JAA's Fishing Diary - 1976-79

So, High Wycombe then in late 1975...no fishing at all until 1976. We loitered at Walter's Ash for a twelvemonth then headed for Hazelmere which was nearer the school, luckily for me a good one, as the two previous 'comprehensives' did a fine job of keeping us equal equThe key thing is 'equality of opportunity' not 'equality of education', the latter cannot exist as we are all different. The former is really not popular, but oddly enough, mostly with those who have all the opportunities...  by teaching as little as they could manage. I dread to think how things would have turned out without four years of an unfashionable and 'elitist' grammar school education. I'd be insane and you wouldn't be reading this, that's for sure. If you've somehow formed the impression that I really hated school, you'd be exactly right. One word; "If".

Still, could have been worse. Could've still been at school in Holyhead. As it was for 1976-79 then, Hazelmere, Bucks. Which is here:

Fishing was divided, broadly, into 'The Thames' and 'The Rye Dyke' and although this page has a chronological order, I've taken some liberties to keep the 'Rye Dyke' entries grouped, as that makes more sense to me. Honest.

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1976 to 1979 1976. The River Thames, Longridge. Living in Walter's Ash it was hard to see where the next bit of fishing was coming from. It was a shock to the system to go from fishing very nearly every day at will, to not being able to go at all. The primary problem was one of geography. We were on the top of a big chalk hill. There was a pond up the road at which I peered hopefully through the fence, but it looked more like a big puddle than a small possibility. There was the square deep water hole on the base area, standard type, but the six-foot fence and thin chance of any fish at all in such a place ruled that out.

So maps it was, luckily readily available, father genetically passing an interest in and actual maps to me. It was pretty much a bust within a five mile radius. Hughenden Valley had a seasonal stream and lake, although the stream had sticklebacks at the point at which it vanished under High Wycombe en route to the Wye. With the logic of the young and financially challenged, I opted to try for free fishing on the Thames at Marlow, so packed a lunch and cycled to Marlow. Sounds easy don't it? Have you seen the hills around there?

Having cycled to Marlow, blind chance took me through the town, over the bridge, to a right turn onto Quarry Wood Road...I could see folk fishing on the river by the A404 bridge, so followed the bypass embankment north to the part of the river near Longridge scout camp and was told by a family who were fishing and picnicking, fishing was free for that short stretch between the bridge and the fence upstream. Not knowing of the other free fishing on the Thames, that was good enough.

So it was that the first post-Anglesey fishing were to the Thames. 'Plan A' was to cycle, both the sibling and myself, but the parents vetoed it as the bikes were being loaded as it was too far. Instead the parents dropped us one Saturday, maybe even the next and in early 1976 we started our long association with Longridge.

Here the river is split by an island (Taylor Island) and the right bank cut was the narrower. The A404 bridge loomed overhead with a concrete drain cut to the left of it, with 'The Island' five yards distant, with a good covering of trees. This was a good spot to park yourself, being low, dry and out of the weather. There was a small hollow in the river bed from the drain's discharge, which was a good fish holding area especially when the river was up.

When we first rolled up here, we had little idea of how to fish rivers and still had seven and six foot glass rods, 3lb line and with methods based on a little reading. We possessed, jointly, an eight foot hollow glass rod that was liberated from a portacabin of junk on Anglesey, but this would have towed a canoe, so was seldom used. Still avid Angling Times fans in those days - so we went for simple top-and-bottom float rigs set to the depth of the river and usually fished with worms, bread and very occasionally maggots (which cost money and were not popular residents in the YJAA household). Luckily, worms almost always took fish.

Fortunately this minor backwater was teeming with gudgeon, ruffe, regular perch, small chub, roach and three thousand bleak. It really didn't matter how you fished, even on slow winter days you would catch gudgeons and ruffes. More than enough to keep us happy. A 1oz gudgeon was prized and the 4oz perch exalted over. Ruffe we pretended to despise, but they saved many quiet days from being 'too quiet'. On light tackle ruffe give a good account of themselves, despite their ability to get a size 8 hook and three lobworms into a mouth the size of a hazelnut shell. How do they do that?

I graduated to a roach pole and the sibling to a float rod. With rods more suited to 3lb line and small hooks, we reaped a bounty, adding bleak to our bag. 'Bleak bashing' was big at the time, so we would loose feed maggots then cast in small floats, 6" of line under with a single maggot. Once we got to thirty or so the attraction waned, but the day was started. Maggots improved the general fishing no end and in keep-net days (or more accurately shared keep-net days), a good end to the day was the net wriggling with dozens of assorted gudgeons, ruffes, bleaks and perches.

The Angling Times Stick Float. The 'Angling Times' stick float, slightly knarled, with some very fine black silk whipping repairs to the peeling paint.

1976 to 1979 1976. The Partridge. We were sitting on some bales in the shed and 'Old Bob' was smoking a Woodbine (a less apt name for a ciggy I've yet to come across) and I was watching the trees for 'woodies'. A small covey of partridges came up the track from the direction of the golf club. It was a hot day during a warm spell and the track's white dust was scuffed into small clouds by inquisitive feet and bills. They milled around where the track opened into the entrance for our hide, with us drab-dressed, motionless against the dark background, invisible, as good as.

As I watched, 'Old Bob' said, without moving and quite conversationally "Do you think you can hit one of those in the head from here?". It took me a second to realise this wasn't a rhetorical question. I thought about it, 20+ yards, a Webley Service .22". Possible, but hard. "Yes" says I, leaning back onto the bale behind me and putting the fore-stock hand on my knee. Clearly as I'm sitting here, I can see the picked bird out in front of the field, slightly away from the main flock, so that the shot was hit-or-miss so missing might give me a second chance. The wind-gunThat's what 'Old Bob' called air-guns. No idea why. spring thunked and the bird dropped face down into the dust, one wing flapping aimlessly and 'Old Bob', moving faster that I'd ever seen, (and he was sixty-five or so then) had the bird in his game bag and was back on the hay bale in a moment. "Good shot, duck" he said softly, watching the sky now and finishing the Woodbine.

1976 to 1979 1976. The Weston Shore. I fished here on-and-off from 1974 or so with 'Old Bob'. The Weston Shore is on the east side of Southampton water and was reached by Morris Traveller via an invariable stop for bait on the way, down some backstreet. 'Old Bob' would dart off, then return with a newspaper-packet of rag-worms. The beach was shingle with some kind of a step, an old stage perhaps, and I had only the seven foot 'MK I', but it would cast a 2oz lead quite well - certainly as far as was required. 'OB'Old Bob', do keep up' had made a rod-rest from a five-foot galvanised steel fence-post, into the right angle of which about a foot down, he'd pop-riveted a 15oz soup tin, sans soup. This, when driven well down into the shingle, worked quite well for my little rod and himself's solid glass-fibre beach-caster leaning against a tripod. For bite detection you watched the rod-tip. That was it really. I fished here many times, sometimes with the bother along, and accompanied many other expeditions and grew to like the place, despite the fact I never had a bite, never mind a fish.

Before 1975, 'flatties' and silver eels were caught often and brought home for the pot, the eels spending the night in the bath before becoming fish-cakes. The metallic smell and baleful looks were a feature of 'calls of nature' and it might be fanciful, but I suspected them of being alive as they moved occasionally. The catches dropped off in the mid 1970's, the eels became infrequent, the 'flatties' grew smaller and were often oily tasting. Many when cooked were spat out, replaced with on-the-run fish-fingers. They weren't brought home much after that.

There was always a flask of hot milky coffee, sandwiches and the wind was keen, even if you hunched down, but that didn't make it less enjoyable. Beach-combing for lost tackle was always worth a punt and I collected a variety of clip-on bells and any number of weights and brass wire fittings, the former two donated to 'Old Bob', most of the latter were stored for re-use for myself. The brass wire, annealed on the stove, could be re-formed for, to quote one random example, repairing flounder-spoons that had got bent out of shape by being dragged behind a car for three miles.

I should mention the lead weights. We'd probably wondered aloud about the requirement for ledger weights on a day when the weather made outdoor pursuits unfeasible. 'Old Bob' was a great improviser so he found some piece of off-cut hard-wood and carved a line of small coffin-lead shaped holes in it, in a row. He then laid a piece of string through the line of depressions and then melted lead and simply filled the holes. This, although blackening the wood and charring the string, worked quite well and we produded a small number of these little oddly-shaped coffin leads, running some kind of broach though the holes to clean them out. A quantity of 'drilled bullets' were made in the same way. This was fishing tackle for no money - it's hard to describe how pleasing it was to acquire such a quantity of items for free.

