Thursday, 29 September 2011

14 days in the east

'The trees grow yellow and burnished gold, the morning has begun to nip and again I find myself in the east'

My love affair with this flat country where our land slides away into the sea has changed as I have grown older. The attraction of the reedy waterways has diminished only to be replaced by a child like curiosity of the ever eroding sea, which laps away at the land slowly threatening to reclaim it.
I think the challenging nature of the sea is what attracts me. On the broads I know I can catch silver flashing roach or dark brown bream with relative ease. But the sea... the sea is never constant! Species come and species go, the wind can move only a few degrees and all can change. I suppose the only thing that remains the same is the fact that the tide will rise and the tide will fall. This itself I find a source of amazement. Standing in front of of an endless sheet of water which either grows closer or slips further away with every wave is daunting. Once this mass movement of the ocean has been realised the thought that what causes it is planetary in size suddenly makes me feel very small.

A question of bait is something we anglers often find occupying our minds. Weather it be to flick out the humble worm or a pinch of bread, or which fly should best suit the current conditions are questions which go through our minds well before we set foot near water.
With the sea this is no different and well before leaving I diligently studied local catch reports to try and ascertain what may be on the menu for either me or the fish. As per normal, research produced nothing more than a mixed bag. So with no real angles by which to angle standing clear I will only find out by trial and elimination.
I feel sorry for squid as everything that swims eats them! However they too eat their far share, so maybe my sorrow is unfounded. Everything likes a calamari ring - myself included - and pound for pound they are by far the most cost effective way to find out what or whom is on shore; they are perfect for the job in hand, rather than throwing expensive rag or lug into the crab infested waters only to be reeled back stripped away. So squid is always the first thing I obtain on arriving at those seaside tackle shops that differ to those back home.

How much fun can you have with 75p worth of maggots and a handful of magic berries in the tail end of a hurricane? The answer is, surprisingly, a lot.

The first day of our break had begun well with a probing session on the break water, which had confirmed that although the whiting had arrived, the bait stripping pin whiting horde were as yet absent. But this was all the good that this day had to offer. No sooner had the tide begun to ebb away that it soon became one of the worst days of my life as I found myself returning to the Midlands to make a very tough decision.

My third trip down the A14 in three days had left both physically and mentally battered. The tail end of hurricane Katia now whipped thirty plus mile an hour winds over the flat landscape and I was in no mood to battle it out with the sea.
My first relaxed meal and a hot bath later Jacky urged me to head out, even if only down to the broad with a bottle of cider in hand. Quite honestly I hadn't planned for this type of fishing but I really needed to just switch off and relax. To the hardcore bunch of Geordie match anglers whom had taken residence on the tip of the marina with more gear than the drennan England team, I must have looked a proper holiday noddy in my shorts sitting on a deck chair with my bottle of booze and half a pint of maggots rattling round in the wind. I could tell by their looks of disdain as they passed by that they thought I was just another holiday chancer.
But it ain't what kit you've got it's what you do with it counts!
Sheltering as best I could inside the marina fishing in a space between two boats with Jacky sitting next to me immersed in a book I put away a slew of  perfect roach and perch up to 6oz and even the bootlace eels turned up enticed by the grand total of 75p worth of grubs that I flicked into the wind regularly.

From my vantage point behind the boats I could just make out the moans and groans of the Geordies of how bad the fishing was and not at one point did I hear those favoured words of ' that's a nice fish' proving my point exactly. Happy and relaxed once again my break could begin after a slight sputter at the start. Oh and as for the elder berries as roach bait... I personally think its a bit of a white elephant.

Walking across the area where it's not quite beach with an air of urgency in my step to get to the shore, the sun was beating down on me. Out of the wind behind the cliffs and laden with tackle I wove in and out of all the strange plants that exist in this salty environment. Anywhere else I suppose it could be called dunes. But here it's mostly shingle not sand, so really I have no idea by what name to call it.
Soon enough that brown mass of open appears, then my eyes spot the breaking waves and I am here for my first real chance to stand toe to toe with the sea with nothing between us.
I arrived purposely at the bottom of the ebb tide for I know this area fishes well now. I also think I know what is here and how I suspect it will go!
I begin to fish as planned, just as the tide begins to flood in again bringing fish with it. On one rod I hold out for a monster with a whole hardback crab I collected this morning from Lake Loathing. Whilst on the other I run the gauntlet fishing mean rag worms and strips of feted squid.

