An Old Mill by the Streamâ€¦
Mark 'The Spark' Williams tells the tale of this yearâ€™s annual pilgrimage to Taverham Mill on the Wensum and how everything went to plan, except that everyone caught fishâ€¦
Dave (‘Chillers’) was creating a terrible din making bait. Not many people make noise creating bait – plenty of smell, but rarely noise.
However, my mate Chillers was maniacally focused, with the kind of zeal normally reserved for Nazi torturers or particularly vicious military dictators, on a food processor as he attempted to create a devastating paste bait with Aldi dog biscuits. He’d brought the food processor from home. He’d forgotten other stuff, such as his rig bin, but he had a food processor.
Now, I don’t know what kind of dogs they have in Germany, or the target breed for this brand of dog food, but I think I saw the breed once on a TV program about rhino baiting; a mongrel bred to have become, basically, two large jaws connected to legs. Or maybe the biscuits had been mislabelled and were food intended for pet hyenas.
The machines which dug the Channel Tunnel made less noise; it was a credit to Morphy Richards that the blades would even turn. I shouted to FM guest Andy (‘Skoda’): “I can’t hear myself think.” He cupped his hand around his Spark-ward ear and looked quizzically. Not only could I not hear my own words, I realised I literally could not think, so we retired to a safe distance outside the Taverham Nissen Hut which would be our home for two nights.
A steady drizzle fell, as it had with perfect timing, just as the barbecue coals had reached cooking heat. It would stop as soon as we finished eating. The noise from the blender was shaking resident spiders from the hut’s gutters. Colin (‘Duck’ – owing to his habit of throwing cricket balls at your head) arrived in time to hear the din and eat the food.
Such is the kind of annual nonsense which always seems to accompany our annual fishing reunion – an earnest attempt on our part to catch some fish, but also to yarn, drink beer and, in large measure, to gaze out across Taverham’s meadows at a barn owl hunting, or a roe doe feeding, or a kingfisher flashing past, or all the other natural distractions which, invariably, ensure we catch a glimpse of the quivertip only as it springs back to its normal set, and miss the one bite we will get in every hour.
On day one, Skoda had been directed, on this his first visit, to a swim on the lake which, said head bailiff and demon biker Simon Wrigglesworth, was a good roach swim unhindered by the daily aerial bombardment of 22mm Monster Crab boilies. He’d rigged up a waggler and caught two fat six-ouncers on sweetcorn from the off, then fed a handful of corn and the bites stopped. But as I walked over to say hello for the first time, the roach resumed feeding, and he caught another perfect, golden-flanked roach.
Like me, Skoda works for himself, which is code for ‘do what the hell we like.’ Of course, we earn our crust – I’m sure Mrs Skoda, if she’s anything like Mrs Spark, would rob him of body parts if he didn’t - but once the invoices have all gone out, our minds drift to that river bend where we saw the chub, and, eventually, we drift there too. Life’s too short to miss such opportunities.
Along on the trip to Taverham this year, as every year, were my school mates Duck and Andy (‘Roo’ – don’t ask). Duck does something extremely clever with human genomes, and will eventually cure incurable things. Roo is some kind of business analyst – a bean counter, to be truthful, but one with soul. He once owned a self-destructing Alfa Romeo which, for me, is definitely a sign that his heart rules his head.
Duck drove to Taverham straight from work on day one, so was a late arrival. Roo would come a day later, having – for reasons known only to him – been at an interview for a job he didn’t want. Thus only Duck was unlucky enough to eat the barbecue. I didn’t mention that the ‘farm fresh’ steak mince I’d bought at the farm shop earlier had a whiff reminiscent of week-old roadkill, but I lovingly crafted burgers from it anyway, and nobody seemed to notice.
We washed down the huge quantities of meat product with bottles of Fursty Ferret and belched a bit. At that point on day one, all I’d done was make food and wander around the place loving the scenery. Dave’s attempt to grind the ungrindable was enough to drive Skoda, Duck and I to the water, Skoda opting to return to the lake, and I to thread an aged, strong Avon rod with 6lb line and then consider the terminal tackle. In the end, I opted for a size 8 hook.
When it comes to rolling meat, I wear L plates; but I hopefully lobbed a golf-ball-sized lump of Spam into likely spots, trying to look like the man I watched in a video who knew how to roll meat. I hashed a few casts, rolled meat into weed, and generally found it quite tricky. But as the light faded and I was on the last two swims on the fishery next to the car park, the meat I’d trundled under a tree, out of sight, stopped rolling and I struck.
Something heavy shot across the current into a weedbed and had a snooze while I tried to coax it out. Thankfully, I think its own snoring woke it up, and when it backed into the open water, I managed to get it into the net. It was a chub of 4lb or 5lb, and utterly perfect. After Chillers had snapped a pic or two and we’d popped it back in, Skoda arrived back in the car park ready for the off. We exchanged catch stories and shook hands but I fear I was a bit smug when I showed him the pictures.
