Well now. It occurred to me that the piecemeal recollections that make up this virtual vanity project might be better organised chronologically. Boddam, Cyprus, the Banishing, then on to High Wycombe in late 1975...and then 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 would be insane and you would not be reading this, that is for sure. If you have somehow formed the impression that I really hated school, you would be exactly right. One word; "If".
The below has the sepia-tinted stuff that I recollect...it will meander. Oh yes. Sodding time is an illusion anyway. This page covers the entire 1970's, although there are two separate pages collating just the 'Anglesey experiencesYay.' and 'The Rye DykeThe Rye Dyke in High Wycombe...is an artificial lake created in 1923 by...'.
Still, could have been worse. Could have still been at school in Holyhead.
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1973. Cyprus. Onward and eastward. Hot and dry. Sometimes very hot and dry. Sunny. Really really sunny.
I had the good fortune to live here from 1971-4, plucked, to Mother's evident relief, from the extremes of Boddam to 100°F (37°C) in the shade. Ow. This was where I started actually fishing, as opposed to dreaming about fishing while reading the "Ladybird Book of Coarse AnglingI'm not certain one needs to fish wearing a collar-and-tie...". I had neither rod nor reel and initially made hooks from safety pins (I read about how to make these in a 'survival' book) and for line used a single thread out of the middle of parachute cord (green for preference). This worked surprisingly well, especially with a range of safety pins, though the angle and length of the 'hook' and 'barb' was critical.
Once I found a 'pattern' that worked it was guarded with my life and copied. One pair of pliers and a concrete wall used for a file and sharpener - the wall outside the back door had three solid metal posts embedded (for some long lost wire) each making a handy makeshift anvil for beating home-made hooks a little flat and the fine-cast smooth concrete made the 'said perfectly serviceable file. Safety-pin hooks they might have been, but they were 'cold forged' and needle sharp.
|Safety pin Hook||Proper 'paracord': 'paracord' fishing line - (the core threads)|
Eventually I gleaned enough real tackle (line, hooks and shot) by buying little bits and finding a surprising amount. I still find a large amount...I digress. I once came by a small cardboard box of 100 Mustad spade-end hooks, something about a size '14', I sometimes wonder where they all went.
The fishing, accompanied by various friends, was carried out while sitting on a handy 8-foot across flat-topped rock at the bottom of the cliffs. This, directly behind the house, was reached by walking over the hill with the secret radio-listening post, skirting the minor dump (where I once used a pallet as a stepping stone among the piles of old tins, in this way 'discovering' a bees' nest) then descending the rocky path on one side of a spur of soft sandstone. This was nearly as high as the cliff-top itself and was known to all as "Camel's Hump". There, armed with a hand-line and a knife, we fished from the flat rock for small wrasse and some kind of blenny, using limpets prised from the rocks with a pen-knife for bait.
A couple of split-shot were used to keep the bait down and your finger was the bite indicator. Bites were more or less non-stop, but wrasse have small mouths and hard teeth and as a result were hard to hook and on a good morning you might catch ten fish. These, cuckoo wrasse, were predominately green, with purple and yellow markings and mostly only a couple of ounces.
We envied the lucky folk with fishing rods, who could cast the 30 feet needed to catch bream or garfish.
If the bait was lowered to the bottom, then you would pick up blennies, easier to catch, but fewer and further between. The risk was, that a bait on the bottom became interesting for moray eels (aka the Roman eel, muraena helena), a sort of 'eel shaped demon' with sewing machine needles instead of teeth. And no sense of humour at all.
|Safety Pin Hook (and return to the top of the page)||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook||Safety Pin Hook|
This is the insane bit.
Once or twice we caught a small moray - a foot or so long, but still quite an exciting thing. The trouble was that even a small one would back into the rocks on the bottom and a protracted tug of war was needed to get them out. The only difference between being snagged on a rock and snagged on a moray, was that despite keeping the line as tight as you dared, the moray would give an occasional tug back. If there was more than one of you and the water was shallow, then the non-combatant would get in and move some rocks to loosen the eel.
At some point these accidental catches developed into a deliberate sport. The 'moray rig' was a piece of broom handle, some very heavy line and a wire trace with a big hook on it. I have no idea where we got the wire, but being quite resourceful, it was probably a strand of an old bike brake cable or similar. Then, you caught an unfortunate blenny and, using its head as a bait, searched out a big hole in between the large rocks and dropped the bait into the hole...
...if you were 'lucky' the hole harboured one of the three-foot mottled yellow and brown monsters. There was no 'bite' as such; just an inexorable tightening of the line, the response to which was to pull hard and fast, minimising, hopefully, the moray's purchase. I once hooked one such and anchored by its tail to its rocky lair, the top half was pulled clear of the water, with me on the other end...eventually, if one is resolute, the eel tires and is extracted inch by inch, then eventually and suddenly it lets go - a yard of well-armed thrashing airborne psychopathy heading in your direction focuses the mind somewhat - then it makes land in one's general area. A location that suddenly becomes marginally less comfortable than it was. As I said, 'no sense of humour'.
The only way (and I was very young) was to go after it with a knife and separate the head from the body, perhaps a little easier said than done...getting your hook back was troublesome, as the upper jaw bone was 'V' shaped and the hook tended to go right through the 'V'. It was a mistake to think that the head, only lately detached from the body, could not bite. You can take my word for that.
Maybe this is why I am tolerant of anguilla anguilla - compared with the muraena helena, the freshwater eel is a friendly and harmless thing...mostly.
|a very subtil fish...(and back to the top of the page)||Watch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders.||if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience||I am content to wait. I am well used to it.||if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience||I am content to wait. I am well used to it.||I am content to wait. I am well used to it.||a very subtil fish||Watch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders.||if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience|
1st January 1974. The Intrepid Challenger. A good design, let down by poor materials. My first reel for all that, and I rather liked it. I was given this for the birthday (I think) in Cyprus along with the Marco fishing rod. It was a good reel for its time, including a nice folding handle, double bale-arm springs and a separate line-roller on the bale-arm. It included a slipping clutch mechanism that was embedded into the spools themselves and was set using the decorative 'nut' that also kept the spool on. I didn't even realise it had such until about two years later...
It didn't get used in Cyprus, then heavy use in Anglesey wore a groove in the hard chrome plated line roller. Under the chrome was brass - once the line cut through the chrome, it cut the brass like it was cheese. As one of the bale-arm springs had also gone (I'd 'fixed' it by shortening the spring wire a half-turn and bending a new tag-end on it) I ordered new springs and rollers by post (the only way in the olden days) and fitted them.
I also obtained a second spool, as the received wisdom was that one used 12lb line for sea-fishing and 3lb for coarse. The spools are deep and held an almost impractical amount of 12lb line (best part of 200 yards). For my coarse fishing, such as it was, the spool capacity for 3lb line was gargantuan. With some care I wound thick 30lb mono (reclaimed from a beach-comb find with the salt soaked off), onto one of the spools, perfectly laid, until the spool would hold a little over 100 yards of 3lb Perlon. I then half-hitched off the 30lb, smeared it with epoxy-resin and when it had hardened, removed the tag-end of the nylon flush, with nail clippers, then smeared another coat of epoxy-resin over the lot ICI've always been annoyingly inventive. It's an engineer thing. 'On my deathbed, I will design a better deathbed.'.
|The Intrepid Challenger reel||The Intrepid Challenger reel|
It's so close to being far better, it's almost annoying. I used it until around 1978, when the Cardinal 40 came along and although it's not often used now, the clunk of the bale arm snapping over and the gentle ticking of the retrieve, are kind of embedded in the firmware.
