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Clocks going back brings back fond memories of winter fishing

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As I write this latest version of my local angling column it’s Sunday, October 31 and apart from being Halloween the clocks also went back an hour which for me signals the start of winter.

It brings four months of uncomfortable fishing (cold weather and consequential much reduced catches). And to reinforce that grim projection it is raining horizontally outside with a near galeforce wind. But there will still be anglers out on the bank as not all are fair weather participants.

I was one of the bold (foolhardy maybe) anglers who 30-plus years ago was not deterred by any weather no matter how extreme. I just could not understand why some anglers stopped going out when November arrived.

West Stow CP Lake in the snow. Picture: Chris Boughton
West Stow CP Lake in the snow. Picture: Chris Boughton

Thirty four years ago I got a new pole (only 11 metres long back then) for Christmas and nothing was going to stop me using it at the first chance I could wangle to get out of the house.

I lived at Lackford at the time and Bury St Edmunds Angling Association had control of the fishing at West Stow Country Park Lake which was just a three minute drive from my house. So on Boxing Day, undeterred by snow and a frozen landscape, I made my way to the lake as soon as it got light enough to see a float.

I did not walk far and settled down at the peg with the lily pads just short of the water overflow that ran into the river Lark. The lake was well and truly frozen but I had a large weight with me attached to strong rope and despite the brutal conditions, I made a hole at 11 metres (yes the pole had to be tested at its full length).

In those days I was quite hardy and was not bothered by extremes of temperature and I persevered for three hours with my new toy before retreating home fishless and disappointed but I felt I had to give it a good go. I was the only angler on the lake but it had to be done.

I know there are carp anglers locally who are equally not put off by adverse winter weather in pursuit of their fishing passion and I admire them for it. But they have bivvys to help protect them from the frosty winds that make moan!

I however was determined to christen my new pole with the capture of something and the following day I went to the river Blackbourn near Sapiston Bridge at Honington. Bury AA had the rights to fish downstream to Euston weir but I fished on the other side of the bridge in a free stretch of the river (well I think it was free as I fished the spot opposite a big over-hanging tree many times) catching mostly roach and a few chub.

The width of the river here was perfect to run a float along the far margin, something that was doable with a rod and lie but much more tricky controlling the float and avoiding snags. I got to use all 11 metres of the pole with a short line slowing the float down as it trotted along the far bank. Bingo, I caught big roach steadily from a swim I knew well but had never fished with a pole before. I was hooked, ‘poleitus’ as they called it back then. Despite snow on the ground, a hard overnight frost and a bitterly cold breeze I had a delightful fishing session (five hours this time) in the bright winter sunshine.

I had many fishing trips to this section of the Blackbourn usually fishing alone but my oldest son James came with me on some trips but was too young to fish, so sat on a box and watched (and talked!).

However, I cannot complain about the Euston end of the river as I enjoyed several match wins on the stretch over the years fishing stick float, bread punch and liquidised bread as feed. A lovely method of fishing to employ to catch river roach and chub.

I also used to pleasure fish the bends in the river at Fakenham Magna which lies between Euston and Honington with good results. I recall bumping into Bury AA Chairman Woolf Cook on one occasion on the Fakenham stretch. Woolf used to seek out the chub on a roving basis with good results.

Former long-time Bury AA treasurer Nick Bonney and his brother Bob were also very successful both with pleasure sessions and club matches on various stretches of the Blackbourn circa 30 years ago. Their uncle Rue Houghton, a local fishing legend, fished the Blackbourn regularly too in his late seventies. It was a longish walk to the pegs at the Euston end of the river where the Bury AA matches were held with uneven ground to navigate across two fields that often included bulls. Rue was a delightful man who despite his age never missed a match on the Blackbourn. You could not easily deploy a trolly across the fields but it was a pleasure to help him with carrying his tackle which many of us did, especially Nick and Bob.

The Euston section of the river where matches were regularly held in the winter was very peggy and you usually needed to draw one of the first three pegs just up from the weir to have a reasonable chance of winning. I was lucky enough to draw there on several occasions and consequently had a few wins.

The area you did not want to draw was aptly named cyanide straight although I did manage to win the club’s President’s Cup from a peg at the upstream end of the straight with a net of several roach and a 3lb chub about 33 years ago.

The river sadly went into serious decline after repeated incidents of pollution and consequential fish deaths. And despite Anglian Water’s bold restocking endeavours, the river never fully recovered and the club gave up its lease of the river from the Euston estate several years ago.

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