Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Year of Song - Dave Marrs

Many have been the band or musician referring to a particularly happy or memorable year through their song or performance.  This is nothing new and indeed from the top of my head, performances by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra ‘It was a very good year’, Kid Creole and the Coconuts “Best years of our lives”, to the one I perhaps enjoy most of all, David Bowie and “Golden Years” all spring to life. This is a recant of what to me, was perhaps the very best and most enjoyable year of my angling life.  An idyllic time spent enjoying a great job and then time off spent fishing some of the loveliest venues of a hallowed corner of the country, deep in the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens.  I certainly often find myself reliving what were great days, which were very easy to bear under the sun, the mood and now, the memories.

Currently with a couple more really young kids I can’t really do a lot at the moment fishing wise nowadays.  I do try to snatch hours here and there lure fishing, but other than that I really need the missus to disappear to relatives for the odd weekend before I get to have a ‘crack’.  Without wishing to appear discontented, I think it is also worth mentioning that over the last couple of winters very occasionally, I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of the odd day out on the boat with Rob Shallcroft (thanks Rob) and the Portabote and I also get out here and there when we can.  Such a day out is a real treat, always enjoyed and is always eventful – even if it isn’t a fish stacked bonanza. It really makes for a great day when you wake up thinking that something eventful is going to happen and packing kit the night before, sleep doesn’t come too easily and it reminds of days when my time was my own and I chose my own pursuits.  How times change though, back in the day I always tended to be very comfortable in my own company truth be known, aside from fishing with one good buddy I actually preferred to beat my own path.  Although my very best friend Nick Clare (get well soon mate!) and I fished together fairly regularly, I think it is also fair to say that I’ve managed to fish more nights on my own in remote Fenland venues, than my missus has ever bought shoes!  Each night and each venue fished during a decent stint before I bit the ‘married’ dirt again, brought many different and many unique memories to be mouth-wateringly savoured these 15 years on.

Summer 1998

So with a bang, I started my third season on the Fens, having moved to Lincolnshire back in 1995.  I must point out at this stage just in case I haven’t before, that for the vast majority of my angling life I’ve been a Zander fanatic.  Having heard rumours of them not a million miles from where I grew up in Corby as a young lad, I actually caught my first proper one from a Leicestershire pit in 1993 at the first time of trying and the following season, I caught my first two doubles of 11lb 9oz and 10lb plus three back up 9’s too, the Fens didn’t give them up so easily though.  I’d started on the Fens in the summer of 96 and by the time that the 98 season came around, I’d had a hard earned double of 11lb 6oz with a couple of 9’s and quite a few other Zeds of varying sizes from four of the five Fenland venues I’d been concentrating on.

By the opening night of the 98/99 Season, you just couldn’t get rid of Baddiel and Skinner singing ‘3 Lions’ in their moronic tones (I sincerely would love to see the pair of those chimps with 3 Lions on their chests……) for another of England’s attempts at the World Cup. I attempted to escape it all and the first session of the new season saw me on a swim I’d found on a large Fenland river the previous September.  Originally I’d seen the area mentioned in an Angling Times return, ‘Zander showing at…..’ and when I turned up for a look midweek, a dead Zander of about 3lbs which had been recently thrown up the bank (a big match had taken place the weekend before), was starting to fester on the bank.  I gave the fish back to the Mother river and set up my kit.  I can honestly say I was so excited, as my previous and only trip to the swim in Sep 97, saw me enjoy a fantastic if somewhat unpredictable nights sport.  I’d put two rods out, one live-bait paternoster off the near shelf in about 14ft of water and a dead-bait cast to the middle of the river (hardly scientific fishing) I then wondered as the cloak of darkness covered the river, when the Zander were going to put in an appearance.  In those days, I catnapped in a chair with a sleeping bag wrapped around me, there were no comfy bed-chairs in my armoury then and as midnight came and passed, I began to feel that perhaps this river was going to be a tough nut to crack.  At about 0340hrs I was awoken from my slumbers as one of my very cheap buzzer alarms sounded.  Grabbing the rod, I was frustrated as I missed the run and also lost the live-bait which had been doing the business.  I re-baited and put the rod back down on the rest as I reset the monkey-climber (check out me back in the day……).  The one thing I couldn’t understand was why I couldn’t set the indicator as it was repeatedly pulled out of my hands – “A run you nob”, I quickly wound down and hit what was clearly a run and was happy as the through action, 9ft Mitchell Merit VST leger rod was bend double as a decent fish held sway.  Eventually I managed to get the fish under control and landed a 16lb 4oz pike, which at the time was my second best and thrilled me to bits.  It was followed an hour later by another pike of about 9lbs or so, then as soon as it got light, I started getting run after run and landed (but missing a few too) four Zander to 5lb 14oz.  To me, this was an extremely interesting first night on what was going to become one of my very favourite venues and one on which I’d spend a decent bit of time over the next 12 years or so.