We went on to make sea-fishing weights using old tea-spoons and serving-spoons as moulds. The former made a 2oz on the nose and the latter something a little over 4oz. Eyes were made of twisted copper wire and laid in the spoon-bowl and the lead was simply poured into the bowl. We made some 'breakaway' leads, by leaving long tags of wire sticking out of the flat side - the wrong side of course if you think on it for a moment. One such held the end of my keep-net down for many years after. 'Old Bob' being mostly a plumber had plenty of lead about. No-one considered the toxicity of lead in the context of fishing then, however, it would have been negligable compared to the black oil-fouled silt the fish lived on.

About 4-5oz About 4-5oz or so... About 4-5oz About 4-5oz or so...

...and for years I thought it was the 'western shore'. Never clicked it was on the east of the water...it's right hereI've sat right here and blanked many many times.

1976 to 1979 1976. Fisher's Pond, Colden Common...itself is an artificial lake held back by an earth dam at one end with a fine old red brick sluice gate. The pond was, legend has it, constructed 700 years back to allow the Bishop of Winchester to have fish supplied to his table - this old old stock pond is about three acres and I fished here on-and-off for almost a decade. When first taken by 'Old Bob' the pond was not a 'commercial fishery' in today's parlance, with it being just a lake with some bank access. I only ever caught a few roach, despite several trips and the area fished was inside the 'bathing enclosure' which is on the east bank and has probably long since rusted away or been removed. I only ever managed a few stunted roach as a bag, although 'Old Bob' once caught a goose to our huge enjoyment. The goose was not so amused, despite being released without any permanent harm.

During the long hot summer of '76 (myself, just two years back from Cyprus thought it 'temperate') both tired of the heat and gardening in it, so went for a look at Fisher's Pond. This was by now baked mud, so we walked up Hensting Lane (how good a name is that?) as it was shady, then stood and watched two deer pick their way out from the trees behind the 'swimming pool' and make their way across. We watched, stock-still. We walked on, to the bridge at the top of the pond, where the fish had been sequestered in what water there was. A kingfisher peeped across the road. Rarer then than now and worthy of note. We watched the fish jostling for a while. "Always something to see if you're quiet" said 'Old Bob'.

It was that summer, when water levels everywhere were low, we also made our way up the Itchen from one of the two bridges on Kiln Lane and 'Old Bob' showed me several of the old red-brick and grille eel-traps built into brickwork, long disused even then. He knew where they all were...

1976 to 1979 1976. The History Teacher's Fishing Rod. I can't recall how fishing came up, although I recall a good deal more than is perhaps useful about the Boer war. "There is an old rod in the cupboard," he intoned "been there years, no idea who's it is, you're welcome too it!" Our teachers wore gowns in them days and there was a walk-in cupboard with text-books and ammunition supplies, that is to say chalk and black-board erasers, both of which could sting somewhat. It was a three-piece rod, whole cane for the lower sections, greenheart tip (which even then I knew was probably past trust) porcelain butt rand tip rings, brass reel bands, cork sheet over beech handle and now, I realise probably Allcocks' fittings on the handle. The whippings were in some crude thread, unravelling, so I determined to restore it for fun. Many things got in the way of this project and the rod sections never quite made it to my parents' new house. The tip-ring I gave away and all that remains reasons unknown, are these bits...rattling around the box of things I can't quite bring myself to sling as they have utility.

The History Teacher's fishing rod So, the butt-cap, the screw that was in it, one brass reel band (I've no idea why only one) and one counter complete with pieces of splintered bamboo. The History Teacher's fishing rod So, the butt-cap, the screw that was in it, one brass reel band (I've no idea why only one) and one counter complete with pieces of splintered bamboo.

Ah well. Would have made a fine gudgeon rod.

Carp? What addiction?I am content to wait. I am well used to it...(and back to the top of the page) Carp? What addiction?a very subtil fish Carp? What addiction?Watch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders. Carp? What addiction?if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience Carp? What addiction?I am content to wait. I am well used to it.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Shakespeare Roach Pole. The Angling Times had featured 'bleak bashing' fairly prominently and I'd been drawn into wanting and then buying a roach-pole. The thing itself, a 16' telescopic glass-fibre pole, got broken the first time I used it. The tip caught in the water when 'striking' and the top 6" snapped clean off, leaving the pole-elastic afloat and still atttached to the flick-tip. This was retrieved and I fished the day out with a temporary 12lb mono 'flick-tip' eye whipped on with 3lb nylon. Once back home I made a 'quick-release' ring with some stainless steel wire, modelled after some faddish floats of the day and whipped it onto the broken end of the pole (where it remained until 1992 when I made a graduated elastic rig fitted inside the pole).

The quick-release flick-tip The stainless-steel quick-release flick-tip The quick-release flick-tip Neat Whipping eh?

I made a butt-end counterweight, another thing that was mentioned in the Angling Times, using a 3" cardboard 12-bore cartridge (used!). I punched out the cap, then replaced it with a ¼" × 1½" hex-head bolt, with the head inside the cartridge and the thread prtruding through the brass base. This bolt was, 'as it happens' an 'interference fit', in the cap-hole. Which is a nice way of saying it was seated using a hammer and parallel pin punch. I melted some lead and filled the cartridge to the top. A little smokey, but once cooled, quite solid. I bored a ¼" hole in the screw-on end-cap of the pole, araldited a large washer each side of the the plastic cap and bolted the weight on so it was inside the pole. This, to my mind at the time, made it rather easier to wield. I invarible fished it with about 18" of elastic, both ends of which had a double-overhand loop knot, one of which was inserted in the 'tip-rig' shown about and the other connected to 3lb line via another double-overhand loop knot.

On one long afternoon, when the fun had palled, I noticed fish rising to insects and more specifically 'daddy-long-legs' ('crane flies' to you). So I put 3-4" of peacock quill on the line, grabbed one such from the grass bank behind, hooked it through the body on a size 18 and dapped it midstream. It took three goes to catch the fish - a bleak. You have to be quick but I caught a good few, hitting any more than one in in three 'rises' was hard work but good fun. Next time I visited the tackle shop in Green Street, I bought two of the smallest grey dry-flies they had and some floatant liquid and next time on the river, tried them.

It turns out you need to be even quicker when using dry flies...

1976 to 1979 1977. The River Thames, Longridge. The Chub on a Dead-Bait. A sunny day when many many bleak had made for a good day's sport, then being pretty much 'bleaked' and 'gudgeoned' out I resolved to try something new. I had it in my mind to catch a pike (we'd caught many at the Dyke). Using the seven-foot rod, put on a large balsa stick, tied a single treble-hook'd wire trace onto 10lb line and add a side-mounted unfortunate bleak. I set the depth for about three feet and from under the bridge cast to just short of the opposite bank. The stick and cargo drifted with the current and as it cleared the bridge's shadow, vanished.

I struck 'fairly hard' (seven foot rod, thirty yards out coupled with the wild enthusiasm of the young) and contacted something which on being played ('towed') to the near bank was a colossal chub of 3lbs. This was a red-letter event to one normally happy with the odd 4oz perch. Naturally this was tried again. And again...with no result.

2009; singluar to find that in the "Peter Stone Letters", Richard Walker discusses using bleak dead-baits for chub.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Rye Dyke. The First Carp. I'd made myself a couple of pole floats - one of which was an empty biro refill with a very slim antenna I'd gleaned from the river bank glued in the top. This worked rather well - and I decided to take it down to the Rye Dyke to test the float and the pole's new flick-tip ring. I attached the line to the end of an 18" piece of No.6 elastic, which was secured to the pole with an overhand loop knot pulled through the tip-ring on the pole. The line was attached to the elastic the same way.

After some messing around (the highlight of which was my brother catching a pike of 3-4oz, which during unhooking clamped itself onto his thumb and took some prising off again, blood was involved, not the pike's), I settled on a swim about halfway up where the weed was very thick, but there were plenty of small roach and rudd. With a 2lb b/s bottom and a size 18, plus single maggot I was amusing myself catching these small fish from small gaps in the weed. I'd caught half a dozen or so, when one of the gaps produced a trail of "needle" bubbles moving towards me. I did what anyone would have done and dropped my bait in front of the trail and away went the float...

I struck, confidently expecting another 1oz rudd or roach...oh cr*p...'All h*ll broke loose' is a terrible cliché, so I'm going with 'a lot of things happened all at once'. A large lump powered through the weed and towards the middle of the Dyke. I would like to claim I played it expertly, but that would be a bared-faced lie.

