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John Bailey: The cuckoo calls the summer angler

PUBLISHED: 14:14 06 June 2020 | UPDATED: 14:14 06 June 2020

The crucian lake at dawn Picture: John Bailey

The crucian lake at dawn Picture: John Bailey

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Now that estate agents are tentatively opening again, may I offer advice to the potential home buyer?

The tiniest tench you ever did see Picture: John BaileyThe tiniest tench you ever did see Picture: John Bailey

If you are not an angler, beware a bedroom window facing east. Chances are, no matter how thick your curtains, come summer you will be woken a full three hours before the alarm clock chirps.

If you are an angler, however, an easterly view is a godsend because it trains you to be up with the lark and to be out and about when the summer fish are feeding at their busiest. Sunrise this week is 4.31am and you need to be on the bank by that time at least, most definitely if crucian carp are the target.

Tuesday, June 2, the forecast is good, I set the alarm for 3am and creep out of the house in that darkest hour before dawn. The road is deserted, save for a couple of muntjac, a badger shuffling home and a fox or two. Oh, and a single hedgehog I swerve to avoid. I even pull in and go back to check the little fella is alive and well. Phew. Close one that!

I’m set up facing the sunrise, by a lily bed, on a swim I have been feeding for days. It is cold in the half light and the pool is inky black and dead. I half wonder if my time is being wasted, but the glow to the east is no illusion. It grows magically, a harbinger of light and life that has entranced us since our time on earth began. The world wakes. The cuckoo calls and wakes the dawn chorus, hesitant at first but swelling and soon bursting out in fine, full throttle. The sun! Here he comes, just his top knot at first but then more of his beaming face. The tip of the church tower across the meadows is painted golden and as the temperature begins to rise, mist is drawn up from the water. A waterhen scuttles out of the reeds, a pair of coots begin to dive for weed strands and, best of all, a tench rolls in its lazy noiseless way. Let the fishing begin.

The trouble is that it doesn’t quite. I do catch a tench, the tiniest thing you have ever seen, but the crucians remain obstinately tight-lipped. True, there are a few tight, tiny bubbles that weave paths around the float and across the swim and two distinctly different pots of gold roll in that splashy way only crucians can. And, yes, the red tipped float does weave from time to time and even tremor like it is about to slide away. But it doesn’t and I leave at 7am on the dot for breakfast, work and because I’m just a bit frustrated. Not disgruntled, mind. These days I’m lucky to have a crucian water at all, it’s just why do they have to be so bloody minded about giving an old guy a few minutes of fun? They weren’t always like that, I know. My diaries tell me of times we could all catch them for fun.

Mind you, you always had to be there at dawn to see the best of them. In my Blakeney bicycle days I’d get to Bodham Pit, Beeston Bump, Letheringsett lake and even a pond in the Rectory garden in Saxlingham and get a net full before mum and dad even realised I wasn’t in bed. In my 30s and 40s, I’d catch half light whoppers from Aldborough, Gorgate, Swanton Morley, the Charity Lakes and the Bridge Lake at Lenwade. They just seemed to be everywhere, and at Saham Toney mere they were so prolific you’d catch one- and two-pounders in a landing net dragged through the margins. Then, when I was entering my 50s, somehow those golden wonders just seemed to disappear from one water after another and within five years had all but gone altogether. Another disaster, another victim of modern times. Not that I am giving up. There are crucian waters around East Anglia today - thank you, Dr Carl Sayer, James Harrold and Bernard Cooper – and I’ll be getting one or two before the summer is out I know. Or at least I’ll pray that I do.

If you have the will to get out at dawn, it is not a bad idea to have an afternoon snooze if you can. The reason is obvious. It will set you up for the second hot window of opportunity in an angler’s summer. Dusk is nearly as good as dawn, not quite there in my opinion, but a fine second best. The sun does not set until 9.15pm or thereabouts so you have to stick it out until half an hour later than that at least to get the best out of a session. And the nice thing about fishing the dusk is that the chances get better by the minute, not worse like they do early doors. This is true on the beach, on the rivers – open soon thank goodness - and especially when you are fly fishing. Think those milky warm evenings when the wind dies, the midges come out to play and every trout in Norfolk is slurping down the buzzer hatch.

My brilliant young angling pal Robbie Northman has been on the dusk patrol these last weeks and making his sessions count. He’s chalked up wild brown trout from FIVE Norfolk streams which I am 100pc sure no one has come close to achieving this or any other year in all probability. He has just reported a cracker to me, a two-pounder, a monster for a wild-bred fish from a brook you can jump across. The story is his, but in essence, he had spotted the trout early in the evening and it would have nothing to do with him or any fly he put to it. Sensibly, Robbie left it alone and went off pursuing smaller, easier options. No point making a fishy jittery for no reason when it has no inclination to feed. Far better to bide your time and return when things might be on your side. Most especially when the light fades and the shadows merge into the blackness.

It was then, in full darkness, that Robbie’s trout commenced its supper. There was a storm of moths in the air and it was upon these fallen ones that the fish was feasting. Robbie looked in his box. Nothing would do but then he saw a French partridge mayfly pattern lurking there. He tied it on and splayed out its wings so that it would lie flat on the river with a perfect moth’s silhouette. Third cast Robbie heard a heavy kiss rise and sensed the line twitch tighter. Bingo. Up and down the dark stream that trout tore until it was netted, admired and released to torment another angler another day.


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