Norfolk? - Charles Dickens wrote one of his characters as saying "Very flat, Norfolk"
This ran through my mind as I entered the village of Thorney at 6.55 am on
the A47 from Peterborough in Cambridgeshire. What would he have said about
this area? Flat, is the only thing that sprang to my mind! It was here, that I had been instructed to ring Martin, as I was close now to our arranged meet for my Fen Drain Adventure. I had jumped at the invite to fish the fabled Fen drains, oft read about, but never fished. I was reassured when ringing through, to be asked whether I preferred Tea or Coffee on arrival and the day began to look brighter, following my 5.20 am start and horrendous wind, rain and driving conditions for nearly 100 miles!
The unrelieved flat scenery has to be experienced to be believed!, but although the Countryside looks ancient and one gets a sense of the past, you are jerked back into the 21st Century by the directions! No "Look for the Windmill" or "Left by the village pond", instead it's "Its past MacDonalds after 2 miles" followed by "Turn left by the Little Chef."
Following the simplest of instructions I arrived at the Bridge in Parsons Drove to find Martin waiting with my freshly brewed coffee, at the top of an incredibly steep embankment perched next to the Bridge that signified the end of Parsons Drove.
Two keep net bags were placed strategically on the top of the embankment to claim our swims in case of my late arrival.
Obviously Martin had read of the Zippy Curse and was taking every precaution!
He is the Bailiff for the Tydd Gott Angling Club and so the Zippy didn't mistake him , he was wearing a fleece, emblaxoned with T.G.A.C on it and in case I approached from the rear, on his back was the legend 'Martin Scott Tydd Gott Angling Club'
Even I couldn't go wrong!
First impression was of a mischievous smile, piercing blue eyes that wouldn't miss a trick and a very warm welcome handshake! I relaxed knowing Maggot Drowners had scored again and I was in for a great 2 days.
The Fen Drains, Martin explained , were an old, hand excavated drainage system to relieve the waters that build up on the rich , but flat agricultural lands all around (Highest point only 120 feet) and pump the surplus water into the various rivers they serve, to send it eventually to the Wash, or north to the Humber.
Here on the North Level, the Drain is totally enclosed and for instance, no Zander have ever entered this system, contrary to my earlier belief that all drains had been illegally stocked. There are many, many of these massive drains. The North, Middle and Bedford levels, The Relief, Cut-off etc, channels and the 16ft, 20 ft., 100ft etc. Drains. All contain huge fishing potential and each with its own reputation for different species.
Today we were to fish for Pike on dead bait, with Poles out for Tench and 3-4lb Perch on Worm!
The first thing different in Fenland was instruction in the art of Piscatorial abseiling!
The sheer steepness and drop from the Roadside to the peg was made easy as Martin hammered in a deep peg and lowered a 30 foot rope down the bankside to assist us getting kit down to the Peg!
He had chosen for me the peg by the bridge and in his belief, it is the most fished for Peg in England for Pike! He sees it fished on average 5 days a week throughout the season! Anglia of course, still observe the March/June close season on rivers and drains.
I set up 3 rods and a pod for deadbait Piking, using Smelt on rod1, lamprey section on rod2 and a small mackerel on 3. Martin had quickly put out a float Pike rig using roach and had set the Pole up whilst I was still setting my Pod up! His 1st fish was a small gudgeon, followed by a Bleak (I hadn't seen one of those for 15 years during my old Trent days) and when I finally cast my first completed trace out, he was bringing in his 13th fish!!!!
Having completed my 3 rod, hungry for Pike set up, I started to prepare my pole, copying Martin's set up and fishing a few inches over depth, feeding chopped worm and pinkies and fishing worm on the hook. No bites in 1/2 an hour, but a change to maggot saw the first Gudgeon and a short while later a miniscule skimmer.
I had 4 or 5 in the keep-net, when it happened! The buzzer on my left hand rod sounded and the butt indicator fell. The line whirred satisfyingly off the reel and slowly stopped! Gingerly, picking up the rod, a quick turn clicked of the Baitrunner and I wound gently down. The strike and a vague regret! Fish on OK, but the sequence was over! Ever since John had taught me Piking, each of my successive 5 fish had been bigger than the last but this, whilst a nice fish, was not on a par to the Castle Howard Granny of last Thursday. However, the twinge of regret was fleeting and I chided myself that just a few weeks ago, no Pike and now, I'm thinking of size! How your perceptions can change in so short a time!
The fish swirled to the top of the water, made 2 or 3 lunges for freedom, but on 15lbs B.S. line it was well outgunned and brought swiftly in to christen my new Specimen landing net.
My 1st thought was that I had left the run too long and deep hooked him, but passing Martin my forceps as asked, for he had joined me, watched him quickly knock my barbless hooks easily from its mouth.