1974. "A Ladybird Book about Coarse Angling".Yep really, my first fishing book and a classic. I include it here because of the interest it evoked in me as a nine year old (c. 1970), with its terrific colour pictures of fish and fishing tackle. Special mention must be made of the picture of a boy fishing a mill stream with a bamboo cane for a rod. I've been looking for that place all my life. And where else can you see folk fishing while wearing a tie? Wonderful.
Oh yes - it did also have some good basic information for those starting off along the path by the water, with knots, how to set up tackle and advice on your actual fishing.
|...of a boy fishing a mill stream with a bamboo cane for a rod||Spot the 'collar and tie', I find that extraordinary|
1974. Valley, Somewhere Near Caergeilliog ('Fort of the Cockerel'). I would like to say this was a great posting. Luckily it was a short tour and the fishing was near-perfect, due to the bunch of lakes clustered around Valley airfield. These provided most of my formative fishing experiences. This page is dedicated to those lakes, a small stream with trout and other fishes and Rhyd y Gari where I continued sea fishing.
I had, as previously mentioned, the 7' solid glass-fibre 'Marco' rod and an Intrepid ChallengerAlmost really good.... This was top gear.
|Seven foot (almost), blue, solid glass, 2½lb t/c, still got it. As well as the gazillion perch mentioned below, it has accounted for many pike including a 17lb fish caught through a hole in the ice, a very large wrasse, flounders, plaice, sea-trout, eels, bass and a couple of decent carp, ruffe, eels, bream, chub, roach, rudd...and a few gudgeon. It is due a complete overhaul (for 'funsies') and I may well do something creative with carbon fibre for the ferrulesThe creation of the Mk.III pool-cue.. I know, 'I don't get out enough'.|
The rod got a major make-over in 2017The creation of the Mk.III pool-cue....the Challenger did well until I got a Cardinal 40 in 1979.
I had three floats. A big porcy and a small one and a proper antenna float (as used in Ossiacher See). No idea where that went. After reading Billy Lane's 'Float Fishing' I bought a dumpy float to make a 'slider', prompted by the desire to tackle some deep water from a rock. Amazingly, I still have the porcys and the slider.
The Valley Lakes are (mostly) situated on a bit of moorland to the north-east of Valley airfield - this consisting of a mixture of bog, reeds, outcrops of grey rock, the occasional bit of grass you could walk on (if you were careful) and sheep. It was the really green bits of grass you had to watch out for. It was a little bleak and cutting across this ground on a misty day was a wet and occasionally spooky business. Given the bloody island's history, it was easy to think of how the land must have looked two millennia ago. For me there is little romanticism associated with the Bronze and Iron ages, which were brutal and visceral. Life was hard, cheap and short. Far removed from the vision of 'Celtic Utopia' some folk peddle. Moving on...
1974. 'White House' Lake (Llyn Treflesg) is to the west of Llyn Penrhyn and north of Llyn Cerrig Bach. I had no idea then whether that was the proper name and always believed it to be named for the house on the high ground of 'The Point', which was (wait for it...) white. It was occupied then, although I never saw anyone. The lake is roughly "Y" shaped and one of the more interesting places I have ever fished. In 1974-75 there were four species of fish; perch, roach, rudd and eels. That was it. There were no trout (although some of the other lakes were rumoured to have a few).
|This is the titular 'White House' abandoned and derilict in 1992. By the time Tom (see further down the page) sent me some pictures it was gone completely.||An outline map of the lake, with my own place-names.|
The lake was christened Llyn Treflesg at creation, after the nearby farm, not that I knew that at the time, see further down the pageInteresting stuff on the formation of the lakes. Treflesg means, as far as I can work out "Feeble (or weak) Farm". On an 1899 map the 'White House' is named 'Yr Ynys' or 'The Island', a good name for a rocky outcrop with a stream and marshes on both sides.
|'White House' Lake (Llyn Treflesg) in 1949, a few years after flooding, following the dredging of the silt for the runway extension.||The same spot on the 1887 survey. A headland with a stream and marsh on two sides. 'Yr Ynys'|
|White House Lake - 'The Point' taken from the east bank. Despite the best efforts of post processing, the two images used to produce this shot look like they were taken on different days - the negatives' scans were worse!|
The lake has high ground on the south side, sheltering it from the prevailing winds. The resulting wind-less smooth water gave the lee end an ethereal quality. When I revisited in 1992, lily pads were in the same places, the atmosphere was still off-beat and the 'White House' sadly derelict. A small tatty caravan slouched on the slope, as if dropped from a passing plane.
Generally we would fish in two or three areas shown in the map above, which were determined by ease of access.
• 'The Point' gave companionable access to the water for two people. Facing north was a narrow channel of deeper water and with hindsight this was a main route between two of the larger areas of water in the lake. Certainly the rock that we perched on for fishing continued down into the water, giving the impression of a steeply cut channel. You could fish from the opposite bank, 'The Point', and the western bank but the swims were water-logged and only really usable in high summer, but we did sometimes.
• 'The Beach' was a cow-drink on the west side, so the bank was trampled down. The wind, touching down in the lake's centre, pushed brisk waves into this shore. This had rendered the debris into a small half-moon shaped beach.
• 'The Wall'. This stone structure was some yards further north of 'The Beach' on the same bank. I recall it to be 5-6' feet above the water and even then it seemed anomalous, more like a quay than a wall. You could fish here, good for rudd, the height lending distance to casts, but not so good a spot for landing them.
I fished 'The Point' thrice in 1974, in the depths of winter, twice alone, my first fishing trips in the UK, just happy to be out with the rod and reel I was now allowed to use. I sat hunched against the cold, clinging-damp foggy days, with a tiny flask of hot tea and jam sandwiches. I watched the small quill, willing it to submerge - with absolutely no result, unsurprising given my complete inexperience. The third trip was with a school friend (Ronny), who caught a single 1lb perch with a spinner. This went into the sort of keep-net which is nigh-on illegal now and that was the whole catch. The keep-net had a hole so we never even got to gloat at the end of the day.
Later on, I fell in with in with another fisher-youth on the camp. I am not going to name names, but will tell you his reel had a "bale alarm" and a "latchet". Unlike mine which was equipped with the more usual 'bale arm' and 'ratchet'. He also felt strongly that a well known Tom & Jerry cartoon was actually called "Touch Pussy Cat". TPC"Touché Pussy Cat!" The next 'White House' trip was in the spring of 1975 with the aforementioned fisher-youth, although after the first trip to 'Trout Stream'. I recall catching a few perch in the 3-4oz bracket, simply float-fishing worms in mid-water (Plumb the depth? Why would you do that then, eh?), on one side of 'The Point'.
With the 7ft blue-glass rod, the Intrepid Challenger and a porcupine quill float, we went fishing more-or-less every day after school, for the unending months of the spring and summer. Get home, dig worms, have tea, go fishing...repeat.
We nearly always went to 'White House'. During the Spring this was because of the explosion in the perch population, the likes of which I have never experienced before or since. In an evening's fishing you could easily catch 80 1-2oz perch, all on worm. Sometimes on the same worm. Ludicrous, but a fun way to spend the evening and in keep-net days, quite a thing to lift the net at the end of an evening and see 150+ perch (both catches together). Extraordinary really. Ideal fishing for the 'hard of angling' certainly and in those days I was a fully paid-up member of that club.