Anyway, back to the first night of the season.
On my first trip of my two weeks holiday, I arrived after the 70+ mile drive an hour or two before dark on 15 Jun only to find the bank completely overgrown and deserted.  My baits went out immediately and by the arrival of darkness, my somewhat flimsy and definitely not fit for purpose DAM bivvy was put up and I just awaited the arrival of the toothy terrors I was after catching.  If you’ve never done it before, I’d wholeheartedly recommend a spot of night fishing.  To me, the anticipation I feel as I watch the sun sink at the end of a busy day, the calm in the air as the traffic dissipates on the surrounding roads and the open air orchestra as bird and insects come alive, makes evening time a true joy.  The rods went out at midnight, a brew on the go and I sat back on my chair making a bet with the devil on my shoulder.  A run before 01.00am I bet and I honestly can’t remember the forfeit that I promised the devil I’d pay (within the confines of my own tiny mind) should I not succeed.  Not to worry because at 0047hrs I had my first run of the season and within a couple of minutes a nice zed of 6lbs 11oz sat within the confines of my net, within an hour I had another of 6lbs 2oz landed and returned.  To me that was a real result but it wasn’t over there, as the dawn cracked a run saw a beautiful pike of 17lbs 6oz landed.  Interestingly, although I fished this area many, many more times over the next 13 years, I’ve never landed another pike anywhere near this size from the stretch.  Bizarre, to land two pike in my top fice in my first two trips to the area I really thought I’d fallen on pike heaven.  Another nice pike of 11lbs finished off what was a cracking trip as I packed up first thing in the morning and headed home to watch the previous evenings World Cup game on replay the next morning.
The rest of my two weeks summer holiday went in a haze of fishing, beer and World Cup games.  I fished until I could fish no more, driving hundreds of miles with the price of fuel not being quite the totally inhibiting factor that it is today. I fished almost every night, then drank beer and watched the World Cup game at home each morning, before heading to bed and starting the whole process off once again each afternoon with a quick trip snatching live-baits.  I fished 4 different venues during two weeks in Jun 98 and caught zander from all, the holiday culminated in a superb new PB of 11lb 10oz on the very last night of all.  I flew back over to work and as I wasn’t due in work until the next afternoon, I scampered down to the bar to catch up with the lads and the gossip.  As an added bonus, England were playing Argentina in the World Cup semi-finals.  Say no more but as the West Ham fans hanged effigies of David Beckham from the heights, I was already getting ready for my next fishing leave.

Back again – September.

