Norfolk Memories

Norfolk Memories - Tony Miles

Norfolk Memories by Tony MilesMy first experience of the wonderful fishing Norfolk has to offer was when I first sampled Wensum chubbing with Trefor West and my old mate Dave Plummer in the early eighties. Those were still the days when five-pound chub were very big indeed and most anglers were very happy to have one or two a season over that weight. In the six intensive years I fished the river, from 1981 to 1987, I took 24 five pounders, most of them on large baits intended for barbel. It seems almost laughable now, when that many five pounders could be caught in a weekend on some venues, but that was quite an achievement in the eighties, from relatively few trips.

When looking back on Wensum chubbing, one session stands out above all others, as it proved the value of inducing bites in very dramatic fashion. I was on the famous syndicate stretch below Costessey bridge and John Bailey and Dave were already fishing when I arrived. I’d had the plan to fish the bottom swim of the stretch, where a small feeder stream entered, but when I arrived John was happily ensconced in it. Not long after my arrival, however, John moved swims. He’d been driven mad by small bumps and indecisive indications he couldn’t hit and felt that the swim was colonised by small fish only.

Probably about an hour later, now in late afternoon, I decided to try my luck there and immediately my first cast had settled I started to experience the same rattles and twitches on the tip that had beset John. I was fishing large lumps of meat, with barbel in mind, and the indications were typical of over ambitious chublets. After one particularly frenzied bout of activity, I decided to try something that had often worked on the Cherwell. I wound the bait very fast upstream about two feet. The idea was to prompt any decent sized chub to be energised by an escaping meal and pounce on it instinctively. That is exactly what happened. No sooner had the bait re-settled than the rod arced savagely over and I found myself in contact with a fish that was certainly no chublet. 5 lbs 7 ozs that chub weighed and I soon received the congratulations from Dave and John as I posed in front of the cameras. . When I started fishing again, the little pulls started up once more and I therefore repeated the same procedure.The result was identical, a second vicious pull heralding the arrival of a slightly smaller chub of 5 lbs 2 ozs. My abiding memory then is John’s mutterings about golden appendages! I have always felt that I was particularly unlucky when it came to Wensum barbel. It wasn’t that I couldn’t catch them.On the contrary, I caught dozens, I just struggled to get a big one. I remember one conversation I had with Roger Miller.We were talking about the relative difficulty of fivepound chub and ten-pound barbel. I recall that Roger was consistently failing to get a five-pound chub whereas they wouldn’t leave my barbel baits alone. But then Roger said that approximately one in three Wensum barbel were doubles. I’d already had over thirty fish, biggest about eight pounds. You could guarantee that, if I got a bite from a barbel, it would be between 7 lb 8 ozs and 8 lb 4 ozs! When I did eventually catch my one and only Wensum double, it came on a two-day session that was memorable for far more than simply the fish. Even now I can look back on those two days and chuckle. I had arrived on the Thursday to find the river, at last, in perfect trim for barbel, with a couple of feet on, good colour and very mild, damp conditions. I couldn’t have wished for better. I had with me that day a new bait I’d put together, based on crushed hemp solidified in gelatin to make a usable bait, having got the idea from Kevin Maddock’s book Carp Fever. I hoped that this new offering would not prove so attractive to the hordes of bootlace eels that had so plagued my previous attempt to catch Wensum barbel on meat baits.

When I swung out the bait for the first time, I was in need of a confidence booster and got it in only a few minutes when the rod crashed round, and a 4 lbs 10 oz chub surrendered to the strong tackle in short order. Not what I was after, but the bait worked, that was all I needed to know. Later that night, I went on to catch barbel, to just over eight pounds (no change there!) and made my way back to the van late at night making plans for the following day. That led to one of the funniest incidents I can remember from my fishing in Norfolk.

