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John Bailey: A tale of two 29s... but these two anglers didn't care!

Robbie Northman nets and then holds my own magnificent 29 pounder. Picture: John Bailey

Robbie Northman nets and then holds my own magnificent 29 pounder. Picture: John Bailey

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Just the other day, long time carper Peter Chellis landed a beast of a fish down on kingfisher Lake.

Top carper Peter Chellis with his mighty 29 pound mirror carp. Picture: John BaileyTop carper Peter Chellis with his mighty 29 pound mirror carp. Picture: John Bailey

The news circulated the banks and I rushed to watch along with a couple of the regulars. The carp was already in the net, resting, and Pete was wandering around in a daze of piscatorial bliss. This was his first big fish of the year, all the sweeter after a couple of near misses. We all guessed the big mirror at low thirties but when Richard Hines expertly weighed it in at 29.14 we realised it could have been a tad bulkier and longer too. It did not matter a jot. Pete was completely and utterly made up by the capture, showing all the excitement of a lad with his first double. "30" is an arbitrary figure anyway and who cares about ounces when looking at a magnificent creature like this? I went back to my pitch aglow, basking in the thrill and beauty of the whole event.

Pete wins this week's Robert Shanks Angling Award for two reasons. He was only on the water three, perhaps four, hours when the carp was hooked. Pete had taken his time and watched the water, absorbing what secrets it shared with him. In this he reminded me of dear Rob himself, that style, that high watercraft, that supreme angling intelligence. Pete had presented his bait with thought and vision and I liked that. Second, as I have written, there was something special about his attitude. He who is bored with carp is bored with life some famous carper once nearly said and Pete most certainly retains his passion. If he reads this, his prize is waiting at Wensum Valley Angling, no more than five miles from the water itself so someone alert him to the fact please!

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Then it was actually MY turn! A little after this, I was on a nearby syndicate water myself, rod in hand. I was there with great pal Robbie Northman trying to catch a carp on a float within just three hours. An accomplished film maker had joined us, hoping to put the achievement up on YouTube, should we be successful. I am of course nowhere near the carper that Pete is but I had done my best in my own way to think things through. I had chosen the bank facing the brisk south westerly wind, always a good move. There, I knew, ran a deep trough, fringed by thick reed margins, another carp magnet. The float too would give me often overlooked advantages. There is next to no splash on a float's entry and there are no tight lines slicing through the water column. If you set the float, as I did, overdepth and use no shot on the line then you come close to freelining your bait, in this case a boilie. You don't even need a shot on the bed as the boilie itself is heavy enough to be an anchor in all but the roughest of weather. In short, this is the ultimate confidence rig and devastating for margin work.

I cast out over my baited area and sat back to wait, well screened by the reeds. There were fish about within the hour. Odd bubbles rose to the surface here and there, large single ones, suggesting lake bed disturbance. A flat spot appeared on the surface, close to my float, ironing out the water's ripple. Great, a carp sifting through the groundbait I knew, letting the oils rise upwards. The float itself wavered and fidgeted as unseen bodies brushed the line. My hand was clammy on the rod butt, my mouth dry with unspoken tension and my heart beating loud in my temples when it all happened and hell broke loose. The bite was a sail away, the strike a good one and the fish just barrelled off into the centre of the lake, the reel screeching its manic, headlong fight.

I hung on in there, the rim of the frantically spinning centre pin burning my thumb as I tried to control the carp, to slow it down and turn it. Fifteen minutes of hard white knuckle fight remained before I thought about the net and called for Robbie and his assistance. Well done my young friend. There it was in the meshes and in a trice on the scales, a thirty for sure. But no. Like Peter's fish, mine wasn't quite long enough to get me over the mark and I settled for twenty nine pounds and eight ounces. Again, like Peter, I didn't give a hoot and my smile was every bit as broad as his had been. My film guy too was jubilant. We'd been on the job just over two and a half hours and the action was in the can. Perhaps Robbie and I can have prizes ourselves!

Talking of prizes, last week I made dear Barry Tomlin angler of the week for all his work trying to save the river Wensum. I guessed he wouldn't want the prize personally and I was correct. He has passed it onto any young angler of real merit, so Barry, I'll keep my eyes open and let you all know the worthy recipient. But how timely Barry's fears for the future of the Wensum were. Many of you will have seen reports that the Stour down in Suffolk has in fact actually dried up for part of its course. The danger to our region's rivers is real, apparent and happening now. When are we going to see real action rather than mere words Barry and I wonder?

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