John Bailey: A week in my fishing life ... and a bream shoal mystery

John Bailey with a stunning bream Picture: John Bailey

John Bailey with a stunning bream Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

On Friday last both my trout lake and my carp lake were utterly deserted by anglers and by fish both.

A stunning tench ..caught in the afternoon Picture: John Bailey

A stunning tench ..caught in the afternoon Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

In the withering heat, I did not see a rise or watch a carp either bubble or roll or drift in the surface layers, catching the suns rays.

I was not surprised to be alone on the trout lake. We all know that temperatures in excess of 30 degrees and rainbows do not mix. Even on Saturday, when the weather had broken, I was informed by two trout anglers the water was still too warm for much to happen.

Carp, though? You would not expect them to be unduly inconvenienced by the heat, but all week they had been elusive and hardly any had been caught. How had the word got out through the carp angling community I wondered? Easy. An App I was told. I’d never known that all the angling you need ever know can now be accessed by pressing a button on your phone. I felt like what I am. A dinosaur.

It so happened that I had been re-reading the carp angler’s classic, Confessions Of A Carp Fisher, written by “BB” in 1950. What has always made it so wonderful, so revered is the mystery it paints around the sport. Perhaps the chapter on Woodwater Pool is the best. A hidden, secret, private water, somewhere on the Shropshire border. A virgin lake, surrounded by oaks and a fine park. A Gothic mansion on the distant skyline. Bed and lodgings in the cottage of the gamekeeper, a fine man by the name of Roscommon. Early July when the vast beds of lilies burst into flower. A colossal carp finally hooked one morning, a fish that could have made the record tremble. And then the estate is sold. “BB” can never go back and the water sinks back into oblivion. I read that story when I was 12 and the same sense of thrill and suspense grabs me when I read it even now. Would an App do quite the same for me I wonder?

At least there is water in our lakes. Touring the region, I have never seen the rivers quite so low. There are swims that should be four feet deep, but this week I have been wading them in wellies. Not good. Terrible for the angler and dangerous for the fish. The situation is made worse by the number of canoes I have seen, grinding their way over the shallow gravels and ripping out ranunculus. I guess not one in a hundred canoeists understands the harm that is being done and the authorities seem completely unconcerned by this form of trespassing. Just as bad has been the chaotic rise in the numbers of swimmers I have seen in mill pools that have previously been regarded as private and out of bounds. Huge numbers of fish have been frightened out of deep water sanctuary and been forced to flee downriver and to a more danger prone life.

On a positive note, there are a good number of oyster catchers on our inland lakes and a fellow angler swears he saw a bittern in extensive reed beds. I have seen swifts, kingfishers aplenty and there has been an opera up the Wensum valley too. The reed beds seem noisier than they have been for five years and I have even seen water voles back where they haven’t been this century. Or perhaps I am looking harder. Sometimes you have to believe, give it time and wildlife will eventually and unexpectedly appear. Like tench in the afternoon. We all know that tench are a fish of the morning and the dusk, but this summer some of the largest of them have been coming out mid-afternoon, even on scorchers. It is not that there have been runs of fish, just occasional biggies that make you realise you are not wasting your time out in the heat of the sun.

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But it is a bream shoal that has bewildered me the most. I was given the nod to their whereabouts some three weeks ago by a “breamed out” carp angler. I found them where I was told I would, in a gully at about 40 yards from the bank. There is thick weed on both sides of the deeper water so you have to get the cast and the baiting just right. If you do, the bream come out all through the day, and they are big fish, averaging 10lbs and often exceeding 12 or 13. I often pinch myself: these are fish that would have broken the national record when “BB” was writing Confessions. I was surprised that the shoal has continued to sit there despite numbers of them being caught, but I was even more astonished when a couple of the carp boys informed me the fish had been in the gully since January. They had been spotted on electronic fish finders most weeks for six months and have barely moved. Is there enough food for scores of big fish in that gully I have wondered? Or do the fish wander out at night to feed elsewhere on the lake? Over the years we have been told that bream are largely nomadic, travelling and feeding along well worn patrol routes around the water. Perhaps not. Certainly not these great bronze-sided giants.

The coast continues to give up large numbers of smallish bass and mackerel and I have seen huge numbers of mullet almost everywhere I have looked. When I first started writing this column way back, I lamented I could not catch creek mullet, and nothing has changed. I have heard from those who can catch them, and from those who can even catch them on a fly. I, though, am stumped. I reckon mullet would be the most stimulating target for freshwater anglers – if there were a reliable method of hooking them. A 6lb mullet on a float rod, centre pin and 5lb line would make bonefishing in the Caribbean look dull. I also can’t help but think freshwater lure gear could be used for those bass and mackerel or on lighter leger tackle. Perhaps too, the fish could be unhooked in the water like you do when returning trout so that casualties could be almost eliminated. A lot of us will be making do with “staycations” this year. Taking your carp or trout gear to the coast could be a great way of making the most of a UK summer.

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