Chillers had created his first batch of the demon bait. It was in a bucket. It looked like the kind of aggregate councils make paths with. Many lumps remained but, now damp, had transformed themselves from brick to car tyre rubber. I wasn’t convinced. But the point is, Chillers was, and set himself the target of attracting the Taverham season’s first barbel on it. Personally, I harboured the notion that it would be more likely to attract a quality road builder. He set off for the night laden with cans of Carlsberg Export and hope.
Duck had evidently had a day of it at work, running expensive computers which, I imagine, can decipher your genetics and discover your ancestors were Neanderthals from a cave near Runcorn. Anyway, it’s brain-aching work, and he turned in for an early night. I had a fruitless couple of hours’ fishing and did likewise.
The next morning, Dave had happenings to report. He’d tackled up with a contraption which resembled a bedspring coiled round a section of water pipe, which he’d wrapped in his revolutionary building material. It was resilient stuff, and almost impermeable to water. He’d polished off the rig with a luncheon-meat-baited hook. At 11pm, he’d had the alarming experience of seeing his rod tip wrap round to the water’s surface but, as he struck to set the hook, discovered the line had fastened itself round the back of the spool. In the ensuing confusion, the fish fell off.
Day two for me was spent nobbling a few of the roach on Taverham Lake, fishing banded pellets under a waggler. It was fun, and I caught a couple of these pristine fish, but I was fishing pellet and feeding balls of hemp-laced groundbait with the notion that I might catch a tench or even a carp; the swim was snag-free, so I reasoned I would land the latter even on the 4lb hooklength I was using, as long as the carp was relatively modest in size.
Simon dropped by, as did Chillers, as I fished. The groundbait plan was working, and great, seething masses of bubbles erupted periodically from both my baited areas. But the mud-grubbing fish – whatever they were – refused to take the bait. That didn’t matter much; the first hobby seen this summer at Taverham appeared and made repeated passes over the lake catching dragonflies. Its technique was to soar fairly high, then ‘stoop,’ gathering tremendous speed as it homed in on its victims. It spooked a carp as it skimmed at cruise missile speed just a foot from the lake’s surface. It was magnificent.
Roo finally arrived just after I returned from the lake, and was fishing the small weirpool for its many small fish. He was catching mostly minnows, which were bulging with spawn, on his swan shot leger rig and bread flake. I wondered as I chatted with him whether he’d avoided last year’s booby trap in the car park.
As we were leaving, a year earlier, he came to the tackle shop asking for assistance. He decided to shortcut his exit over a grassy knoll in the car park. What he didn’t know was that the long grass concealed a tree stump.
He had his new Sirocco comprehensively grounded, to the extent that it was all but balanced amidships on the tree stump; I daresay we could have whirled the car round like a carousel on its new pivot. Several pieces of rope and a great deal of wetting ourselves later, Chillers’ 4x4 had heaved the luckless Roo from his perch. Thankfully, its post-op check-up revealed no major damage.
This year, the humour was provided by Chillers, who grimly set about another session of grinding dog biscuits. He worked at fever pitch, cursing loudly over the primeval sound of metal on stone as he urged the mixer to do its job. It became too hot to touch. Then, with a wheeze, it expired, and we all breathed a sigh of relief and removed the 10mm Marine Halibut pellets blocking our lugholes.
Chillers and I decided to fish the lower swims of the river for our final night. There was a long gap between making the decision and actually getting there; if Chillers had been born female, he’d be one of those who take 45 minutes to do their hair. Not that he’s what you call fashionable, unless that is, you are in a covert branch of the armed forces and live for your work.
I couldn’t settle in my chosen swim; I made the excuse that, having not seen it in daylight, I couldn’t be sure my bait wasn’t masked in weed. Actually, I had a deep sense of unease every time I settled in my chair. It just didn’t feel ‘right’ so after an hour or two, I opted to get some sleep instead.
That evening, Chillers didn’t get a bite of any kind from the barbel swim down by the bridge; it was proof that the dog-biscuit mortar had been the secret after all, he said. Though I did note that not only had he loaded the kangaroo pouch on his waterproofs with four cans of Carling on the way out, he had scuttled back during the night for four more. Maybe the tip had swooped round and kissed the water’s surface as before, but he’d been dreaming of barbel instead of fishing for them.
My final morning was spent tiddler bashing and chatting with Roo and Duck. It’s like that, our early-season Taverham trip. Never serious, just an excuse for grown men to behave like boys again. Roo got some good news - he didn’t get the job that he didn’t want. Chillers returned to base having caught a 6lb pike and a 1lb perch from the lake – his first fish of the entire trip.
Later, Chillers and I packed the car to leave: “What’s in here?” I asked him, grasping a large and heavy carrier bag of something. “The food processor,” he said. “I might be able to mend it.” Chillers does love that food processor…
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