John Bailey: A week when the fish come first
It's been one of those fortunate weeks for high summer when temperatures haven't soared and when fish have been eager to feed. Grabbing the chance, I've concentrated on fishing pure and simple rather than conservation frets and frustrations, and the fish by and large have responded.
Fish one was a a low double common carp, a rather beaten-up old thing that I'd never seen before last year. Then Dominic caught it, to my surprise, as I thought I knew every fish in the lake, and only a two-acre one at that. Now, this week, mate John Gilman had it on floating crust only for me to bag it four hours later on exactly the same method and bait.
I am a firm believer in the fact that wild fish "wise up" to what we anglers are doing fast, and yet this old warrior would appear to blunder from one error to the next. We talk about "mug" fish, the ones that seem to be the bottom-of-the-class dunces that see the net far more frequently than the high-flying bright ones. Or is this just fancy anthropomorphism and do we read far too much into the wiles of what we are trying to catch?
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Fly fishing in East Anglia is a bit of a mixed bag. Given my obsession with natural fish there are rather too many regularly-stocked rainbow fisheries for my personal liking, though of course I see the appeal. The moment the line zips tight between the fingers is always an electric one I know and the younger guys have been finding different ways of plugging in. Mate Robbie Northman is always thinking out of the box and the other night he burst the lid sky high. He's already had a 7lb chub on a surface lure this season but then he goes and catches a "sixer" on a dry fly. Now, a summer six is a big deal, never mind one caught on a bit of silk and feather.
But my hat really goes off to another pal, George Downing, who decided to take on the challenge of a fly-caught bass off the shore. This is a real head banger of a challenge. You've got to navigate the creeks, the channels and the mud-mired marshes. You've got to cope with the tides and pinpoint when, where and how you might meet up with some bass without losing your life in the process. George did all this and he did it successfully his first trip out. This is breath-taking. That evil bit of me hates him, but the better part of me yearns to get out there and do it for myself. If there is a clear winner of the Robert Shanks Fish Award this week, it has to be George. It will take something sensational to stop him being crowned angler of the season is my guess.
Kiting fish are always a problem. What happens is that a powerful fish turns from open water and heads to snags on your bank, either left or right of you. You can't put proper pressure on them because of the angles and if you do, all you succeed in doing is to pull them on their way towards danger. This is what happened a couple of sessions back when one of my clients had a big bream kite and hit into the reed beds with a sickeningly audible crash. We tried this and that but the bream was immovable, stuck solid. I donned waders and hacked my way through the reeds, nettles, brambles and horseflies towards it. I was a husk of a man when I got there, but good job I did. The bream had wrapped the hook length round a clump of reed roots and it was completely tethered. Had we pulled for a break, the chances are that the fish would have been marooned, left to die by starvation, exposure or predation. The moral is clear.
I have always maintained that if a water holds small perch aplenty then the chances of a cracker are sky high. On Thursday last week, another mate, Simon, and I fished one of the tidals. The water was clear, the sun shone intermittently and we had a good view of proceedings. We had perch after perch, all small to about eight ounces, but I was quite content. First up we were trotting, and how nice is that in the company of a dear friend. Perch of any size too are always welcome on my hook as there is plenty of the little boy's awe left in me. And above all, I knew that sticking it out, there was always the chance of a serious stripey coming our way. It did but it didn't. After three hours a four-ouncer was shadowed by a four-pounder all the way to the bank by our feet. We half died of excitement and prayed on our knees for it to come back. We must have looked like a pair of funny old codgers, but the perch didn't either care or reappear. I'll be back, but not with Robbie because we all know who'll catch it, don't we?