I had watched them feed from quite close up only days ago so I knew where they were. For hours I studied the knocking lily pads and patches of fizz that rose as they perused morsels of the lake bed. At first it had all seemed to be the random movements of multiple tench which I suspected were in the area. As always though time told, and after two dawns and two dusks when I was unable to fish for them but could watch them, I was able to decipher a definite patrol route. It wasn't a big patrol either considering the size of the lake. Starting at the north end of the little circuit they were making, the tench seemed to be moving in small groups along the shallow margin sending up puffs of coloured water as they did, till they arrived at the start of the lily pads. Immediately as they came to the lily's, the first three pads on the corner leaves would knock and signal their arrival. Then they seemed to move away from the shelter of the lily's and track along them about two feet out. As they came to the gap in the lily bed all noticeable evidence of their presence stopped until they again came along side the next jutting patch of pads. The next stretch of lily pads was the biggest on the route and most times the fish lingered here a while sending up tempting signs that they might be feeding beyond the covering of round leaves. Slowly the groups would move out and at the very last pad turn and come back into the margin where I could actually see them sometimes. After that they seemed to cut diagonally across to the nearest reed bed before moving out of sight only to reappear fizzing along maybe twice as far out as they had before. It took me a bit of careful plumbing up to figure that they were following a very slight marginal shelf back from the southernmost point of the patrol up to the north where they would begin all over again.
Three days it took me to put all that information together as it wasn't just one lot of fish moving around the route. I'd tried to count as best as I could but the most I'd seen within a small space of time was nine possible tench. Knowing where they were was only half the solution as they did seem to be feeding as they went, but judging by the lack of interest the two carp anglers had got in the days they were pitched up in front of the paroling fish with a margin rod each, these tench weren't into big baits at all.
I am sure JB noticed me drifting off into la la land pondering my move over the following few days, though if she did she was good enough to not mention my mooning. The biggest problem was the general shallowness of the areas in question. I had thought about targeting the slightly deeper back run they took to get back to the northern end. The problem here was that I had already discounted using even light bottom rigs as the random patches of weed sprouting from the bottom would only mean a line cutting through the swim somewhere and so a float rig seemed the better option. But the light float rig stood no chance being fished on the further line due to the excessive filamentous algae blowing up the lake which would destroy my patience very easily.
It had to be the close in line and it had to be one either end of the patrol that I would fish. That way if I did hook one I had at least half the water in front of me open so as I had some area so play the fish on the light tackle. As for bait it was to be a sparing affair. Corn struck me as a bit too obvious in the shallow water and maggots wouldn't linger on the bottom long enough to attract their attention. Casters though were light enough to sit on top of any silk weed and a little helping of pungent but unobtrusive ground bait, should lure them down.
Three days after leaving I was back again at first light. Just about the only thing moving on the bank was the bloated mosquitoes returning from their night raids on Bivvy's along the bank. The dawn chorus was under way and as I carefully took the short cut across the top of the giant rabbit warren on the slope down to the lake I did spy a couple of pars of long ears and the odd white tail before they shot back down some hidden hole. The lake was flat calm with wisps of mist rising off it but as yet no fish dappled the surface. Although I walked through many pegs I only stopped once to admire the cadged orchid that had popped out of it's chicken wire prison and now was beginning to flower freely above.
I knew even if I saw something tempting as I tracked along under the trees that I wouldn't stop, as I only had one area in mind. One of the carp anglers still remained where he had pitched up seven days prior at the south end of the patrol route. The north was free and this was were I crept down to the bank. Not wanting to create to much of a disturbance I had brought my pole and pole cup along for some stealthy baiting. In the full light of day I wouldn't consider sticking an alien shadow over the shallow swim, but in the half light I knew it should go unseen. Three pots of fine uncompressed ground bait with a good helping of casters as well before I retreated back to the trees to watch and wait.
The rod was barely assembled when the first fizz broke the surface. With the baited spot on a clear gravel patch not two rod lengths out now undeniably occupied I tried my very best to quietly get as close to the only bit of cover available. There was no need to for plumbing as I had noted the various depths of the areas and so all I had to was slide the thin peacock quill two inches above the second ring of my rod. Now all I had to do was cast! The first cast went no where, it was as if something was hampering the line coming of the spool. Still trying to keep hidden checked the entire set-up only to find the line going around the rod at the join between the two sections. A quick twist and I was ready to try again. This time the pea sized ball of rig putty dragged the line and float just beyond the target clear patch and all I had to do was hold back whilst lifting the rod to get the bait spot on target.
Immediately the float was signalling all the right things from the bottom of the lake to the surface. Twice the float slid side ways as something slowly brushed against the line. Now I just needed to do was wait for that proper bite to occur whilst ignoring the multitude of knocks and taps. Then perfectly the float did a couple of nervous bobs before lifting up and falling to the side.
It was like a mine had gone of under my float! The water just seemed to grow in mass before a bow wave shot out from it. If that wasn't shocking enough the instant commotion caused several other fish to bolt out of the shallow water all heading in different directions. Any fish that finds itself hooked in little depth goes berserk and this tench was no different. It made four or more savage runs out towards the centre of the lake and me holding the rod low and trying to stop it reaching the weed beds just made it swirl on the top. For the sake of any fish I caught Id purposely brought a particularly long landing net along so as pulling capture into the inch deep edge could be avoided and soon enough I slipped my first lovely Coombe tench into my over extended net.
With all the disturbance I honestly thought not a single fish would still be patrolling and the sun was about to be the wrong side of the trees so it was unlikely I would get a second chance. So happy with my capture I resolved to leave it alone for the day, but not after rebating all along the patrol route with a return the following morning in mind.
The World Cup put pay to an early start so it was evening before I found myself marching back to the prebaited area. I knew all the bait would be long gone, but hopefully the fish would have committed the smell of it to memory. The bank was deserted with even the carp anglers seven day vigil over, so rather than go back to the swim at the north of the patrol I instead opted for the southern turn. Fishing here closer to the lily bed would enable me in the bright sun to again use the pole pot to bait up accurately using the cover of the pads to mask it looming over the swim.
Almost right on cue I spotted signs of movement further down the pads just as the sun began to drop towards the horizon sending shadows half way over the lake. I didn't wait to for signs of feeding on this occasion as I wanted my bait in place before anything turned up to feed. The tench began fizzing right on cue about three feet along the lily line from my float and it was an agonising watching the patches of tiny bubble rising intermittently ever closer to my bait. Then once again my float rose from the water just after a massive fizz clouded around it. I never waited for a millisecond before lifting the rod swiftly up to my left in the vain hope it would head away from the snags. Heaven be praised, it went the right way and straight away I was up leaning out with the rod at full stretch trying to stop it heading round the corner. This fish did one massive hard run before turning round rolling on the top and coming to the bank like a aged bream. I thought at first maybe it was just a little fish that had gone mad until an open mouth and red eye appeared round the reeds then I saw its fin and flank, but then it just kept on coming into sight. This was one of the longest tench I have ever seen and although the angle I was holding it at in this self take doesn't show it very well, it was as long as I am wide.
As with the session before, the commotion caused by hooking a fish in shallow water caused any others to disappear. Though this time they melted away rather than stampeded off like the last time and then I to like the fish packed up and melted away home. Right now I find myself satisfied by just catching just one decent fish at a time and given that every bite counts on this lake it kind of makes a little sense walking away after such a catch rather than hanging around wanting to catch a bag load and whining when it doesn't happen.
But before I left I once again deposited all the bait I had left along the patrol route knowing full and well it wouldn't be long before I was back again...