John Bailey: Casting for high summer success

Trout or chub? Look for them in the oxygenated shallows Picture: John Bailey

Trout or chub? Look for them in the oxygenated shallows Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I do know this about fishing. High summer, let’s say the next six weeks, is about as hard as it gets outside floods and freeze-ups.

Baiting a new swim can keep sport going through the dog days Picture: John Bailey

Baiting a new swim can keep sport going through the dog days Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

In my teaching life I counted the days until we were out for summer whilst knowing all along that catching a stickleback could prove a puzzle. But a good angler never says die, travels with hope in the tackle bag and knows that in fishing, fate is all. Let’s see how to get destiny on our side if we can?

Lure fishing? Pike are a bit of a no-no in hot weather and canoes make summer chub even more difficult than ever.

What about the sea then? I’ve always been a Blakeney boy at heart, but I’ve never really mastered the shore in my entire career. I’ve had my moments, but not like great mate Robbie Northman who is the best lure angler I’ve ever met and who has been taking his skills to the coast these past weeks and months. Gear? He uses his freshwater kit and swears by soft rubber lures, Mepps and sand eel imitations. Where? He likes to find hard structure like piers, quaysides, depth markers, bridges, groins and sea defences. He also looks for gullies, rocks, sand bars, river mouths, reefs, and areas of stronger current. When? Robbie prefers incoming tides, although he’ll be there at low water to get a good look at the ground he will be fishing over. He likes early and late, and he’ll fish into darkness if the weather, tide and water colour all feel right. The Norfolk and Suffolk coasts are a vast playground for the lure angler and Robbie has been catching bass and mackerel just about everywhere – with no need for a day ticket. He’s even got close to a mullet or two, something I haven’t been able to say for three decades, although you do have to be careful when it comes to fishing marshes that can be tide effected in minutes. Safety around the sea is paramount and never take chances. Ask advice. Go with an expert. Check tide tables. Wear a modern inflatable buoyancy aid. Take a charged mobile phone. Watch the weather. A bass is a beautiful creature to be enjoyed without risk.

Fly fishing? I’m not really the man to advise on this as my stillwater rainbow obsession is far behind me. Mostly. I did have a crack the other morning and a lot I had forgotten came flooding back. In heat, avoid the middle part of the day like the plague and start as early and finish as late as rules allow. I tried small black dry flies the other evening as the light faded and whilst it got too gloomy to see, I struck at rises and did fine. Before that I had concentrated on deep gullies with bottom-fished nymph patterns just inched along and surprised myself with a couple of nice browns. I had a fish or two where a brisk wind was hitting the lake and, obviously, close to a pipe bringing in fresher, better oxygenated water. I’ve also been spending just a little time on the upper rivers watching biggish browns that I guess are wild and which are way too wily for me. I know that proper darkness is the time to be out for them. A 4lb wild brown on a surface-fished moth pattern? Wow – that would be an achievement. And the other day I even took a would-be sea trout angler out and showed him the places I used to catch these silver submarines in the very early 70s. Charles Rangely Wilson caught a whopper from the Stiffkey freshes a decade ago, I told my man, so they could still be there in the shadows of our angling consciousness.

Tench are my bread and butter Picture: John Bailey

Tench are my bread and butter Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Bait? Tench, bream and carp tend to be my daily bread and butter at this time of the year and the lakes can be excruciating. Not much oxygen. Low levels. Algal blooms. A brimming larder of natural food. Fish wary and hotly pursued since May. It’s all a recipe for six weeks of blanks, but buck up out there! Early and late again, that’s the high summer motto. And I mean early too, not after a quick breakfast. You want to be on the water when it is still too dark to put the line through the rings without a torch. Try also new swims, especially if you and your mates have been giving your favourites a bashing. Fish will move out to pastures new if they feel pressured. Go long. The carp boys are happy to fish at 100 yards whilst most of us feel uneasy at half that distance. Practice fishing at 50 or 60 yards with your feeder set-ups and you will find new fish to tide you over until autumn. And change bait too. I’ve been a sucker for red boilies, but I have suddenly found my tench have acquired a preference for brown. So it’s out with the bloodworm and in with the krill and I have started catching again. For a while. Those fish will either change again soon or even switch back to red.

Whatever you catch and wherever you catch it, think about its welfare in these hot sticky times when water is low in life-giving oxygen. Most especially, if you are on the coast, remember the rules. You shouldn’t take more than two bass in a day and those bass must be in excess of 42cms. Robbie Northman, and all good bass anglers I know, put them back as a matter of course. A lot of mates tell me that the beaches are prolific with mackerel at the moment, but most are too small to take. You should avoid handling any mackerel that is going back to the sea. Unhook it in the surf with long forceps every time. Wild river browns must go back. Play them firmly and again unhook them in the water, without a photo unless you must. Stocked rainbows are a different beast, but treat them with respect. If they are to be killed, keep them fresh so you can eat them that evening rather than consigning them to be forgotten in the bowels of the deep freeze. As for our coarse fish, don’t think of keep nets, unless you are in a match I suppose. Remember, keeping a decent bream in a net this time of the year is serving it a death warrant. I once had an August chub in a keep sack for three hot afternoon hours. It died. I still feel wretched. Go enjoy the summer. Catch some fish. But let’s always put them first.

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