Eventually even we would tire of this; so experiments to catch perch on anything else were carried out. We caught perch on:
Bare gold hooks. Orange and Black caterpillars cbmCinnabar caterpillars, of the Cinnabar moth - not that either of us knew that then. . Every sort of insect we could catch and put on a hook. Silver paper ('Kit-Kat'), wrapped onto the hook and jigged under the rod tip. Leaves threaded onto hooks to make simple lures, which were then pulled from side to side in front of you. Feathers tied on the hook as before. They all worked.
Eventually, after total perca ennui, I wrapped solder-wire around the base of the small porcupine quill, set 12" of shot-less line, put a small worm on, then roamed the banks looking for rising rudd and casting at them. MrC...because Mr. Crabtree said this was how one catches rudd. ('Fishing with the Experts' P.66). I 'liberated' the solder wire from father's toolbox. He had loads. The result was nearly always a rudd of a few oz's, golden, bright red fins and emerald green-tinted if viewed from above. Very occasionally this rudd would be over ½lb and those fish were worth 80 small perch. Glorious bright-scaled fish with no sign of being previously caught, special fish. I have had a soft spot for rudd ever since but seldom have seen such good fish (these days few lakes seem to have many). For some time I fancied 'casting to a rise' mattered, but eventually realised casting anywhere worked.
On the rare occasions we got hold of maggots - by getting a fish-head, burying it in the garden for a week then sifting the soil for a few dozen - you could catch roach almost to order by fishing further from the bank and more-or-less on the bottom. Pound(ish) roach were not unusual, if I caught six roach in an evening I considered myself fortunate. Anyone could catch small perch, roach seemed classier to our inexperienced eyes. If you cast ten feet from 'The Beach' into three feet of water, prescient flashes of silver preceded the float's disappearance.
Summer evenings were without failure, it seemed as if the weather was always fair, calm and cool with the fish always biting. Idyllic.
• There be...my 'bale alarm' pal and I were worming on the east shore of 'White House',. It was slow fishing on a warm still evening - in the shadow of the 'right-angle rock' - so for something to do we tried 'fishing on the bottom'. Novel, I mean, that was for proper anglers.
My friend had a 9' glass-fibre rod with a softer action than my seven foot pool-cueNot quite as stiff as a pool cue...but it did have a t/c in the 2½lb range.. The first I knew that anything was 'on', was the 'latchet' clicking, a very bent rod and some exhortations. Nothing appeared to happen for a bit, but without any run, the water started to swirl and boil under the tight line, with its float flat against the knife-edge straight line. Seconds went by, the water seethed, the float not moving toward or away from the surface. There was a crack. And it was over. We watched speechless for a while, as calm returned to the water. Spines tingled. And then of course we speculated wildly. With hindsight, this was a large eel, who knows how big, but even a 4-5lb one would have proved too much for our tackle. But we never saw it...so it became monstrous in the telling and re-telling.
|'White House' lake - western arm from 'the Point'||'White House' lake - looking south from the footbridge||'White House' lake - looking north from the footbridge|
• I recall a proper angler fishing on 'The Point' and he asked me to watch his float while he answered the call of nature. The float dipped and I picked up the impossibly long glass float rod which felt awkward, unwieldy, although I hooked the roach, the rod then removed from my hands with grunted thanks.
• There was a time...when I fished in the shadow of the dredger anchors' rock, then packed up to walk around the bank. With the still assembled rod, I cut a few lily pads in half, as boys do. The tip-section departed on the downward stroke, but by the slenderest of chances, impaled a pad to the third ring and then wavered. I hooked it out with the bottom section, quickly snagging the rings together to pull it near enough to grab. This whole diary, all its fishing, pivoted around this moment when I so nearly lost my rod. It would certainly never have been replaced.
1974. "Fishing with the Experts" with Mr Crabtree.Christmas 1974 came, went, then I had two more fishing books - "Fishing with the Experts" with Mr Crabtree and "Fishing - An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Catching Fish", which was not the same sort of book but nevertheless I pored over its colour plates of sea, coarse and game fish, then made the pike lure from instructions on p.57. It worked, but never caught a fish. I've put it here in defiance of copyright as (a) it's seriously out of print and (b) no money changing hands here and (c) it's really rather good. Both of those books vanished without trace while I was 'reading' Physics & Electronics, but serendipitously, after recalling them on-line in 2009 or so, I found a copy of each in a Blandford Forum bookshop in successive weeks. What are the odds?
|'Fishing with the Experts'||'Fishing - An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Catching Fish'||'Fishing - An Illustrated Guide to the Art of Catching Fish'|
|Just another fish-hook...(and back to the top of the page)||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||It's a space. Accept it and move on.||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook||Just another fish-hook|
1975. 'Trout Stream' (Afon Crigyll). The first place I caught fish in the UK was 'Trout Stream'. This is actually the top end of an 'Afon CrigyllThere is more than one...the stream from Llyn Carnau to the sea for example. There is a whiff of the word 'creek' about 'Crigyll' and I wonder if it just means 'tiny river'.' which crosses the road between Llanfihangel and Bryngwran, about half-way between the two places. I would say this is about four miles from where the Crigyll joins the sea at Rhosneigr. On an 1888 map it is named 'River Caradog', although on a slightly later map it was 'Afon Crigyll'.
It is a stream and it does have trout in it. So fair enough really.
|'Trout Stream' (Afon Crigyll) in 1992. The view from the hump-backed bridge, looking north.||'Trout Stream' (Afon Crigyll) in 2016. The view from the hump-backed bridge, looking north. My thanks to Tom Jones for taking and allowing me the use of the picture. Did my heart good to see it.|
It was about six feet wide - the picture above shows the view north from the bridge. The stream ran under the lane from the north side and about 150 yards from the road had a right-angled turn to the east - this bend is obscured on this picture by the Anglesey Expressway, which was not there when I was.
For a fisherman this was the interesting bit. About fifteen feet from the bend, the stream ran through a stone-built culvert that was about two feet wide. This funnelling of water had caused a pool to be excavated, with some colour and depth of water (about two feet). Running off the north side was a large shallower area that was a combination of a small tributary with the sort of trampled area you get where cows regularly come to water, a 'cattledrink'. Downstream of this pool, no more than 8'×5', the far bank of the stream was covered with bushes on higher ground, giving this small pool an enclosed air.
|This actual culvert, 150 yards from the bridge. My thanks to Tom Jones for taking and allowing me the use of the picture. 'Trout Stream' (Afon Crigyll) in 1992.||'Trout Stream' tackle...|
Being only my fourth (maybe) fishing trip in the UK, I knew nothing about fishing 0Some might say this is still the case. I am inclined to agree. , but my companion said all I needed was a small shot, a hook and a worm. You cast (or 'drop') in the bait and wait. I tried with no success for ages (well, five minutes) and hit upon the idea of dropping the bait into the culvert. As soon as the bait cleared the culvert - a bite - and plucked out of the rushing water was a sea trout, no more that 8oz - my first rod-caught fish! I say 'plucked', the fish belted downstream until the combination of a fixed line and momentum caused it to leave the water as a self-propelled pendulum, which then swung in my direction. I have a clear memory of the mauve/silver base colour with the bright spots on the flanks.
In the next half-an-hour or so I caught a flounder and another sea-trout, both as expertly 'played', all received with gratitude and feverish excitement. Years later it dawned on me what good fortune it was to catch two fresh run sea trout as my introduction to fishing in the UK. Then there was the oddity of the flounders, caught regularly here three miles from the sea (as the crow flew, never mind the actual distance). They seemed at home, confirmed by the regular sighting of 'postage stamp' flatties, suggesting a breeding population. This is defiance of flounder's known breeding habits.
