The Fens Are Ruddy Fantastic
There’s something special about the Fens that I love. Spreading from Peterborough in the north to parts of Norfolk in the east, Earith in the west and almost down to Cambridge in the south, it’s an enchanting place to fish. For me no season is complete without a trip or two to this land of the big skies chasing rudd, pike and zander.
The Fens today are rich and fertile arable plains stretching out to the distant horizon, a far cry from the times when they were an endless sea of bogs and marshes, inhabited by a breed of Englishman you simply didn’t mess around with. The Fen Tigers were a fearsome bunch, believed by many to have webbed feet! They lived in simple houses on stilts and they fought fiercely to protect the marshes. They didn’t want them drained as it would ruin their livelihoods. They even paid their taxes in eels!
It didn’t stop people trying, though. As far back as 43AD the Romans attempted to tame the land by erecting barriers to keep out sea water and to reduce flooding. They built drains called lodes and dykes, even attempted to straighten the Great Ouse.
The collapse of the Roman Empire gave way to an Anglo Saxon invasion and then came the Vikings. Everyone had a go. When the Normans conquered England the Fens were the last remaining vestige of resistance. No-one messed with Hereward the Wake and the Fen Tigers. When Hereward’s rebellion eventually failed things finally settled down and the drainage of the Fens began in earnest. Landowners and the church joined forces in cutting dykes but it was not until 1630 that a ‘great plan’ was introduced. Cornelius Vermuyden, a Dutchman, who had successfully drained Hatfield Chase, the King’s hunting grounds east of Doncaster and out to the Humber, was recruited to drain the Fens. Though far from completely successful he did shape the Fenland we know today, but the floods didn’t go away.
They persisted until the 19th Century when steam driven pumps were introduced. These helped to a degree but the great floods of 1947 still managed to swamp 25 square kilometres of land and led to the Great Ouse Protection Scheme being implemented and the creation of the massive Great Ouse Relief Channel.
Finally the Fens have been tamed, or should we say managed, because no-one knows how long this will last. As the rich, peaty soil dries out the land shrinks, some places are now 15 feet lower than they used to be. The water in the rivers, dykes, drains and lodes stands much higher than the surrounding fields, contained for now between man-made banks of soil.
But enough of this history. What draws me back is the fishing. Nowhere else in the UK gives me quite the same sense of isolation. Sometimes you can be miles away from the nearest angler but you’ll never be far away from a pike or a zander. However, in recent times the species that has caught the attention of me and numerous other specialist anglers is the rudd population.
Rudd are possibly the most beautiful of our coarse fish species with their burnished golden flanks and the richest vermillion fins imaginable. Sadly they are rare in many parts of the country but out on the Fens they seem to be everywhere and they can be caught at specimen sizes in countless waterways criss-crossing the landscape.
The species can be enigmatic, painfully shy and difficult to tempt at times but turn up on the right day and they are easy to catch. If there’s a drawback it’s the hoards of smaller rudd that abound and make catching a big one difficult because they all occupy the same swims. Although shaped like a roach, rudd have bigger mouths and will wolf down quite large baits. An 8-ounce rudd, for instance, can easily swallow a piece of breadflake the size of a 10 pence piece and this makes sorting out a specimen quite difficult.
Early morning and late evening are the key times to fish. This is when the bigger ones are more active and when I say bigger, a two-pounder is a realistic target these days and a three is on the cards if you put in sufficient time and effort.
Rudd are suckers for bread flake and you can stimulate them into feeding by introducing mashed bread, which is stale bread that’s been soaked in water and rubbed into a mush. Drain off the water and stiffen up the mash with a little white groundbait or better still, sausage rusk. The alternative is to feed liquidised bread. That’s just fresh white bread which is given a quick Jamie Oliver ‘wazz’ in a food blender!
The most successful method is to travel light. You need a match rod, a landing net and not much else. Of course, big rudd will not be found in every swim and you can try spotting them using polarising sun glasses that remove the surface glare or you can do it the easy way.
Break off a few pieces of crust, say about the size of a 50 pence piece and throw these into the main flow of the water. Stay a good 20 yards behind the crusts and follow them downstream. Small fish will try and whittle down the crusts but eventually a pair of lips will engulf the bait, sometimes quite delicately but mostly you’ll see a huge swirl. You’ve found your rudd!
Set up a small crystal waggler with no shot down the line, just a size 10 hook loaded with a big pinch of bread flake and cast a little way upstream of where you saw the swirl and allow your bait to run down through the swim. Chances are the response will be instant and with a bit of luck you might soon be marvelling at the sight of a specimen rudd in your landing net.
You can see exactly how it’s done in the DVD, Caught In The Act which is available here.
Fishery Of The Week
Just 1.5 from Junction 35 of the M6 Motorway this fishery was created on the site of a 30 acre gravel pit. The site now boasts 9 lakes, mainly aimed at the pleasure and match angler but the 15-acre Jimmy’s Lake boasts specimen pike, carp, catfish, tench, eels and other species. A carp weighing 38lb 3oz established a new lake record in June 2012. Open every day from dawn to dusk with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, hot food and fishing tackle can be purchased on site.
Borwickfishing is situated on Kellet Lane, Near Borwick, Carnforth, Lancashire, LA6 1JU
Tel: 07984 399637
Web site: www.borwickfishing.co.uk