John Bailey: That’s no ordinary goldfish, Mr Heron, that’s my fish barometer
PUBLISHED: 10:45 06 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:45 06 November 2019
Perhaps you can care too much, feel too deeply about the challenges that face our fish and fisheries. After all, they were here before we arrived: they will be here after we have gone. I hope.
My goldfish won't though. You'll remember Saturday morning just gone I do not doubt. I was up around first light to do some work before the rugby and looked out of the window onto my beloved pond. It is a ritual I have grown to love, but not that day. It took me a second to register but there in the grey light was a great grey heron actually in there, a fish in its beak, the silhouettes of two more bulging out its scrawny , greedy neck. I shouted and the bird heaved its way out of the water onto a neighbour's roof whilst it digested its morning's labours. I had woken too late. The morning that wet, windy morning, dragged on, the more I came to realise my whole glistening shoal had been hoovered by Mr Heron.
The fisherman in me was quite amazed. I had seriously not expected a heron to be at work on a pond the size of a table top in the middle of a Norwich housing estate, but I should have known better. In the aquatics department of Taverham Gardening Centre a little later that day a whole litany of heron disaster tales was laid before me.
Blimey, a fish would not be safe in the middle of Jarrolds it began to seem like and in that way my admiration for the whole heron race began to grow. But of course there was much weeping and wailing within the household. It was remarkable, even to me as an angler, how quickly those little shop-bought fish had learned the lessons of their life. Morning and evening, they knew where to swim to be given their food, and at what time. They would accept it from the family but were suspicious of strangers and they had their own rigid pecking order, an especially bossy young Koi always taking first dibs. Most unexpectedly, and usefully for me, when my goldfish were not really up for food, neither would those tench, chub or roach be out there in the wild. If the food I threw in before a day's fishing was not quickly consumed, I had a fair idea that my baits would hang around in a similar manner. So that heron had not just eaten our beloved fishy darlings, it had consumed my early warning system into the bargain.
More happily, Nicola Harvey from Anglian Water got back to me regarding the river abstraction issues I raised in last week's column. She is eager to show me the ultra modern filtration system AW has installed at its Norwich works and of course I will go and I am open to being amazed and comforted. I'll still be asking why all Norfolk's rivers have shrunk decade on decade all through my life and where this will stop. I'll also be curious as to where the new golf course at Weston will be getting its water. And I'll also be delving into how one of the potentially largest waste recycling plants in Europe could recently be given permission to operate just yards from the river. Plants like this have a dark history of pollution and fire occurrence and both threats make the Wensum more vulnerable than it ever has been.
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I've also been looking through the publicity blurb she sent me. One sentence caught my eye and it reads "although fundamentally there is still the same finite volume of water to go around the Wensum and other rivers in Norfolk, we'll be preventing any extra stress on the ecosystem in the river in future". There has to be sense in that somewhere and I'm sure Nicola will explain to me what it is.
There has been an equally wide reaction to the campaigning work of Feargal Sharkey that I drew attention to. Talk about "passionate anglers" and that is Feargal on the subject of his chalk streams. Several wise anglers reiterated what we all know: it is a tragedy for fish, fisheries and for fishing that the sport is so fragmented. Angling does not speak with one voice but those of the carpers, the matchmen, the predator boys, the trout anglers, the beach casters, the boat fishermen and a host of other niches even I know nothing about. Until we all sing in unison, I fear we are easily picked off as my goldfish.
Last Friday, I was out on the upper Yare with a friend I was guiding. It was a killer of a day, my goldfish were alive then to tell me it would be, and we were both amazed when his float eventually buried and a chub took a fancy to a piece of sweet corn.
We both knew it was a very, very big chub by the power it displayed in barrelling for the overhang opposite.
When my friend denied him access to that, in historic chub fashion, the fish dived under the marginal growth at our feet. That is when we saw it. The chub had spots and teeth and Phil had hooked a truly whopping pike. I know a big pike when I see one and this fish was not less than 27lb or 28lb. Moreover, it looked broad, deep and in fine condition but don't be looking for the photograph. The size 16 gave way as it eventually had to and the bruiser disappeared downriver. A shame but never mind. Like that heron, another predator had amazed me. Who would have expected a Moby Dick of a fish to exist so successfully in water barely deep enough to cover its back.
Bewildering but then, isn't that exactly how we like our fishing to be?
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