A nice chub in those early daysThose days, the landowner had created a secluded little car park along the quiet country road that bordered the syndicate stretch.As you entered you could drive to the edge of a little stream that bordered the head high foliage that then stretched about a hundred yards to the river. To cross the stream, you had to climb over quite a high little footbridge. Anyone sitting in a car looking towards the river saw what looked like an impenetrable jungle of reeds. As I was fishing late, I had driven my van as far as possible behind the hedge so it was not readily apparent to anyone driving down the road or anyone in the car park itself at night. After all my years of fishing in the dark, my night vision is good and I rarely use a torch when walking back to the van. That night was no different. I knew the meandering path through the reeds well enough in the moonlight and the only light I was showing as I walked through the undergrowth well after midnight was the glowing beta light on the rod top preceding me.As I came within a few yards of the car park, I could see a faint glow ahead and almost at the footbridge it became obvious what was going on. A car was parked almost beside the bridge, gently rocking backwards and forwards. I don’t need to paint a picture. It all happened in a few seconds. There was a sudden commotion inside the car and then, just after I had stepped up onto the footbridge, a blood curdling scream. Moments later, the engine started and the car screeched away like a bat out of hell.As I stood and worked it all out I started to laugh. I could picture the young lady lying back, thinking of England, when suddenly there appeared this disembodied, eerie green glow. When that was followed, seconds later, by what must have appeared to be the monster of the black lagoon suddenly rearing up out of the darkness, lovemaking instantly lost its appeal!

The following night I was to catch my double, and also witness something totally bizarre. I was fishing the opposite bank to the syndicate,with the permission of the landowner, and had arrived at a swim around 40 yards upstream of the old railway bridge. The high water had created a superb looking crease by a little bay and I sat there expectantly, well after dark, a chunk of my new bait lying in wait for a double, I hoped. As I awaited that tell tale pluck on my finger, my attention was suddenly drawn to the bridge parapet, and I was astonished to see a man climbing to the top of the safety rails. He balanced precariously for a moment or two, before getting back down, undressing, and then climbing back up stark naked. I then saw him climb out onto the narrow ledge between the rails and the edge of the bridge, and lower himself over the edge until he was hanging by his fingertips over 8 foot of cold water, 30 feet in the air. Slowly, he started to swing backwards and forwards and then, like an electric shock, the line suddenly tightened over my finger and the rod bent round viciously. As soon as a big fish powered away I knew I had my double at last and although the fight lasted a good ten minutes I felt in control of proceedings the whole time. It was a very satisfying moment when the Avons steadied at 10 lbs 5 ozs. Only then did I remember the man on the bridge. He was nowhere to be seen and to this day I’ve no idea what became of him or what the hell he was doing that night.

There was an annoying postscript to the story of my one and only Wensum double. When I came to take photographs of my prize, I found that I’d left my new flashgun in the van, now parked some half mile away. But photographs of this fish were special to me so I made up my mind to make the long trek to fetch the offending item. This entailed walking to the bridge, climbing up the steep side and down the other side and then the long walk up the country lane to the car park, and back again. When I got back, about forty minutes later, I was knackered. Still, after a short rest, I was ready, the flashes went off, and the fish went back happily enough.That night, I slept very contentedly. Of course, it was a different story when I got the film back to find that the shots of my prize barbel were totally blank. I couldn’t understand it but it suddenly dawned on me the mistake I’d made. I’d just changed to a synchronised flashgun from my old bulb system, and when I checked my camera realised I hadn’t turned the setting to syncrho.This meant that the flashes went off after the shutter had closed, with obvious results. Final proof, if it was needed, that I was unlucky with Wensum barbel!

For several seasons, my searches for a monster pike in Norfolk would make a good script for a Carry On film. For sheer farce, a trip to Horsey mere many years ago would be hard to beat. I shared a boat with Phil Smith, Merv Wilkinson and the late Peter Rayment accompanying us in a second boat.The disasters that day centred round two things. First, my boat was not equipped with anchors up to the job when there was a gale blowing, as there was that day. Second, the outboard motor was very temperamental. Several times during the day, Phil and I were uprooted by strong gusts of wind and start to drift, only to find the engine wouldn’t start and we’d end up dumped on the shore.There would then be minutes of sweating and swearing before we got the engine going again, before we could motor back upwind to where we wanted to fish. One memorable moment was when we were fishing upwind of Merv and Pete, started to drift and crashed into their boat. While Phil was frantically trying to stop the drifting I was winding in the rods as fast as I could. When the collision occurred, I fell on my back, a rod shot in the air and a flying treble, with deadbait still attached, took a firm grip on Pete’s ear lobe.As we continued drifting, his ear stretched and stretched until the hook tore out! I remember Merv nearly wetting himself with laughter but Pete, for some reason, never quite saw the funny side!