Further visits to this small but perfectly formed venue revealed perch, brown trout (2oz a monster fish) and eels. This little pool, the best spot, would seldom give up more than three fish of any type in a session and that was a good catch. Perch were usually to be found lurking in the 'puddle' area, with eels omnipresent. On one memorable occasion I visited during a spring run of eels, dozens and dozens of bootlace sized eels making their way upstream. An extraordinary sight.
No subsequent visit ever really matched up to the magic of that first trip though, whatever the catch.
April 1975. The Eight Foot Glass-Fibre Rod.
This 'not even top quality for its era' hollow glass-fibre rod was leaning in the corner of a Valley caravan full of junk, then cleared out by my father, so he donated it to the anglers. The rod was immediately designated a 'pike rod' or 'ledger rod' depending on the prevailing wind and got a fair bit of use in the later 1970's until some motor launch ploughed along the Marlow bank and among the rods that went in was that one, with its reel. That can just be an unfortunate accident, but when they stands on the back of the boat laughing...then they're just another Cnut, big boat or not. There was, around that time, a series of lamentable TV ads. for a well-known brand of tea-bag, featuring, among others, a chimpanzee with a bowler hat.
1975. Llyn Cerrig Bach. This is what we knew it as. The plaque there agrees. The existing OS map is ambiguous. Descriptions from the link below suggest otherwise. I presume the landscape has altered somewhat since the runway was built. It certainly has since the Iron Age...as far as I can tell the original lake surrounded Craig Carnau and this lake and what we called Carnau Lake were all part of the 'original' Llyn Cerrig Bach.
(Funny thing in 2014 I found a paper that more or less agreed with thisHow the lakes were made).
The "Lake of Little Stones" is famous for the large haul of Celtic artefacts, found when the RAF Valley runway was constructedIncluding what were clearly shackles. Just sayin'. In 1974 the lake was perhaps two or three acres, with deep reed beds around it, making fishing awkward if you did not have waders or a periscope. We had neither. The first time I fished here, 'Tod Sloan', it was in the evening. On the south bank I had discovered one small swim, an outcrop of grey rock providing a vantage point some 3 feet above the water. It was clear of reeds and provided handy access to 4-6' of water right under the rod tip. Aha.
I put on a small 'bobber' type float, actually the left hand one in the picture below. I have a sneaking suspicion it might, still, technically, belong to the bother...anyhoo, I actually checked the depth and discovered over six feet of water, which was awkward for a short rod. I persevered and after a while came the 'bob...bob...bob-bob...plunge' of a perch and discovered a few things: the first was that the extra length of line gave the fish room to run; the second being that this was no bad thing. The third thing is that perch work very hard to stay at the depth they are at (this is because it is hard for them to adjust the amount of air in their swim bladder, not that I knew that at the time). So you get a jagging and dogged resistance to being hauled upward. The fourth thing was (and bear in mind all the perch I have caught so far have come so far from one lake), the colour. I was presented with a 4-5oz fish (bigger than usual) and unlike its White House cousins, this was a very dark green colour, perhaps a factor of peaty water. Until the fish was at the surface you could not see it. Several other dark green fish followed in similar fashion, jagging up from the deeps.
I subsequently refined the rig for this swim. With the float-to-hook depth being far too close to a 7' rod-length, I realised a small slider float might be better. I had read about such in a library copy of Billy Lane's 'Encyclopaedia of Float Fishing'. I cycled to Valley Hardware shop to buy a suitable float, a little 'Trent Trotter' type, not that I knew that then, and I also bought a file, which meant I no longer had to use the cement courses of walls for filing things.
I used thin copper wire wound once around a needle to make the slider ring. This wire was harvested from the ground in front of a Post Office junction box, (these were always a good source of copper wire off-cuts). The ring was whipped onto the body of the float near the top and varnished over. In use, I made up a stop knot with 3lb mono' as the book instructed. It took about 3BB, this bulk being a foot from the bait and worked very well, easing the short casts and issues pertaining to 'the depth verses the rod length'. I got used to the tremble of the float as the line slipped through the rings. So satisfying to catch those fish with a solution of my own making. Great stuff.
|Much repaired, but lost original livery...'restored' to the original livery in 2014, no reason.||Home made slider, 1974, renovated for 2014, no reason...|
Hard to believe it is 40 years since I fished here. Wow. Both the above floats the same age. Huh. Below are a couple of shots of the lake taken in 1992, including the pitch with 'the rock'.
|Llyn Cerrig Bach, 'the rock' looking towards south end of the lake||Llyn Cerrig Bach, from 'the rock', White House in the distance|
|Valley Airfield from the north, Lynn Cerrig Bach in foreground. Annoying. The negative scan has the foreground in pin-sharp detail, but the view of Snowdonia in the background missing. The scan of the print has the foreground underexposed and the background rich with blues and purples. I scanned and used the print, after an aborted attempt to merge the two.|
1975. Mystery Lake No. 1. To the south of Llyn Cerrig Bach is a small nameless pond surrounded by reeds with a couple of fishable swims on the north bank. One windy day (actually it was always windy, it was just a case of "Where on the Beaufort scale are we today?"), a man fishing there showed me how to float-ledger, the method he was using. He decently affected not to notice the short unsuitable rod - back then it seemed all off-duty airmen behaved in a civilised way - so I learnt a new thing which when tried, worked. So in the teeth of a very brisk wind, I was getting bites and reliably hooking fish, it mattered little that said fish were 2oz perch.
This is how it works: I used the big porcupine quill the first time I tried this, but then I had only four floats. The ledger weight was the smallest that worked at the distance, with a stop shot on the hook side of the weight.
|Float-Ledgering for 'Spike the Perch' as taught to me by a helpful airman angler.|
Later experiments showed that this method worked best with a loaded antennae float; I used solder-wire to load the float, the only other time I can clearly recall using the long antennae float that was last used in Ossiacher See. It also helped to keep the rod tip (just) under the water. All in all, in some conditions and especially in shallow water with strong winds it worked rather well. If you remember the three uses of a floatI am a float tart. This is to say, I find floats hard to resist. Consequently, I have well over a hundred and have no idea why I have some of them. At least fifty sit in an old cigar box atop the tool-case and at least another thirty are foundlings. In use, I recycle a few sorts and do not even use all the ones in the tackle box, never mind the ones in my collection..., then this is a good way to use one more often...
1975. Llyn Penrhyn. This means 'lake with the headland' (penrhyn (n.) cape, headland, promontory, naze) and a look at the map will give you a clue. The eastern bank was covered with a dense bed of reeds, some twenty yards thick in places, with swims that were cut into the reed beds. To get close to any fish you needed to wade into the water between the reeds - the water was shallow and sloped gently, so with only wellies on one could wade twenty yards from the edge to clear water. You still needed to cast a distance, but you could balance your rod on a rest and an iron frame sticking out of the water and ledger. I only tried this once and caught several good perch around the pound mark using, I think, reeds hanging on the line as a bite indicator but my short rod was not really up to the task. Experience wonders whether quietly fishing at the edge of the reeds might have been as productive...
I fished once on a rock shelf behind the officers' quarters, with no result and recall a sun-warmed rock, shallow water and finding some split-shot on the rock (stowed, all gratefully received), which showed I was not alone in the idea of it being a good place to try. I wonder, sitting here, whether a better spot was on the headland itself, with the possibility of some depth of water near the bank (it turns out this was the caseAnd with stepping stones to get you there...).
