“Ours was the marsh country…”
Kentish cotton ball clouds, blue skies and the endless verdant jade vistas of England in early summer. The walks out onto the onto the marshes were pleasant… I’d found an old trail I could use to get my car within two miles of three of my chosen locations. This in itself was a fulfilling task as this track exists neither in the map books nor on ‘Google Earth’. Though hardly illegal, there is a romance to be experienced in walking roads that theoretically don’t exist. As the days got nearer to opening day, I revelled at the prospect of my imminent double life. School teacher by day… ‘Tench Poacher of the Kentish Marshes’ by dusk.
But even that most lofty of titles could only apply if I caught one- and I wondered if there really would be any tench out there. Other than Mick’s accounts, I have honestly never seen or heard any other evidence of giant tench populating Kent’s wild marshes. Pike- yes; and even carp- but never tench. But they are survivors. The highlight of the previous season was when my Uncle and I foolishly went punt-fishing for tench on an old Estate Lake in Surrey. It was terrific fun. We went deep into the belly of the lake and I caught a corking tench of 5lbs 4oz- a decent fish on a float- complete with duelling scars across its dorsal fin; no doubt these were mementos from an infant tussle with a pike or one of the lake’s resident herons.
The experience reminded me that tench are a very hardy fish- well known both for their resistance to predators and also their tolerance of all kinds of harsh environments. If Mick was catching them in the marshes twenty-odd years ago, then there was a good chance that the remnants of a tribe would still be left out there. Or better still, it could be just as the old master had described it to me; a tench fisher’s paradise. I sometimes dared to think the latter- and more. But I quickly stilled my dreams… Because the first job of any tench fisherman is preparation.
It was time to delve into oldest Albion. The Kentish coastline is intermittently covered with marshland and dykes as far as the Thames. Mick lived in the same town as me so I picked the two biggest local marshes- roughly half an hour’s drive for me to each and about an hour away from each other. Counting both of them, I was looking at over a thousand acres of wetland riddled with all kinds of drains- many that looked capable of supporting fish. I hit the map books, took some long walks on both marshes and chatted with various farmworkers employed on the grazing sections. It didn’t take long to locate the larger drains with the denser habitats. Getting out to them was a different matter.
Tench are tough nuts; they fight in the truest sense of the word. A carp may go wild. But a tench gets angry. Strange then that in their daily existence they’re such a lazy fish- and a greedy one. The hobbits of the fish world, really. The way to locate their exact layabouts would be via their stomachs- so I needed to find their feeding areas. I did this by locating the deepest ‘bends’ present within the systems. These curves in the landscape are the fast food outlets of the tench world. The bends slow the water down and all kinds of edible morsels get caught up there. The fish regularly congregate around these areas to feast. Tench are also great fans of their creature comforts and will periodically shelter in the slacks and undercuts that these well worn grooves offer; particularly during the high winds to which the marshes are so prone.
As the crow flies, my target spots weren’t that remote; this is Southern England after all… But they were all forgotten areas. Mini-wildernesses. Without exception, the last few hundred metres of every chosen location required me to crawl, climb and tiptoe through five feet high undergrowth. At times a knife came in handy (all fisherman need a good one- my current favourite is a Lappish hunting blade I bought from Finland); sensitively used, naturally; I’m an angler- not a survival enthusiast.
I did however allow myself to wear a camouflage jacket that I’d been using for rabbiting in the previous season; it can take a real beating. Moreover I wanted to tip the odds in my favour on every front- especially given that the water out on the marshes is crystal clear. I was eventually proven correct in my assumption that the marsh tench are very, very wary of mankind; any extra available cover was to prove a real boon.
The final (and most crucial) piece of lunacy would be my adherence to the time honoured tradition of using a ‘weed-rake’ to clear the swims (actually making them fishable- you can’t just cast directly into dense lily pads and thick cable weeds); I had mine welded especially for the campaign and it proved pivotal to success.
I hit gold very early on. On my first visit to one of the spots, I saw a carp. It was a great feeling just to know that there were fish there of any sort. On my second visit to the same area, I struggled about twenty yards further up the bend and started raking a huge jungle of weeds; the aim being to create a clear patch of about six square feet.
I’d been doing this for about half an hour or so when I took a break and poured a tea from my flask. The marshes are absolutely stunning so I sat and watched the bird life. During my time out there I witnessed barn owls hunting and was regularly dive-bombed by swallows. Once, I even saw a red kite, which are reasonably rare for the area. On this occasion I could hear (but naturally not see) cuckoos. It was late June. High season for cuckoos and tench, I thought to myself.