Digital Camera at the ready, I asked Martin to hold the fish up for a photo. He protested that I caught it, but I knew the Mds would rather see the delighted smile of a new Great Mate , than another lucky ole Zip one!!!
Settling back in our swims, Martin, on a whip line now ,was whipping out more bits at every chuck and I recast a dead bait out and smiled to myself thinking "Perfect! Nothing can go wrong here!
At 10.05 I commented to Martin, that whereas the wind had been blowing from left to right and the float moving almost imperceptibly against it, suddenly, my float was beginning to run with the wind and was moving through my swim at an increasing rate of knots! 'Dammit' said Martin, 'They've turned the pumps on and are pumping out the water that is draining in from the rain overnight'. He knew immediately what to expect and sure enough, bites for me ceased as though the curse had switched the lights off!
I persevered with the Pole for 2 more hours, switched to the feeder with more, but not much more success , and reflected on the Zippy curse! When things look good, they deteriorate and when they look bad they get worse!
Martin was philosophical about it all and said "Don't worry, They'll switch off the pumps about 2.30 or 3.00 and then they'll come on real strong." He in the meantime had tackled up with a lollipop river float, that rode the current effortlessly and allowed him to resume catching at a great rate again. I've read of these, but never expected to need one where I've been fishing and could only watch with envy and admiration as he caught and caught.
The Pike had also gone off the feed and I carried on switching between my now extremely overdepth fished Pole float, held hard back and the feeder. I was still catching, but waiting until 3.00pm for the pumps to go off, 'cos I was catching at the rate of about 1 to Martins 6! Well 3.00pm came, 1/2 past and then 4.00 and there was no sign of the flow ceasing! The water level had dropped a good 18" - 2 ft and Martin was muttering that in 25 years he'd not known the like, but as you realize, he'd not met the curse before!
At around 4.00 pm, I looked up as Martin called "That's better!!" The elastic in his Pole at about 9 metres, was showing in a long line from a satisfying curved tip. "About time something showed" he said. This is over a Pound, well over I thought, looking at the Pole, but the curse doesn't give in easily, the fish slipped the hook, the Pole sprang straight again and Martin said a Word!
As we packed up at 5.00, facing the hill climb exit, the rain came down and the pumps continued. I managed to stop Martin from emptying all his fish quickly and took a Photo of less than half the 100 plus bits he had bagged. My 20 or so, I didn't bother with. The rain came down in earnest as we packed away and made our way into the haven of the Wisbech Arms surprisingly located in Wisbech.
There, another reason to visit - Guinness at just £2.00 per pint. Martin and I who had been chatting on and off all day, reviewed events, planned the next day and set the world to rights!
I left the Pub at approx 8.20pm with 2 pints of Guinness, a 50p cup of coffee made by a very obliging landlord and more change in my pocket than I foresaw on arrival, looking forward to 7.00 the next morning.
Day2 The Great Ouse Relief Cut Off Channel
Located some 25 miles south of our North level venue, the cut off channel is deeper than the North Level and situated just outside Downham Market in Norfolk. Noticeably on arrival, the water appeared much clearer than the almost chocolate brown of yesterday.
Martin looked for the wind, flow and decided all things considered to move down to the newly erected platforms just East of Hillgay Bridge. Through the archways of the Bridge on the opposite side of the channel, I could see the bivvys of 2 intrepid Anglers, who had night fished through what must have been one of the stormiest nights of the winter!
This is not part of Martins waters, but as I had expressed my desire to catch a Zander, he had pulled a favour from a friend in Kings Lynn Anglers to get us on the water. So Zander were the target, the rigs the same, except I used a roach on one of them, kindly supplied by Martin, as Zander are reputed to dislike sea bait in favour of natural and the weather was also the same, Windy, Squally and decidedly Cold!
The Company was also the same, cheerful, determined and concentrated.
Another keen Angler, John, who fishes this stretch regularly and is known to Martin through his matches, joined us, but neglected to join in the Zander hunt as he was keen on pursuing the large bream and tench on the feeder. 5 or 6 more guys were along the banks and I waited with anticipation to see if I would finally, if not catch myself, witness a Zander in the flesh. Sadly I forgot the curse, but as it proved, it was still in ascendancy and although we fished until dusk along with the bivvy boys, who, for all I know are still there - not one run or even one bite was encountered all day!
Retiring to Downham Crown for a well earned warm, we again discussed the manner of all men. Martin is also keen to spread the message amongst the young! His 15 year old daughter Sammy has already notched up 56 fishing Trophies, has fished with and is on first name terms with Bob Nudd!
Again a generous companion, he trustingly thrust a Video package of 'the Passion for Angling' series into my hand as I left, for me to enjoy and return only when I'm ready, promised to visit us during his River close season and made me promise to Return after June 15th.
Another who holidays in the Belturbet area of County Cavan, I can't get over how alike we Anglers are.
Thanks for a great 2 days Martin and look forward to the next time!