Robbie Williams was belting out ‘Millennium’ and was at number one in the charts as I headed back for my next trip home and onward to the Fens, to be honest I much preferred the Manic Street Preachers and their hit ‘If you tolerate this’ truth be knownAnyway I was on my way home and joining me on the transport to the Airport was none other than my Officer Commanding, he was a top bloke and absolutely encouraged a real ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude, which of course all of us lads in his Squadron absolutely loved.  Don’t get me wrong, there was no weakness, if you dropped the ball he was the proverbial ton of bricks but he always fought tooth and nail for his lads and was a real blokes, bloke. We had a chat during the half hour journey about what Disco Dave would be getting up to on leave, then he wished me the very best of luck with the zandering and we parted ways as he flew North.  Getting home about lunch time and picking up my car, I went to my Mums office for a brew and to say hello, I then headed back and packed up my gear.  I had a hunch and headed back to the very first Fenland drain I’d ever seen, let alone fished.  I’d had a good number of sessions on it over my first two Fen years but although having landed a few Pike and a very big Eel of over 4lbs, I’d never yet managed a zander from it.  This my 3rd season in attempt - would this be the night?

Once I’d visited a decent little area of the drain and bagged a couple dozen live-baits, small skimmers, roach, rudd and perch, sorted, I headed off a couple of bridges downstream.  Hitting the swim I fancied, one I’d fished a fair few times I started to set up.  Three rods were the order of the night.  One bait was fished just over the inside shelf a couple of rod-lengths downstream with a nice little bait banging away on a sunken paternoster.  One dead bait was cast on a ‘popped-down’ rig to a far bank culvert and another live was cast to the middle two rod-lengths out.  I sat back and waited, wondering if this would be the night I cracked my duck on this drain.  As I relaxed and the day’s events and travelling took their toll rendering me a bit sleepy, I sat back in the chair and watched the cloak of darkness descend.  I will never tire of the atmosphere, a remote Fenland water will bring as darkness falls, and the wildlife literally seems reborn as all around you comes to life.  Bats performing Arial wizardry, birds in song and rustling everywhere as field mice and other creatures move in the grass beneath your feet.  Your senses are heightened and sitting back with a nice cup of tea, you can suck it all in and just melt away.  Before long it was dark and I was dozing in my extra comfy chair, a sleeping bag wrapped around me, warm and in one of my favourite places sleep took me and I dozed off.

I didn’t have too long to wait, as at about 0045hrs I had a run on the inside rod and could feel the pressure of a smallish fish struggling to resist coming in.  I soon had the fish under control as it was as I suspected a small schoolie Zed of a couple of pounds.  It was only as I pulled it across the top beaten towards the net that disaster struck and my first zed from the drain fell off an inch away from the draw cord of the net.  I was gutted, totally gutted and to make things worse, as I pulled the rod out to check the hooks and re-bait, the zed had managed to get the rig tangled around my middle rod on the far bank as the alarm on that started screeching.  Or so I thought!  On checking the rods, I actually had a screaming run that was taking line at a rapid rate of knots.  I wound down and hit the run, an awesome feeling hit me as this fish felt pretty substantial indeed.  Under control and no mistakes, a nice zed started making boils right underneath the rod tip, it fought well but was soon in the net and I was thrilled to bits as it was a nice fish!  On the scales it went 9lb 3oz and I was thrilled to bits – I had to fish the drain for another 5 ½ years before I would beat it.  Another schoolie shortly afterwards and it was a happy, happy man who packed up first thing in the morning and headed off home for a few beers with his dad later that afternoon.  Chuffed wasn’t the word, I’m still bloody smiling about this one now as I write this 15 years later, what an enjoyable session.  I fished that swim a fair bit during the two weeks off I had and managed quite a few more zeds as they were resident, I learned that some years it fished and then others, it simply didn’t.  I also managed a 13lb 6oz pike which fought like stink in the darkness, lean, mean and striped like a tiger that pike went like an absolute train as it fought and fought.

Later on during my leave, I arranged to meet up with one of my army buddies who had fished when he was younger but as adulthood arrived, he gave up, preferring the other delights life offered.  We served in the same squadron and so being on leave at the same time with Roy hailing from Peterborough which was pretty much directly on my route to the Fens, we agreed to meet up and I picked him up on the main ring-road by the Edith Cavell junction.  As we drove East, I couldn’t help myself singing the praises of my chosen venue to Roy promising him that we would catch big preds for sure.  As it was going to be a social, we stopped off in a little Fenland town near to the venue and dived in for some beer.  Bonus, there was a stash of  two pint cans of Fosters left over from the summers World Cup promotions and so we bought a few of those to see us through.  The plan being to stay up and fish for as long as we could but have a lazy stay the next morning and head off after lunch, midweek we wouldn’t be in anyone’s way.  