What I did do, was hang on for grim death to the pole while the fish, now obviously a carp, swam around in large circles in the middle of the water. I would swear that at one point the 18" of elastic reached some 15 feet in length. It ploughed through the weed beds with no apparent effort - how the line held I will never know. Eventually and improbably, after an eternity (about 15 minutes more likely), the carp tired enough to be netted and was, in a folding net that today would have you barred from a fishery for life.

What I'd connected with a was a common carp, fully scaled and fat with spawn. We had no scales and could not find anyone with any, so we marked the length of the fish on the landing net handle and returned it regretfully unweighed. Using a length to weight conversion table we got from somewhere, the weight was estimated at around 6½lbs (but with spawn was more likely 7-7½lb).

This was not good for the nerves, but it did make me aware of the potential of the pole at an early age. There is tremendous shock absorption with a good pole set up - even with the basic rig I had here. In hindsight, if I'd not snapped the tip off and whipped on a new flick-tip ringSo, really that was a stroke of good luck, this fish would, in all likelyhood, have taken the tip of the pole with itself.

1976 to 1979 1977. The River Thames, Longridge. The Big Break. During one of many trips here, a slow day had once again prompted some unusual tactics, that some would call 'fishing properly'. On the downstream side of the road bridge, there is a slight narrowing of the river and just short of this and just out from under, was a hollow in the bed, with a bar just the other side of it, which was just visible in clear water and appeared gravelly (is that a real word?). This hollow was five or six feet deep and the bar a foot higher maybe. My 'pool cue' was appropriated and with 8lb line through to a basic ledger rig set up with luncheon meat if (I remember correctly). Brother got a bite and hit it and I got a shout and got to see a short but very violent fight with a large fish. The little blue rod got bent past it's test curve point repeatedly - and that's 2½lb. There were few long runs, but a lot of dogged pulling with huge power. Eventually and sadly, the line went. I don't expect I felt as bad as the sibling but it was close. Whatever it was (thesafe money is on a large barbel), it was big.

1976 to 1979 1977. The River Thames, Longridge. On another long day, I caught a large perch, 1lb which was large for me, on a minnow which I put fished high in the water and then watched as the perch loomed out of the dark water under the bridge and gulped it down in one go. Funy how that image remains but so little else.

I occasionally wonder how many times we fished here, 'a lot' seems to be the only sensible answer.

Around 2010 I dug about to see if the fishing here was available, just for the heck of it and with a keyboard under you fingers so much is so much easier than it once was. The answer, after one phone call to Longridge boating centre and an email was 'sort of'. I didn't follow it up, I just wondered...

1976 to 1979 1977. Southhampton Water and Mr. Bert's Boat; one of 'Old Bob's pals, 'Mr. Bert', (there was a 'Mr. Charlie' as well), had a boat, not a large thing at all, although fine for a bit of inshore dangling and we took at least three trips out in it. On the first occasion, fishing with our short rods, somewhere on the Fawley side of Southampton we all fished ragworm on the deck - I discovered the little bu88ers nip, the laugh was on me - the water wasn't ever so deep, perhaps eight feet and there were no life jackets. It was small boat and the 'facilities' were known, sardonically, as the 'yellow bucket', which was luckily, yellow. One of my duty letters (August 1976) records the first trip, everyone else landing 'schoolie' bass, except myself, who blanked.

On the second occasion, in July 1977, towards the end of the trip I tried my baited spoon and bagged a very decent plaice 'north' of a 1lb or so, to the surprise of all, except, with the blind confidence of youth, the user. On the third trip, I took my nine foot rod, assembled it 'broken' across my knees and fished my big sliding porcupine quill on 6lb line in water that was only eight or nine feet deep. In this way, I ran the float away from the boat on the tide and caught several 'schoolie' bass. Some surprise expresssed by the assembled - in those days sea gear was always thick line, big leads and whopping hooks, whether yer needed them or not...this was 'the way'.

On one of those trips, a squall blew up, so we hot-footed for the landing slip and while at the time it never occurred to me that we were in any danger, despite waves flicking over the sides, I can recall the pale faces and terse manner of 'Old Bob' (who couldn't swim) and 'Mr. Bert' as we docked and packed up. Hm. The following year 'Mr Bert' was no longer on the scene, 'Old Bob' not having heard from him. A nice chap though who put himself out for me and the other one.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Revolver. I used to collect cartridges as a youth, various sorts with holes bored in one side, the powder shook out, penetrating oil dripped into kill the cap. 'Old Bob' picked out a .32" rim-fire, lead grey against the brass (brasso, shiny brass wonderfully grey lead) and said he'd been given a revolver once, took it to a field with an old metal water tank and fired it at the side. The bullet went straight through both sides, "Christ Alive," he said "that scared me so I threw it in the river".

1976 to 1979 1977. Worcester & Birmingham canal. The River Servern, Upton-on-Severn. Another camping extravaganza started in the shadow of the Malvern hills, I vaguely recall walking on the hills themselves and we had a day's fishing on the Severn near Upton. I can't pin down the spot, even with 'google maps', too much has changed, but I did fish the river in some convenient brown niche in the bank, marvelled at the hissing writhing water, so much more power than I'd seen on a river.

I was woefully under-tackled of course, but with the glass 9' float rod I 'laid-on' sweetcorn in a merest suggestion of a slack and to my surprise took half a score of goer roach from clean positive bites and was enjoying myself so much that the next time the float slid off, I struck and something angrily snapped my line with a shake of the head. "Oh..." I thought. It's a shame my next thought wasn't to put 6lb line on, but still.

The next campsite was nearer Worcester and despite my best efforts I can't pin down that spot either. We camped next to a lane, which ran over the canal and I think under a railway embankment. Fishing was available on the non-towpath side of the canal on the left of this bridge as we approached it and if one had to slide a little down the crumple-leaved bank to reach the water, it was worth it for fishing. The water periodically rushed one way or the other in the manner of canals with locks and every way we tried produced ruffe, ruffe and more ruffe. All fish, a fish is a fish.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Fawley Break. 'Mr. Bert' took me and the brother shore fishing, somewhere near Hythe or Fawley, he had very decently agreed to take us fishing as 'Old Bob' was working. We had to address him as 'Mr. Bert', this was made quite clear. I could not find the spot on the map but the oil refinery was not a 100 miles away. The shore was edged with timber to give a good fishing platform and on this occasion we used our own short rods and beach casting rests, the sort that allows your rod tip to be well up in the air. It worked after a fashion, as long casting was essential. We had all had a few rattles, from small bass probably and the brother got what was less a bite and more of a steady tightening of the line, which necessitated a quick grab of the rod to keep it out of the water. Something very large swam leisurely up and down for a good bit. There was no control really at the shore end of the line, not for lack of trying. The short six foot rod was very very curved and while breaking the solid fibre-glass was unlikely, eventually the line gave up. It just went slack. We were both gutted.The slow speed and weight hinted at a very large fish.

Old Letter 1977, Dear Mater, one is well...my handwriting has deteriorated since then. Old Letter 1978, Darling Mother, Dearest Father, Here I am at, Camp Granada...

1976 to 1979 1977. Fisher's Pond, Colden Common. A Roach on a Spinner. In the summer of 1977 (I know this as I have a 'duty letter' written to my parents) during a stay with 'Old Bob' I was dropped at Fisher's Pond, in the days before it was as stocked and well looked after as it became. On my first visit I had one tiny roach, as detailed. In those days the fish stocks were mostly small roach and the pitch with the 'swimming pool' was your best bet. This was a large semi-circle of corrugated iron on a frame enclosing an area of water of about 30 yards in diameter. There was one tree on the bank's diameter, about two-thirds of the way along.

On my second visit, still in the future of this letter, I do recall it was a grey and dull, so after the best part of the day 'not even getting a bite', with time getting on to being picked up, I tried, out of sheer boredom a 4g silver 'Droppen'. Second cast I hooked something and moments later, I had a roach of about ½lb on the bank. Fairly hooked in the mouth as well. Now that doesn't happen every day (I didn't catch anything else).

1976 to 1979 1977. The Rye Dyke. Jack Piking. The Rye Dyke, as intimated elsewhere, had more jack pike than average. At least two-and-a-half thousand more or so it seemed. The water was unusually clear that perhaps it was just they were that much more visible. Anyhoo...

