John Bailey: Bivvy banter saves a session

The Vicar, hardly in short pants himself, with a PB Kingfisher tench

The Vicar, hardly in short pants himself, with a PB Kingfisher tench - Credit: John Bailey

I spent much of the pre-Easter week at Kingfisher in the Wensum Valley after tench and bream and it was a grueller.

The Sunday kicked off with a sneaky easterly which by Monday had become a full blown and day-long hooley which whipped up white horses down the lake. True, the following days got warmer with westerlies, but the air pressures remained erratic and the fish simply were not having it.

I put out bait until my creaking arms dropped off, but I might as well have cast it out in the meadow for the two horses. I guess it does no harm to be baffled once in a while and realise we are dealing with wild fish after all. And, of course, we are never as good as we think we are.

I think it is fair to say I and my gang all fish like dervishes when we know there is even a ghost of a chance, but equally we are quick to see when the door is firmly shut. It’s times like this when the Kelly Kettle, cake and chat assume new importance. And, best of all at  Kingi, there are always carping maestros around the lake with a spare cup or two.

Jon Trett at home, kettle on!

Jon Trett 'at home', kettle on... - Credit: John Bailey

Whichever bivvy you see my old mentor Mick Munns gravitate towards, you know Mr Jon Trett will be  at home there, and my footsteps followed Mick’s most of the week. There’s no doubt a little 'bivvy banter' makes any blank day spin by faster, especially when accompanied by a cup of good coffee. And as the carp were no more in the mood than the tench, morning meet-ups at Tretty’s became a fixture for many of us.

It’s always been a fashion for non-carpers to slight the so-called bivvy brigade but I’ve never seen the sense in that. There are stereotyped carpers for sure, but anglers like Jon and the rest of the Kingfisher Crew are alive to what the lake is telling them and astonishingly quick to read the nuances in a long-stay session. A shift in the direction or strength of the wind. A millibar rise in air pressure. A fly hatch and the appearance of terns or oystercatchers. These are anglers uniquely in tune with the aquatic environment and the hours don’t drift by them in complete idleness... Jon has a pair of binoculars that would have been ancient in Rommel’s day, but they still serve to pick out a fish rolling quarter of a mile across the water. A simple sign like that might be enough to make him up sticks and make a serious move. Bivvy and all.

Bivvy banter? It has to be said much of it each day delved back into the past. Great days. Great anglers and characters. Great fish landed or lost. The view across the water to the gently rolling Wensum downs is one we’ve known for decades and I had to admit my first walk along the river bank here dates back an astonishing and frightening 51 years. The truth is that we were a group of grey beards, most of us. The average age of my gang I worked out to be 68 and the Kingi Carpers couldn’t have been far behind. No wonder we could remember a time when the thickets were full of bullfinches, when the flood meadows were a haven for lapwings and the sky was a chorus of larks.

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Yes, you have to wonder who will be brewing the coffee and putting out the bait 30 years down the line. Happily, Lee was there, keen as ever and a fraction of our ages. Harry, Chris, Brendan, Richard, Rob and many more will still be pushing their barrows when we ZZ Toppers have passed on. But after them, I wonder?

I got home to open up an email brimming over with initiatives to entice children into angling. “Spring Into Fishing” ( Angling Trust); “We Fish As One” ( Get Hooked On Fishing); “Let’s Fish.” (Canal and River Trust). You have to applaud these moves I thought, these people so committed to spreading the gospel of our great sport. But I wonder if they’ll work long term? When we grey beards took up rods, it was all about freedom from adults, not more interaction with them. Fishing was time with peers, working out our problems and relishing the triumphs we had secured for ourselves.

I mentioned Lee. He had son Rubes with him. Twelve perhaps, with his own bivvy and his own rods, fishing under Lee’s watchful eye, but doing it largely for himself. That’s the ideal, surely? And talking of Kingfisher  and its members, I can’t let this moment pass without mentioning the tragic loss of Tom Fitzpatrick. What a great (young) angler and lovely man. All thoughts go out to his family and his friends. At this lake he so loved, he’ll never be forgotten.