Somewhere in the still gusting wind I spotted the tip rattle in a different way to general wind and tide action. Somewhere out there something has found my bait. If casting 6oz of lead into a gusting wind wasn't hard enough reeling it back as the tide forces it onto the bottom is really tough. But I feel the faint throb of a fish.

These are not the annoying pin whiting but big keepers if I so wanted, but alas I do not. The evening creeps closer and the fish switch on in the churning sea, then it soon becomes one or two a chuck. Interspersed with the big whiting the odd smooth hound pup takes a bait or two. At only ten inches long they are frankly rather cute and I even land a starry smooth hound pup somewhere amongst the veracious whiting

The tide now races quickly up the beach and I find myself having to move further in land to avoid everything getting swept away. Upon arriving Id noticed that the high tide mark was higher up the beach than Id ever seen it before, as this morning it hit 2.9m. The highest of this month of September so I should move right up to the tide mark at the top of the beach.
I could carry on doing this all night but the moon has appeared on the horizon and my stomach now grumbles.

Just one last whiting before hunger drives me back across that unnamed land towards the car which will carry me towards warmth and sustenance.

My exploration of the industrial edges of lake loathing has been a long time coming and quite honestly I do not know why! Today I ventured further past the boundaries of where I have ever bothered to look before. With an obstinate Jacky in tow, who felt she had cruelly been tricked into some silly folly of a walk away from the quaint idles of civilisation, we passed through the Victorian tunnel which had for so long been my boundary for some unknown reason.

Stepping into the light again we were confronted by a wall of boats. Some afloat, others high and dry. To most it would appear to be nothing more than a waterside junk yard, but to me it was strangely beautiful and defiantly intriguing. Every square foot contained boat upon boat. Massive rotting hulks, ancient yachts and even a few surprises.

Hidden away behind a barbed wire clad fence I spotted this MTB boat from WWII which when I got home and researched it, it turned out to have an interesting history, which included transporting Churchill and Eisenhower to inspect the D day invasion fleet, acting as the rear admiral Wake - Walkers flag ship after HMS Keith was sunk by a Stuka bomb at Dunkirk and also starring in several films including 'The Eagle has Landed' after being renovated after a twenty year stint as a house boat on the broads.

Every possible space had some kind of fantastic colourful old boat in it and the clear blue light made it look even better.

Peering between boats the still waters are full of tiny fish which look to be ether baby bass or mullet. Even a few red and white Blennys living a horizontal life on a wall came close to the surface to investigate dust dislodged by my hands from the edge of the stone I  was leaning on. This place is alive and hopefully at the end of the alleys I will find the place I seek to fish.
As we continue on I come across a sight I wish was contained to this salt water environment instead of the lakes and rivers back home. A pair of cormorants where they should be.

Finally I do find what I was looking for on this exploration; confirmation that the wide open beach area I had seen on Google earth was in fact accessible and fishable too.

Though we are far from the sea we still get caught out by the tide. As we head home we find our route here has been cut off by the rising water.

Luckily unlike getting stuck under some dangerous cliffs where the RAF would now be fetching us the flood is easily bypassed by crossing two lanes of man made danger.

Like most I am guilty of forgetting how good some baits are. After spending my fishing time this morning exploring. Which I have to say was by no means a waste! I spent the rest of the day in the bustle of holiday makers. This left me with only a tiny window in which to fish . With no time to get to the sea I grabbed a rod nipped out the door to hit the broad. Upon opening my bait box expecting to see writhing maggots I found my  grubs had very inconsiderately pupated into caster. Undeterred and with only a handful of shells in various states of pupa I went anyway sending Jacky to the pub for much needed refreshments.
Sitting on my deck chair I was happy. I was even more happy to see the resident roach loved the tiny casters even more than I remembered they did. Every cast produced flashing silver. Why the hell have I neglected to to fish with caster for so long...

