Life seemed so much less complicated in the 1970s. I had long hair, wore flared denim jeans and grey trench coat, brought from the Army surplus in town, fact was in those days, most towns had an Army &Navy type shop.. A pair of Doc Martins on the old plates and at 6’2” under 11 stone, I looked pretty good, even though I say so myself. All girlfriend’s knew they had to fit in with my fishing, however it was difficult sometimes deciding on a guaranteed promise, or the un-known of catching big roach. I did also fish for chub when the conditions were less that conducive for the roach, that was pretty often to be honest, but the gear didn’t change much, just a lighter set up. One rod I had was called a Peter Stone specialist, at 11′ it had a test curve of a pound and a half, and was perfect in every way for chub and big roach, even trotting big baits for chub in summer, or free-lining big slugs it ticked all the boxes.
Trotting on small waters like the Wensum, was much less difficult than I find on waters like my river Trent these days for example. I would buy a length of peacock quill from the tackle shop (yes, all good tackle shops sold quill) cut it to length, sand it down a bit and use it as it was, no varnish, just Humbrol glow bright paint over a white primer. Two rubbers at the thinner end so you could push one up and fish it stick style, depending on the swim. The only other float I’d carry was a large porcupine quill, used for laying on if the river was up any. We were also well served for tackle shops then too, one was John’s shop, but the other a run by a Match Angler called Tom Bolton.
When Roach fishing in the 70s, I’d use a bait dropper with maggots and worm, then fish either over the top static, or trot if the pace was even, both produced big roach and chub on the day. High water was also the only time I’d buy any maggots (cheapskate) as bread and worms was my main big fish bait. In those days I’d always buy a proper loaf from the bakery in town. More often than not, it would be hot, fresh out of the oven if my trip was an early morning one. Not eating the loaf before fishing was always a difficult task. You could smell it 100 yards down steam, my friends would tell me? Cheese-paste was a controversial bait, in the making and the smell. We always used liquidised bread with blue and cheddar cheese. It got better as the season progressed, and the paste really started to stink. To date 2020, I’ve taken more 6lb chub on cheese paste, than any other bait, bread crust coming in a close second.
In high water with Roach the target, you would fish with a large peacock quill shotted so it was laying 6 inch of line, on the bottom, held in place by a BB shot, fished semi-lift style. Four pound Maxima with a size 12 hook completed the out-fit. One late evening while fishing near a railway bridge, sheltering from a winter rain storm under an old umbrella, I hooked several good fish in a three hour evening session. Two good roach over 2lb apiece and a near 5lb chub, all taken on lob-worm feed with maggots and lob tails in the bait-dropper. Twice, the brolly would be pulled form the ground, and twice I’d re-stake it holding on for grim death in case its disappeared down the valley. I’d only take a brolly if rain was guaranteed, otherwise good waterproofs did the job, remember Barbour waxed clothing?
One night, I bumped into Dave Plummer who had also moved down to Norfolk to open a fishing tackle shop. I liked Dave’s company, a really down to earth Yorkshire man with a passion for big chub. Dave had taken a huge number of big 5ives off the Wensum at that time, so naturally we became friends. Later on in the summer, Dave and I would make trips to Johnson Carp/Tench lake for big tench. I’d also found an under fished lake (at that time) with some very big Rudd in it. I took many big two’s from the lake until Dave took a genuine 3lb fish, but more of the later maybe?
The normal way to fish the Wensum in clear conditions, was to trot with a quill either as a stick float or waggler depending on the swim, depth, or just how it suited you. I must say the waggler was just as good as the stick on those shallow narrow pools. These days a lot of big roach get caught by accident, on both river and still-waters. You will see the headline “Big roach caught by barbel angler” Or carp angler takes big roach on 12mm boilies, it’s often the same MO, fishing for another species and bingo along comes the big roach. I don’t begrudge these anglers their fish at all, but it shows just how fickle big roach can be? And how cruel it can be for the dedicated Roach angler! Part 2 to follow.