John Bailey: Sam revives memories of a life spent on tinca trail

There's been a whole load of material in the EDP of late about me, Crabtree and filming Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr C, so I won't labour the point unduly.

However, the burst of sunny weather in late May coincided with our latest episode. Sam, my apprentice for the two days, was the most lovely young fella and caught some mindboggling fish so things couldn't have gone better in some ways – though I am hesitant to encourage 12-year-olds catching nine pound tench. Where on earth does one go from there?

But what really made those two days special for me were my memories that couldn't help but keep flooding in. As the sun shone and Sam and I got brown as berries, I could not help but think back to those summer holidays when I was Sam's age myself.

Like Sam at the Kingfisher Lakes, in those days, it was tench, tench and more tench for us Norfolk boys. And, just like in Mr Crabtree, all our tench fishing then was in estate lakes. Barningham, Bayfield, Felbrigg, Holkham and Melton Constable were my summertime haunts.

I remember my mother used to worry about my entire diet consisting of nothing but sandwiches. Sandwiches for breakfast, for lunch and for supper. I'd be out from cockcrow to bat time. Bayfield and Letheringsett were in cycling distance whilst the rest needed a lift and, bless her, mother got used to setting her alarm clock for 6am for those six glorious weeks of summertime.


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Bayfield was perhaps best of all because of its remarkable water clarity. I can remember seemingly endless days hanging from the trees down near the dam end watching the big, brown velvet-flanked fish graze slowly over the sandy bottom.

I caught very few tench there if the truth be told, but that was never the point. It was being so close, in such vital contact with the fish that meant so much.

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I grew into adulthood. My mentor was not Mr Crabtree but John Wilson. The lakes that we fished in the 70s and into the 80s were still on estates. Wolterton became nationally famous, code-named The Marsh.

Beeston, just outside Norwich, was another magnificent water. Then, when I got to know John Nunn, a fellow schoolteacher at Sprowston High, I spent endless happy mornings on Ormesby Broad.

That was the glory of being a schoolteacher in those days. Just like when I was a kid, I still had my six or seven weeks of summer tenching time and, once again, I'd go back to school a shade of mahogany come September.

Of course, I'd landed more tench with infinitely more sophisticated techniques, but the pleasure wasn't particularly greater. How could it be? The thrills and challenges of childhood are perhaps the most powerful of all, though it's true and it's fortunate that anglers never grow up at all.

Sam and I were tenching in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree on gravel pits. Our primary venues were the Kingfisher Lakes at Lyng, though, by kind permission of the Baker family, we strayed onto Three Bridges Farm. These are all wondrous waters. They were dug back in the 1940s to provide material for the new runways required to defeat Hitler.

Over 70 years, they have matured into the most beautiful of lily-strewn waters. Close your eyes, inhale the aromas and you could well be back on the North Norfolk estate lakes of my youth. But, of course, gravel pits are different. They're deeper, they're bigger, they're more difficult to conquer. Indeed, if I was still 10 years old, on these lakes I'd struggle impossibly.

If you have a child who is tinca tinca crazy, where do you take him or her today? Of course, virtually all the estate lakes that I've mentioned are finished now for tench. I won't raise Mr Webster's ire by explaining why, but I'll move on quickly to suggest that any young tencher needs to be directed towards smaller, shallower pits if possible.

The Lobster Pot at the Kingfisher Lakes is the perfect example of what I'm talking about. It's slightly less than an acre, rarely more than six feet deep and has a healthy stock of tincas. Throw in a handful of bait and the bottom explodes with bubbles. It's like fishy fireworks if you like. These are the places that maintain morale and put a tench in the net.

As I write in early June, we've got weeks of tench fishing ahead of us, so make the most of it because there's no better fish to catch. One plus point about fishing in gravel pits today rather than the estate lakes of the past, is that a crazy tench o'clock start is no longer completely essential.

If you can get to the water by 7am or 8am that's generally early enough. You will often find that the very best of the tenching on pits is from 10am to early afternoon which is far more civilized than those smoky dawns I witnessed as a lad.

In the Fishing in the Footsteps series, we are stressing the simplest of methods and the great thing about tench is that they are not much cleverer today than they were 50 years back.

This means, if you have an ardent young angler to satisfy, you can still catch them close into the bank on the simplest of float fishing techniques.

You don't need buzzers and bolt rigs and bivvies and all the endless paraphernalia that the modern-day tackle shop is loaded with.

That can all wait for the future. Like a nine pounder! Be happy with any tench; even a two pounder is a treasure.

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