Sometimes you just can't force fish to feed. This morning I woke very early and it was still very much dark when I peeped out the curtains. The moon still shone bright and clear framed by the stars as I stood in the early chill.
I struggle to sleep well in a non ergonomically designed bed crafted by swedes nowadays, and subsequently every time Jacky moved so much as a muscle I woke. Well before the alarm sounded I was up. If at home and going to the river Barbel fishing or something else I would have just gone. But here in unfamiliar territory  I waited for the light and sat with a mug of steaming tea catching up on my notes. As I did I periodically looked out of the window and watched as the sky change from midnight blue to sapphire before I left.

My first foray out today was to continue my investigating of Lake Loathing. This time rod in hand searching for the elusive mullet. Passing again into the silent graveyard of ships the dawn made it look unbelievable and I am beginning to love this strange industrial backdrop.

The tide was well out so this gave me chance to look for scoots below the low water line in the mud, which could betray the sifting actions of feeding mullet. After slipping around on the damp sea weed for a while unable to see a thing I decided to change tack and cast out some leftover ragworms into the deep boat channel in search of flatties whilst I scanned the flat shallow water for bow waves.

Six crabs later, close to the only boulder on the flats two bow waves appeared on the surface so I crept into position bread in hand to try and develop some feeding action.
Mullet are supposed to be the most infuriating fish in the sea to attempt to catch and this turned out to be exactly true. Time and time again they drifted in and out appearing and disappearing like ghosts amongst the bladder wrack over an area of twenty square feet and nether one consumed a single morsel of bread before I left, rather perplexed.

My second outing of the day saw me head to a very well renowned mark on the golden sands of Gorleston. It's a beach I have long fancied. Largely to do with the unusual feature of a wreck being within casting distance of the beach. To any angler having such a prominate feature nestled in the middle of nothing but snag free sandy bottom it is far to much to resist and my early afternoon arrival coincided with at least ten other blokes all with the same idea. But sadly the fish were much as they were this morning; unobliging.

I cannot deny that two trips without so much as a scale to show for my effort had me feeling a little down. Undeterred I pushed my luck and chanced a third to try and make something of the day. With Jacky along for the ride I returned to a normally reliable mark. I spent the next three hours casting long and short very much in vain. With the sun again sinking below the cliffs over my shoulder, desperation saw me put more and more welly into my cast in a bid to attain even a few more feet when finally my tip rattled twice.

Two mediocre whiting proved enough for me on a dire day, so I cut my losses and left.
It may seem that the fish may be holding off the beaches during the day only venturing in under the cover of darkness.

Something has changed. The tempestuous wind has calmed, the sky's are bright azure and an air of cold seems to have taken residence over the east. Although disruptive and awkward conditions to fish in , it would seem the wind had its advantages, stirring up both the sea and fresh water. Its warm blasts seemed to provoke the waters residents at the start of my trip, now it has gone and I find myself wishing it would return.
Over the last few days I have dipped my toe in every possible scenario available! Casting lob worms under every boat for miles in search of perch. Blasting rag, lug and squid towards the horizon from the beach and concrete have all proved a little fruitless.
Oddly the answer has come to mind as a result of the maligned little roach, whose feeding had decreased markedly in just those few days.
This morning whilst anticipating that sacred tradition of Sunday dinner I snatched a few hours and sought a sunny corner to ply the roach with maggots. Only two bites came my way. The first resulting in me trying to untangle the untangle-able mass from around my rod tip and the other produced a small but poignant silver roach.
What should make a simple roach so special was not what it did or how it looked, but how it felt. Swinging it to hand it looked exactly the same as every other roach I have ever caught on the broad this past week. But the moment it hit my hand lighting struck my mind. It was freezing cold!
Every other before it had unnoticeabley warm, but this one was as cold as it was silver. The roach last week feed like voracious summer fish, but on the other hand this was if anything a winter fish, shy and torpid.
As I sat watching the motionless float this theory snowballed. On the sea the summer species were only just lingering round whilst the winter favourite the whiting are only just turning up and nether seem to be able to make up their minds whom should be on shore as yet. On the broad the cold clear nights sap away the daytime heat chilling the water and the fish.
As I walked away from the broad still mulling over my realization I stopped and spoke to an old angler fishing a vintage fibre glass rod and ancient quill float. Most of what he muttered was gripes but one thing stood out 'Winters coming' and he was right! If the previous week was the last of summer then here in the east this would be the first real one of autumn, which heralds only one thing; the impending arrival of winter. 

