By Mark Williams

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Crisps at a banquet

I should have spotted the signs two years ago, when I took on running the lake... when that first bundle of Canadian pondweed bound with strands of algae landed on the jetty.

It was midsummer, and I'd decided to rake the weed from a swim so our anglers could fish effectively. To get this done, I'd had a giant weed rake built, fully three feet long with tines both sides of the rake head, tied to a length of rope. Chucking it out was difficult and hazardous, but it soon found its quarry and had me heaving like a docker on a quay, hauling in a mass of weed. 

On the jetty, the weed positively seethed with life; hoglice, damselfly nymphs, tadpoles, newts, snails and even fish fry struggled to escape the blanketweed. The building blocks of a natural fishery, where the fish have everything they need to thrive. 

Two years later, bites are still hard to get, but I and my fellow syndicate members are very slowly getting the measure of the lake. What we're up against are fish which are really well-fed and which don't really need or even recognise the alien food we are presenting on our hooks. We're offering a bowl of crips at a gourmet banquet. Only the pike seem less discerning, and wolf down every moving thing.

While one syndicate member has landed three bream over 9lb in a sitting, and two carp over 20lb in a couple of hours, I'm still languishing at the foot of the fishing league table. Three weeks ago, however, I was a hair's breadth from having a fish that would raise a few eyebrows. 

Rob and I were on his punt (electrically-powered - so much nicer than breathing petrol fumes) and after a couple of hours of lure fishing for pike without a result, were chatting idly as we cast out. Mid-conversation, I felt a pluck on the line and tightened down to a fish was clearly no monster. "It's just a jack," I said, and horsed the fish towards the boat.

As it came within netting range, the fish rolled; simultaneously, Rob and I said "Perch!" Rob reached for the net, the perch rolled and the hook came out. But we'd seen it clearly, and it was huge, for a perch. Across the belly it was as wide as my hand. We knew it was at least 3lb, maybe more. So we slogged away until darkness fell like a veil across the water, and then silence, motored back to the bank, the only sound the lapping of water against the punt's hull. 

Last week, we made a return trip, armed with huge worms and tackle better suited to perch. But the big ones evaded us. Rob's giant lobworm baits were attacked but not swallowed until he fished just a small piece of worm, resulting in some bonny but disappointing small perch. My jinx continued.

As the sun dipped towards the poplars, it was close to time to head home, but we stopped half way, dropped anchor, and Rob cast a couple of maggots out under a float where we could see signs of fish rippling the surface. 

His float dipped immediately, and after a short tussle, he lifted from the water one of the UK's most beautiful fish, a rudd. In the setting sun, its gold flanks glowed like a log fire, the scarlet fins ablaze. It wasn't a big rudd, but here was another fish we knew existed but had rarely seen. Further casts resulted in more rudd; the water literally rocked with movement of the shoal as they barged around trying to get to every maggot Rob threw to them.

In a water like ours, rudd won't stay small for long. Somewhere out there, the mother of all rudd lurks. when the short days of winter have choked back the weed, and with it the feast of insects our rudd have enjoyed all summer, well be out there again, trying to wean the hungrier ones onto our baits.

Maybe that old perch will be peckish again. Perhaps those giant bream will be truffling like pigs in the mud, looking for something to eat. And if not, there are always the ravenous pike. 

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