Norfolk Broads Pike Fishing Trip
Since writing my last article, I have only had chance to fish twice. The latter session was the Norfolk Broads trip which I mentioned last time. Both trips were extremely fulfilling; but for contrasting reasons. One resulted in my biggest pike catch ever. The other was a full-on experience, with hardly any fish action at all!
Due to the Norfolk session being a pike-oriented trip, my friend Matt and I decided we would have a confidence-building pike session first, on a venue we both knew well. It ended up being an exceptional day in terms of the number of pike caught. I took a dozen fish on lures, from a 100-yard stretch of water and Matt took the largest pike of the day – 14lb 4oz, on a deadbait; along with a few perch and some lost pike on a jig.
We had found a huge concentration of pike, which only seemed to be interested in slow-moving baits. I caught the majority of my fish on a large Mepps spinner, with two fish caught on a Salmo plug. Both retrieved very slowly, close to the bottom. I find this to be a reliable tactic in the colder months. My largest fish of the day just scraped into double figures, which meant just two double-figure pike between us, from a total of 13 pike caught. This told me that we’d hit on a pre-spawning congregation of pike, making use of the abundant roach shoals which were evident. Jack pike (the small males), will always out-number female pike when it comes to spawning time.
On to Norfolk…
So, with that confidence boost, spirits were high for our planned trip to Norfolk. We got a great deal on a small holiday cottage with it’s own moorings right outside, and also booked a purpose-built fishing boat for our two-day, two-night trip. The gear was loaded into a Transit van and we set off for Norfolk straight from work. The boat was tied-up on our mooring when we arrived; ready for us to set-off fishing at first light, next morning.
Dawn came around extremely quickly, and after a quick breakfast we loaded the tackle, the all-important coffee flasks and a hip-flask of scotch, into the boat and set off. The mood was perfect – a true angler’s dawn, with light mist still hanging over the water and thousands of waterfowl greeting us with their morning calls.
Every few metres we passed a likely-looking pike swim, but had to resist our urges to fish, as we knew only a few of them would actually hold pike. Due to the shallow nature of the broads, we concentrated on the main river for a start – looking for deep bends, overhanging trees, sheltered bays and broad/dyke entrances. After weeks of research and reading, this seemed to be the best advice for the first-time broadland angler in winter. The boat was equipped with an echo-sounder, allowing us to constantly analyse the depth as we travelled.
From my experience of fishing drains and rivers in the past, I tend to spend a good while in an area I think is likely to contain fish. Often I’ve fished a swim for an hour or two without a run, then returned to the same peg later in the day, to catch a few fish. This suggests that the fish have definite feeding spells. The same fish could have been laying dormant in your swim all day, then something suddenly triggers them to feed. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of sessions on a water to work out the feeding patterns and spells, and time was a luxury we didn’t have on this trip. So, we opted for a mobile approach, to cover many swims with various baits and methods, in the hope of finding one or two feeding fish.
The first three swims we fished were the outside of a sweeping bend – with depths up to 8 feet and overhanging trees; then the entrance to a small broad, with an island either side of us – with the shallow broad behind us and the main river in front of us; the last was another, shallower bend – with a reed-fringed bay just upstream. By this time we hadn’t seen another angler! There were, however, literally thousands of water birds, including countless coots, but also tufted ducks, goldeneye, Egyptian geese… and the odd bird of other species mixed amongst the flocks!
Observing the wildfowl made the journeys between swims really interesting and luckily we’d taken the binoculars along. As we were reeling in to leave the broad-entrance swim, a heron which had been creeping around suddenly ran along the bank, towards the boat. Neither of us had seen this behaviour from a heron before – usually they vanish upon sight of an angler. We theorised that the bird was used to anglers and the sight of us reeling in meant the possibility of a free meal. So, not wanting to disappoint the heron, we threw a deadbait in it’s direction, which it swooped for and grabbed with ease! I got the digital camera out at this point and we filmed the heron as another deadbait was thrown, before we upped-anchor and set off for the next fishing spot.
As we were nearing a village with a few boat yards which we were planning to fish, an olive-coloured shape dipped over our heads, then swooped into a tree. We knew instantly what this was – a green woodpecker. So we manoeuvred the boat closer to the bank for a better look – only to spot another woodpecker (male), foraging on the grass beneath the same tree! We were gifted with an excellent view of both birds for a couple of minutes, before they carried on their way.
We too continued our journey and passed a few other anglers, before finding a boatyard to anchor in front of. We each had two rods – one set-up with a float-paternostered deadbait, the other a float-legered deadbait. The rods were cast to optimise our coverage of the boatyard entrance area, with one near-bank rod, two cast close to moored boats and one in the centre of the entrance. The only problem with fishing close to boatyards is that the boat traffic on the main river is far busier than other stretches, so you have to reel in frequently to allow boats to pass. Still, it wasn’t a boat which was responsible for the following bizarre event. Nor was it a fish!…
Having just cast out a far-bank rod, I sat back in anticipation, when a swan in full flight, just 3 feet off the water’s surface, flew straight into my line without even flinching. Unfortunately for me, I had my reel in baitrunner mode, and the speed at which the swan hit the line caused the biggest bird’s nest I’ve ever seen. It was a heart-breaking mess of around 20 metres of braid in one almighty tangle around my spool, which looked impossible to untangle. Still, I’m of a patient nature, and I set about attempting to untangle the braid with my numb fingers. After a bit of banter from Matt and some light-hearted “I hate fishing” remarks from myself, 40 minutes later I succeeded in getting the tangle out. I couldn’t believe I’d managed it, but it meant I didn’t have a weak-point in my mainline caused by cutting and tying my braid back together, so it was worth the almighty effort!