Tonight I again stand on the shore with the idea in my head that since the seas have calmed the biomass now moves in a different way. So I too must change tack to accommodate capture. I had loomed around the house until the point where I'd annoyed my better half and she had almost demanded I leave her in peace and go out.
Its still light and I know any fish interested will be situated right at the zenith of my casting range. But this does not matter for I am armed with new rigs dedicated solely the the art of distance. 6oz  breakaway leads and short clip down rigs should attain dizzying distance until dusk when the horde will march upon the breakers inshore.
It takes a few errant casts before I hit the zone hundreds of meters out. It's amazing with so much mono line stretching out over so much water that bites should  register at all, but they do! What is also surprising is the average size of the fish too, every one is just about a keeper.

My second line searches for straggling flatties with wire clad boom rigs making the worms dance around the bottom attractively. But this had been totally inactive till the sun disappears.
Even though I am well on the fish, common sense kicks in when dark clouds form over head followed by lighting jumping under the clouds. Looking round I can clearly see the highest object for a good long way is my rods, so I step away for a little while until the mini storm passes just in case any bolts should search for ground.
I watch the storm as it passes out over the sea and it grows bigger. Its like watching opera building and crashing before my eyes. Standing there facing the ocean you can see 180 degrees of the entire world from my spot and things that seem massive on the land get put in perspective over the sea.
By the time I return to the rod and re bait the fish have moved in by half a cast with darkening sky and they are feverishly hungry, my bait dwindles and new players now join this performance.

Cute but still a shark; these miniature starry smooth hounds seem to hang out under the whiting and their bites are so violent they can be seen from the water line thirty feet from my rods.
A satisfying few hours proves the fish of the sea to act like those in my native river, waiting till dark for their tea.

As I did the night before, tonight I probe for eels. The reedy broad seems lacking nowadays. In years gone by they could be so persistent that they would send bream anglers home moaning. Now however the tables have turned and the bream now annoy me as I try to catch an eel.

After scaring off a huge mullet which I'd found resting amongst the bladder wrack in the shallows of lake loathing I'd searched every nook and cranny to locate more, but I couldn't find a single one. Diligently I'd baited a few spots with mashed bread which still sits there now as I write dejected. I need some salve. So back to freshwater I go armed with worms and squid. With forethought to this session I cobbled together odd starlight's and float rubbers to produce shonky night floats.
Wrapped up in my warm winter coat I sit in the inky black watching two blue strips bob around in the ripples. A few small perch have already fallen for my tricks and now a hint of something sniffing my bait moves the float a little.
The resistance is tenfold to the perch but this no flipping eel, which gives itself away with reverse swimming. This is big but it comes in like an old sack. It has to be a Bream...

On my third consecutive outing I sat on a convenient bench as the sun dipped towards the reeds in the west. As per normal the small perch were first to root out my crudely presented half a lob worm before something rather special snaffled my bait. At first glance I thought yet another small perch wriggled on the end of my line but closer inspection reviled otherwise.

'With a hint of violet in it's eyes. Transparent yellow in colour with mottled spots down it's sides and serrated gill plates. This bastard brother of the perch is rarely seen nowadays and when it is many believe it is just a dower perch. But I know who it is. He is the pope or Ruffe . whichever you care to call it. Time spent chasing him has giving me a discerning appreciation for this little fish I call pope'

I journey north to test the water. Rumour has it that big smooth hounds hang round up until late in the summer in a sandy tidal trough between Scroby sands and the land. So I find myself at Caister on sea fighting the dreaded red weed . 
For two hours I have stood next to my rods casting randomly to check if the weed has piped down as the slack water approaches. My first few casts resulted in collections of weed bigger than my own head. So I wait and watch seals hunt out in front of me. They curiously pop their heads from the water looking over at me as if to check what is was up to. A pair of diving birds dive repeatedly in the same area so there are fish around. If only I could keep a bait out I might stand a chance.

