Fishing the Cam at Christmas time
Going fishing with my dear friend Percy over the festive holiday was always an experience. You never knew what to expect when you entered his house on Newmarket Road in the centre of Cambridge. Anyone who knows this area of Cambridge will know it is a very busy road even at 6am on a cold frosty December morning! It is a dual road with a central island and being busy double yellow lines are right the way through to the outskirts of town. Not that this ever worried Percy as he would always park up outside his house to load his fishing tackle in his little white fiesta van. For over a decade I too parked up and got all his stuff loaded in my car and never once did I get a parking ticket despite often being outside for at least half an hour! Percy was never on time and so I use to pace up and down his hall looking nervously out of the window to ensure that the police were not outside. I never knew, but I did think he had some sort of a deal with the local plod or was it just that he was so infamous a character that they could not be bothered and it would be something like "Oh that will be Percy's mate picking him up to go fishing". Percy's house despite the efforts of Pat his wife would be carnage over the Christmas period. Christmas decorations neatly placed would be hanging down from where they were supposed to be and an assortment of balloons would be at different stages of deflation, the long ones would look particularly weird, all crinkly and condom like. (we don't hang balloons in clusters now), everyone has gone all designer. Percy's y-fronts would be drying on the radiator along with his fishing socks and Pat's tights. There would be an assortment of chewed bones on the floor. Percy blamed Jimmy dog but I did think perhaps the old man had knored on them and just slung them on the floor for the dog. It must be appreciated that whilst I was on a fishing trip with Percy I was basically his driver for the day and valet and the like. I was always made welcome but had to conform to Percy's ways which would mean waiting until he was ready which often took ages!! One Boxing Day he had overslept and as I entered his living room Percy came out from the back of the kitchen (the bathroom was on the ground floor, extending off the kitchen) appeared this grey hairy naked thing, with a fag in his mouth. "Pass me my pants son!" "What the ones on the floor by the sofa or the ones on the radiator?" I asked. "Them ones, them ones". Percy pointed to the floor. I was faced with a dilemma. A great big naked bloke drying his hair with a kitchen cloth, yes, the type you dry your dishes with! Wanting his pants from the night before. Naked man, or do I pick his pants up? "Oh never mind", he proceeded to pick them up in full view. I am convinced the dog covered his eyes with his little paw. "you are dripping water all over the carpet" Pat screamed. Percy replied "never mind" and proceed to use the kitchen cloth to dry himself! We usually did manage to get out of his home by around 7am which in December was just about first light. I had a young family and so I liked to be home for lunchtime and so we would not venture far. The Cam in and around Cambridge was our favourite venue. The silver fish would shoal up in and around the town centre stretches and along the moored boats at the Penny Ferry and along Chesterton Fen. Opposite the Plough pub at Fen Ditton was particularly good as the tow path willow trees offered some shelter from the wind and there are quite a few deep water swims in this stretch of the Cam. The wind would often be off your back in this area which meant you could use a light pole float rig and fish between 4 and 7 metres, just edging your float along with the flow. Bread punch was and remains the favoured bait along with small balls of liquidised bread thrown in to attract the fish. In all but flood conditions I fished on 8 x 16 rig with a fine pole tip and a fairly long line. Bites would be naturally instant. If they were not then you knew within an hour you should move pegs. Roach up to 1 lb would be what were were after. Occasionally you would get a Chub up to 3 lb or a few skimmers, but it was Roach we were after and a good morning would produce a catch of between 10 lb to 12 lb fish between 4 oz to 8 oz with a few large fish. Great sport. The art of it was not to over feed and to keep the fish on the line, sometimes you had to move out from 4 to 7 metres as the day progressed and as the light would get better. A trick I learnt was that even if the fish did move out, every three or four fish caught I would drop back on the 4m line. It would be this line that produced the better stamp of fish and many a time I have had a right old tussle with a Chub or Bream. They seemed to sit just off the main shoal. Another blinding tip Percy taught me was to occasionally put double punch on the hook. Not just go on bigger punch size. Try it! It definitely works. I think Percy stumbled on this tactic as probably he only had one size of punch but it often produced for me and I have won quite a bit of coin in matches using his method. If the Cam was losing colour because of cold nights then we would often switch to feeding hemp and less loose bread. Catches would be less in such conditions but you often had better quality fish. To this day these methods work extremely well on the Cam and only recently our match was won with 10 lb or so on the punch. Sadly there is only a limited window of opportunity to fish this way on the Cam as when the University rowing crews get back from their extended holidays it becomes very busy with rowing eights on the river from the end of January. I try to get down on these pegs at least once or twice during the winter. The other lads who often we would see on the venue, Tony Offley, Tony Phillips have sadly passed away, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of some smoke puffing up in to the sky from Tony's pipe and Percy's cigar and Jimmy dog trotting between us all climbing over pole rigs laid on the ground and tripping up bait tins!! Such fun. Footnote At our AGM we present the Percy's Pants Award. Yes we still have a pair which he used to clean the trophies.