It’s ten in the morning on the last day of July. Temperatures are already in the 70s. Car windows down, we’re leaping and bounding into the Howardian Hills but can’t help wondering whether this narrow, winding country lane is the right one. It hardly seems a fitting approach to one of walk seems long. The lakeside path – often claggy and heavy going after a bit of rain – is baked hard. Under these conditions anglers would be well-advised to use a trolley. A large expanse of exposed lakebed along the west side tells a similar story – low rainfall – and an algal bloom hangs in the warm, still water.
About two-thirds of the way up we catch sight of the house. It presents its north aspect to us through a gap in the trees. (You might remember this was the setting for the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was here that Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons sunned themselves on the roof – naked.) But what’s our star up to, I wonder? ‘I’ve been here since about nine o’clock and I haven’t had a bite,’ says Jordan, adjusting the north-east’s most stately homes.
Under the dappled shade of woody Bulmer Hag we pass an austere monument. Here the road finally shows some respect, straightening itself before sweeping majestically downhill and rising again impressively in the distance like a huge switchback. This is more like it!
Passing under the arch of the Gate House, we skirt the mighty obelisk and rollercoast through an avenue of woodland. Near the bottom, away to the right, lies the Great Lake.
We’ve arranged to meet Jordan at the far (south) end, and even without tackle the his cap. ‘It’s too hot and too still.’ Actually, Jordan is enjoying a privilege today. Bailiff Charlie Burr has given him special permission to fish the shallows — which are normally used only in matches. The most consistent match-winning pegs are those next to the old boathouse (now a cafe).
The north-east has few bream waters large enough to host big Open matches — Castle Howard is a great asset – and matches here are usually won with weights in excess of 20lb (9kg). Pegs in the deeper water on the day ticket bank do produce winners — especially in winter. (In the previous week Charlie weighed a pleasure catch taken from peg 32 that went to 64lb 9oz/ 29.28kg – it comprised 22 fish which included two tench.) But in summer, when most of the matches are held, the shallows are a safer bet, which is why Jordan has chosen to fish peg two.
Medium to long-range feeder fishing is the received approach but a groundbait ban makes matters more interesting. Between them, members of the Tek-Neek Niddmen team have developed rigs and tactics to beat the ban and catch fish. The trick is to use peat instead of groundbait, and coloured corn. Says Jordan: ‘About three years ago we used to fish the gozzer and then a lad tried corn and had a 30lb catch. The method is selective in that it catches only big fish.’
The peat is sieved and merely serves to transport loosefeed. The corn can be dyed any colour – red , green and even blue. It’s just a matter of experimenting.
Jordan baits the hook with a redworm and a vanilla-flavoured grain of corn, primes the feeder and lobs the rig 40m (44yd) out. A smart flick of the rod helps to cut the line through the surface scum. Jordan puts the rod in its rest and tightens up to the feeder until there is a very slight bend in the quiv-ertip – which he then watches like a hawk.
Still no bites, so Jordan tells us about his bait. His shopping list for a match includes four to five pints of casters, two pints of hemp, about 5.5kg (12lb) of corn in various colours and flavourings, worms and some red, white and bronze maggots for the hook. ‘I’m a great believer in flavourings. My team mates used to come along and scoff my groundbait,’ he jokes. Flavourings such as strawberry, vanilla, almond and liquorice are used to soup up the sweetcorn — some of which is red and some green. ‘I add juice from the corn to my groundbait and some- over the feed. ‘At the start of a match I usually have a chuck out on to the 40m line -just to see what’s out there,’ he explains. ‘If I don’t get any indications I have a look on the other line and if there aren’t any fish there either, I’ll put ten snooker balls in. If things are slow, I top up with another six balls, say. Gradually I aim to form two crosses of feed.’ times add fizzy pops such as Lucozade or lemonade – too.’ One can’t help wondering whether the slabs of Castle Howard ever make themselves sick!
Over on the cafe veranda, tea-drinkers idle in the shade. Jordan fingers his catty and yawns. ‘I like bream fishing because it has a certain mesmeric quality about it,’ he says. Well, you can’t argue with that!
At the north end, a black speck wheels round in the blue high above the lake. It’s Ozzy – the local osprey – looking for a takeaway jack pike. (Apparently ospreys have difficulty grabbing slabs because they’re the wrong shape). Suddenly Jordan’s rod is up and slightly bent as he winds slowly. In fact the hook is fish-free.
Jordan picks up his 12ft (3.65m) Drennan Big Feeder Rod. This is set up with a heavier (%oz/20g) feeder and 4lb (1.8kg) b.s. main line. He baits the hook with worm and almond-flavoured green corn, fills the feeder, lines up with a tree on the far bank and lets fly. ‘I like to fish two lines. One at about 30-40m, a comfortable chuck – and another nearly as far as I can go.’ A moment later his long-range change pays off and he’s playing his first fish – a 3lb (1.4kg) slab. ‘Now that’s a better bite,’ he says grinning, ‘a big bully whack-round!’
After another missed bite at long range and a mini-skimmer (so much for selection!) it looks as though fish have started to move
We’re all concentrating on watching the tip now and perhaps it’s our united will power that pulls it slowly but steadily round and puts another good fish on the hook. Gently Jordan eases it towards him, and apart from the persistent bend and an occasional nod of the rod top, you’d hardly know there was anything live on the end. Another slab, and it’s a slightly bigger specimen than the first.
A breath of wind makes it over the trees behind us and tickles the lake out towards the island. Jordan’s peg remains untouched. It’s hotter than ever. In fact Jordan has just landed his third bronze back. ‘I’ve known it like this before. You don’t catch many fish but often they’re bigger.’
Jordan lengthens the tail on his rig to about 1.2m (4ft) in the hope that a slow fall might tempt another. Then out goes the feeder, followed by two more balls of peat. At around 60m (65yd) the feeder is lying in no more than 1.2m (4ft) of water. ‘There’s a sort of trench on the inside where it’s slightly deeper – maybe four to five feet -and if you pole-fish caster under a little waggler you can often catch tench in it. You can catch roach one a chuck on the whip too but they’re very small.’
Ironically enough, it’s a stocky tench that manoeuvers itself over Jordan’s worm and caster now. A dip of its head, one good waft of the tail and the fluorescent orange tip pulls out towards the lake – followed by the top of the rod! The fight is typically dogged, but after a minute or so Jordan is well-pleased with this 2½lb (1.1kg) bonus.
Bailiff Charlie Burr good humouredly gives Jordan a bit of a ticking off when he finds out he has finished the session with a mere four slabs and a tench (in fact, under the weather conditions, Jordan hasn’t done badly). It looks as though fishing at range, and the initial steady feeding with the occasional ball of groundbait, has paid off. Well done Jordan Roberts!