The land behind me is just as interesting as the sea in front. The dunes and  brightly painted buildings remind me of Hoppers paintings of landscapes and I am sure he would have appreciated this forgotten little hamlet by the sea.

The tide has stopped now and the weed it would seem has sunk to the bottom. So I squeeze in a few casts before we must leave and land a single fat flounder close to the shore.

Spending your penultimate night of your holiday sitting next to a huge lake in the dark pulling pencil sized eels from the murky waters as they regurgitate rancid half chewed  maggots all over you may seem a rather unsavoury pastime to most. Personally I found it rather a wheeze!

It was a warm and still night, the lights from the other side of the lake extended right to my own bank unbroken across the mirrored surface. I could hear an owl hooting from some trees beyond the marsh to my left and bats still skim the surface of the water chasing unseen insects.
Ever since I had liberally deposited handfuls of red magics only yards in front of me my glow worm of a float had danced merrily around in the dark. The eels were out and on the move. But oddly the first confident dip of the float produced not an eel but a fish that had my heart thumping.
A hard and dogged fight where I had to pull hard to keep the culprit off the rusty old posts that framed the swim I was fishing ended frantically when in the beam of my torch I saw a huge silver flank. My god I hoped it was a big roach. But brown fins and half to much of a anal fin dampened me down. As this fish was quarter bream and three quarters roach.

A near two pound roach would have made my decade, but a near two pound hybrid only makes your hour. After this a few more perch and another Ruffe came along before the bottom of the broad began to seethe with tiny eels. I lost count of how many I caught before my towel grew claggy with slime.

When I returned home common decency dictated I should remove my trousers and coat before entering so as not to offend Jacky's nose with my putrid stench of eel slime.

Myself and the North sea nearly parted on poor terms. Timing and conditions I have figured mean as much to the sea as they do on clear rivers far inland.
My mid afternoon arrival coincided with the rising tide, which should on most days be a good time to fish as the shoals push inshore to feed. But the sky was like a dome of pure azure for as far as the eye can see and hardly a wave broke on the shore at all. For summer species this would not be out of the normal but as there are few of them around and as the winter species hold off till dark it did not bode well.
All would have not been lost if the conditions would have stayed this way, but just as I clipped on my first rig a savage onshore wind whipped into action. Dashing my hopes of the maximum cast I would need to perform to get get my baits anywhere near the fish.
It's hard to stand and watching time tick away as you know full well the fish will come closer later in the day when you should be packing ready to go far away from the brine. A bit too far that any lover of the sea would feel comfortable about. 
I held out as long as I feasibly could and as I did the crabs claimed all but six of my remaining rag worms. Only half looking at my rods I was already planning a dower Finnish to this tale. But then I caught tiny movement of a rod tip from the corner of my eye that looked nether like wind or wave and brought hope. Could they be moving in early tonight? It went again before I reeled in empty hooks. For the few last casts I gamble on fully loaded hooks and eureka a lovely fat whiting.
Of all the king rag in Britain the two I saved till last are the king of kings. On the hooks they look preposterous, but this is it there will be no 'just one more last cast' as I am out of bait.
On that last cast the sea giveth more than enough for me to feel happy about and temptation for me to need to return again keen. 
Another whiting, but a big one, the best of the trip just as the sun falls and I must leave.

And I do leave, happy and thinking when shall I return...

Back in middle England a few of my rods looked sad from neglect. So I push my luck and sneak out in the wee small hours just to make them feel better and see if they still work.

And they do...


  1. Great post Danny. I'm off to Southwold end of next week for 1 week. Hope the bass are still interested! I've read that there are lots of codling around if you're lucky. Interesting you should mention the ubiquitous squid, I'll be taking a box left over from my (failed) catfish hunt.

  2. Great post and photo's too Dan. Makes me homesick for the briny and the big rods!