It was relatively easy to catch jacks - especially on purpose - so I evolved some simple tackle and a method that caught dozens up to 3lbs and a few over that (just the one 'double' though). The 'rig' was simplicity, an 18" wire trace of 6lb or 8lb 'Elasticum' wire, with a single large long-shank No.6 fly hook at the business end and a swivel at the 'line end'. Both the hook and the swivel were attached by twisting the tag end of the wire around the standing part for about 3", then winding the tag end with the main body of the wire about 6-8 times. I was helped by having access to very high-quality end-cutters allowing me to trim the wire ends absolutely flush. A further refinement was the careful re-shaping of the hook-point to reduce the barb's 'tang' in size until it protruded barely more than the diameter of the hook's wire, to ensure it penetrated easily.

This seems crude but it was all you needed. Bait was a bunch of worms, the more the better, hence the long-shank hook. If one wanted more casting weight, then a few shot pinched on the wire would suffice. If the water was clear, which it generally was, then you stalked from swim to swim looking for the fish. On spotting one, while keeping low and behind the fish if at all possible, you cast well past and over the fish, then quietly reeled the bait back, past Esox L.'s sharp end, but two-three feet from it, close enough for Jack to see the worms and far enough away not to spook him. Usually. Then you let the bait fall to the bottom, just as it passes the snout...

Now, you wait and watch. You might have to wait 5-10 minutes, but usually, the pike will slowly tilt until the body is angling down towards the bait. The rear fins will agitate slowly, edging the fish nearer and finally with a short lunge it will grab the bait, sometimes accompanied with a slight twist of the body. The flash of white from the gill covers and under the chin, gives you firm indication of a pick-up. You give it a few seconds, while the fish chomps to itself, literally no more than five seconds, to ensure it has really got the bait, they do miss sometimes, then strike.

If the water was cloudy, you put on a self cocking float and set the depth to a bit over the water's depth, a roughly uniform three feet at the broad end of the water, then went from swim to swim giving it half an hour or so in each one. Each swim had banks of thick weed and many had trees with branches trailing in the water, all great hiding places for the pike. This broader shallow end of the Dyke was more productive, with the last 25 yards by the sluice gate good as well. The deeper and narrower section did not produce as well and it may well be no coincidence that most of the biggest pike I spotted were in that area.

Three times when fishing for jack, I caught roach of 2lbs - twice with the wire-trace rig described above, once described hereTo be ruthless with myself, the scales were rough and they were probably 'near enough', so they'd have been anywhere between 1¾lb and 2¼lb. And probably nearer the former. and once when float fishing in coloured water.

You can learn a lot about pike if you fish regularly like this in clear water. Firstly and most obvious, is to keep quiet, low and behind the fish. The prey would be off if disturbed. Secondly, the larger the fish, the easier it spooked. You could make a real hash of getting a bait to a 1½lb pike and still catch it. A bad cast to a 5lb fish and it usually became a missed opportunity. I noted also, that smaller fish leave faster - a small jack will when spooked often dart off. A larger fish will amble off. Really good ones will fade into the background like the Chesire cat, but with a slightly more murderous smile.

It was much harder to stalk very large pike. I almost never got close enough to cast. They also kept further from the bank for the most part. Often pike were in rough pairs, sometimes visibly so, even when you could see only one fish the another might be around. Several times I cast to a fish, only to have another unseen pike take the bait, often not even noticed until the flash of white as the bait was taken. This underlines the effectiveness of their mottled markings as camouflage.

Occasionally the pike would miss the bait on the lunge. You could usually get away with stealthily withdrawing it and re-casting. If a pike hovered around without taking it, giving it a nudge would usually help, the movement would get its attention.

I further refined the end-tackle by creating a traces from three strands of 7lb Perlon, plaited together. The idea was pinched and modified from a section in a book about fly-fishing for pike. I made these by taking three lengths of the Perlon about three feet long and using a bulldog clip tacked onto a bit of wood, plaited the three strands together for about 2", about 4" from one end on the strand. Then, while holding the ends carefully, I doubled over this short plaited section and then combined the three short strand with the three long strands in pairs, then plait those pairs together for about an inch, creating a loop. Leave one short strand out of the plait, plait a quarter inch, repeat twice and then plait the remaining three long strands until the plaited section is about 14" long.

Yes it took some time. It helps to have good light and also to put a swan shot on each of the ends, much like bobbins in lace making. When you have the length you need, put a blob of nail varnish on it to stop it unravelling. I then whipped over the 'eye splice' with fine silk thread, covering the loose ends and gave this whipping a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish, which is flexible when dry.

The long-shank hook was whipped onto the other end. The braided link was put through the hook-eye from the 'point' side of the hook and the three tag ends of the braided section were tied into overhand-knots. The trace was then whipped onto the hook using fine silk, starting at the eye end and working down, the overhand knots preventing any possibility of the trace pulling through the whipping. The finshed whipping was about 1" long. Then two coats of polyurethane varnish. I only ever made three of these and caught many pike on them (and a 2lb roach plus more than a few perch). I never lost a fish to a 'bite-off' and often changed the hook a few times, as after a dozen fish the whipping tended to look a bit 'worked over'.

This method accounted for dozens of pike from ½lb up to 13lb. Why on earth we never graduated to sprats and other dead-baits and tried for larger fish I do not know. We saw many much larger pike, several that with hindsight, must have been 20lb+. These days, I'd be inclined to pop the worms off the bottom and put a few slivers of red tinsel on the hook. Although so many trips here skew the figures ,as it were, I've probably have caught more pike on worms that any other bait. It is true to say I never go pike fishing without a few...if you see a fish, it might take worms even if not really feeding.

1976 to 1979 1977. The River Thames, Henley. The brother and myself were dropped in Henley on a day out for the parents and knowing of the free fishing (so much of that has since 'vanished'), were hovering upstream of the bridge on the right bank gazing with cautious intent at a mooring pontoon and a nice man said we could fish from it. So we did. We more or less blanked...himself nabbing a jack-pike on an early afternoon ennui spinning session, a 4g Gold Droppen must have practically landed on the unlucky thing.

Funny thing - in 2002 I went on one of those clichéd team building week-ends and discovered we'd (back then) parked ourselves on one of the Leander Club's pontoons and permission given by a passing member. The best thing about the 'team building' was meeting two members of the 2000 Olympics Ladies Quadruple Sculls team who took silver. I took away from that that they practised close finishes, as at that level they all are. Interesting and charming, I'm ashamed to say I can't recall the ladies' names. The rest was predictable bo11ocks of course but I've still got the shirt which was good quality. Small world.

1976 to 1979 1977. The River Thames, Cookham. So, another drop'n'shop by the parents. How we ended up down at the end of Ferry Lane on the little jetty by the hotel, I don't know. I fancy we asked in the hotel if we could fish and they said "OK". We comprehensively blanked on a cold foggy day. The only fish we even saw was a rather battered old perch of 1lb or so that drifted under the jetty, then gently vanished downstream, utterly indifferent to any passing worms.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Rye Dyke in High Wycombe...is an artificial lake created in 1923 by the Marquis of Lincoln, with open playing fields on the south side ("The Rye") and on the north bank, mature beech trees. It runs roughly west to east and is about a mile long, with the west half being broader, some 50 yard across and shallower, being about 3' at the margins and about 7-8' in the middle. It's a bit deeper than you think, like most waters where you can see the bottom. There was very heavy weed growth in this half and this in part was what drove the 'no lines under 6lb b/s' rule in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

The eastern half is narrower, down to 15 yards in places, with beech trees overhanging and with the bottom sharply shelving as you move away from the bank, with depths of 15 feet in places. At the end there is a waterfall (some 10' or so) into a small stream that continues onward to the Thames via Bourne End.

The Rye Dyke is fed at the west end by a clear stream from the Wycombe Abbey School grounds. The stream enters the lake in 'the Boating Pool' which was 'fishing verboten'. Fishing was only allowed from the south bank in any event.

I fished here from about the winter of 1977 until around 1980 or so. The lake contained a lot of pike, many jack, a good head of carp, at a time when carp were not common, with 20lb fish and plenty of good perch, roach, tench and a good school of chub, which were often seen but almost never caught. On balance it was a hard water to fish with the clarity of the water and thick weed working against you most of the time.

The Rye Dyke Boating Pool The Rye Dyke Boating Pool. 'The tree' is the one on the far right...

It appears the pike were still there in 2004.

January 2014. I was contacted by an EA fisheries officer who was looking for some history on the Rye Dyke. Sadly there wasn't a lot (that isn't here somewhere) I could add. I gather an electro-fishing survey was done around November 2012, which threw up number of decent (~20lb) carp and little else and the EA are working with the angling club to help build it back up to a sustainable fishery. No tench, very few pike and no roach/chub/perch whatsoever on the survey unfortunately, although it was stocked it with 5,000 roach and 1,000 tench in late 2013 from the Calverton fish farm. The next step is to try and put measures in place to stop them being predated until they can grow on and survive. Good to hear.