It was almost dark as we pulled up to the swims and got the rods ready.  Roy had brought his mega-gucci ridge tent which took him about an hour to put up, I got two rods out for myself and one for Roy and then popped up my little day shelter, which was really all you needed if rain wasn’t on the agenda.  By the time I finished and cracked open a beer (I always operated a strict, ‘no beer until the bivvy and rods are out’ rule) Roy was just about set up and sat on the spare chair I’d brought along.  I kid you not this was to develop into about to one of the most enjoyable sessions I’ve ever had, as no sooner than I’d sat down and sipped my first beer and I was away and wound down into a substantial feeling fish.  One feeling I really hope I’ve not felt for the last time, is the feeling in the pitch darkness as you strike into a solid zed in fourteen or fifteen foot of water thirty yards or more out in this big water.  It is an immense feeling as the rod doubles over and a very obvious moving weight makes its presence felt on the other end.  Brilliant, it was a very excited Roy who placed the net in the margins for me as the fish ploughed about in its attempts to escape.  ‘Don’t move the net Roy, let the fish clear the drawstring and lift’, I needn’t have worried as Roy professionally netted what looked to be a cracking zed and one which may go double figures.  Old Roy was jumping about excited to bits as he looked at this fish which I weighed in at 9lb 9oz.  He took a cracking photo and we were both chuffed to bits, for me it was job done as we’d managed a real decent fish and hence saved my reputation (Zanderman Disco Dave in the bar back overseas at work).  It wasn’t to end there either, we must have had about 20 runs that night as I landed six zander and a couple of pike, whilst big Roy had a small zed, a couple of pike and I lost a total munking zander after allowing it to wallow in the marginal lilies before I could net it for him, definitely a double for sure!  As things quietened in the early hours we bid farewell as we headed to our respective bivvies all of ten yards apart.  A lazy morning and brunch turned into an interesting lunch time as we noticed some disturbance on the far bank.  I quickly cast a small bait over to the disturbance and quickly caught a schoolie on the drop (a fairly common occurrence on this water I found, a few years ago when the schoolies were in evidence).  Roy had a cast over too and nailed this small zed almost immediately, however that was to be the end of that session as we ran out of bait.  I drove back home, dropping Roy off in Peterborough on the way and headed off for a few pints with my dad which rounded off a great leave in good style!

Back Again – End of the 98/99 Season

Aside from a few days snatched at New Year, I wasn’t home again until March and I was to be fishing with my best mate, Nick Clare who’d recce’d a stretch of a serious big fish water and we had planned to enjoy a three day/night session on a pretty remote stretch.  I always enjoyed my fishing with Nick, he’s a legend and a very good angler to boot.  Having so much in common, we always had a good laugh too be it at ourselves or anyone else we could rip the piss out of.  The year before, I’d seen Nick off and caused all his alarms to go off at once in the middle of the night but watched in shock as he dived out of his bivvy then headed straight down the bank head first into the margins.  If he ever found out that was me, he’d kill me so I hope he isn’t reading this!  We set up anyway, three rods each and were only fishing a few hours before Nick managed a nice 14lb 8oz pike.  What a nice fish but such great pike didn’t half give you the feeling that you were playing the mother of all record zander, when you hooked into them in the middle of the night!  Now we didn’t have all the fancy all-weather clothing back in those days but I guess we were four stone or so lighter too and so layers of ‘last years fashion’ gear tended to do the job (not!).  Nick and I enjoyed literally a couple of tinnies of beer and retired to our respective bivvies, the rods being on the alarms.  Tucked up in my sleeping bag on my very first bedchair, I was chuffed to bits, nice and warm.  Fortunately events were to see me getting dragged out of my slumber as a dead chublet fished on the far bank was taken.  I’d only had one zander previously from this venue and it had weighed all of about 1lb, but this one was fighting well and feeling a bit better in size.  Soon Nick had it in the net and it looked like a half decent fish, weighing in at 8lb 1oz.  Oh well, I hadn’t blanked and I don’t know about anyone else but I always find the end of the season a really hard time to catch.  If you can find them, you’re laughing but it is hard to find them, so more often you’re not laughing!

