North Norfolk trip gets this experienced angler thinking again

John Bailey and Ping Pong with a carp which fell for corn under a float. A perfect way to catch a pe

John Bailey and Ping Pong with a carp which fell for corn under a float. A perfect way to catch a perfect fish. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

The generally good weather allied with the Bank Holiday has meant that I've been out on the water even more than is usual for me, and that's saying something.

I got myself up to the north Norfolk coast and actually found myself a few mullet after miles and miles of walking. I guess there were probably 15 or 20 fish in water no more than a foot deep and I spooked them pretty well immediately. There wasn't even a chance of putting a bait or a fly near them. I used to tramp the marshes 40 years back with Joe Reed, one-time warden of Blakeney Point and a giant of a man in stature, heart, spirit and generosity. We failed with the mullet then and I wonder, does anyone succeed with them now or even actually try? They really are the grey ghosts of our fish world. As far as I am concerned, they are the greatest of our region's enigmas and the ultimate trophy for any of us, whether a fly or a bait man at heart.

On my travels, I saw some pallid rainbows in the stills, slowly baking themselves in the heat, but on the upper rivers it was a different matter. I bumped into a seriously big brown trout and the immediate question mark was whether he was a wild fish or a stocky. I watched him for an hour each day over a long weekend and I'm convinced he was as wild as they come. This is why. He'd stationed himself in very quick water, no more than 10 or 11 inches deep over very clean gravel. His attitude was one of extreme hostility to any other trout coming close to him and he was obviously territorially super-aware, surely the mark of a wild fish. Above all, he had chosen his home very carefully and the more you think about it, the more you admire his ingenuity. You might think a big, wild trout would hide under cover, but not this one. No doubt the quick, gushing water gave him oxygen, but also, in such shallow water, he must have been pretty well impregnable from either cormorant or otter attack.

I guess he was just about as impregnable from any attack by me. The more I considered it, a fly line would have spooked him instantly in such shallow, clear, quick water. The speed of the water also meant that even presenting a bait would cause difficulties. There would be the line to mend and how to keep a bait on course to the fish. Of course, if you landed it too close to his head, he'd be gone in a millisecond. How big? Well, I guessed five or perhaps six, the fish of my dreams for many years. But, do you know, at my mellow age, I decided to let him enjoy the last of the summer. Perhaps we'll bump into each other again come next May.

I've had my heart set on a 7lb chub for many a year and after 70 over 6lb, I guess I probably deserve one. I think I found the fish I was after in a very shallow, clear swim under an overhanging willow. There were several problems. First up, he was swimming with almost a dozen or so mates, along with a spectacularly large barbel. It was hard to figure how to get a bait to him, and how to isolate him from the rest. My woes got even greater when I took a piece of bread from the loaf, squeezed it into a decent-sized knob of flake and threw it just upstream of the cruising fish. As the flake sank through the water column, four chub, including my monster, came to inspect it. They followed it to the river bed and then they all vanished, completely, heading upstream in near panic. And remember, that flake wasn't on a hook and wasn't attached to a line. It was a freebie and they were having none of it. Simply, there are times in these difficult days of ours when chub like that are just impossible to catch.

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You'd think my enthusiasm for fishing would have vanished along with those chub, but no way. I had best fishing mate Ping Pong (don't ask again) up with me for the day and we decided, as the weather was warm, to have a crack for carp. You might think after my lows of the previous few days, I'd go for something easier, however... we found some carp on a gravel bar about four yards from the bank and laced it with sweetcorn. We retired for a Kelly kettle brew-up, then came back, poked our heads over the rushes and saw the fish feeding. An old-fashioned float rig went out and 20 minutes later everything clicked and the carp was caught. A common, a beautiful one. You might even say magical in the circumstances.

All in all, during my travels, I saw two water snakes, 18 different kingfishers and they all combined to make it a pretty special and above all, absorbing week. Quite something you'd think for an angler who has experienced enough to have seen it all.

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