You can follow this work on twitter, much as avoid twitter like the plague myself. There's also 'Revive The Wye', which is a charity set up by various people involved in High Wycombe and the Wye who want to try and make the river a much better place than it currently is...

All this reminds me I took some pictures of the Rye Dyke in 2008 or thereabouts to illuminate this page and saw only a few small pike, one of which was dead on the bottom and a small procession of dark lonely carp gliding toward the boating pool like so many Flying Dutchmen. Those snaps, with those of a frozen Penn Pond and like the Flying Dutchman herself, have vanished. Singular. Annoying. Pah.

1976 to 1979 1977. The Rye Dyke, the First Pike. The first time I ever fished the Rye Dyke was with the brother on a frosty and foggy December day. The water was atypically tea-coloured, not that we knew and we'd got centre-pins for Christmas, the current BIG THING. "K. Dowling and Son's" it has on the back of mine, never 'spun' in any real sense of the word, still doesn't, and had a kind of line-guard made with brass wire and a sliding eye-thing, long since lost. We fished with worms next the boating-pool and in the swim on the downstream side of the tree, we had gently cast lobs into the murk, new 'pins on, some bobbin on the line.

Then I had a 'twitcher' and slowly drew in my worm to find a 3lb jack-pike hanging loosely onto the bait. It let go and Cheshire catted. I cast again and it happened again and the third time in hope, it came lightly hooked to the net (a really rubbish folding trout net kind of deal). All fish are good fish. Never occurred to me to actually strike. Now I come to think of it that must have been my first pike ever. I kept the reel, used it for carp in 2006It worked, just about..

K. Dowling and Son's Centre Pin Spin reel...not. the K. Dowling and Son's Centre Pin K. Dowling and Son's Centre Pin Spin reel, eventually... the K. Dowling and Son's Centre Pin
A bunch of hooks I found in my pike-boxA bunch of hooks found in my pike box...(and back to the top of the page) A bunch of hooks I found in my pike-boxA bunch of hooks found in my pike box A bunch of hooks I found in my pike-boxA bunch of hooks found in my pike box

1976 to 1979 1978. The Rye Dyke. Fish From up a Tree No.1. On one early 1978 jack-pike hunt, we were doing our usual thing of stalking and looking for small pike and we ended up on the last two swims by the boating pool. This, classically, had a 'no fishing' sign in the middle. I decided to see what I could see in the boating pool and decided the best way to do this was to climb up one of the trees on the left hand side of the last swim, where brother has settled in for some serious 'worm-ledgering'. Getting about six foot up I looked down to see a large pike directly below me (and in retrospect, luckily facing away from the tree & me). "Lurking" to be sure. Interesting.

I climbed down the tree, moving very slowly and went to get my trusty nine-foot fibre-glass float rod, (which had the backbone of a stick of celery). I put on a big bunch of lobs, usual trace (three plaited strands of 7lb line, size 6 long-shank fly hook) and as far as is possible climbed the tree with rod in one hand and much stealth. Brother looked on with amusement, but decently kept still and quiet and sceptical all at the same time. No mean feat, but not unusual for him. I ended up lying on a sloping branch with my arm around the branch and the rod in front of the branch about 8-10 feet above the water - an objective view might be that I had not really thought things through. So far so good.

The pike, if it saw me at all, probably thought I was some large sort of bird (Greater Spotted Twitfisher maybe). I dropped the writhing bait into the water about a yard in front of the fish. It didn't move, a good start. The bait drifted to the bottom weed carpet, perhaps about 2-3 feet down. Nothing happened. I waited. Still nothing happened. I stopped holding my breath and risked breathing normally.

More nothing. Check clutch and anti reverse...no effect on the pike. I briefly considered jiggling the bait up and down, but decided if the fish was in no hurry neither was I. Then the fish slowly started to angle itself downward lining up on the still seething bait and as I watched it slowly agitated the rear fins to the point where it "pounced" on the bait. I let it chomp a few times and heart in mouth, tightened up and struck...pike-like there were few long runs, but the water was clear and snag-free (except for the sign and a few low hanging tree branches). After playing it for a bit, I belatedly (some might say) considered the second half of the problem...

When the worst of the battle was over I had to back down the tree, not letting go of the (rod) fish. First problem: getting both hands onto the same side of the tree (any side) without letting go of the tree or the rod. This was accomplished, with requisite care (and a couple of near misses) and then onto land with the fish still on (and by no means docile). I then had to pass the rod around at least one more tree to get to the swim my brother was in, to get the net under it. I'd got the hang of it by then. No problemo.

Taken up with the moment the brother forgot to be sarcastic for some time. Netted, the fish was a bit over 13lb and was my first double and the only one for a long time...but bigger than an 8lb bass (at last).

1976 to 1979 1978. The Rye Dyke. Fish From up a Tree No.2. Plus, my second ever carp. So there we were again and I just had to look up the tree again. Well you would wouldn't you? Yes you would. Anyway, I did. Not a pike in sight, not even a little one...BUT there were two or three carp, rooting in the weed...so down the tree, see previous tree story, and off to get my trusty 7ft MKI rod and a tin of luncheon meat. Plan A was to bung in some chunks and then lower a bit on a size 8 among the ground-bait. Simple plan, all the good ones are. Stealth still needed. Brother, still, quiet and disbelieving. Carp, luckily, heads down in the weed.

So I lobbed in about 6-8 chunks of meat and then dropped in the hook bait. Déjà vu? One carp obligingly picked up every bit of bait except mine. Really. I could have screamed. But then it went twice round my bait and picked it up. Just like that. Like you would pick up a biscuit from a plate as you were on the way past.

Did I hit it? Too right I did. Unlike pike, carp are built for long powerful runs. Unlike the nine-foot celery stick, the 'Blue Pool-cue' had a 2½lb test curve and there was 10lb b/s Perlon right through to the hook. And solid fibre-glass has a spring to it that hollow does not. Despite the handicap of the tree, with which I was now quite familiar, the contest was quite one-sided (in my favour, thank you), despite the carp being my second ever. So get rod on one side of the tree, down the tree, mind the fork, along the bank, round the second tree, into the net. Receive sarcastic applause.

A small mirror, on the scales, a bit over 8lb. But who cares? Really? Of course I went up the tree several times subsequently (well, almost every time I went past), but never had that kind of luck from that tree afterwards.

1976 to 1979 1978. The Nine-Foot Float rod and the Cardinal 40. Buoyed up by the regular wage of a part-time job with 'JS', I bought a nine-foot hollow glass-fibre float rod, which was very tippy, but otherwise around ¾lb t/c and was perfectly suited to 3lb line. Why I didn't invest in a longer rod I have no idea. Possibly the thought of a nine-foot rod after years of a seven foot simply seemed 'long enough'. A little after that I bought a Cardinal 40, a thing of elegance and solidity when set against the by now worn, Intrepid Challenger. And it had a 'stern drag' which worked. I've still got the '40, but the float rod got the 'order of the Spanish Archer' in 2009 on one of the 'Great Garage Clear Outs'. It would have made a perfect brook rod, so a pity really. Here's the Cardinal 40 though, with its 'match' spool which I don't think I ever used. I did keep three others, 6lb, 8lb, 10lb line, all of which fit nicely on a '44x.

Cardinal 40 Cardinal 40

1976 to 1979 1978. The Salmon . 'Old Bob', probably minding his own business otherwise, once spotted a fine salmon lying just upstream of the Norris's Bridge in Twyford. This kind of opportunity was hard to ignore, so he popped off and got his 'pole with the wire noose' ('technically' a sort of fishing rod) and waded up under the arch from the downstream side not far from near Shawford House. Then the vicar stopped to watch the fish, a rare enough thing...then the village bobby (remember those?), then a couple of other folk stopped by to watch and chat and pretty soon, he thought, based on the conversation and reflections in the river, the whole blasted village (well he didn't say 'blasted' exactly...) were there whilst he stood in the freezing cold stuff up to his nicky-nacky-noos.

By the time the party had dispersed a good couple of hours later, he was frozen in personal places and the salmon of course had bu88ered off up to Winchester.