That being the end of the nights action we settled into the mammoth three night session and the daily routine which right now with two young’ uns’ at 8 months and 2 years old, I dream of.  Getting up, a brew and butty, back to bed for a snooze, check the rods, check the bait and all is well, catch a brew and back to bed for a snooze.  I get no sleep now and I often dream of the bivvy days.  Anyway I digress, that was the end of the action for the pair of us as we didn’t experience another run.  I suppose we were quite mad as we’d decided that run or not we’d see if we could bore out one of the drains big fish, but alas it wasn’t to be.  That said, another chap joined us to fish a few hundred metres away on the second day, a really decent bloke called Paul Woodward from Arlesey, Beds.  Would you believe that we had 6 baits peppered all over the drain, four lives and two deads and Paul tipped up and from a swim about 200 metres away caught two18lb+ pike in his first hour of fishing!  I felt like giving up.

Anyway, Paul and I talked about a small drain where we both used to fish for bait and he mentioned its pike potential having taken a few good fish from there himself.  I couldn’t believe him to be honest, the drain was to narrow and shallow for a big double to turn around in surely.  As the last morning of the 98/99 season was to dawn, it was very cold, damn cold with all the ice and bright skies you’d expect of your worst Zander scenario for the last day.  To be honest I was threaders with it and packed up very early in the morning, three nights in one swim is something I find very difficult to do and in fairness, I was just gagging to get in the car and disappear.  My dad and I had arranged to meet about lunchtime to watch a recording of what was to be a great boxing match, Lennox Lewis v/s Evander Holyfield.  My time estimation suggested that I had still a couple of hours of what had been my favourite ever fishing season left though and I felt it would be remiss to allow it to go to waste.  Therefore the car packed up solid with all my gear, I bid goodbye to Nick and wished him all the best until I could get back the following June and we could fish again.  I also said goodbye to Paul, he was a ‘proper’ specimen hunter and a real good bloke, a bit older than us and with some very fine fish under his belt – a very decent bloke too, I’ve never met Paul since and so if he is reading this, I hope all is well with you mate!

I was itching to drive home but didn’t want to waste the last day of what had been my most pleasurable season ever.  I’d had great sessions in the sun, the rain and even in minus 6 conditions on one of the hardest Fen drains ever, everything this season had turned sunny side up – it had been truly fantastic.  Normally on the last day I enjoy a small parade, where I let my livebaits go, wishing them well for the future but on this day, I decided to visit my bait catching venue and put a rod out for pike.  The car was crammed to its gunnels with crap from the three night session but I made sure I could grab a rod and net and so, a 6oz roach was paternostered just off a pumping station in literally two foot of water.  Well, it was only there about  five minutes before the float disappeared and a powerful fish took off.  I couldn’t believe it, what a beast which when landed and weighed, beat my pike PB by a full pound at 19lb 2oz and it was caught Ppiking, not whilst zandering (although I’d have taken a zed from the water if on offer – but to this day, I’ve never, ever heard of one from here).  Talk about chuffed, this season had truly been the very best season of my life from the very first night, through to the very last minute.  I headed over to enjoy the video of the previous evenings boxing (remember video’s?) over a pint or two with my dad, I really was a very happy bloke all the way home.  Truly, I enjoyed many more catches during the 98/99 season and although I’ve upped most of my PB’s since, I don’t think I can remember a season I’d rather sing about though……………….

Dave Marrs Aka Fentiger01

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