Ron Clay makes another visit to his beloved Fenland for "some of the finest wild coarse fishing in England".
Ron emigrated to South Africa in 1967 and fished extensively over much of the sub-continent. He met his angling mentor, Dick Walker, on many occasions and corresponded with him for many years.
Fenland MagicFor those of you who are not familiar with them, the Fens are that vast area of Eastern England covering Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire that were once wet marshlands and even sea, up to the early 17th century.
Some of the finest fishing in EnglandToday, we are left with some of the finest wild coarse fishing in England. These drains and canalised sections of old rivers can give you catches to satisfy the most ardent angler, especially if you are the type of angler who likes to get away from the crowds, the commercial waters and the named fish. Much of the time you will be fishing completely alone; you will not see an angler for miles. You are certainly not going to catch the huge fish of the gravel pits or the F1s of the muddy puddles, but what you are going to catch are fish that have never seen a hook before.
Most of my fenland fishing is done close to the village of Benwick, which is located on the Old Course of the Nene between Whittlesey and Ramsey. Close to Benwick, are the Fortyfoot or Vermuyden's
As regards pike, the Nene has lots of them with plenty of double figure fish to be had. Not far away is the Twenty Foot and the Sixteen Foot with the ever present possibility of a 20 pound fish. For zander, the Fortyfoot is full of them up to double figures.
The tench and bream fishing on the Nene can be wonderful. I have taken catches of over 80 lbs of fish in a morning and the interesting thing is that the tench can be taken throughout the season, even in freezing cold weather. A recent match was won with 130 lbs of bream.
Tactics are simplicity itself, a 13 foot fairly powerful float fishing rod, 5lb line, 4 lb hook length, insert waggler float, size 14 or 16 super spade hooks, plenty of maggots and casters and in the summer months, lots of groundbait. Ground baiting is the secret on this waterway. I often start the day early by dumping in 15 large balls (babbieseds [Baby's heads? Don't ask me - Ed]) of Expo mixed with brown crumb, mashed bread, maggots and casters and a couple of pints of dead squats.
I should also point out that there are plenty of good perch in the Nene. I mean to try and catch a big one, one day. Chopped lob with lobworms for bait should do the trick.
Piking with deadbaitsMost of the pike fishing I do in this area is with deadbaits such as small rudd, bream or roach. Sea deadbaits work just as well of course; smelt have taken John Weston, my regular companion and myself, many pike.
Again, simplicity is the keynote; I use standard barbel rods with baitcasting reels and 15 lb line for most of my own pike fishing. John uses glass rods from the 60s together with Mitchell 410s! You certainly don't need to cast very far on most of these drains and most of the time; we use simple float gear, which can be adapted for livebaiting when necessary.
To locate the pike, a feature such as a small inlet dyke, a spot where two drains meet, or an abundance of Norfolk reeds often works; although you might be lucky, and find a pike lair or hotspot. Often a hotspot is found where there is no apparent feature. Why many pike sometimes congregate in one spot is a mystery.
Good roach too, but don't expect a 2-pounderThere is excellent roach fishing on many of these waters, although don't expect a 2-pounder. What you can expect is catches up to 20 lbs of nice fish between 5 and 12 oz, with maybe the odd pounder to make things interesting.
October is the month to start roach fishing and I would avoid maggots if you want to make a good bag. Get your roach worked up on hemp and tares, casters or even stewed wheat, and fish on the deck. The pole is as good as anything for this sort of fishing. Remember that most of these drains take boat traffic and that there are drop-offs both close in and near the other bank where the roach like to feed.
I certainly hope that many more of you will give the fens a try in the future. During the 60s, Fenland used to be inundated each weekend by thousands of anglers arriving by the coach load from towns as far away as Sheffield, Rotherham, Nottingham, Leicester and Leeds. Long stretches of the most popular drains saw hundreds of anglers fishing matches with as many as a thousand pegs.
Not today of course. The only match you might see now is the odd 20-peg knock-up.
But today the adventurous individual angler or specialist has many, many miles of virtually unfished water to explore.
By the Same Author
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- Further Thoughts on Fly Fishing
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- The Origins of the Bolt Rig
- Eric Hodson - A Giant of the Angling World
- The 5th Press Manor Fish-in 2008
- A Night with the Don Valley Specialist Group
- Fenland Magic