While we're mentioning Shawford House, when 'Old Bob' retired he did odd jobs one day a week and one of the odder jobs was to check the drains around Shawford House. Built and adapted over many years, they had their own idiosyncrasies and by virtue of long experience 'Old Bob' knew where to check and what to look for. He took me at least once and under the guise of checking the drains showed me right around the place. There were ferrets in cages, rank things, pheasants hung in sheds and we even stole down to the old ice-house by the river. Job done, back in the Morris Traveller, he told me that years ago, after the war but not so long after, he'd been asked to come out one evening for some plumbing related problem and a big party was on in the big house.

He decided to slip in and see how the other half was living and poacher-quiet slipped around the house. "There was a pair of them at it in every effing room," he said, "dirty bastards. They aren’t no f*cking better than us, that wiped the scales from my eyes, I can tell you." Then he added a few extra words of contempt. He was right of course. They're really not. Remember that.

1976 to 1979 1978. The Careless Pheasant . This suggests there is some other sort of pheasant. On relection this is, at best, 'not proven'...but there it was in the long-garden cock-strutting down the centre path like it owned the place. I heard it, spotted it and 'Old Bob' came down and slipped into the back of the garage and we inched open the garage door to watch it with ill-intent.

"I could probably get a head-shot from here." I said, helpfully.

"Bu88er that" said 'Old Bob' "hold this and let the door open about a foot." He handed me one end of a piece of baler twine that was stapled into the top of the door. He poked the 12-bore through the gap in the door and I just about had the time and good sense to put one hand over the nearest ear...as it occurred to me that was what that piece of string was for, which had previously puzzled me...

1976 to 1979 1978. Maggots. The thing about Fishers' Pond in those days was that the only fishing to be had was in the old swimming pool area and the fish were 'proper', no hordes of obligingly hard-of-caution perch to commit ritual suicide on your size 12. "I really need some maggots to catch" I said to 'Old Bob'in passing "I used to use fish-heads buried in a tin of sand". That was true, a bass-head or unlucky perch was left out for a day then buried in a tin of sand for a few days and then riddled out for a handful of rudd catching gold. 'Old Bob' said that was easy enough, we'll paunch the rabbits hanging in the garage and leave the stuff in a bucket for a day with the door open and we'll get plenty. Oh yes. Proper galvanised metal bucket of course. So we did that...

Now...the bucket got a day in the open, on a nice warm day and then for reasons forgotten and unpredictable, two days passed before we opened the garage door. We were, of course, knocked off our feet. The normal smell of old wood and oil was obliterated by the waft of rotten rabbit entrails. It couldn't get worse...but 'Old Bob' thought it best to open the double doors at the other end to "get some air in". And some light. Then we saw them.

Maggots. Thousands of the little bleeders. Have you ever let rain fall in you maggot box? They're off up the sides and away in a trice. Imagine three day old rotting rabbit entrails...you're not even close...and so they'd 'legged it'. There were maggots crawling down the side of the bucket. There was a bunch on the floor under the bucket and radiating trials of slime emanating from the pile where the early escapees made good. They'd even got up the bucket handle and made trails across the beam the bucket was hung from. They were on the floor, on the walls, on the beams, on the bench.

We swiftly rearranged our priorities vis-à-vis, bait and "getting rid of the little ba$tards". The bucket contents were dispatched into a swiftly dug hole, the bucket washed several time with water from the barrel by the garage door. The doors were left open (for days) and we tracked and removed as many as we could and finally 'Old Bob' emptied two cans of air freshener in there. None of that helped in the slightest.

I swear that even the following summer, the good smells of the garage, the oil, the iron and the slight smell of hanging game were cut with maggot-smell. Never even got to fish with them, I can still smell them, still makes me smile...

1976 to 1979 1978. Mitchamador. At the end of the Long Garden was a five-bar gate of silvered oak, and in the evening 'Old Bob' would lean on the gate with a Woodbine and alternate between berating pub customers for blocking his drive and watching the world soldier past. There was a pair of pine trees off to the left, bordering the old cricket pitch and as the light fell cockchafers would appear from some hidden place and whirr around the tree tops and then as the sun eased away for the night, the bats would appear, swoop on the beetles and chittering, carry them off. Always worth seeing. Did you know an old name for cockchafers is 'mitchamador'? I miss being able to hear bats, advancing years. Pah.

1976 to 1979 1978. The Rye Dyke. Another '2lb roach'. I had, as written above, developed a jack pike method for the Rye Dyke, with which it was overrun at that time. A 6lb Alasticum wire trace, a single no. 8 long-shank fly hook, with a re-ground point and barb to ease hooking, plus plaited 8lb Perlon and a couple of AAA shot. Bait was worms, several. The idea was, if the water was clear you spotted your pike, cast over, reeled the bait past the nose of the esox l., several feet off, then struck when you saw the bait chomped. If the water was cloudy then touch ledger, casting into likely spots.

On this occasion I snuck into a swim with bushes on either side and in a gap in the weed spotted a jack around 1½lb facing me only six feet off the bank in maybe three feet of clear water. I pendulum cast the bait out past it, wound back past the pike and let it settle. Nothing happened for a bit, then as the small fins' movements started to signal an impending pounce, a large (and hitherto unseen) roach swam out of the weed, picked up the bait and headed back, just like that.

After a short and unequal battle a roach was landed that was over 2lbs on my ropey cheap spring balance...oh well. I caught three 2lb roach while jack-piking like this, but this one sticks in the mind as I saw every detail. Great moment (I apologise to serious roach fishers everywhere).

1976 to 1979 1978. The River Thames, Wallingford. On one great occasion we went thence and fished upstream of the town on the right bank, which was a stretch of free fishing (and in 2005 still was). Dropped off by our parents who then went in into the town for a quiet unencumbered day, we wandered up the bank and settled down to fish in sight of the bridge.

At the time the press was all about punched bread so we'd got a couple of punches (still have mine) and me with my pole and bro. with his rod started to fish - and caught right from the off. Now, it might not have been a heavy bag, but we spent all day catching gudgeon after gudgeon on bread and any other bait we tried, although other fish (especially ruffe) showed on worms.

It was non-stop for about five hours and I think we both had well over ninety fish in that time, which was huge fun. Punch, hook, trot, strike, put fish in net. A fish every three minutes more or less. I know that none of them was more than a 2oz gudgeon, but that is the point really. Strongly imprinted in my mind is the way the gudgeon would steam off when hooked and due to the pole and elastic, it would reach the extent of it's power and the elastic would curve the fish, still fighting furiously, towards the surface from four feet down. A 2oz gonk scrap would put a 4oz perch to shame. Ounce for ounce they fight as hard as anything in the river which is one of the reasons I like them. A great day which we talked about for years afterwards. Well I did.

The bread punch The actual bread punch, which I must use more...
La Morinais carpa very subtil fish...(and back to the top of the page) La Morinais carpWatch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpI am content to wait. I am well used to it. La Morinais carpa very subtil fish La Morinais carpWatch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders. La Morinais carpif you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience

1976 to 1979 1979. The River Thames, Medmenham. A school-friend of mine had a boat. More to point his Dad had. They used to take occasional trips on the Thames at Medmenham and I got asked along. It involved being picked up at 6am but that goes with the territory. This part of the river is reached via Ferry Lane, a pleasant spot and good place for a walk with a Young Lady as well, but that's got little to do with fishing...downstream from the launch spot are a couple of islands (opposite the excellently named Frogmill Farm) and the backwater side of these were the spot of choice and we drifted under the trees in dappled and cooling shade, catching odd bits and pieces. On this occasion I spotted some old pilings by the left bank and announcing it was a good spot for a perch, adjusted my float (random adjustment but for the look of it) and flicked the porcupine quill and worm perfectly against the woodwork, to much scoffing and derision.

To be fair, my casting is not that good normally. A good five seconds later bob-bob and 'gone' and I soon had a half pound perch in the boat. It's gone very quiet over there...I had another on the second cast and then nothing, but I was the 'perch expert' from then on... if only. On a second occasion the boat showed without the friend 'au crack sparrow' at Hazelmere crossroads. "Lazy Sod wouldn't get up" said his father, but nothing stopping us going." So we went and caught fish and it was another good fun day trailing around nooks and crannies picking a few fish out here and there before moving on. One of the nicest days fishing I can remember, if not the details.

The friend remained so and by his generous and expert graces, I ran my green MKIV Cortina all through uni. and he also saved the biochemist's car from certain seizure (it had started drinking a pint of oil a week), finding, after about three hours, that one of the engine mount bolts had gone and the bolt hole had been drilled clean through to the lower half of the cylinder so it was spitting oil on every stroke. That was a new one. In my mind's eye I can see drops of oil caught in mid-air with the strobe lamp. Huh.

