By Robert Self-Pierson
Rumour tells me not to fish under full moon – unless I’m trying to catch squid. I don’t think Taverham Mill lake in Norfolk stocks squid. The odd catfish, but no squid. So my brother and I ignore the advice. We set off on the M11 towards Norwich where we hope to land a few record carp, or perhaps a slippery tench.
Here are some theories. The full moon lights the sky and scares fish to the bottom of the lake. Interesting. The full moon charges fish and increases their metabolism, making them rather peckish. Hmm, ok, the opposite. The full moon has no effect. Nothing. Sometimes you catch, sometimes you don’t; that’s the life of an angler.
Those who welcome us to Taverham on Monday afternoon under heavy skies spout wisdom. Contradictory wisdom. There’s only one way to look for an answer. It involves a lot of bites.
Taverham Mill, nestled in 100 acres of beautiful, green Norfolk countryside, sits five miles outside Norwich. Four lakes are plotted around the land, and for three quarters of a mile you’ll hear (and see if you venture) the River Wensum trickling by. With purple clouds rumbling and mumbling and creeping towards us, we lug my brother’s fishing gear along the boardwalk, between the otter-shocking electric fences, past the river towards our lake.
We’re here as an experiment. I’m researching the lunar effect – the idea that the full moon influences many earthly things. Once a month I set off around Britain for a lunar adventure. July – the Thunder Moon, under thundery skies – I’ve persuaded older brother and keen angler Dave to take me night fishing. Twenty-four hours of fishing for 30lb carp – that’s all the persuading he needed. He even bought a bivvy and bed-chair. Which aren’t as easy to construct in whipping wind and splashing showers as in his dry garden. But soon Silver Birches becomes home.
The storm subsides and Dave sets up the rods. He’s the angler here – I’m a guest. A guest in my own travels. He’s brought boilies and halibut pellets and sweetcorn and uses phrases like “much doing?” and “in the margins”. I’m an impressed younger brother. How can we fail to catch with this level of piscine psychology?
The storms gurgle and go – each downpour forcing us back into the bivvy. The bite alarms sound a couple of times, mine a little crackly, but it’s probably just a carp nibbling on a boilie. They’re not biting. Yet. But still a few hours until our lunar cousin rises to the east and charges the lake. Or does nothing.
Evening draws in. The sun’s rays turn hazy overhead. A salmon sky fades above Taverham and ahead, twinkling like a burning beacon, the Pole Star welcomes the night.
Darkness soon takes the sky, and the heat. I stand and ask my brother to guard the rods while I walk the lake, warm up. He reels in and casts before I leave – telling me a slight reposition of the bait in the margins could make all the difference. I smile and stroll on. Soon the full moon reveals herself. Her shallow arc of midsummer lifts her glowing face to the tops of the trees but no higher. Moonlight gives a silver coating to the still lake. I just stand, stare and smile.
Dawn breaks at 4am with an Egyptian goose crash-landing in front of the watery sun. The night froze us. Any warmth is embraced by our pimpled skins. The dark provided little bite action. Twice the buzzing and beeping of our alarms woke us. False alarms. We waited and waited, chatted and joked and absorbed the beauty of the lake and waited, for a prolonged hum and the whir of a reel surrendering line.
It never came.
It’s now 6am, a clear, dawning day – according to Dave, our last real chance to “land a monster”, breakfast feeding. We’re fishing with four rods: two ahead (one fishing further out), two towards the banks and overhanging trees. He brings in a carp rod and changes the boilie for corn. “See there?” he points. “The bubbles? That’s tench feeding.” My brother jumps into action – slingshots a handful of loose bait in the area. I question whether we should offer free food. “Gets them feeding on our bait,” brother explains. He casts perfectly.
Whether it’s the moon’s position, my influence, the stormy atmosphere, or just bad luck, nothing’s working on this trip. The tench don’t bite. The carp don’t bite. The mosquitoes have bitten like piranha, but none weighing more than a grain of sand. A fellow angler tells us he appeared in the local rag last week for landing a 25lb beauty. It wasn’t Moonscale, Taverham’s resident heavyweight (35lbs at last weighing), but it was possibly a relative. We’ve seen nothing – not even the unmistakable torpedo shadows of double-figure carp cruising their lake. It’s time to go.
We’ve fished for 15 hours. We could easily fish another 15 and see just as little again. But we’re chilly and hungry and I’m desperate for caffeine. The local café seems the ideal pit stop before the drive home. And the drive home – although poisoned by ferocious weather – is filled with pleasant memories. Not the one that got away, the one that didn’t exist; in the shimmering lake with the swans, geese, water boatmen, herons; beside the silver birches with the hopping toad and scratching beetle; near the sopping bivvy; near the sparking fence. On the lake with the two brothers with high hopes and smiling faces.
Next time we’ll catch a monster. I’m sure of it.
(more from Rob can be found at Discovering Britain by Full Moon)