John Bailey: Giant slaying on the banks of the Wensum... not quite Norwich City style
PUBLISHED: 19:13 16 September 2019 | UPDATED: 19:13 16 September 2019
Well, Norwich City certainly did better than I've been doing when it comes to the slaying of giants.
Whilst our brave boys were laying to waste the Etihad's overpaid, overpriced and over-praised stars, the fish of Carrow Road's river were doing exactly the same to me. Hmm, what a week it's been. I've been out on that fickle, fascinating, frustrating river every day and most things I have seen have left me head scratching.
But at least my energies have been focused on the running stuff. On many of the stills a late algae bloom seems to have knocked tench and carp back somewhat. My heart bleeds for my friends on one of our major trout waters where visibility is a matter of inches. Even if the trout are feeding, the chances of them finding an olive nymph in 20 acres of pea green soup are slim.
What I did see on that lake was a heron stalking, spearing, landing and eating a 2lb tench. I have seen fish that size and bigger stabbed by these birds before, of course, but I never really considered them acutely vulnerable until now. If it's not enough for our fish to be watching out for otters, mink and cormorants, seems they have to keep an eye open for old Frank the harnser too. it's a tough world bankside, we should remember, the aquatic equivalent of the Premiership make no mistake.
The river seems to be down to its bare bones. In places it runs barely a rod length wide and a float's length deep so no wonder the fish of all species are trembling like a goalkeeper with Teemu Pukki in his sights. No more football stuff, honest, but that explains why a very big brown trout I have been watching for days just never stays still. He seems to like the oxygenated riffles and that is where I have been looking out for him. I've had a made-up fly rod in the back of the car each day, but it has never made a cast.
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The few times I have located him again, he has been away in seconds, a minute at the most. I swear that fish knows I am after him. Overestimating him am I? Well, no, I don't personally think so. Last week I wrote about some roach a guest and I were stalking and catching from the river. This week, they have gone, vanished into thin water. We only caught 20 or so over a mile of river but that was enough to have the shoals scarper to who knows where. I certainly don't.
But what of this giant fish slaying you might ask? Ten days ago, on one of my endless bankside rambles, I came across six chub. One thing of note was the fact they were patrolling a long, clear sandbar only two to three feet deep. I have witnessed this increasingly this century. Since the otters have been back, fish of all species seem to favour shallower water than they did prior to those harmful releases that took place. Until chub learn to talk English we will never know how they think of course, but my best guess is that they feel safer in the shallows than they do in the slower deeps. Watching scores if not hundreds of otters hunt over 15 years, I suspect that the disturbance they create is more easily detected by fish in skinny water. Otters generally push upstream for their prey and the wall of water they force before them in a knee deep river is very noticeable and must be sensed by fish always on red alert.
Whether I am right or wrong, those six chub were wedded to that ribbon of golden sand, sometimes drifting up river or down, but always coming back to it after a few minutes. In the sun, in the afternoon especially, through Polaroids and binoculars I could count every scale on those fish, watch them even wink an eye or waggle a tail. Four of the chub looked nice but normal fish of four pounds, give or take. Two were enormous, the sort of chub I have seen once or twice a decade since the 70s. I know it can be misleading watching fish through the bins and even a gudgeon can look like a decent barbel, but I was careful with these two fish. I compared their length over and over with objects in the water alongside them to ensure my beating heart was not drowning out cold logic. No. If those two shoal leaders were as deep and as broad as fish that length should be, I truly had found giants.
The trouble is, how do you catch highly mobile fish with eyes like radar dishes when they are in crystal, sunlit, shallow water? The simple answer is that you don't, but I came close. First, in my book, there is no way you can feed a swim like this, building up the chubs' confidence. Throw in a pinch of mash or a scattering of corn and they are gone. You have one chance to place a single big-impact bait in front of them. Of course, if you cast it when they are close, well, they are gone again, just as fast. What you have to do is put a bait like two big lobworms on the sand bar when the chub are not there and wait for them to return and find it. Then you stand a ghost of a chance. Just like I did. I'd done it exactly like I've written and hid down in the reeds waiting for the chub to return. When they did, they crept up on me unawares and took my worms when I was a fraction off guard. My strike was fair, but not perfect, a fish was on but instantly off and my giant-slaying act was blown within the second. I've returned every one of the four days since my failure without seeing those chub. They have gone and so too might my chance of a catching a giant for another decade.
You don't get many shots at the big time in fishing. You muck one up at your peril.