Summer dreaming by Bill Brazier
The dawn chorus was in full swing.
As I pushed the old punt peacefully through the bed of sentinel-like bulrushes and lily pads which encircled the forgotten lake, my face was tickled in sparkling, dew-laden cobwebs.
The freshness of the early summer air was nothing less than invigorating. Despite the sun still being shrouded by a thin veil of mist, surely such a start to a day would make anyone appreciate life.
The stealthy glide to my chosen swim was not appreciated by a moorhen looking for breakfast, as fibreglass and bird almost briefly collided. A miniature pike, also eager for a meal, was startled from its ambush point amongst the dark green stems. The belt of pads flinched and flicked either side of me as shoals of golden rudd flitted away, their shoals briefly breaking formation in a blind panic. Once I drifted past them, and into slightly deeper water, my gaze immediately became refocused on the chosen area, some fifty yards opposite. Had the pre-baiting worked and attracted my desired quarry? I took the calming coo of a lakeside wood pigeon as reassurance for all my hard work and preparation. Nevertheless, even if no tench existed in this lake, I would still happily while away countless hours in unspoiled seclusion, simply glad to be by the water.
The serene natural beauty of dawn Tench angling
With the boat carefully tied in position to a set of mooring poles, I made my first cast. The black-tipped float (often more visible than orange or red, particularly in low light) plopped gently into some six feet of gin-clear water, just beyond a narrow strip of submerged lily leaves; ‘cabbages’, as they are often referred to. The clarity of the lake was so great, in fact, that I could easily discern and observe the abundant invertebrates which littered the vegetation. Snails, Great Pond and Ramshorn varieties in particular, along with numerous types of cased caddis larvae slowly grazed their weed-festooned home. Further off the lakebed, numerous beetle species scuttled around, including the imposing Great Diving, occasionally surfacing for air, otherwise hunting from frond to frond. On an even smaller scale, swarms of water fleas hung in the shallow margins filtering microscopic algae, interspersed by vibrantly coloured red aquatic spiders. A profusion of Pond skaters danced hypnotically on the water’s surface. As usual, water and its surroundings were teeming with life and yet, regrettably, I knew I was one of the very few who truly noticed it.
Pond snails adorn the lillies and "cabbages".
Somewhat inevitably, my bait was ravenously engulfed by many of the lakes rudd population. Although not my intended target, how could anyone dare be disappointed at catching such pristine and beautiful fish; blood red fins and glistening golden scales. Before long, they largely dispersed. Maybe they had had their fill of maggots, or perhaps old Esox was lurking nearby? As the morning grew brighter, nature, incredibly, seemed to become even more animated as the skies filled with feathered characters. Swallows batted the lakes surface and Reed Warblers picked at reed stems, both gorging on insects. A couple of Coots typically quarrelled and took turns in chasing one another between overhanging willows. A Great Crested Grebe silently and skilfully searched and dove for small prey fish. A pair of swans, with five cygnets in tow, glided through my swim, nibbling at pieces of floating weed as they went. A cheeky Pied Wagtail repeatedly bobbed around the rim of the punt. A brilliant flash of blue whizzed past me, signifying only one creature; a kingfisher. Like the Wood Pigeon earlier on, I took the occurrence as an omen, too.
Cased Caddis larvae go about their daily routine
Then, as if on cue, a patch of small bubbles suddenly surfaced to my right. Surely they had to be caused by a feeding fish? Any doubt in my mind was cast aside as another set appeared alongside the first a few moments later. More than normal when fishing at such close quarters, I remained motionless, my eyes transfixed on the float. I am a great advocate of the old Izaak Walton adage “study to be quiet”. Bubbles continued to pop to the right, but the float refused to budge. Suddenly, almost underneath me, I noticed a swaying of the cabbages. I looked downwards for a few seconds but saw nothing. Probably a shoal of rudd or even a large water snail falling off its perch… But then, as I was lifting my head to watch the swim once more, I discovered the culprit. It was indeed a fish and it was indeed a tench. But this was not your average tench, or even above-average. This was, quite simply, unbelievable… Time seemed to freeze, and all of the wonderful sounds and sights around me temporarily faded out of my consciousness. I tried and tried again to adjust my eyes to what they were seeing drifting in and out of the weed beneath the boat. It was a tench. It had an adorable teddy bear-like red eye; a slime-covered coat of olive-green scales; a rounded dorsal fin; a tail not too dissimilar to the shape of a paintbrush - all of the defining features that make a tench, a tench. However, the proportions were simply all wrong. This fishes’ eye, whilst red, was not adorable so much as impressively large. The usually minute scales were instead individually quite visible due to their size. The dorsal was rounded but was seemingly approaching the size of my own hand. And the tail was literally the size of a large masonry paintbrush. As if to confirm my suspicions that I was seeing a truly enormous tench, a fish more representative of the species followed in behind. I instantly reasoned that the second tench was a good four to five pounds. But how could that be? I found myself comparing the pair side-by-side, in excellent water clarity, and still refusing to believe my own eyes. One was easily twice the size of the other!
Rod set, now pondering on what lies below
I was astonished, shocked, frightened and excited simultaneously. The experience embodied the very reason I go angling; the mystery and the marvel of the natural world. Both fish drifted further out into the swim. Standing up would have offered the elevation required to actually observe my hookbait, and the proximity of the tench to it, but such an action would have been foolish in the circumstances. A minute later, the float finally dipped ever so slightly, and again, before nervously disappearing from view. Could this be the monster tench? I held my breath, braced myself and struck.
This was truly the stuff of dreams…