That day, I also gashed both my hands badly while getting rocks into the boat to act as extra anchors, we’d lost an oar overboard, and Phil and I were marooned in the dark on our way back to the boat house when the engine died for the last time and this time refused to re-start. For an hour in pitch darkness we sat in the middle of nowhere, with Phil flicking his lighter, until eventually Merv and Pete came looking for us and towed us home. But the most galling part of the entire day was when we were actually packing up fishing.There hadn’t been a sign of a pike all day and I threw my last remaining herring deadbait over the side before we set off. It hadn’t sunk a foot when, from right under the boat, a pike of at least twenty pounds appeared as if from nowhere and snaffled it. Summed the day up really!

Reedcutters were often the only one to be seenDecoy Broad was another water where I fell foul of gale force winds.You were not allowed anchors there but lashed the boat fore and aft with long ash poles driven into the silt. I was fishing four rods (probably illegally!) around the boat with float-fished deadbaits. When one of them finally went away I picked up the rod, struck, and then one of the ash poles pulled out of the silt. I should have immediately syndicate stretch.As you entered you could drive to the edge of a little stream that bordered the head high foliage that then stretched about a hundred yards to the river. To cross the stream, you had to climb over quite a high little footbridge. Anyone sitting in a car looking towards the river saw what looked like an impenetrable jungle of reeds. As I was fishing late, I had driven my van as far as possible behind the hedge so it was not readily apparent to anyone driving down the road or anyone in the car park itself at night.

After all my years of fishing in the dark, my night vision is good and I rarely use a torch when walking back to the van. That night was no different. I knew the meandering path through the reeds well enough in the moonlight and the only light I was showing as I walked through the undergrowth well after midnight was the glowing beta light on the rod top preceding me.As I came within a few yards of the car park, I could see a faint glow ahead and almost at the footbridge it became obvious what was going on. A car was parked almost beside the bridge, gently rocking backwards and forwards. I don’t need to paint a picture. It all happened in a few seconds. There was a sudden commotion inside the car and then, just after I had stepped up onto the footbridge, a blood curdling scream. Moments later, the engine started and the car screeched away like a bat out of hell.As I stood and worked it all out I started to laugh. I could picture the young lady lying back, thinking of England, when suddenly there appeared this disembodied, eerie green glow. When that was followed, seconds later, by what must have appeared to be the monster of the black lagoon suddenly rearing up out of the darkness, lovemaking instantly lost its appeal!

The following night I was to catch my double, and also witness something totally bizarre. I was fishing the opposite bank to the syndicate,with the permission of the landowner, and had arrived at a swim around 40 yards upstream of the old railway bridge. The high water had created a superb looking crease by a little bay and I sat there expectantly, well after dark, a chunk of my new bait lying in wait for a double, I hoped. As I awaited that tell tale pluck on my finger, my attention was suddenly drawn to the bridge parapet, and I was astonished to see a man climbing to the top of the safety rails. He balanced precariously for a moment or two, before getting back down, undressing, and then climbing back up stark naked. I then saw him climb out onto the narrow ledge between the rails and the edge of the bridge, and lower himself over the edge until he was hanging by his fingertips over 8 foot of cold water, 30 feet in the air. Slowly, he started to swing backwards and forwards and then, like an electric shock, the line suddenly tightened over my finger and the rod bent round viciously. As soon as a big fish powered away I knew I had my double at last and although the fight lasted a good ten minutes I felt in control of proceedings the whole time. It was a very satisfying moment when the Avons steadied at 10 lbs 5 ozs. Only then did I remember the man on the bridge. He was nowhere to be seen and to this day I’ve no idea what became of him or what the hell he was doing that night.

There was an annoying postscript to the story of my one and only Wensum double.When I came to take photographs of my prize, I found that I’d left my new flashgun in the van, now parked some half mile away. But photographs of this fish were special to me so I made up my mind to make the long trek to fetch the offending item. This entailed walking to the bridge, climbing up the steep side and down the other side and then the long walk up the country lane to the car park, and back again. When I got back, about forty minutes later, I was knackered. Still, after a short rest, I was ready, the flashes went off, and the fish went back happily enough.That night, I slept very contentedly. Of course, it was a different story when I got the film back to find that the shots of my prize barbel were totally blank. I couldn’t understand it but it suddenly dawned on me the mistake I’d made. I’d just changed to a synchronised flashgun from my old bulb system, and when I checked my camera realised I hadn’t turned the setting to syncrho.This meant that the flashes went off after the shutter had closed, with obvious results. Final proof, if it was needed, that I was unlucky with Wensum barbel!

