A foggy start in the badlands somewhere south of Downham Market. You could barely see the far bank as we set off down the drain for what will be known forever more as Crap Bridge.
The main reason for this is some disaffected youth has sprayed C-R-A-P on it , in much the same way taggers spray their name on bridges and in my miss-spent younger days people sprayed things like Punk Rools on them. Back in the punk era, clearly.
TLC bags the lure rod we packed as an after thought and works a jig around the bridge, while I drop a couple of deads in and pop a can of Red Bull.
Fog still blankets the landscape. Wraiths of mist drift up off the floodbank like smoke. This is all very idyllic, but I can't ever remember catching much in fog. Maybe, just maybe, the tagger got it right. Maybe he was a pike angler, who has taken to carrying a can of spray paint in his rucker to vent his frustrations.
We give it longer than we probably should, mainly because you never see anyone else on this stretch of drain apart from the odd dog walker.
Fifty yards away, coloured water's pouring in from a little lode, so we give that another runless 20 minutes.
"Up there look - bait fish," says TLC, pointing up the drain, as the last of the fog clears and the sun breaks through. "Loads of 'em just jumped - I reckon something's after 'em." Another five minute yomp and we're where he thinks he saw them. Then again, it could be a bit further up.
A little further along, there are several shells under the entrance to a bramble thicket. Half way up the bank, a former rabbit hole has been greatly enlarged. It's big enough to be a badger sett, but there is no bedding scraped out or other signs of brock.
It also lacks the rancid smell of reynard, or scraps of fur I'd expect to see snagged on the lower boughs of the brambles were it a fox's earth. Maybe it's an otter holt.
We hit the last few swims before we reach the car. I still think we'll catch something. I'm not sure why I think that, but TLC concurs. Yes, here we go - I'm away. A float does a jig before it slides off up the drain. I give it a good old ding and it hugs the bottom, throwing a headshake or two as I bend in harder to make sure the hooks are planted.
When I turn her over, she's already shed the hooks. Doubts as to her twenty-ness are also creeping in but I've got the sling handy so we give her a bounce on the Avons just in case. Long enough, but not quite there in the weight department. According to Mr Avon, she's 18lbs 10oz.
There's a good reason I look like a total knob in this picture, by the way. In case you haven't noticed.
As TLC's pondering the workings of the camera, f/5.6 at aperture priority, matrix metering, ISO 200, image setting FINE; one of his floats does a disappearing act. I notice this and I'm telling him so as he takes the snap.
TLC drops the camera and picks his rod up as the fish drops the bait. I feel bad about this, but que sera. As I'm cutting the hooks out of the net, I work out the fish was 17lbs 12oz minus the sling.
I reckon 17-pounders must be quite unusual, as I can't remember the last 17-pounder I caught, I tell TLC. "Yuh-huh, I've noticed that," he nods. "They all seem to be 16s or 18-something."
I enjoyed today, despite the fact it threw up just one half-decent double. It was a 17-pounder, after all. And they're really rare, according to TLC.
***Look at the markings on this fish.
Check out the hook-shaped mark on her tail-wrist. I can't remember ever seeing a similar mark on a pike.
Clearly a highly-recognisable individual, if she turns up in later seasons. Hope I bump into her again when she's a twenty.