As I was still thinking about this I suddenly saw a tench of at least five pounds creep out from the weedbeds about 25 feet in front of me. I froze. The fish then started inspecting the open area I’d just raked. The water was clear now- I’d stopped raking several minutes earlier- and I could see all the way down to the bottom; right down into the deep water where the creature was now contentedly rooting around. Around ten feet in depth. He ambled around in the lazy but slightly bullish style that tench do- completely unaware of my presence. His huge paintbrush of a tail wafted into view several times as he upended like a duck and started sifting through the freshly disturbed weedbed for food.
I felt a mixture of glee, satisfaction and trepidation all at once. The latter perhaps because I had no fishing rod with me. Would the fish still be here tomorrow? I reminded myself that tench are creatures of habit and that they never live by themselves… This lone scout had to be a member of a larger tribe.
After five minutes the fish moved very slowly back into his submerged jungle. I kept watching him until all I could see was darkness and even then I only looked up when I experienced the most vivid sensation that I was being watched from the surrounding thickets; this was not the last time that the marshes would give me this feeling.
It was time to leave. But before doing so I baited the area with mashed bread, hemp-seed, sweetcorn and luncheon meat. I watched for more fish but saw none… That didn’t matter. I would soon return with a rod. More importantly, I had witnessed a wild tench alive and well in an area I had selected from a map two weeks earlier whilst having a pint of Guinness; this in itself felt immensely fulfilling.
I now started to think unreasonable thoughts. I wondered what else must lurk beneath those lilies- and I imagined huge fish. One in particular. A giant… The Queen of the Marsh!
And in my dreams I spoke again with Old Mick.
I told him I had found his tench.
10 thoughts on “Part Two- In Search of Albion Tinca”
This is getting bloody exciting !.
By the way love the Puukko .
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Hello Roger! Yes, they’re super knives… Fantastic for the ‘jungle’ fishing we sometimes find ourselves drawn into!
This is such a good story. More, please.
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Thanks Mike- very kind! There will be a final part to this saga (!)- probably on Friday…
I started my fishing as a 9 yr old fishing the dykes and drains in the farmlands around Seasalter, and Thanet, In those days Rudd, Roach, Tench, Carp, Pike and Eels were always present, This carried on into my late teens, and had by then caught Rudd to 3lbs, Tench to 8lbs +, Roach to 2lbs+ Carp to 14lbs, eels from bootlace- 3lbs, Pike – 14lbs
Plenty of the Rudd & Roach were in the 1- 2lb class, Tench mainly 3- 5lbs. The best stretches were inland a mile or so from the sea, the closer to the sea near the sluice gates we often caught Dabs and the occasional small Bass. The fishing was almost destroyed when they de-weeded & side cut the dykes turning them into featureless channels, for the safety of the grazing cattle. They did recover quite quick but were never the same, eventually they were taken over by fishing clubs, and my dyke fishing days ended.
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Hello Derek- That’s a fascinating insight into another era! Fantastic. Our farmland will always need big drainage systems- particularly marshland- which I think should be a haven for wildlife, anglers, and nature lovers. Some parts of the marsh are highly eerie and border upon the unwelcoming. I found such a place during my tench obsession of early last summer. But in the main, these marshes are fantastic places- especially for young people, who could have an entire new world opened up to them. Just like you, they would never forget it… We do need to encourage a new generation of outdoorsmen. And it would be nice if they could engage with coarse fishing from a country person’s perspective- as all round anglers with an eye on the seasons and the natural world as much as on the fish…
Another well written piece – how many Englishmen possess a weed rake I wonder?
The first photo is extremely clear. Long may these places remain untouched – well more or less..
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I am officially the Last Weed Raker O’ The Kentish Marshes, Nige!!! I want to go back… But I have to wait until the summer…
Good morning Gareth, It’s blowing an absolute ‘hooley’ here and getting colder, the Fenman’s lazy wind. This is becoming the proverbial cliffhanger, I’m going to read the next part this evening. Sue and I were out exploring yesterday and I’ve found a small land drain that has never been fished, it’s not very big but I saw fish movement and a heron after his lunch so if he’s there so are fish. It’s a bit bleak but I’ll give it a go with a wobbled dead roach first. You don’t know if you don’t try.
Kind regards, John
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That sounds great, John- all apart from that awful wind! How intriguing. I seem to use roach full-stop, these days. Often wobble it under a float. I’ve got a bit bored with huge sea baits over the years- too much mess and stinking my clothes/bags out.
I’m thinking of fly fishing my local drains soon. I own two 4-weights that I use for trout and the odd perch. They’d be far too small. I’ve had big pike on them but only by accident. A frightening experience! All my drains are coastal so I might look at getting something that could handle pike, perch, bass- the lot. We get a sea trout run in the local tidal river, too. An 8 weight, probably- so I can handle the wind as much as the various species.
I hope you enjoy the finale to this tench story; let me know how you got on with it, mate,
Best Regards, Gazza