Coarse & Fly Fishing from the Broads to the Levels

The last summer weeks have really rushed by. It’s hot and I’ve been all over the place, dashing up to London, then to Norfolk, then back to Devon. With a rare whole week off, I hit the road and pressed escape.

Work or a holiday? These two things have blurred dangerously in my life of late. I’m love every minute of my fishing, but I’m never fully off work. There’s always a notepad, a camera.

Garrett Fallon is always a man with a story. We fished the hottest day of the year on a lake north of Brighton, and it was both heaven and hell. Heaven, because we found a garage selling early and I was sipping a bottle of Punk IPA by breakfast time on the first of three small lakes. The water was black clear in the sun as we talked rubbish, did a lap, lost a fly or two, found small rudd.

But there was also death waiting in the lilies. You don’t expect murder to turn up uninvited, in barbeque weather, when you’re looking for carp. But there it was, a large pike that rocked the pool and devoured a moorhen chick, right in front of us. Garrett used a word that started with ‘F’ and definitely wasn’t “fascinating”.

It was already getting insanely hot, so we moved to a smaller, leafier pond where there was cover and lots of basking carp. As overgrown as it looked, I immediately reached for the fly rod. I started with a flying ant pattern, cast into shady pockets where an insect might fall in for the carp. I got a response straight away and missed the same common twice as it mouthed the dry fly. But the next chance I did better, connecting with a solid little mirror carp. Good fun on a five weight outfit.

carp on the fly

As we caught more fish, as the sun became brutal. The early start. The heat. We were hanging and the fish had become wary. I was melting. Felt like I could easily and quite agreeably pass out. But these ponds are magic. The sort of place you could fall asleep, wake up and it was 1986, Brexit never happened and summer was endless.

Judging by Garrett’s tackle, it could still have been 1986. I like to gently take the piss about this old clobber, but his 80’s Daiwa match rod and Mitchel Match reel worked a treat. Or at least in his hands it did. Using a simple stick on two float rubbers as a float, he flicked his bait into the sunny middle of the pool.

What a fine old fight he had too, with this mirror of eight or so pounds bending every inch of the carbon blank, from an era when all the main companies still made their rods in the UK.

As for Norfolk, it was an epic. A long drive into the east, leaving London for the flat lands and the great open plains. The scenery is always so different to my home in the West Country. It’s more like Holland, if anything. Big open spaces and lots of waters.

I was very much looking forward to catching up with my mate Jim Sutherland too. A really keen lure and fly angler, he’d been telling me for ages I should pay him a visit and fish local. We really mixed it up over the four or so days, moving from the Broads to the River Wensum in the centre of Norwich.

What a brilliant fishing city this is. We hopped between bars and buses, targeting bream, roach, chub, perch… it was epic. Norwich is crawling with little shops and bars too, should you want to stop for a pint, or grab breakfast, or even shelter from a thunderstorm.

Clear waters here make for brilliant sight fishing too, with lots of visible shoals of fish and predators close by. How the fishing world has changed though. Just about every angler we met in the town was either lure fishing for pike, or trying for carp. The only guy trotting looked fairly sozzled, his mate clutching a bottle in a brown bag. But this Norwich lot are friendly.

It’s probably a bit of a rarity to see anyone fly fishing, but I never let that get in the way of some decent sport. I fancied trying it for the chub, but they were supremely wary, probably the result of living in such a public place and being fished for often. They wouldn’t touch a dry fly, but I managed to tempt one on a size 12 bead head Black Spider.

Norwich Wensum fly fishing chub

The rest of the trip is a blur- and you can catch more of it in the Angling Times in the coming weeks in my Far Bank column. We had brilliant variety, from Jim’s local stream to a fly fishing trip on Filby Broad. We had hoped for big rudd, as I’ve long wanted to break the two-pound barrier.

We had an enjoyable but baking hot day on the boat, casting to rising fish. It got choppier at times, but by targeting the wind lanes, we saw the fish feeding hard. They were odd too, finning at the surface with rippling tales and dorsals in the heat. “Broads Bonefish” wouldn’t have been far off the mark.

Hatching off the lake in dozens were smallish buzzers, pale or olive in colour. I had a perfect little size 16 emerger in the box, which the fish accepted readily. The better fish were few and far between then, but we had plenty to around the half pound mark.

I’d had a brilliant week with Jim. The other great discovery was the Fat Cat and Canary, home of some spectacular beers, staffed by craft anglers! Everywhere we went, there were great bars and waterside pubs- and so many swims to fish it’s unreal. Spectacular fun.

So even if I didn’t get my hoped for monster rudd from the Broads, I absolutely loved Norwich. I’m not sure I really wanted to leave. The food and the beer were amazing. The fishing was just silly. I had become one of Jim’s extended family for the week.

How odd then, that I’d gone to Norfolk hoping for a huge rudd, but would then find one right on my doorstep at home. I thought I may have one earlier in the summer, when I’d had a great day out with David West Beale on the Taunton to Bridgwater Canal, as he fished Tenkara and I fished my usual four-weight tactics for the rudd and roach. There are usually good numbers of fish to a pound plus, but you never quite know your luck.

This is really hypnotic fishing, with so much to spot. Once you get the flies right (mine are mostly soft hackled wet flies in sizes 14-18) the bites usually come frequently. David’s Tenkara flies certainly held their own though- with small, swept hackle goldheads drawing rapid strikes from the rudd. Curiously, I often barely retrieve at all for these fish, but David was fishing the induced take and getting quite a few to inhale aggressively (for those interested in Tenkara, his blog is always a good read).

That particular occasion we were beaten by the drift and stiff winds that made fish spotting and presentation tricky. But today was another story. After dropping the wife off on a weekend course, I had a four hour free hit to try again. The rudd can be a pain to track down. They’re not always where you found them last. But after taking a long walk, I narrowed down a shoal of four or so really bulky, big fish.

I had seen the small shoal under a weed raft, picking quite actively at the surface. Could one of those be a two-pounder? The best was absolutely solid, but the smallest looked big. When you finally spot that fish you’ve been after for months on end, your nerves change. I made a couple of abortive casts, trying not to spook the shoal. I paused and tried to judge which was the biggest of the fish. The fly dropped gently. A couple of times it was refused. Another, I jerked the fly clear after a smaller fish tried to grab it. I couldn’t risk spooking the shoal!

Finally, I put the fly just in front of one of the better fish and it turned. I saw the lips flash open and closed, struck and the water crashed. It was a really solid fish. It raked straight through a chain of streamer weed and needed to be held really firmly to stop it getting mired up. Most tense of all were the moments before the net though, the fish plunging under my feet beneath overgrown banks. The whole rod was warped over, heaving. For a few horrible seconds, it found more weed. I lowered the net. Would the 4lb tippet hold?

specimen fly fishing Dominic Garnett

Yes! I knew immediately this must be bigger than my previous best fish of 1lb 14oz. I weighed it in a lightweight bag… two pounds, three ounces! A passer by took a photo. Perhaps I should have got one or two more, but I was keen to get the fish back as quickly as possible. What can I say? I’m still in shock. What a fish to set the summer alight.

And now is a magical time to be fishing. All my friends seem to be catching- with three amazing barbel on the fly so far and some huge chub and others. But it’s also the time you get off, to take things more lazily. Good then, to fish with my brother Alex up in Walthamstow, along with our mate Vince and his son. We revved to the Lea Valley in his van and found a cool spot to catch small roach. No two pound rudd here, but very pleasant on a summer afternoon.

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