The pictures below were taken in 2016 by Tom Jones who contacted me as detailed belowThis is why I like the internet and my thanks for allowing me to use them here.
|A view of the RAF (officers) quarters across Llyn Penrhyn.||In Tom Jones' own words:''At the rear of Llyn Penrhyn there were stepping stones across a reed bed and the shallowish water to get to the rock facing the little island at Penrhyn. The RSPB have dredged a deep channel so it is no longer possible to get across there.''||Another view round the back of what used to be Llyn Penrhyn's big island before the RSPB dredged the channel.|
1975. Carnau Lake. This lake is to the north of Craig Carnau itself, lying completely in the lee of the small hill, which puts the south bank in shade and shadow, keeping that side of the lake becalmed and even on the brightest days, this provides quiet pools of shadow and calm dark water. I have mentioned the atmosphere on this clutch of waters before and while it's not exactly Stygian gloom, it had a disconnected and slightly ethereal feel.
The lake is narrow and our fishing was concentrated on the two ends. The west end where the lake narrowed to a reed covered exit stream had some depth of water and was often clear enough to see perch mid-water at the edge of a smaller reed patch some five yards from where the water exited among yet more reeds. This was where the small head of sea trout that frequented the lake gained entrance, but although they existed, they were so infrequently caught that a trout fishing license was not considered mandatory for the lake, (unlike Trawfyll).
At this western end we caught many perch of a slightly larger average size than in White House and I cannot recall catching larger than about 4oz, but seldom less. As in all of the lakes there were eels, but there seemed more here than elsewhere and any worm left on the bottom for fifteen minutes, would tend to develop the 'little eel' bite thing. This is when they apparently insinuate themselves around the bait without actually moving it - often the float dips a quarter inch and stays there...I recall grown-up anglers saying matches could be won here with a net of eels.
At the eastern end the water narrowed into a large reed bed which continued into a thin channel of weedy water that connected under the road to Llyn Cerrig Bach, (a similar channel also connected Llyn Cerrig Bach to White House). This reed-bed had various little inlets and bays with paths snaking around the banks amongst the reeds. This was interesting - there were several good spots in here, but again the catch seemed to be limited to 4oz perch - excepting one occasion.
The camp angling club had introduced a tench and carp into Llyn Carnau which promptly disappeared off the radar. About one a year was caught. I know this, because fishing in the reeds at the eastern end, I rolled up to a swim, dropped in the by now inevitable porcupine quill and it went straight under. Now, as previously hinted at, I have a seven foot 2½lb test curve rod and 3lb line. The landing method was to hoist out the fish. That was it. We had no net anyway, so I hoisted. A large brownish lump appeared and was 'placed' on the bank. Someone (Ian Lees I think) went off for scales and on weighing the tench (and I knew it was a tench as it looked like the tench in all three of my fishing books) was found to be 1½lb. That was my first tench, the only one I caught until a small bag on the Rye DykeWant to know how to catch fish from up a tree? Read on... some years later.
I did think it was 2½lb, but on reflection, even with 3lb line and a good blood knot (quite careful with knots even then, I was a Scout) I think a 2½lb fish might have not "hoisted" that well... I subsequently found out that had I declared it I would have won the tench cup for the year (it would have been the sole entrant). It never occurred to me a 1½lb tench would win anything. Drat.
I have caught scores of tench since, but still get excited about that thump on the line...
1975. 'The Bridge'. The top of White House Lake narrows to a point, despite the higher ground on the west and low flat marsh on the east side. This channel connects to Llyn Dinam and was mostly inaccessible, so was never fished. One day I took it into my head to explore this un-fished part. In the late spring I picked my way across the marsh, which on a clear day looked like any rough damp pasture, but on a misty one conjured up images of spectral and monstrous hounds. Very flat bits of this ground were best treated with deep suspicion, as thin turf hid deep water or mud. Where the lake necked there was a line of scrubby trees on either side of the channel. On reaching them it was clear that access to the water was limited, but on making my way a few yards 'upstream' as it were, I came across a bridge.
I say "bridge"; you've probably conjured up images of an ancient stone arch, thick with old moss. This was simply two large girders which disappeared into the bright green moss of the bank on the near side and embedded on the far side in a concrete block with a manhole cover. These girders were carrying services of some kind, but as far as I was concerned, a bridge. I edged across the cold scabby iron over the narrow channel of water. Perhaps 10' feet wide, it was almost roofed over with branches and the water had grey-green depths hinting at large perch. It was a magical spot and I spent some time watching the water, although nothing stirred. If there was a flow it was not apparent. The overhung green translucent calm, smell of the marshy ground and the isolation combined to give a heady mixture of signals that yelled 'fish here'. Easy for a 14 year-old with 'the fever' already deeply embedded, to imagine solid and dark perch jagging up from deep water, after pouncing on the offered worm. I determined to fish at the next opportunity.
Circumstances were against me, the posting was over and we moved away in late '75. After the move, battling the change from almost daily fishing to almost none, I would set up the 7' rod, with the self-made slider float and dream of monsters under the bridge...a couple of years later, I received a fibreglass car aerial, perhaps 5' long and I made a simple one-handed rod, ideal for small spaces where even 7ft rods might clash with the undergrowth. This was enthusiastically bought by a friend, and I regret selling it on.
The bridge leapt unasked into my thoughts the other morning, while I lay abed listening to the rain, wondering if I might get out for a 'fix'. I still want to fish there. One day...
1975. 'The Drab'd Ditch'. So, behind our house there was a playing field. Once, spellbound, I once watched a wall of snow, fresh-blown off the Irish sea, roll up this slope like a curtain. However, if you followed the slope down past the garages, always handy for a cast-off hacksaw blade, down the next smaller piece of open grass and through the fence, there was a ditch, half in the field and half under the hedge. There was tortured gorse and dark water and mystery...so one day I passed from wondering to hand-lining a worm. And from the black water into which twisted skeins of gorse plunged, came a see-sawing 4oz perch, the dog-fighter's 'falling leaf' in reverse. Well now. They really were everywhere. I went home. I only wanted to know.
1975. Rhyd y Gari, Cymyran. There are three contrasting ways to fish the sea here (or there were). You can fish off the south beach or in the channel between Holy Island and the Main Island or fish on the vast flat exposed by the falling tide, through which a few back-channels fill on the incoming tide, one from the far side of the sand. This was not quite as risky as some places. That said, keeping a close eye on the water was necessary if you chose to fish off the exposed sand, especially as one of the first channels that filled ran on the inside track, cutting you right off with five knots and four feet of cold water.
• This brings me to 'The Barnes Wallis BassYou can hum the theme music to 'The Dambusters' while reading this bit if you like.'...we had the good fortune to have a neighbour (whose name escapes me) take myself and my brother out bass-fishing from the sands at the south end of Rhyd y Gari, opposite Cymyran (Pathfinder 750 for the curious) - "rhyd" translates to "ford" which some might think optimistic.
The channel between Anglesey and Holy Island is narrow with a ferocious flow. As the tide turns you can watch the water stop, hover and start to move in the other direction. It really rips, you would be lost in an instant. If you skip a flat stone across this flow and get it right you get a perfect parabola of splashes that holds its curve for a moment before vanishing. Anyhow, our neighbour lent the brother a beach-caster and as my seven foot rod had the oomph if not length, I used that. He also very decently gave my brother a 6' white fibreglass spinning rod, which he still has and should not be sneezed at. Solid fibreglass has a good springy action, better than hollow and is very tough. I digress. Again.
The first part of 'Operation Bass' involved finding peeler-crabs, which was a new experience for us and good fun. Rooting around the seashore is a satisfying activity at any time, probably due to it being difference between 'lunch' and 'being lunch' at some distant point in our collective ancestry. You hunt around for crabs in the seaweed and under rocks and if you find a crab, see if it is ready to peel by looking for a crack in the back of the shell or breaking off a bottom bit of leg and see if a new skin is forming underneath, the precursor to shedding its old shell. Occasionally a soft-shelled crab can be found that has just 'peeled'. These are pretty useful bait as well.