So, four very different swims fished, seven miles of river covered with four rods and various different baits, and we hadn’t even managed a run. Still, we expected the fishing to be difficult and we were trying to better our PBs, so the morale remained high as we headed back towards our moorings. The Broads Authority doesn’t allow motorised trolling, so you must use oars if you wish to try this method. I’m not sure why this rule stands, as there is nowhere else I know of which has this legislation. Still, neither Matt or I had tried trolling for pike before, so we decided it was worth a try. The boat had adjustable trolling rests at the rear, which made it much easier. We trolled the stretch around the dyke entrance which our cottage flanked, and after a couple of runs through, Matt got a take, which resulted in our first broadland pike – all 3 pounds of it! Despite it’s size, the fish was very welcome, although the irony that it was caught a stone’s throw from our cottage was quite hard to take!
In the past, the moorings opposite the cottage had yielded some large pike, so we put the rods out each night, using a special bracket I made, allowing rod-rests to be used on a pontoon. We set alarms on top of the banksticks and by leaving the back door open, were able to fish for a few extra hours, from the comfort of the cottage – with the rods only 5 or 6 metres away, outside! Despite our efforts with the bankstick adaptors, and remaining as quiet as possible, we didn’t manage a fish from the moorings (which were quite shallow).
Here is a simple diagram of my pontoon rod-rest holder. Make sure the base plate is heavy and large enough to resist the leverage of a bankstick and rod. I also punched holes in the base plate, so that the banksticks can go through the gaps in the pontoon, providing extra security and the ability to adjust the height of the rod rests. The base-plate may warp during welding, but a few taps on an anvil or similar will straighten it out and stop the whole thing wobbling. The head of a standard M10 bolt (13mm) is large enough to finger-tighten comfortably yet still hold the bankstick in place, so there isn’t really a need for a spanner.
The next morning was greeted with as much anticipation as the previous one. We travelled downstream this time, hoping that we may still find some large pike. Once more there were many dyke and broad entrances to try and we decided to give each swim a little longer before moving. After trying two such entrances, we were still without a bite and decided to try somewhere different.
We came across an extremely deep bend, with hundreds of yards of reeds fringing it. Unfortunately, the ropes on our mudweights weren’t long enough to allow us to moor here, but the area looked very promising, so we decided to troll some deep-diving lures through the swim. Not long into the troll, my rod hooped over promisingly. The thing was, I had forgot to set the drag on my multiplier properly for trolling (which is much lighter than for casting), and before we could put stop the boat and reverse, the trolling rest parted company with the boat, sending my rod flying into the water! Catastrophe! Luckily, the large cork handle kept my rod afloat long enough for us to crank the motor up and hit reverse! The lure was lightly snagged when we retrieved it, but I’m convinced it was a larger snag – and not a fish, which had caused the trolling rest to snap.
So this left Matt to row, with me clutching my rod and trolling that way. Then after a short while, Matt was into a pike. Again, it was just a jack, but we found somewhere to moor up and deadbait fish, in the hope that a specimen was in the vicinity. Matt’s float-leger rod went, with a tell-tale steady “bob-bob-run-bob-run” on the float. This fish turned out to be the largest of the day, but we still failed to hit double figures. After this fish, there was no more action until we set-off trolling again, when I was rewarded by a jack pike on a Rapala super shad-rap (quite a big lure!). Another jack came to Matt from almost exactly the spot he’d caught from the day prior; as we trolled back towards our moorings ready for the three-hour drive home to Derbyshire.
There were far less water birds in the downstream section, but we saw numerous buzzards, with their impressive wingspan, gliding overhead. Then as we were investigating the inlet to a small broad, Matt hit me in the back and pointed. There, silently cruising above a field 40 or so metres away, was the unmistakable shape of a barn owl, which is always enough to make both of us stop what we’re doing and just gaze in awe! After a couple of patrols of the field, the owl crossed above the inlet we were in, and disappeared as silently and quickly as it had appeared. This didn’t happen at dusk or dawn – this was 2.30 in the afternoon! The overcast conditions must have brought the bird out in the hope of a meal.
On one hand I regard this trip as a huge success – fishing from a boat is not as hard as it seems, as long as you keep your wits about you. We had some excellent encounters with wildlife and the whole atmosphere of the trip was relaxed and fulfilling. On the other hand, we had only caught a handful of fish between us, and none of these were of specimen size, which was a disappointment. This started me thinking that no matter how much preparation you put into a trip, no matter how many swims or baits or methods you try – if the fish aren’t feeding, you won’t catch them. Still, if you relax and take in your surroundings, just as much enjoyment can be taken from simply being out on the water, absorbing all that nature has to offer. Although catching the fish is a major part of angling, it cannot be taken for granted and it certainly is NOT everything.
Good luck and good fishing to you all.