I recently attended my older brother’s wedding. Some time ago he moved to England where he now resides in King’s Lynn, in the east of the country. Anybody who knows their geography will know that this is not too far away from a lot of very good fishing waters indeed. As we drove north from Stanstead airport I was struck by how flat the landscape there was. With the odd windmill about you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Holland at times. After about an hour’s drive, we started to enter the fenlands. Each piece of water that we passed and each bridge that we crossed seemed a little familiar – Sedge Fen, the Sixteen Foot Drain, The River Great Ouse and many other recognisable names whizzed by.
All of these names conjured up great memories of sneaking down the stairs on a school night to watch John Wilson, the laughing cavalier, late on a Thursday night, fishing on many of these waters which are on his doorstep. I’d watch him catch barbel and chub from the Great Ouse and plenty of good pike from the Norfolk Broads, which were not far away at all. I had also read about Bob Church’s early piking exploits on the many fens and drains that criss-crossed the area. Some of the pike that he and his angling companions proudly displayed were of a fantastic size with many “twenties” being caught, not to mention a few “thirties”. I had also read about Neville Fickling’s once record fish of 41lb 6ozs, taken on smelt from the nearby River Thurne. So you could say I had a bit of an idea as to what fishing opportunities were in the immediate area!
However, with duties to perform on the day, and a limited amount of time off work, it was with a heavy heart that I decided that this probably would not be the best time to sneak a bit of fishing gear in with the other luggage. I had envisioned returning to Ireland perhaps minus a head, had I been caught sneaking off to go fishing whilst my brother was getting married. That is not to say I did not think long and hard about it though. Common sense prevailed and I returned home promising to myself that I would have to return at some stage in the near future with the luxury of a five or six days free to go fishing on these famous rivers for barbel and try some of the fens for their pike. I did think about the chub too but if the rumours are true, which they very much appear to be, then I do not have to travel all the way to the UK to catch a couple of them!
But as it was a family wedding, fishing was strictly off the agenda for the couple of days. Instead family members were met, some for the first time in a long while, and a good session with plenty of craic ensued. On the return home I decided to give the kayak a run out. It had been a while since I had her out on the sea and after the weekend’s eating and drinking I reckoned that a bit of a paddle for exercise would not go amiss. So I loaded up the car and put the boat on the roof, just a little apprehensive about the stiff westerly that was blowing. I convinced myself things would be fine until I got to the beach. There were small swells out on the sea that I could clearly see from the beach but they looked manageable. I set up my boat, my safety gear and my fishing gear and launched, paddling out about 150 metres from the shore. I was eager to get out fishing but what looks a small swell from the shore is a big swell when you are perched on a small boat, ten centimetres above water level.
A rough sea has the power to make you feel very insignificant in the greater scheme of things and it was with this feeling and the thoughts of some of my fishing gear going down to Davy Jones’ that I sensibly decided to call it a very early day. When you interact with the water the safety is paramount and nobody ever wants their next trip out to be their last. Remember – “If in doubt, never go out”.
A couple of days later, I got the break I had been looking for. The wind died right down and the sun came out so I decided to head back out and have another go. The sea was strikingly different to how it had been a couple of days before and as I paddled round a couple of headlands, I could have been forgiven for thinking I could have been anywhere in the world. For my days fishing I was armed with a 12lb class rod coupled with a small multiplier. At the business end of things I was going to start by gilling Berkley Firetails and I had some hokkais and lugworm to bait them with as a back-up plan.
So I started to drop the Firetails to the depths. I fished them on 3/0 hooks on a ten foot flowing trace of 15lb fluorocarbon. I waited until the lead hit bottom and then I slowly and methodically wound them back in towards me. I repeated the process for an hour and a half without even a hint of interest. Just as well the weather and the view were so good! I took in the trace and started to have a look around, a little bit mystified by the lack of action. Then I caught a glimpse of a big head emerging from the watery depths about twenty yards behind me. A seal had been tailing me.
He seemed very curious about the boat and as I started to paddle, he followed after me. When I stopped, he stopped, always keeping about fifteen to twenty yards distance between us. When I paddled towards him, he backed off at the same rate. He followed me for about ten more minutes as I kept paddling and he either then got bored or I had left is territory because as suddenly as he had appeared, he had disappeared. I could not help but think he had scared off the pollock in that area though.
I kept going and only halted when I reached a buoy that was marking a couple of lobster pots. I tied myself off to the buoy and used it as a crude anchor. I had a heavier 20lb class outfit and I wanted to fish static baits for a while. I had managed to get a couple of fresh mackerel on the shoreline from a returning boat and I fancied dropping mackerel fillets to the bottom in the hope of contacting with some of the bigger “animals” that reside off this headland – huss, ray or even a small tope and there is always the chance of a nice bass these days on the east coast. I sat tied to the lobster buoy and lowered my fillet, attached to a Pennell rig with a size 4/0 and a 1/0 hook, set on an eight foot trace, below eight ounces of lead.
I sat there for an hour and a half, laying down a scent trail. I replaced each fillet of mackerel every twenty minutes to ensure I was laying down lots of fresh scent – a piece of bait left on the bottom for any length of time soon loses its appeal due to the scents being “washed out” of the bait by the flow of the tide. By changing to fresh bait regularly, I was very cleverly putting down a trail of scent that was running downtide. All a hungry predator had to do was follow its nose to my hookbait. Surely this was a waiting game that would result in a firm bite and a great battle? But, unfortunately, not even a dogfish followed the trail!
It was turning out to be a very slow day and that’s fishing sometimes but I had one last trick left up my sleeve – hokkais baited with lugworm. I knew of a couple of small holes that held pollock so as I started to make my way homeward bound, I would stop and drop my baited rig for a few drifts. Jigging was the order of the day so I started by dropping the hokkais. As the lead hit bottom, two turns or the reel handle raises your lead above snags on the bottom, and a sweep of the rod upwards raises your rig and “brings it to life”. At the height of the rise, pause for a second and then drop the rod tip again. After a few drifts over a couple of holes I had taken eight pollock. Not any of these fish were monstrously big but on a slow day like the one I had just experienced, any fish were welcome.
Fifteen years ago we used to catch Pollock up to six pounds from these holes regularly, now a two pounder is a good fish from them – a sign of the times indeed and with this in mind I carefully unhooked all of my fish and let them return to their watery home, hopefully giving them a fighting chance to put on a little more weight. That is one of the ways I can give just a little bit back to a sport that has provided me with so much thrills, enjoyment and memories.
It was a no pity that a monster did not turn up today. It would have been nice but fishing is not just about breaking records. For me it is the chance to get out, to enjoy the countryside or the sea and its sights, sounds, smells and wildlife. And any fish I catch is a bonus. Every time you go out does not have to see you beating personal bests or records. Just enjoy your fishing and the results will follow. Big fish are not the measure of good anglers but it is nice to catch them but having said all that, I must admit I am getting very excited about the prospects of a beach session for tope tonight!
Remember! Anybody that is thinking of going afloat in any small vessel should bring a life jacket and tell somebody ashore where you are going and what time you expect to be back at. If anybody has any comments or queries then please forward them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org