This is the score. In a few days, I am going to live for a good part of the winter in a farmhouse on the middle Wensum. The river here has history. It is where I caught 80% of my big two and all of my three-pound roach between 1972 and 1988. It was hard then and blanks were the norm. It will be excruciatingly hard now but this is a job that cries out to be done. For over thirty years, I have weighed up a window of opportunity like this, the chance to live close and devote real time and energy to the quest.
In essence, I want to find out if any of the huge roach that existed then have ancestors living here still? I wonder what the chub potential might be? I plan to fish an hour or two early and then again late, presumably the best times. I’ll walk the banks as often as I can, just looking, and if I see anything of course I’ll get in there. But, to be honest I’m not expecting this. The stretch is two miles plus long, deep and for the most part without features, dredgers last century saw to that. Nor am I expecting to see any other anglers and win short cuts from them. The fishing community knows this is rock hard and, apart from a Sunday afternoon piker, stays away. Yup, I’ll be on my own but perhaps I’ll have your advice and suggestions? These , then , are my POINTS TO PONDER!
Back in the glory days, I prebaited to a degree. Then it meant putting two slices of bread into three or four swims daily. This winter, I’m contemplating something far more extensive. I guess I’ll fish more confidently if I think that what fish there are present might be honing in on prepared swims. Fishing blind on a venue this size isn’t much of a glamorous option. I have the golden opportunity to prebait on a serious scale and I have seen it work in the past. A few years back, I had a mate, Joe, who was a carver and lived in a wood by the river. He baited two holes hugely on a daily basis and put Go Pros down to film the results..which were staggering. After a month, he attracted vast numbers of fish to him. Some of the roach, chub and perch were of serious size, though I never fished for them, knowing they were tantamount to being his pets! Still, the Joe template is what I have in my mind now, even if I have the biggest of question marks hanging over the enterprise.
Joe largely used Vitalin as a base with not much else included. My ex-Anglers Mail readers will remember I am a huge fan of this dog food that is so attractive to fish as well. I’m thinking that you can accustom fish to feed on anything nutritious and so Vitalin might feature in my baiting now? Of course, you can’t really use it as a hookbait so I will mix particles in with it. But what? Corn? I’m not a great fan in the winter. Bread flake? This worked for me in the past so I won’t ignore it. Trouble is that flakes break down after 15/20 minutes forcing plenty of recasting. Maggots? I’ve always seen them as more of a trotting bait and I guess much of my time will be spent on the bottom in the dark. Pellets? I like the concept hugely. Plenty of smell. Good staying power. But what type? What size? Hooked how? I’m thinking 8ml halibut pellets, side hooked on a size 10 but I am way open to suggestions here. I’ll probably lace the Vitalin with hemp by the way. Roach love it, we all know.
Hugely difficult this. I want to put enough in to attract and hold fish but I have no idea how many fish might be there in the first place. I’m praying for roach and chub with perhaps a few dace but I have no idea of numbers or sizes. Predation by otters was not an issue in the 70s and 80s and it is likely there were more fish as a result. There were certainly barely any cormorants either – a flick through some diaries of the period reminds me I saw loads of herons, lapwings, kestrels and skylarks but there is not one single mention of a cormorant. If stocks are low, I don’t want mounds of untouched bait slowly mouldering on the bed. Yet, at the same time, today we have signal crayfish in droves and they alter the whole picture, surely? A handful of bait will be scoffed by them in minutes. A bucket will take them hours and I’m thinking their activity will draw in curious chub which might in turn interest the roach in some sort of chain reaction. So, yes, I’m thinking of going quite large, Joe-like, in perhaps three swims.
I suppose it makes sense to look first at swims that did me well back in the day? The downstream hotspot lies around a mile from the farm, on a slow bend at the bottom of a deep run. It was around 7 feet deep, I expect to find 5 feet now. A second swim is positioned between there and the farm, at the tail of a quick gravel glide, about the only fast water on the stretch. It is deep, around 6/7 feet and very slack. The third swim , 600 yards above the farm is an eddy around 5 feet deep and nicely positioned between two glides.
The trouble with these swims is that they are far apart and time will be spent on the hoof with the bait bucket. It might well be sense to bait a swim at the farm itself? One advantage will be the ease of access and fishing but I sense that predators might well keep away from the place because of the relative hustle and bustle and the rowdy yard dogs. If that is the case, then the fish will surely regard the area as sanctuary?
Back then, I largely fished flake on a size 10 fished with a two SSG sliding link. I used a 12 foot glass float rod, Mitchell 300 and 3 pound line straight through. Because the swims were very slow indeed, I nearly always used a dough bobbin between the reel and the first ring and watched it by the light of a small red torch beam. Bites were generally a twitch, followed by a slow draw of the bobbin to the rod. Easy and so few bites were missed I’m tempted to follow the same route. Perhaps this time round, a modern swinger will do the job better but I’ll probably be on a float rod again, a Marksman 13 footer, I’m thinking. I will in all probability substitute the Mitchell for a centre pin now. Casting distances are nothing and I needn’t even think about clutch settings. Why not a quiver tip? Well, for chub, yes, I like the tip. It is just that over the years I’ve missed far too many roach bites that way to be confident. And remember, I might be waiting endless nights for a bite – if I get one at all. I want no mistakes if a whacker comes along!
Comments on all this will be hugely welcomed. I aim to begin putting bait in around 5/12/20 and start fishing a couple of days later. Whatever, I will give you a running commentary of how I do, or more likely don’t, get on. A large part of me is apprehensive and even pessimistic. However, I have nursed the plan so long, it seems pusillanimous to dodge the bullet now. Even if I fail totally, the itch will have been scratched and I can put the dream finally to bed. And there will be consolations whatever the result. Years ago, I fell in love with the wild, lonesome flood plains where the owls and badgers were my only companions. Those were the years I really could take three hours or so out of my life and sit in the dark and the silence, meld with the river and think properly about my future and its course. Fifty years on, I will regard it as gift I can do the same thing all over again.