John Bailey: Blunting the teeth of the Easterlies

John Bailey and Simon Ratcliffe

John Bailey and Simon Ratcliffe with cracking spring tench - Credit: John Bailey

Norfolk is a wonderful place to live in as an angler, apart from the one great horror that afflicts us all.

Perhaps more than any other region, we are blasted by weeks of high pressure and easterly and northerly winds that just never seem to loosen their grip.

I’m writing this after we have been savaged by the things spring-long this year, winds that bite like mad dogs. We are not alone I know: last week my fly rod took me to Scotland, north of the Great Glen, and after two days of perishing in easterlies my guide told me we had been wasting our time all along. There’ll be no trout biting in this, laddie, he told me after I had paid him a goodly whack, though I forgave him everything for that use of the word “laddie”. And he did come up with the engaging theory that the wind is more damaging depending from whence it has travelled. In his eyes, a wind from Scandinavia is not as bad as one from the Arctic, but personally I like mine to come from North Africa, thank you very much indeed!

Then it was back to the Kingfisher lake at Lyng and the north-easterly followed me every mile of the way, which is why there weren’t many carpers on show. Those that were there and suffering, simply shrugged and agreed sometimes you just have to get on with it and that you never know what might happen if you have a bait in the water. As the kids say, “it is what it is. Deal with it”. Not cracking advice, but as good as it gets, I guess. For the thousandth time, I just had to ask myself why these killer winds shatter our piscatorial dreams because, after all, fish surely get used to them and have to get on with their lives?

There’s book called How To Read Water by Tristan Gooley that goes some way to explaining the roots of our misery. He doesn’t tell us anything we might not dimly know but, by goodness, he underlines the important points big time.

He reminds us how even a degree in heat loss affects water and everything that lives in it with immediate and catastrophic consequences. Insects can have their lives snuffed out and they are certainly loathe to hatch out in a wind that is going to give them hypothermia in an instant. So, when those easterlies ride in, every living creature in waters from Loch Ness to Kingfisher lake slows down to a point below tick over. Torpor? Suspended animation? I don’t know exactly what you call this springtime malaise, but I can think of quite a few rude words straight off the top of my head.

The team with a stunner of a bream

The team with a stunner of a bream - Credit: John Bailey

So, then, just how do you deal with it, this cruel easterly that’s out to spoil your fun? That’s what my lads and I set ourselves to discover this weekend gone. We were booked in to fish and that’s what we were determined to do and if we were to fail, it would not be for want of trying.

First, by common consent, we agreed that bream are less precious than those finicky tench so we decided we would keep bait going in big time in case a bream shoal wandered past. What we did not want was that to happen and there be no food to pull the fish down and make them stay. It’s demoralising to keep that bait going out and feel you might just as well throw it up a field, but you just have to believe and keep your hopes high.

We all agreed this approach might well work but that it was a bit humdrum, the angler’s answer. What about something more elegant, the naturalist’s solution? We went back to the water, the place after all where the action was happening. We began to watch the lake like five hawks, noting where the wind hit the surface less aggressively, less constantly and where there were measurable patches of calm. We found these out from trees, in the lee of the island and close in to the banks of the north and east shore. We noted too that the wind was squally and switched direction by as much as 30 degrees as frequently as every half an hour.

All these observations began to build up into some sort of unfolding picture and we began to mark down those areas where there was just a tad more activity than others. Here, tench sometimes rolled splashily and bream porpoised with serene grace whilst, even more vitally, terns, gulls and swallows dipped down to sip in emerging insects. Nature was telling us exactly where there was life and where we might just expect to find feeding fish if we got our baits in close by.

That’s what we did. Throughout two days, wherever and whenever we saw feeding birds and moving fish, we’d put casts out there along with loose feed delivered by Spomb and catapult. We didn’t chill, sit back, eat cake and drink Kelly kettle tea for once, but really worked at getting the most from our session. We knew that even despite our efforts, bites would not be prolific and if we landed baits near to feeding fish, we had to capitalise to the hilt. Sharp hooks. Perfectly balanced baits, oozing attraction and visibility. Rigs honed to perfection and instant hookability. Knots spot on and gear tested to the point it would never let us down in battle. Blimey, how far was this from our usual lackadaisical days when a fish or two would do, provided we had a laugh with mates? Professional or what? And, do you know, it worked!

Over the two days, only 8am until 5pm stints to be honest, we had 30-odd fish including tench to 8lb-plus and a bream of a stonking 14lb 1oz. Now, most of the time I was growing into a so-called specimen hunter, the record bream weighed 13lb 12oz and the tench a mere 7lb 8oz or thereabouts, so these were not fish to be taken lightly. Weight was one thing, but better was the fact that we had worked the conditions out and come up with more than a half-decent answer.

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And even more stupendous was the majesty of the fish themselves. How is it that naturalists and the general public fail to recognise the wonder of our UK fish species? David Attenborough would know a tench from a trout, but not many of his colleagues would and therein lies the answer why fish are the most disregarded, misunderstood creatures on the planet. Praise to those anglers who value every single scale. Especially in an easterly!