It was more than just the anticipation of the fish, but as much the mystique of the place that was responsible for my excitement in the build up to the Christian Anglers November fish-in. The Fens, like the Norfolk Broads are woven into the folklore of pike angling, with monster myths and legends to match. There is a bleak and brooding majesty about these inhospitable waterways, dug in the flatlands by Cornelius Vermuyden's teams of Dutch and Scottish prisoners of war back in the 17th Century.
Our bunch of fishermen, drawn from Leicestershire, Hertfordshire, Sussex and Northamptonshire, arrived at the designated meeting point in dribs and drabs, to be met and greeted by local Christian Anglers organiser John MacAngus and Ray, who owns the rights to this particular stretch of drain. John originally hails from Leicestershire, but Ray is a lifelong "Fen tiger", and a proper gentleman to boot.
Deadbaiting was the order of the day, and soon a variety of sliding float rigs, running legers and paternosters were being cast into the drain. I elected to fish one rod with a legered eel section, and the other fished slightly overdepth using a Polaris self locking pike float. My float, with half mackerel bait had only been in the water for a couple of minutes when it started erratically dancing around, before pulling away determinedly. A quick strike was met with resistance, and after a couple of runs and a bit of splashing a small pike saw my side of the argument and was drawn over the net, wielded for me by John.
Half an hour from arrival and a pike on the bank, things were looking promising. However, it proved to be a false dawn, as despite the array of 26 rods that the 13 anglers were employing, and the veritable menu of mackerel, sardines, smelts, eel sections, lamprey, pollan and coarse deads (and the occasional cheeky spinner or lure), only one further pike was landed, another young cub of a pike, beautifully marked and a lovely bright green colour, which fell to Paul's rod; once again, the successful bait was half mackerel, fished under a float.
The weather was changeable- at times inclement (we were even treated to a brief hailstorm), at times sunny, and at all times with the hint of chill that is an inevitability as the wind whips across the flat landscape. Shortly after midday we wound the rods in and broke for lunch. Tim, a lay reader from one of the local churches joined us for a chat, spoke briefly about his faith and said "grace" for us, before we tucked into welcome bacon rolls cooked by John on a couple of gas camping stoves.
With the exception of the punctured tyre misadventure that befell the Hertfordshire lads ( the RAC man's face was a picture as he drove reluctantly on the mud and grass to the hapless van) and a missed run that was Pete's misfortune, the afternoon passed without event, save for the conversations, endless cups of coffee and frequent micky taking that always forms a part of Christian Anglers fish-ins.
We packed up in a rain squall just before dark, and gathered for the end of day presentation. Ray's son, Andrew Field, is one of the country's top floatmakers, and an exquisite pike float that he had made was on offer for the day's best pike. In the event, "best" was not determined by size (my pike was slightly bigger than Paul's, a fact confirmed by photographic evidence, but still denied by Paul!) but by looks, and Paul's was, indisputably, the prettier of the two fish. Despite the difficult fishing, a great time was had by all, and massive thanks must be recorded to John and to Ray for organising such a special day.
Like someone once said: "it's called fishing, not catching", and this was fishing at its challenging, yet enjoyable best. Good company and a day spent in a wild, wet, windy yet beautiful corner of God's creation ...... what more could anyone ask for?