Anyhow, we were tackled up with the crabs secured by cotton thread on a large bright barbed-shank hooks All three of us stood on the sand at the edge of the flow, cast in and stood there holding our rods. At this point there is a vast expanse of sand when the tide is out, some 200 yards across and stretching all the way back to Four Mile Bridge some two miles away. My brother asked what we should do if we got a fish and was told that bass had large mouths and a tendency to head towards the shore when hooked and were best dealt with by retreating away from the shore while reeling in, both to be done at a brisk pace. Time and tide came in, the weather and surroundings were pleasant, a few words were exchanged, but we were thirteen and eleven and our guide was an adult and there was little to discuss.
During one of the short exchanges, I turned to our neighbour and became aware that there was someone missing from our little party. I looked round - 30 yards away with a beach-caster over one shoulder was a diminishing form not inconsistent with the younger bother. I looked at my neighbour and he at me, then there was a splash between our positions, followed by a large silver object that skipped out of the surf, bounced off the shelving sand and once more between our feet before skating and skipping across the sand. I think we both yelled words to the effect of "you can stop now" to a now distant and determined figure...
The stunned fish turned out to be an 8lb bass (this was the biggest fish either of us caught for five years). It was a tremendous fish which ever way you look at it. I am still a little envious and only partly because I was reminded on a regular basis for the next five years who had caught the family record fish. Interesting use of the word 'caught'. It was a bigger bass than our erstwhile mentor had ever caught either and I think it rather got him down at the time, although he was very decent about it.
This is the nature of fishing, you can spend a lot of time trying for the elusive and next day someone turns up out of the blue, bungs in a bait and wallop. Luck counts for a lot, which is part of the point. I do not recall my brother coming again, but I certainly fished there on several other occasions, but never did catch a bass there.
1975. Rhyd y Gari, Cymyran. I went at least twice more with 'the neighbour'. The first time, I switched from bass-fishing off the steppe, to fishing a baited spoon in the channel that the incoming tide ran through between the house and the sand-steppe. I had read about it you see, although I could not convince myself that the hook mounted directly on the spoon would work, so removed it then tied on a foot of line with the hook at the other end. I perched on the rock and fished this modification 'sink-and-draw' and nabbed two flounders, the second large enough to pull the tip of the old blue 'pool cue' right over. "If they get any bigger", said the bass-fishing responsible adult, "I shall fish for them myself."
I subsequently modified the spoon by adding a couple of small drilled bullets under the bead, to add casting weight. On another occasion having bass-fished off the steppe sans bass, after the tide had run in a little I fished the channel to no avail, then decided to cast into the filling lagoon behind - once having reached dry land that is. I stood on a handy rock and did get my flounder but it was decently sized, caught the current and I had to fall in or step in. I chose wisely, so had to empty the wellies and endure jibes along the lines of "A flatty pulled him in". On the way home, the hurriedly collapsed rod left the spoon dangled outside the boot and the wire was more than bent by the trip...and here it is. Three flounders and a plaice to the good.
|Battered but not beaten, the flounder spoon.||Scruffy but effective...the spoon, not the user.|
The sand dunes between the parking area and the beach was the back-stop of a long forgotten small-arms range and one could find a score of 0.45" bullets in little time and then, as boys do, sit on the beach with a catapult and try to hit seagulls on the wing. Once I even hit one, punching it out of the sky into the grey-sea, then immediately felt something of a heel.
|Just to the right out of shot is the rock that the flounder didn't pull me off. This pool becomes a stream on the incoming tide, flowing away from the camera, and the little bay becomes a handy spot for flatties. And long lines.||Looking in the direction of Caernarfon Bay. Cymyran is just visible on the right and the tide has just turned.||Rhyd y Gari sands. Looks nice. When the tide turns it races across there, let me tell you.|
I can recall only the three trips in fact, although I once set up a long-line on the steppe, wading the bottom end of the 'other' Afon Crigyll with five hooks, a long piece of para-cord and a stake at one end and a stone with a hole in it on the other. I put blood-loops in the para-cord then loop-knotted the 12lb Perlon - my 'sea fishing' line. It took some weeks wait to get a time when the evening tide was low and the Saturday morning tide was low as well, I caught two, neither massive, both went in the pan and for the parent's part I had 'just been fishing off the beach'. Kind of true. The flounders tasted just fine.
1975. Mystery Lake No. 2 a.k.a. the lake with the floating banks. I could find no name for this lake on any map - so here is the lake.
This was behind the small part of the camp that had the 'NAAFI' and surgery, on the east shore of Penryhn. Once through the fence, a footpath led to the soggy end of Llyn Traffwll, past a small pond with a thick reed bed and one fishable bank. This bank, ostensibly turf, was one to three feet thick and floating. Really. You could poke a stick through the peat and after a bit it would meet nothing but water. If you jumped up and down the bank wobbled (I know...).
Half-way up along bank was a hole, dug by some person with even less sense, which you could fish through. The water was four or five feet deep, the perch were very numerous and 4-6oz on average, which were the main draw. Fishing on this lake was completely forbidden for juniors under all circumstances...when anyone was looking.... We fished it a few times, the rewards far outweighing the theoretical possibility of plunging through the peat and drowning unseen in the dark water.
I recall fishing it once with rod and line and dropped a wonderful blue-handled Swiss Army (fisherman's version) penknife SAKIn them days boys had pen-knives. You just did and if you were a boy-scout you also learned how not to cut yourself, although from a practical stand-point, 'cutting yourself', was how most of us learnt. It never occurred to us to stab anyone. , barely three months from a birthday, into the dark water and being more concerned about (a) the reaction to losing it at all and (b) where it was lost. I mitigated (b) by suggesting it was at the tip end of 'Carnau', where the stream entrance swim was deep enough to defeat a landing net. I was still thoroughly castigated of course. On another occasion I approached the lake from the Traffwll end, where a narrow channel of water led under some scrubby trees and could be fished. The fishing pal and I were not fishing, but we found some line, a hook, dug scraps of worm and took turns to hand-line out perch for a few lost happy hours. Heh.
That penknife will be tagged as a votive offering in a thousand years. Still, the old no-name black-handled Spanish hard carbon-steel penknife held a rather better edge (and I still have a number of thin white scars to prove it), so going back to this was no hardship.
1975. Llyn Traffwll. This was the closest lake, easily twice the size of Llyn Penrhyn and fishing it required a trout license, which I could not afford and so did not have, although the only real reason to avoid poaching was that you might get caught fishing without such and so lose your club permit. You only had to cross the road, take the footpath down the hill behind Eglwys St. Mitiangel's Church and escape the attention of the psychopathic collie that considered the footpath past the farm its personal domain. Five minutes to the shore, two if the collie was 'in'. The foot-path went between the boulders on the western shoreline, which resembled a handful of rocks carelessly tossed by a giant. They were good for climbing, but small beer after Boddam's granite and Akrotiri's limestone.
There were several gaps in these giant's-jacks and once I came across an angler hunched into such and watched him catch perch while hoping for a trout. He implored me to hunch down, I thought to keep from scaring fish, but later realised he had no trout license either. Once through these rocks, the path snaked through reed-beds, the tops hissing in the wind over my head, crossed several patches of peaty water and once a side-path to the right (to the floating banks lake). One day I went on, bore left, then there was a small headland, where the ground rose to dry grass and grey stone. On the windward side of this headland there was a multitude of goose feathers, a carpet undulating in the waves, so I sat and picked one out, which had a small hole and a pair of splits running up the quill. Inside, was a single small lead shot. I shook it, making it rattle, wondering who could possibly think no.6 shot would bring down a goose, then held it up and let the wind whirl it over my head.