A wonderful Norfolk memory:Tony’s Thurne pike of 32 lbs 1 ozFor several seasons, my searches for a monster pike in Norfolk would make a good script for a Carry On film. For sheer farce, a trip to Horsey mere many years ago would be hard to beat. I shared a boat with Phil Smith, Merv Wilkinson and the late Peter Rayment accompanying us in a second boat.The disasters that day centred round two things. First, my boat was not equipped with anchors up to the job when there was a gale blowing, as there was that day. Second, the outboard motor was very temperamental. Several times during the day, Phil and I were uprooted by strong gusts of wind and start to drift, only to find the engine wouldn’t start and we’d end up dumped on the shore.There would then be minutes of sweating and swearing before we got the engine going again, before we could motor back upwind to where opened the bail arm, put the rod down and secured the boat, but I hesitated fatally. As the second pole pulled free in the gale, I started to drift downwind, spinning crazily like a top as I did so. It was knit one purl two as the three remaining lines were spun into a tangle of monumental proportions, as I frantically tried to keep in direct contact with the hooked pike.After all, Decoy had a history of monsters and this could be the pike I’d been dreaming of. Finally I crashed into the marginal trees and finally came to a shuddering halt. From there I was able to land my prize, a skinny jack of about five pounds. I never did land a big pike from Decoy.

Then there were two unforgettable days on the Bure. The first was when Trefor and I had purchased our own boat and on its maiden voyage on the river it capsized as I was playing a double figure pike.That was the one and only time we ever used it.

The second occasion was when I was fishing out of a hired boat and I was anchored alongside a private garden mooring. At the time, I still awaited my first 20 pounder. I was having a good day for runs and by mid afternoon had taken eight pike but only two doubles, best 14 lbs. My ninth and last fish, another low double, took a bait quite close to the boat and I couldn’t believe it when another angler’s bait plopped into exactly the same spot while I was still playing my pike.The angler concerned had cast about forty yards to get in on my action. Not long after I had landed and returned my 12 pounder, the other angler’s float slid away and he duly landed a 25 pounder.Amused I wasn’t!

Eventually, though, it all came right on the Thurne in February 1985.That winter, I was determined to crack a very big pike and had made the long journey from Coventry every week since November. I had again purchased my own boat, but this time a much more suitable craft, which was kept in the boat dyke at Martham.The piking had been slow all winter, with just a handful of fish and my bad luck with Norfolk pike had continued when I literally struck the bait out of the mouth of a thirty-plus specimen near Dungeon Corner. On the morning of February 28th I arrived at the Thurne in dense fog intending to fish the same area again but soon found that the river was frozen over from about 200 yards upstream of the boat dyke. In the fresh wind, though, I soon noticed that the ice was steadily cracking and breaking up and it occurred to me that fishing areas which were only just becoming ice free after a sustained freeze up could be an excellent ploy. So one of my rods, armed with a free roving crucian,was used to search this newly available water as the ice receded. In early afternoon, the float vanished in an impressive vortex and such was the disturbance I knew immediately a big fish was responsible. I soon had confirmation of that when a gigantic shape rose to just under the surface and then took off downstream like a rocket.

That pike fought well, although not with the raw power of a big carp or barbel, and was in range of my big net after about ten minutes. As I began to lift and engulf a huge fish, which I now could clearly see was well over 30 lbs,my heart sank to my boots as I found that the net mesh was caught solidly on an underwater snag. I couldn’t budge it and, as I struggled, the pike recovered its strength and suddenly shot away again. I was powerless to stop it and told myself very firmly to stay calm and not panic.With the rod held in my left hand on a lighter clutch setting, I lay flat on the bank, praying that the trebles would not drop out, grappling underwater with my right hand to free the mesh. It took a matter of minutes to pull it from the offending brambles, and then I carefully played the fish back to me where it was safely netted at the second attempt.

Not long after, I was joined on the bank by Dave Plummer and Neville Fickling and together we confirmed the weight of the fish at 32 lb 1 oz, by far and away my biggest pike and still the only thirty of my career. There you have it then, an abridged version of some of the highlights of my fishing days in Norfolk. There are so many more precious memories they would fill a good book. I especially treasure the many firm friendships I formed during those years, all of which still thrive today.