Caught by the River

Richardson in Zanderland: The Last Supper

John Richardson | 20th March 2016


Artist, angler, tea-maker John Richardson reports from the Norfolk fens on the last day of the traditional coarse fishing season:

It has finally arrived, March 14, the dreaded day that at the turn of the year seems to be an age away; the last day of the coarse fishing season. Now all coarse fishermen have to endure the long wait until June 16, yes you can fish manmade lakes but that feels like cheating and without doubt there is something rather special about the long wait until the middle of June.

But the last day has inevitably dawned and three cantankerous pike fishing bloggers, Gale, Stephen and me, met up for the ‘last hurrah’, a final salute to the pike and perch of the West Norfolk Fenland.

Monday morning dawned with clear skies, sunshine and the inevitable wind, not a ‘lazy wind’ but nevertheless, a chilly wind from the North East. It was a wind that at least put a ripple on the crystal clear water. The drain had been fishing well but heavy rains had meant a fair amount of pumping of water out of the system with two feet or more of water being shifted to accommodate more water arriving.

I was optimistic of success for all three of us, now that is casting the runes but the last day has become more than just a day’s fishing it has morphed into a social day as well. Conversations ranged through music, football, reading, Newcastle United (not football), predator fishing, sea fishing and that strange phenomena known as ‘beach gentlemen’ and during these chats the three of us watched the pike floats, each of us willing a run to develop on one or all of them.

Tea was made, tea was drunk and bacon in freshly baked home-made baps were consumed with Daddies’ brown sauce as the only garnish allowed and then a momentous decision was made. Lobworm for perch with a traditional perch float fished tight against the boats, old moorings or reeds in fact anywhere that provided cover for the fish in the bright sunlight and clear water.

Gradually the perch began to put in an appearance but you have to fish through the small fish to get to the bigger fish and it is essential to persevere, anyway even a modest three-ounce perch is a creature of real beauty. Stephen caught perch and Gale and I caught perch edging up to the one-pound mark. Still the pike floats and deadbaits remained motionless apart that is from the gentle bobbing of the float in the ripples.

More tea brewed, yet more tea quaffed with fruit cake, everybody wanting the corner pieces where the cake had a lovely chewy toffee-like consistency.

‘Excuse me Stephen is that your float motoring past us heading for the sea?’ A scramble to grab the rod to connect with the pike and inevitably the run is missed, a small amount of mickey-taking ensues but it’s a lovely day so we have another cup of tea and then continue to fish for those wonderful perch in the old-fashioned way.

During the afternoon some cloud cover gradually began to appear and the perch become bolder as the water darkened, even a few roach and rudd are caught too. We all catch perch steadily throughout the afternoon and then, finally, fishing against a houseboat my float dives and a bigger perch is on. The fish weighs over two pounds and like all of the perch caught before it is in fabulous condition, a real jewel. Getting a good photograph on a somewhat rickety landing stage is difficult as it creaks, sways and wobbles and I have visions of two of us ending up in the deep cold water but a photograph is taken and the perch is carefully returned to the water to get bigger.

At this point Stephen has to leave to take one of his sons to football so another pot of tea is made and the tackle is taken down and packed in the cars, all the tackle except my pike rod with its float still sitting there in the middle of the drain, motionless as always.

Is there a strange magic about pouring a hot drink, some unknown angling alchemy? The float moves, slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed and sinking from view. Five minutes later the only pike of the day is landed, it isn’t a large fish, five or six pounds maybe but after the perch it makes the perfect, natural end to the session. The last run of the season turning into the last pike of the season on the last cast of the season on the last day of the season, there is a certain symmetry to that.

The next time I come down to the drain to fish the reeds will not be brown and rattling in the wind instead the surface will be covered in yellow lilies, the reed growth green and prolific and gently rustling with the dominant sound being from the reed warblers, truly the start of a new season.

As of today the new season is only 88 days away, two fat ladies in bingo caller’s terms and at least one of the two fat ladies managed to sing on Monday.

Read more from John at The Two Terriers Press.