1976 to 1979 April 1979. 'Still Water Angling' by Richard Walker (1978) star rating

"When Still Water Angling was published in 1953 it was hailed as revolutionary and has been regarded as the standard work on this aspect of angling ever since." ...it says on my copy's dust jacket, a 1978 re-print. Even with so many 'puddles' with 'pet' carp in them, there is much in this book that is relevant still and will help you to understand and to catch fish. It certainly formed the basis of my 'keep still, quiet and dress down' method, which I started using in the early 1980's, when time permitted fishing at all. Sure it has no 'rigs', but fish are still fish.

All tench are good tenchAll tench are good tench...(and back to the top of the page) There are no bad tenchThere are no bad tench All tench are good tenchAll tench are good tench There are no bad tenchThere are no bad tench All tench are good tenchTinca tinca little star...

1976 to 1979 1979. The Rye Dyke. Tench on a Sliding Float. On one occasion, I'd taken my nine foot rod and some sweet-corn for some proper fishing. I'd made my way about two-thirds of the way along to where the water narrowed and deepened and chanced upon a cloud of silt in ten or twelve feet of clear water. Suspecting feeding tench, I tackled up, with barely suppressed anticipation . A more-haste-less-speed moment if ever there was one. The first issue was the depth and I rigged up a slider float that was based on a large porcupine quill with an elasticum wire slider-eye, which is made by winding the wire once around a needle, whipped on the side. I tied a size 8 hook on the mandatory 6lb mono, all the while loose feeding a little corn.

I was concerned that setting the depth would spook the fish so this had to be done with exaggerated care. I succeeded by virtue of plumbing just to one side of the cloud and hoping the depth was similar if not the same and over-casting some way to avoid the terminal tackle's splash.

The depth set, I removed the 'BB' by the hook used for these adjustments, over-cast and reeled back over the cloud, slipped the bale arm open to allow the line to pull through the float to the stop-knot. This is of course the feeling we all go out for...the float dipped almost right away, which is the other feeling we go out for, and I had one tench on the bank of around 2-3lb. Release and recast, then another and a few minutes later a third. Delirious by now with thoughts of a red-letter bag, I cast for the fourth time...

...and a jolly boat, of the type rented at the other end of the lake, crashed though the over-hanging beech branches next to my swim and over the top of the silt cloud. Sheer bad boatmanship on their part and sincere apologies were proffered, but it was too late for the remaining tench, which had fled.

The big sliding porcupine quill The big sliding porcupine quill...which I still have in 2014... The big sliding porcupine quill The big sliding porcupine quill...which I still have in 2014...

The excitement of the previous fifteen minutes was reflected equally now by the sense of lost opportunity that enveloped me while I spent another hour on the spot on the off-chance the shoal didn't return. Drat and double drat. That was my 2nd 3rd and 4th tench ever, both the good and bad engraved in memory for my posterity.

1976 to 1979 1979. Penn Pond ...is located on the village green at Tylers Green in Buckinghamshire. It was rumoured to have fish in it, so one afternoon I went to see, and as it's only some five or ten yards in diameter, took my roach pole. There were rumours of tench. The picture below does it justice, it is a pretty location and was a nice place to fish.

On the day, using punched bread and a small pole float, I caught sixteen 'naturalised goldfish', which is to say they were mostly brown and green, although there was the odd fleck of gold on some of them. These ran to about 6oz and provided lively sport. I added a few good sized gudgeon for luck. The goldfish were, according to legend, left-over prizes from the annual fun-fair held on the green. I went once more with similar results and would have gone again, but a "No Fishing" sign appeared, still just about visible in the picture below.

Still see the no fishing sign You can see the "No fishing" sign

The Pond on Tylers Green, near Penn

Creative Commons License © Copyright David Hawgood and licenced for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

My first customer visit of 2008, was bizarrely, to a small design house in Homer Green, not a quarter mile from the old place'The'? Huh. So many 'old places'... and so, after the usual technical stuff, I wondered back past the pond and stopped. It was frozen over and embedded in the ice were stones and a collection of objects flung by the curious. Chips of ice littered the surface and I wonder, as I always do, if there should be some game on the ice, a cross between shove ha'penney and chess. The 'No Fishing' sign was still there and I took pictures, but they've since disappeared into the digital ether.

1976 to 1979 1979. Memory Jogging. One summer I'd gone down to Old Bob's on my own and had taken to an early morning run down the length of Hocombe Road (some fine mighty sweet-chestnut trees down there), then along the Hursely Road, back down Hiltingbury road, to the Chandler's Ford road and back for breakfast, perhaps a little over four miles. One morning someone was fishing Hiltingbury Lake and I pattered to a stop and padded over to watch a carp being landed. Interesting, enticing, but, sadly some residential restriction made it out of the question for me. I could have walked there. Shame. Never good to pick back up a run after you've cooled off. Ow ow ow.

1976 to 1979 1979. 'Old Bob's Reels. One day 'Old Bob' came back from work and we were 'bu88ering about' in the garage and he produced three old fly reels. "These any good to you?" said he, "Yes. Please." I replied. Still got 'em.

Old fly Reels #1: This one, 'Ogden Smith, London' Old fly Reels #1: This one, 'Ogden Smith, London' Old fly Reels #2: This one, 'John Forrest, Thames St.'
Old fly Reels #2: This one, 'John Forrest, Thames St.' Old fly Reels #3: This one, no markings... Old fly Reels #3: This one, no markings...

On another day he turned up with a 4.5" inch wooden 'Starback' reel. The brass back had snapped halfway between the centre spigot and the reel seat. A 'project' then, so on a grarage-wet day we drilled out the pins on the broken bit of brass and wetting a little of the wood and using new screws to hold it in place, silver soldered the break with a honking great soldering iron. Then, flipped it over and filled the ragged holes and the flaky wood around the spigot with two part epoxy and we left it on a heater to soak and set. The holes on the outside of the wood were filled with plastic wood and it dried paler than it looked like it should, leaving light patches. It was wet'n'dried and varnished anyway. Which worked, a spot of grease and it was a 'user'. It got loaded with some blue mono from 'Old Bob's' tackle box.

Old fly Reels The front view of the reel. You can see long gone handle postions and a lighter impression on the right hand side from the handle it came with. If memory serves it was a kind of black bakelite. Old fly Reels The back view - with a row of light holes filled with the 'wrong shade' of plastic wood.
Old fly Reels The inside, where the metal insert in the spool is visible and a piece of the blue mono that has been on it ever since if was fettled. Old fly Reels Just the reel stood on its foot.

It never got used and I'd forgotten where it went, until I found in the loft, wrapped in a carrier bag, stuffed in a box of books. I'll bet the single handle it came with will turn up sooner or later. Looking at it now, my engineering antennae are twitching and I want to re-do it, but better. Remove the brass, braze it whole, rub it down and dab the light plastic wood with strong coffee...stop it, stop it now.

'Old Bob' had two reels of his own. A large multiplier with an ivory-plastic side-plates, (which was for beach fishing with a solid glass beach-caster, which had plenty of 'welly' although probably hardly ever stretched) and a outlandishly large 'Galleon' fixed spool, which I can't recall him ever using. He passed the latter onto me, and I kept it until about 2009 and gave it away, without ever using it. He also owned a five foot solid glass 'boat rod', which was grey, had a wooden handle and no discernible taper...this latter put me in mind of the 'fibre-glass curtain poles, airmens quarters, curtains for the hanging of', that were easily obtained in Cyprus. He told me his biggest ever fish was a 16lb skate, Leviathan to me then, caught boat fishing using that rod.

1976 to 1979 August 1979. Pevensey. We went to Pevensey on a camping holiday or to torture myself and the bother, I'm not sure which. It was for the most part interminable. For future parents of teenagers, endless stately homes and bracing family walks are dull, dull, dull (did I mention it was dull?). It was August 1979, as I had my (very average and chicken-pox'ed) 'A' Level results by 'phone. I recall only boredom, very very flat landscapes and a fishing trip to a drain on the levels 'somewhere', adjacent to a pub I think, where we fished most of the day, myself using the 'windbeater' and a worm. We were told there were bream, so fishing lift method (which is what you do for bream, right?) I missed a succession of huge lift bites and catching an equal succession of eels of varying degrees of complexity. That's about that - and seeing the carp amongst the lilies in the moat at Herstmonceux.

The 4BB 'Windbeater', much repaired Not the most robust of floats, the eye pulled out and got a brass picture wire replacement, epoxy'd in and the tip also got the epoxy treatment to stick it back on at some point. Was '4BB' once...

