SI Vault
Robert Manning
October 17, 1960
These and other so-called coarse fish, long despised by the trout and salmon aristocracy, brought 1,212 fishermen to the Norfolk Broads for a matchless match
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October 17, 1960

Bream, Roach And Gudgeon

These and other so-called coarse fish, long despised by the trout and salmon aristocracy, brought 1,212 fishermen to the Norfolk Broads for a matchless match

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At his peg the fisherman got the first intimation of what the draw had brought him. For some the peg proved to be a sunny perch atop a barbered stream bank, languorous and pleasant whatever the fish population. For others it was a comfortable hideaway among thick streamside weeds. For a few score of unfortunates, pegs were precarious positions on flooded lower banks, with water knee-high and scarcely a place to position a basket seat. The one woman among the 1,212 contestants, who bore the name of Mrs. Duck, found herself buried in a small forest of bulrushes. A chap no taller than his five-foot keep net found himself pegged into mud that came to his thighbones. "It's a mug's game," he muttered, sloshing about like a mad muskrat in search of a place where his gear would be safe from the wash of passing pleasure craft. "I should have left my blinkin' gear behind and brought my blinkin' swim costume."

"Buck up, cock," said his neighbor, who could see over the weeds, "it's just the luck of the draw."

"Aye," said a disembodied voice from the watery peg adjoining. "If Lady Look's with you, that's all there is to it. Last year I had a dream of a peg—four foot of water and three foot of bream."

Fast start

While stewards watched for rule violations (no advance ground-baiting, no wetting of ground bait), anglers assembled rods. These were mostly nine-to eleven-footers with butts as thick as fungo bats. From sacks and boxes they poured ground bait into buckets, ready to dampen it with water and cast it into the stream the instant they heard the starting signal. They threaded lines, chose hooks (few larger than a No. 12) and laid out Rube Goldbergian arrays of floats, bobbers and sinkers and tins and boxes of maggots. Here and there an oldtimer positioned his umbrella as a sunshade. A safe distance back, friends, wives and children spread blankets, parked picnic baskets and settled back to watch.

A flare exploded in the sky over The Broads. Whistles screamed. "Lines in!" bawled the stewards along miles of riverbank. It was 11 o'clock. Each angler quickly baited his hook with one, two or three maggots, cast his line hastily into the gently flowing stream and with his free hand began madly dipping ground bait. All art was dispensed with in this operation, each trying to lure more fish to his swim than his neighbor; it was a monumental barrage, and within seconds the waters were cloudy with dissolving balls of ground bait.

The ground-baiting provoked great headshaking and laughter from veteran fishermen of the Norfolk Broads who had come to watch. "If that river war' London and that ground bait war' bombs," said one, "there wouldn't be a building standing."

"Aye," said another, "and if I war' fish I war' halfway to Land's End by now."

Tense immobility

Bream and roach are sneaky fish. Their presence has to be almost as much sensed as felt when they nose about a hook. To snare them requires such concentration that bystanders are not supposed to talk to contestants during a match. The Broads gleamed and preened in the sun. The fishermen perched silently by their pegs, like so many tethered herons, tensed for the slightest feathery tap of a snout on a maggot. If their attention was diverted momentarily it was only to munch a dried-out sandwich or take a pull from a Thermos.

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