I just fish too far out. And perhaps I should use a juicy lobworm to the exclusion of just about everything else.

The weekend also suggested something else to me. We so-called professional anglers spend all our time worrying about how to get more children into the sport. The biggest growth area, however, is perhaps amongst the 45-70-year-olds, guys who fished in their youth but then put down the rod when life intervened. I know a whole gang of guys who have taken to fishing once again, now that the children have gone, that jobs are under control and the mortgage is paid off. They come back to fishing with all the exuberance of youth. They're like anglers reborn and second time round, they appreciate every single second of what their angling life brings them.

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