Joy of a float manages to keep the cold at arm’s length

David, Ian and Simon with rods at the ready. Picture: John Bailey

David, Ian and Simon with rods at the ready. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

It was bloomin' cold all right, the Sunday just gone – six degrees to start with and a sneaky little wind making it feel even more raw.

The river, the float, an autumn day and it’s all bliss in Norfolk. Picture: John Bailey

The river, the float, an autumn day and its all bliss in Norfolk. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Today's clothing is just so great, though, that you just rug up, get out there and you feel all is right with the world, especially when you've got a float rod in hand on a sparkling river like the Wensum, Bure, Yare or Waveney.

Of course, you can do what you like with your angling day and there are those who like to take the kitchen sink with them, but my three mates and I decided to do what we love, and what we love is travelling light. Rod, reel, net, bucket of bait and a little bag of bits and we were free to fish three stretches and between us, 30-odd swims, before an early dusk had us running to the open fire of the pub. Simon's step counting 'thingy' said he'd walked five miles during the day so he reckoned that he deserved that second, foaming pint. Between us we landed chub, dace, roach, trout, gudgeon, minnows and a single fine, fat perch that took one of those little maggot suckers on the way in and couldn't get rid of a size 16 hook.

Early afternoon and Simon nearly fell in. David hoiked him out and Ian set about three brew-ups with his Kelly kettle, each accompanied by slabs of wife Amanda's homemade cake. We saw seven kingfishers, six buzzards, a posse of jays, a water rail and three different types of deer. Bad, though, was the cormorant colony we stumbled upon, one I had been actually unaware of. Not even Norfolk is a perfect world then?

It was the art of the float, though, that made the day so memorable. All of us used centrepins to match 14-foot rods, not because we're fuddy-duddy granddad-types, but because real river float trotting demands pins. Honest. Try and you will agree, I promise. The fixed spool reel has its uses but I'll die defending the pin on moving water.

It was the joys of making those floats work that really made the day sing for all of us. I personally tackled 11 swims, all vastly different, during my day. Each one offered different challenges, demanded different approaches and promised different rewards. There was a small weir, a larger pool, a long glide under trees, a deep, dark pot by a bridge and a series of two-foot deep shallows to keep me thinking. I needed four different stick floats to make the most of my opportunities and I even made up a small waggler outfit when the wind got up along a wide, slow, open reach above the mill.

Sometimes, I needed to hold the float back and sometimes I allowed it to stream away with the river's flow. For much of the day I was catching fish at the rod tip, but I landed my one chub on a long trot, later measured out at around 70 yards. When I couldn't see the float anymore, I struck on a hunch and, bingo, four pounds of bronzed beauty made its way grudgingly to the net.

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As dusk pulled in, and just before the pub called, we all four of us got together and settled down on a long, deep, slow bend. We pushed the floats two feet over depth and moved all the shot down to six inches above the hooks. We laid on tench-style in the near motionless slacks at our feet. Our maggots were replaced with pieces of flake on size 10 hooks and we hoped for the final gift of a big roach, well, certainly a pounder.

The wind died. Even though, for once, we were stationary, we felt, all of us, a mellow warmth from the valley around. For 10 minutes the setting sun slipped below the clouds and blazed across the water, setting fire to the last of the oak leaves on the trees opposite. A guy pike fishing downriver from us landed a double, but we blanked. Not one float out of the four did as much as dip, lift or even wobble. Magically, though, one roach did roll, three yards out, between me and Ian, my next man downstream. I felt that fish and we looked each other in the eye we were so close. It was as though that serene giant of a fish – he was certainly a 'two' – was throwing down the gauntlet, daring me to try and try again.

I will. I love big roach. Above all, I love the quiet of the dusk as it settles onto the river and the light seeps out of the day. When I was a kid, in my 20s and 30s, the best of my river life was river roaching, at dusk, through the autumn and the winter. Now, even at my age, I can see why. There's magic everywhere.

And when that float does eventually cock and slide away and when you do at last hit into a giant roach that battles for its freedom in the gathering darkness, you know exactly why the river is the place to be and a float is what you want to be watching.

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