John Bailey: Maybe I was a little too eager as the season finally starts

The stillwaters proved easier than the rivers this weekend. JB with friend John and a great common.

The stillwaters proved easier than the rivers this weekend. JB with friend John and a great common. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I netted my first East Anglian chub around 1973, or was it 1974?

John Wilson had drawn me the map of a swim down on the River Waveney and I followed it to the letter, if that's the right phrase? First cast, the rod wanged round and I was into a fish of 2.12. Thanks Mr Wilson for that one. Since then, I've put the net under close to ten thousand of them in this region alone.

That's a lot of beautiful, gorgeous, to-die-for chub but I still get them as wrong as I ever did. The glorious new river season taught me that one.

I was out fishing with Kate, a delightful oddity in some very pleasant ways. She's a high flier at work but she loves her coarse fishing and doesn't mind getting muddy, stung and hot to pursue it. Bless her for that.

I'd done the right thing to begin with. We crept into the reeds, 20 yards up from where I guessed some chub might be lying. To make sure, I threw in perhaps four pieces of floating bread.

They swirled down the desperately low, clear river and were thumped! The chub, at least three of them, just tore into the little flotilla I'd sent down and demolished them in seconds. That's where I made my mistake.

What I should have done was wait four or five minutes and then set Kate up with a piece of floating crust she could guide down the current. The chub would have hammered that one, I know. They would have been alerted to the possibility of more bread and would have been competitive in their hunger to nab it. But what did I do?

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Instead, I sent down another little fleet of pieces, all about matchbox size. This time, the response was more muted. Out of five pieces, probably two were taken and three ignored. By that one act, I'd blown it. The chub were either full, or I'd made them suspicious. Or both. Often, with chub, the dividing line between success and failure can be as tight as that.

Then, Kate and I moved down the stretch to a long run of very shallow water, no more than a foot deep. There were three clonkers, finning on the gravel, probably chub still happy to hang around their spawning site. One, even in the summer, could have weighed six pounds, I guessed.

We did the right thing, once more, at the beginning. We manoeuvred ourselves into position with stealth that wouldn't have disturbed a harvest mouse. Through the jungle of reeds and grasses, we could just see the fish ambling up and down their territory, one eye open for food, one eye open for danger. You have to remember how vulnerable big chub are in bright weather in a crystal river where the water barely covers their back. What I should have done, I know now, was to place a large succulent bait, perhaps two lobworms on a size 6, about four or five yards above them and simply wait. They would have undoubtedly scented the bait and moved up on it, probably after just a few minutes.

No, I couldn't wait. I asked Kate to put on another piece of floating crust and flick it upstream of them. It seemed like a good idea at the time but it was just too rash. I'd just overstepped the mark. In such skinny water, the chub were alarmed, not turned on. In fact, all we saw of them was three massive bow waves, heading off down towards Norwich and deeper water.

I went back on the Sunday, on my own, just to see if I could put matters right and fish just a little bit more tightly after these two chastening experiences. I did okay. I felt I was putting my chub hat back a little less askew. Still, the pain of letting Kate down was only partly assuaged.

Perhaps all this was felt more keenly because, of course, we've all been off the rivers for nearly three months.

The excitement of the Glorious Sixteenth builds up to almost explosion point. It's like being a kid again when you go to bed on June 15, alarm clock set for the pre-dawn. I love the stills but I live for the rivers. There is something so special about the 16th that I'd fight to my last breath to keep it sacrosanct.

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