by Mark Barrett
A few years ago, now I had one of those serendipitous moments that as anglers we all get to experience at some time in their angling career.
At the time I had been looking after the Ely/ Fenland region of the Pike Anglers Club and in the ever-relentless search for speakers I had got the Norfolk legend that is Chris Turnbull down to do a talk for my region on the work that NACA (Norfolk Anglers Conservation Association) were doing on the River Wensum in relation to the barbel on the river.
At the end of the talk Chris mentioned in passing perhaps coming over top Norfolk to do a talk for NACA, something that I was more than happy to do, as I told Chris, but then pretty much forgot all about it until later that year when Chris got back in contact to fill my quid pro quo. Towards the end of the conversation Chris was detailing me on the lakes at Bawburgh and mentioned that as I was coming to do a talk, he could arrange a couple of days fishing on the lakes if I was interested?
Well as someone that has had a love affair with tench from an early age and had read about a few of his exploits on there in his book “Time for Tench” I was quick to accept that offer.
So it was that in May of that year I first set foot on a complex that I was to thoroughly fall in love with. My anticipation was particularly high as I had been in further conversation with Chris prior to arrival and he had detailed a very special trip that he had just completed. His tales of multiple nine pounders and a new lake record of nearly eleven pounds had me chomping at the bit and ever hopeful that I might be able to threaten my then personal best of 8lbs 14ozs.
On driving round, the lake Chris was very surprised to find that one swim in particular “Sleeper point” was free. This was a popular swim with the venues carpers and was pretty much permanently occupied. I may be wrong, but I think that I am correct in saying that Chris himself may not have fished the swim himself at that point, if he had I believe not very often as whilst I commenced getting my gear together Chris grabbed my marker rod and started having a cast around for some likely looking spots.
To cut a long story short, Chris found a very nice little spot that seemed to be only lightly weeded, in comparison to much of the area surrounding it at about 25-30 yards range and not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I proceeded to put some bait in over the spot (hemp, groundbait, with some pellets and corn mixed in it) and then I left it to go and do the talk.
When I arrived back after a very enjoyable evening, I left the swim for the night, deciding to give the fish some peace until the dawn, hoping that they might really settle on it that way.
Ridiculous O’Clock soon rolled around as all tench anglers will be familiar with and I was really buzzing to see that there were plenty of signs in the swim, particularly in the area that I had baited, this was going to be like taking candy from a baby!
Oh, how fishing can kick you in the soft and dangly bits! It became obvious that I was messing things up big style as on several occasions I had tremendous thumps on the rod top and the bobbin smacking up, only for nothing to materialize and when I finally did get a proper take a very small tench of about 2lbs fell off in the margins, something was very wrong, and a major rethink was on the cards.
The set up that I had been using was an in-line feeder with a short hook-length of fluorocarbon fished with maggots directly on the hook. I was leaning towards the fact that the hook was getting clogged by either the bait, or more likely the weed and this was meaning that the takes that I was getting were just not hooking up. Rummaging through my box I came up with an alternative which I hoped would do the trick.
The rig that I switched to was a scaled down version of the carp angling “Chod rig”. For those that may not be familiar with this set up, it comprises of a helicopter type set up, but instead of having the hook-length rotating between two beads pushed almost together, with a chod type rig the top bead is stopped some distance back from the other bead by a bit of silicone rubber. What happens then is that when you cast in the bait is naturally pushed back and is not dragged into the weed by the weight of the lead (or in this case blockend feeder), instead it comes to rest on top of the weed behind the feeder. I was using a large Drennan feeder on a leadcore leader, so I also added a piece of dissolving foam around the hook to make sure it landed nice and softly on top of the weed.
I also changed my hooking arrangement. As I said before I was fishing my red maggots directly onto the hook but now wanted to change this to a hair rig, to try and convert some of the pick-ups. I ended up threading a fake caster onto the hair lengthways and then using superglue I glued 6 maggots to it.
With a new sense of optimism and with the rest of the morning still to come (it was by now around 9am), I still felt in with a shout and I was to be proved right as within half an hour the buzzer started its war cry and I was into what felt a damn site better than the lost two pounder!
After a fight that went all over the swim, I finally had what looked like a decent tench making its last efforts at escape before it settled into the mesh of my waiting net. Now at no stage in the fight, even though it put up a great account of itself did I think that I might have something very special in the net. However, when I looked in the net, I realized that I might just have beaten my old best and by a bit too.
When I put it on the scales it slammed round to 11lbs 2ozs, my very first fish from Colney lake, I think I like this place!
The day before when he left Chris said that if I had anything good, he was at home and to give him a call to do some photos. I was soon punching in Chris’s number and upon him picking up I immediately asked him what the lake record was? “10lbs 12ozs, I caught it last week.”
“Well, it’s not anymore, its 11lbs 2ozs and its sitting in my net!”
Chris replied that he would be on his way and I thought I better get the rods back out. Chris arrived a short while later and took some fantastic pictures of my prize and whilst we sat around drinking tea and chatting, I added another fish of just over 9lbs. this was tenching the like of which I had never experienced before and I slipped her back with a huge beaming smile on my face, after another photo session.
I didn’t catch any more on that trip, but to be honest I didn’t care a jot as Bawburgh just went on to show me further that this was the place I needed to be fishing by subsequent events. Firstly, that afternoon I was joined in the swim by Daryn Stolworthy and Tony Bidwell, bearing beers to celebrate a new lake record, even though I had only ever met them previously in passing. A great afternoon was had by all as we chatted like the friends that we now are in the way that only anglers can. The second came that winter when I was asked to come to the NACA winter meal and presentation, where I was staggered to be presented with the ‘Fish of the Year’ prize of an engraved hip flask for my tench, even though I wasn’t even a member of the lakes, something I soon put right!
Looking back, I loved my time at Bawburgh and hope to go back soon as I now live much closer than I did at the time, but I do wonder if I hadn’t made that change when I did if things might have taken a much different path? Serendipitous indeed.