I always think of July as the real summer, the month when it really starts.
Maybe it goes back to when I was teaching, when I wished the term was over and I could walk out of school for eight glorious weeks of free fishing. Never think that teachers don’t take their breath away for the holidays as deeply as children!
But life being what it is, there are always bumps in the road, July 2021 being blown by nasty northwest winds. Anyone who has read this column for decades knows that the north and east winds, summer and winter, make me as miserable as a car full of escaped maggots. You know what it is in Norfolk, especially in the Holt / Aylsham direction when the wind blows from Cromer. The temperature drops, a fret hangs in the air, and you can almost taste the taste of salt. Worst of all, fish hate it. The life of flies is nonexistent, the waters are cool and almost anything that has fins ends up in a big, long pout.
Before our otters returned I loved the lakes in the North Norfolk Estate and they left me with many of my fondest angling memories, but they were often crucified by a northerly wind. It was as if all the carp and tench had been sucked out of the water and you could sit there for days without sniffing anything other than a lace eel … remember when the Elvers in their trillions still squirmed in every stream. May?
Much of the fishing today is in our gravel pits further south and while they may not have the Arcadian beauty of the lakes on the estate, they give you depth, and the depth gives you a chance. at the time of the north. The key I have found is to find a body of water that has at least some respite from the teeth of the wind, probably a sheltered bay or a shore facing south and surrounded by alders and willows. Here there is a chance that flies will hatch, there will be swifts and swallows at work and tench in particular might have fun. Maybe even a carp.
It was on such a swim that old friend Ian Rotherham found himself on July 1. Nestled there in the reeds, all camouflaged, he looked like an oversized bittern to everyone, but at least he was warm and the water in front of him was not disturbed by that damn wind. On park days like these you often don’t need to get in the water at dawn and Ian and I didn’t really see a sign of fish until late in the morning. By this time, an amount of bait had entered, but not too much, and the odd patch of very promising bubbles began to lazily rise to the surface. There was more bird activity, warblers fluttering about, a cuckoo screaming, and these are always good signs of the awakening of life.
Now Ian is a retro fisherman, and I say that with affection. He catches great fish because he understands them, but when it comes to gear and bait he tends to look back when he can. I like this. I liked the fact that he used butter beans as bait. I liked its bamboo rod, center pin reel and vintage feather float. For some, it would have seemed offbeat: more and more for me, this approach is endearing. I started working with vintage hardware company Thomas Turner and while I recommend you look at their website, I don’t want you to think that this becomes an infomercial. No, I just realize that this cute character tackle not only works but works with a kind of charm that modern, high-tech stuff has lost in its pursuit of super efficiency. Back to Ian’s day as an example.
The bubbles approached his float which began to stir with concern. He rose a fraction, settled down again, and suddenly disappeared. This cane rod simply arched from tip to butt in the most perfect of fighting curves. Every slit in the fish was cushioned and absorbed with a sort of soporific ease that meant the carp, a big one, was going nowhere. The pin did more than its bit too. Who needs the clutch of a fixed spool reel when you can have an educated and experienced thumb on the edge of a whirring center spindle drum? It was a masterclass on how to play an angry common in the most graceful and serene manner with soulful equipment. In the end, an end that was never in doubt, the carp weighed in the mid-twenties and left with an astonished tail flap. Neat work.
Before you think I’m getting all Edwardian on you, I’ll explain my thinking to you. Ian’s Coil was an updated version of the old Coxon Center Pin. It had the nice touch of a mahogany backplate with a bit of three cents inlaid … a coin from 1960, the year Ian was born. But more than that, the reel was built by modern spindle master Gary Mills. It is an engineering masterpiece, a true work of art. This reel will purr after we’re all gone, trust me, and contrast that with the modern influx of Chinese reels flooding the country. You can’t even buy spare parts for these fragile things when they go wrong, as they do with depressing frequency.
Which would you prefer to do? Buy a classy coil that works wonderfully made by an English craftsman or a pile of cheap metal that comes from somewhere near Shanghai that might disappoint you as soon as it comes out of the box? Cost? By the time you’ve bought half a dozen foreign trash samples, you might have bought a modern masterpiece for your great-grandchildren to use.
There was a small argument between members of the Barbel Society and the Angling Trust over the issue of otters and their spread. I have affection for both groups and hope that a compromise will be found.
I mentioned indirectly that otters do no good in the shallow lakes on the estate, but they seem less lethal in the deeper gravel pits. Plus, wild, naturally bred fish learn to avoid otters very, very quickly in my experience … and I have watched this process closely for 20 years or more. Sure, there will be times when otters make us cry, but overall I have personally come to terms with them. Izaak Walton complained about it 400 years ago and I guess we will do the same in 400 years. But at least Ian’s center pin will still do the trick even then!