Never fished it. No idea why I did not make floats from those quills, if it had been described in any of my three fishing books, I might have done. Although, probably because I already had four floats, 'loads', I did not see the need for any more...
|The Lady of the Stream...(and back to the top of the page)||Thymallus Thymallus||The Lady of the Stream||grayling||The Lady of the Stream||Thymallus Thymallus||grayling||Thymallus Thymallus|
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, viz. we lived 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 on an interest in such. 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 left 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, that 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 trips were to the Thames. 'Plan A' was to cycle, both the sibling and myself, but the parents vetoed this as the bikes were being loaded, as it was too far. Instead we were dropped off on Saturday, so it was in early 1976 we started our long association with Longridge.
Here the river is split by an island (Taylor Island, which had a good covering of trees) and the right bankltrWhen referring to 'left' and 'right' banks of a river, the convention is that one is facing downstream. cut was the narrower. The A404 bridge loomed overhead with a concrete drain cut on the west side with Taylor Island five yards distant. 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 Portakabin 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 thirty-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 far 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 great bounty and further, added bleak to our bag. 'Bleak bashing' was big news at the time, so we would loose feed maggots, then cast in a small float with 6" of line and a single maggot on a size 18. Once the 'fishometer' got to thirty or so the attraction waned, but the day was started. Except for the 'catch the most fish to the death' competition days, when thing could get 'competitive'. Maggots improved the general fishing enormously, and on keep-net days (or more accurately 'shared keep-net days'), a good end to the day was the sight of the net wriggling with dozens of assorted gudgeons, ruffes, bleaks and perches.
|The 'Angling Times' stick float, slightly knarled, with some very fine black silk whipping repairs to the peeling paint.|
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 was not a rhetorical question. I thought about it, 20+ yards, a Webley Service .22". Possible, but tricky. "Yes" says I, leaning back onto the bale behind me and putting the fore-stock hand on my knee. Clearly as I am 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 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. Hazelmere, Bucks. As it was for 1976-79 then, which is here:
Fishing was then divided, broadly, into 'The Thames' and 'The Rye Dyke' and although this page has a chronological order, I have taken some liberties to keep the 'Rye Dyke' entries grouped, as that makes more sense to me. Honest.
1976. The Weston Shore. I fished here with 'Old Bob', on-and-off from 1974 or so. 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 had pop-riveted a 15oz soup tin, sans soup. This, when driven well down into the shingle, worked quite well for my little rod, with 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, growing to like the place, despite the fact I never had a bite, never mind a fish.
Before 1975, 'flatties' and silver eels were often caught and brought home for the pot, the eels spending the night in the bath before becoming fish-cakes. A 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. After a few of those, 'Old Bob' stopped bringing them home.
There was always a flask of hot milky coffee, sandwiches and the wind was keen, even if you hunched down, but that did not 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 items 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. I had 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 produced 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 is 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 11oz. 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 one thinks 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 negligible compared to the black oil-fouled silt the fish lived on.
|About 11-12oz or so...I weighed it.||About 11-12oz or so...I weighed it.|
...and for years I thought it was the 'western shore'. Never clicked it was on the east of the water...it is right hereI have sat right here and blanked many many times.
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, but rather just a lake with some bank access. I only ever caught a few stunted 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. 'Old Bob' once caught a goose by mistake, 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') we 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 the cracked mud. 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. The History Teacher's Fishing Rod. I cannot 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 to it!" These teachers wore gowns in those 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 and 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, for reasons unknown, are these bits...rattling around the box of things that I cannot quite bring myself to sling as they have utility.
|So, the butt-cap, the screw that was in it, one brass reel band (I have no idea why only one) and one counter complete with pieces of splintered bamboo.||So, the butt-cap, the screw that was in it, one brass reel band (I have no idea why only one) and one counter complete with pieces of splintered bamboo.|
Ah well. Would have made a fine gudgeon rod. It was, I found out many years later, an early 'Allcocks Viking'.
1976. The Rye Dyke in High Wycombe...is an artificial lake created in 1923 by the Marquis of Lincoln, with open playing fields on the north side ('The Rye') and mature beech trees on the south. It runs roughly west-to-east and is about a mile long, with the western half being broader, some 50 yards across, and shallower, some three feet deep in the margins and about seven-to-eight feet deep in the middle. It is a little deeper than it appears, like most waters where the bottom is visible.
There was very heavy weed growth in this half, which in part was what drove the 'no lines under 6lb b/s' rule in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The Rye Dyke is fed at this end, by a clear stream from the Wycombe Abbey School grounds. This stream enters the lake in 'the Boating Pool' which was 'fishing verboten'. Fishing was otherwise only allowed from the south bank.
The eastern half is narrower, down to 15 yards in places, with overhanging beech trees and here the bottom falls steeply away from the bank, down to depths of 15 feet in places. At this downstream end there is a ten foot waterfall into a small stream that continues onward to the Thames, via Bourne End.
|The Rye Dyke Boating Pool, looking east down the Rye Dyke. 'The tree' is the one on the far right...|
I regularly fished here from about the winter of 1977 until around 1980 or so. The lake contained a lot of pike, many many jacks, a good head of carp to 20lb+ (at a time when carp were not ubiquitous), plenty of good perch, roach, tench and a large 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.
1976. The K. Dowling & Sons (Middlesex) 4" Centre-Pin.
We had both got centre-pins for Christmas, the current BIG THING. "K. Dowling & Sons" it has on the back, never 'spun' in any real sense of the word, still doesn't, and it had a kind of line-guide made with brass wire and a sliding eye, long since lost. It has a drum pillar and a ratchet/check button on the back. In an attempt to make it spin even a bit, I carefully marked and pillar-drilled out some extra holes and then de-burred the same. Still didn't spin. I've seen it described as 'ideal for coarse & game anglers' *snorts derisively*.
Caught my first pike on it and have kept it around for some irrational reason, used it for carp in 2006It worked. But only just..
|Spin reel...not. the K. Dowling & Sons Centre Pin||Spin reel, eventually... the K. Dowling & Sons Centre Pin|
1976. 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. 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.
|just a hook...(and back to the top of the page)||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...||just a hook...||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...||...and a loaf of bread||just a hook...|
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 attached 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 stainless-steel 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 protruding 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 smoky, 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 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 invariably 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 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...
April 1977. The Nine Foot Glass-Fibre Float Rod.
Circa 1977, flush with Saturday's 'JS' earnings, I went to the tackle shop in Green Street and bought a nine-foot three-piece float rod. This was very 'tippy', but otherwise at around ¾lb t/c was perfectly suited to 3lb line. Why I did not invest in a longer rod I have no idea. It probably just seemed like sufficient advancement on 'seven', so 'long enough' I guess. It was brown, had chromed stand-off rings, no lined rings at all, a Duplon handle and sliding aluminium reel-bands. I thought it was great. For a bit.
In sooth it was a terrible rod, with no backbone at all, the worst sort of glass-fibre rod and was barely long enough to make up for its terrible action. It spent some years being referred to as 'the celery stick' and although it managed a 13lb pikeThe Rye Dyke. Fish From up a Tree No.1 and even, once, a decent carpJuly 1983, Fisher's Pond, these were 'in spite of' rather than 'because of' the rod itself. It got the 'Order of the Spanish Archer' OSA'El Bow' in 2009 during one of the 'Great Garage Clear Outs' . It would, with a carbon-fibre tip section, have made a useful and robust brook rod, so a mild pity...