In about 2001, I was intrigued to read in 'Ken Whitehead's Pike Fishing' (an excellent book) his description of piking on the levels and wished I'd known more about them then. Same old same old...

1976 to 1979 1979. West End Farm, Docklow...is in a valley just north of the A44 in Docklow, just outside Leominster. It's still thereStill there, same lake, wouldn't have recognised the place. 'Tam' and 'Bruce' had been here before and regaled me with stories of easy-to-catch carp, monstrous artery-hardening breakfasts, rough cider 'lock-ins' and had arranged a further weekend for the autumn and I got the nod. They also had to call 'Fred'. 'Fred' was a Brummie and had spent most of his life as a compare/comedian in British Legion's around the Midlands. He was apparently a scream.

So we set off, pausing only at a Cotswold-stone pub by the A419, to consume the biggest mushroom-and-beef burgers I've ever seen. I was armed with only the nine-foot rod and only had two carp to my name. The prospect of more (and easy to catch? Not carp surely?) seemed too good to be true. Back then I recall one lake, which looks as if it might be the larger of the ones on the current map. You stayed in the farmhouse, the plan was to rise with the sun, fish until breakfast (foreshadowed large 'death by cholesterol' type), fish again, back for lunch and so on and so forth, until the pub up the road opened. So after a long afternoon catching obliging carplets, we retire to the pub and cross-ply ourselves with proper cider and discuss metaphysical matters such as BNWHMBritish New Wave Heavy Metal, fish, whether 'Blue Oyster Cult' are a proper rock band ('no') and very probably girls, a preoccupation with the opposite sex being aposite, if not mandatory for lads our age, then a 'lock-in', followed by a stagger back to the farm at some ridiculous hour on Saturday.

Saturday morning dawned, literally. At that time I had become immersed in Shotokan and my custom on rising was to stretch my legs in a variety of outlandish and not relaxing ways. It was frosty-cold so that day hurt more than usual, trust me. It wasn't helped by a variety of sarcastic and ill informed remarks by 'Bruce' pertaining to the activity (some would say I'm not a morning person, they'd be wrong, I'm not a person at all until 11am or so and at least one cup of fresh brewed Arabian). I stood up out of a side splits and flicked a foot jovially at my room mate and by pure fluke (or poor judgement, pick one), hit him square in the solar plexus, which ended the chatter. Sitting him on his own feet and stretching his back out to keep him breathing, I kept the 'accident' side of the incident more or less to myself...almost.

We hit the lake all bygones and I cannot remember that much of the fishing, for the whole weekend in fact, which is not like me. The alcohol probably didn't help in this respect. One of the great things about youth is the ability to burn the candle at all ends with no apparent ill effects, save recalling it. More carp were caught and fried food consumed. It was a new experience to me that any fish was easy to catch, with the exception of small perch and gudgeon. Float-fishing corn, we all caught fish but I lagged well behind the others, with a shorter rod and less experience of this type of fishing, and was probably trying too hard. The Rye Dyke carp were sneaky, wary and hard to get near, never mind catch. Having carp hurl themselves at the hook was odd. But with my Angling Times stick float and 6lb line I had little trouble and enjoyed myself. These days this kind of fishing has little appeal but after years of working hard for fish, this seemed a good idea - many of us think differently now, but that was then.

The highlight of the day was Fred turning up. Fishing degenerated in to a tennis match of volleyed very rude insults with occasional jokes that Mr. Manning would be proud of, but these days would be met with embarrassed and muffled laughs. We laughed out loud. The day wore on and eventually with evening coming Fred announced we would go to the Legion in Leominster, because he could get us into any Legion in the Midlands. He bloody did too.

After a happy day catching carp under 6lb, we togged up and hit the British Legion for an evening of beer and bingo. After enough very reasonably priced beer that's surprisingly bearable. After a gyratory introduction a young lady asked one of ale swilling trio to dance. Tricky. Clearly you need to say yes, because you never know, but 'street cred' with your angling mates is a significant factor. I accept, weak-willed I know. We do a slow circuit of the floor while I studiously avoid eye contact with my friends and ignore various gestures and mouthed suggestions. I was asked what we were discussing when herself was attracting our attention. I suggested we were wondering who herself found to her taste and we had a bet on it. "What happened?" she asked all breathy innocence. "I lost". So, I remvoed my foot ofrm my mouth, dancing over and story recounted, all 'street cred' returned, getting the girl but putting your mates first. Yeah right. But I needed the lift home for sure.

Sunday, with less of a hangover than Saturday progressed gently in the autumn sunshine, with pauses for breakfast and more than a few carp, until mid afternoon and time to move back to real life. Strangely we didn't do it again, but it was a blast all in all.

1976 to 1979 1979. The Rye Dyke. Some moments caught in the RNVMRelatively Non Volatile Memory.

Pike were the reliable quarry here. I made a tiny spoon of beaten copper and never caught a fish on it, but one cold winter day between two trees at the deep end a monster followed the slowly revolving spoon right up to my feet where it stopped, glared hard at me, then evanesced into the depths, never to be seen again. I cast again with my heart thumping my ribs. Of course.

Copper spoons One of these, can't recall which one... Old Devon Minnow A Devon minnow found in the mud in Anglesey and three brass paternosters from the Weston shore...

On another occasion in spring, I cast a bunch of worms to a small pike in the marginal weed at the spot where the Rye Dyke narrowed and deepened. I watched the stripling for a bit and a very big pike indeed ambled gently into the swim, picked up the worms and turned away with them and I struck them right out, the pike never changing speed or course.

I made a tiny quiver tip one winter out of a Winfield quiver tip, a solid glass thing 6" long, by taking an inch off it and shaving it to half the thickness. It worked, the tip bobbing perfectly in sync with the pounce of a small pike striking the worms, hidden by the muddy water.

In a fit of creativity, foreshadowing later tinkering, I took the top section of the 7 foot glass rod and fitted it to the counter of the glass float rod middle section. It made a powerful all through rod of 9'6" - sadly so top heavy in the hand it was abandoned very shortly after. I refitted a new ferrule to both section of the glass rod and then whipped the female with brass wire and soldered over it. No idea why, it's still there.

The bailiff, at least the only one we knew, was Eugene who fished with an 11ft Bruce and Walker MKIV G, not that I knew it then, but when I saw one a few years back recognised it right away. He used it even for roach fishing and we queried lad-like whether this was sporting'. "Remember," said he "the object is to get them out of there," pointing at the water, "onto here." pointing at the bank. Quite.

There was a shoal of 'uncatchable' chub which we never tried to catch as they were 'uncatchable'. 'Bruce' (OK, not his real name) cast bread at them in defiance of received wisdom and hooked one. He lost it. See, uncatchable...

One rhyme-crusted winters day, fishing just down from the boating pool in the first swim free of the ice which locked the entire lake solid, except this part near the top with spring water flow, I watched a mallard angle in for an aircraft carrier landing on the ice, skating towards the ragged edge. It hit the water with a quiet and satisfied 'quack', there was a swirl and it was gone. I watched for a long time after...

One cold day the three of us sat in a row among the trees at the deep end 'fishing properly' and froze our way to midday without a bite between us. "I'm going to pour a cup of coffee", said Tam, loudly. "There's nothing like a cup of coffee" he continued, pointedly, eye fixed on his float. It never moved. "Huh" he said and picked up the steaming cup. The float stabbed under, the strike confounded by a small vortex of cold and scalded fingers and twanging fibreglass. "Duckit duckit ducking ducking ducking bell!" said Tam. At least I think that was it. Naturally not another bite was seen.

The 1970s, the decade that was. There you go - if you've read all that and got to the bottom, jolly well done. It took me quite a few goes. It might even have been as I've described it and in that order.

A lot happened, anything recalled is here – chatting with chums it seems likely I recall more than some – I theorise this is because of peripatetic nature of my upbringing – memories become enclosed in the parenthesis's of location – for others, a score of years in one spot must blur more scenes into one, shifting vistas delineate. There's perhaps a little more and some formatting to sort out...the joy of 'php' – but onto the decade of shoulder–pads, big hair and New Romantics. All three of which I studiously avoided.

Have you noticed that even in 2014, 'disco' never quite died? "Not even," said the Bugangler (14¼) thoughtfully, when some fool put a disco revival on the radio, "if you keep hitting it with a hammer?". That's my girl. The 1980s then. Oh good.Mullets. Leg Warmers. Shoulder-pads. Why? At least 'flares' were out. Silver linings.

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03:08pm on 2018-01-16 JAA