...I do not miss it and had I even known about the B&W Mk.IVThe Bruce & Walker Mk.IV 'G' s/u I would have saved up my money. I once saw a B&W Mk.IV being used by 'Eugene the Bailiff' on the Rye Dyke. I marvelled at it, its scalloped appearance and impressively long handle, although not knowing what it really was; but when I saw one some years later (and by some, I mean '30'), I knew it at once.
1977. The Ply-Wood Tackle Box.
Once fishing had commenced on a regular basis a tackle box was required. I had seen Stewart boxes, but these 'exceeded my budget', so I decided to make a facsimile of sorts using 3/16" plywood. Two 6"×12" pieces were cut to make the base and the lid. Two 12"×1" and two 6"×1" strips were cut for the four sides. An 8"×1" strip of the same plywood was glued and tacked in the centre of one of the long strips and clamped overnight. The following day the 12" and 6" strips were PVA glued and panel pinned (after rubbing the points off the pins) onto the nominal 'bottom' of the box. It was then left overnight, upside-down with a brick on it...
The following day compartments were fashioned with the same 3/16" ply. I fitted one long strip across the inside rear of the box (for all six floats* and the inevitable disgorger) then made a square compartment in the middle to fit a spool of Perlon, with a cut-out in one corner so my 6" artery forceps ('Spencer Wells') would fit across the top of the spool. The rest of the box was sub-divided into useful sized compartments, more gluing and pinning.
I planned to use strips of 1" wide webbing (airmen for the use of) to keep the box closed as I had no hinges and certainly they and any fasteners were beyond my budget. Two pieces of 'said webbing were cut to about a yard length. These were tacked onto the 'double-ply' area of the main box and the short ends PVA glued flat on the bottom. The webbing was then tacked and glued to the 'lid', so the two strips acted as hinges and the lid was then secured by taking the webbing twice around the box and then tucking it under itself, as it were. This worked far better than one might expect. Having done this and some sandpapering, it was varnished with whatever varnish was lurking in the shed. This was my tackle box for at least the next four years or so, certainly until I had a job and could afford an actual Stewart box. During its life, I cleaned paint-brushes on the lid, so it gradually took on a mosaic of various drab colours.
How do I know when I did this? As it was made in the shed in Hazlemere, it must have been at least 1977. It was before I had my first Saturday job, at a seedy greengrocer in the local parade of shops, (which had an equally seedy manager who vanished suddenly when his literal fingers became metaphorically trapped in the till) in late 1977. Otherwise I would have bought one. I took a punt and inferred this was a closed season job...as there was just no fishing at all in them days after March 15th...
* The Big Porcupine Quill, the Small Porcupine Quill, The Dumpy Slider, the 4BB Windbeater, the Biro Refill Float and a small Grey Peacock Quill. The Biro Refill Float was made by putting a foundling cane-tip into a cleaned Biro-refill and a short stem was inserted in the other end, to which was added a copper-wire eye. The Grey Peacock Quill was made from a foundling, the broken top of the original quill was cut off, then a tiny s/steel eye was whipped on the bottom insert. The tip was, if I recall rightly, made from a matchstick PVA'd into the top and painted 'dayglo' orange and the body was painted a 'battleship grey'.
1977. The River Thames, Longridge. The Chub on a Dead-Bait. A sunny day when many 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-hooked 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; It is singular to find that in the "Peter Stone Letters", Richard Walker discusses using bleak dead-baits for chub.
* The Stick Float ('float no. 7') was a 6" balsa-dowel affair with a big ORANGE tip and one of them eyes made by sticking what appeared to be a hook-shank into the bottom, taking care to ensure that it was (1) made of really rust prone metal and (2) that it was in no way long enough to ensure any kind of strength or integrity. Naturally this float came from Woolworths.
1977. The Rye Dyke. That First Carp. I had made myself a couple of pole floats - one of which was an empty Biro refill with a very slim antenna gleaned from the river bank, glued into the top, which worked rather well. So to test it, along with the pole's new flick-tip ring, I headed on down to the Rye Dyke.
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 the bother catching a pike of 3-4oz that during unhooking clamped itself onto his thumb and took some prising off, 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, a size 18 adorned with a single maggot, I was amusing myself by catching these small fish from small gaps in the weed. I had 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 the bait in front of the trail and away went the float...
I struck, confidently expecting another 1oz rudd or roach...oh cr*p..."All hell broke loose" is a terrible cliché, so I am going with; 'a lot of exciting things happened all at once'. A large lump powered through the weed towards the middle of the Dyke. I would like to claim it was expertly played, but that would be a bared-faced lie.
What I did, was hang onto the pole for grim death while the fish, now obviously a carp, swam around in large circles in the middle of the water. I swear that at one point the 18" of elastic reached some 15 feet in length. It ploughed through weed-beds with no apparent effort - how the line held I will never know. Eventually and improbably, after an eternity (probably more like 15 minutes), the carp tired enough to be netted and was, in a folding net that today would have the owner barred from a fishery for life.
I had, it turned out, connected with a fully scaled 'common' carp, 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 ruefully returned it un-weighed. 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 experience was bad 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 was using. In hindsight, if I had 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 likelihood, have taken the tip off the pole.
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 repeatedly bent past its test curve - that was 2½lb. There were few long runs, but a lot of dogged pulling with huge power. Eventually, sadly, the line went. I did not feel as bad as the sibling but it was close. Whatever it was (the safe money was on a large barbel), it was big.
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. Funny 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 a speculative email was 'sort of'. I did not follow it up, I just wondered...
1977. Southampton 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 was expressed 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.
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 had been given a revolver once, so 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".
1977. Worcester & Birmingham canal. The River Severn, 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. Try as I might, I cannot pin down the spot (landscape recognition is a large part of my navigational superpowers, it seldom lets me down...this is one of those rare occasions), even with 'google maps' too much has changed, but I did fish the river in some convenient brown niche in the bank, marveling at the hissing writhing water, so much more power than I had seen before 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 is a shame my next thought was not to change to 6lb line, but still.
The next campsite was nearer Worcester and despite my best efforts I cannot 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. Additionally, there was an occasional ruffe. All fish, a fish is a fish.
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.
|1977, Dear Mater, one is well...my handwriting has deteriorated since then.||1978, Darling Mother, Dearest Father, Here I am at, Camp Granada...|
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 did not catch anything else).
1977. Horse's Doofers.
As a callow youth, I read about making fishing lines from horse-hairs. Because 'I knew a girl with a horse'nagThis was in Buckinghamshire. Everyone knew at least one girl with a horse., I obtained a quantity of tail hair and spent some time plaiting them, to see how it turned out. From these experiments, I reckoned a reasonable line could be fashioned, fairly pliable and thinner than one might first think. It was labour intensive(!), but using three lace-making bobbins and a pin-cushion speeds things rather. This is the sort of job that can be done while watching the telly, like knitting.
The hairs varied in thickness somewhat, so for any kind of decent line they needed to be sorted into similar thicknesses. From memory, a hair's breaking strain varied from 2-4lb b/s. To make a long line, start with three hairs of differing lengths (cut them up) and then splice in a new hair when the plait reaches nearly the end of the 'old hair'. This ensures each join is about the same distance apart. It is worth plaiting a small loop into the 'start' end of the line; once the plait reaches about an inch, form a loop and plait the loose ends in with the standing part line for about 2". Overlap 'new hair' joins at least 2". Like any long braid, it needs to be 'worked' a bit to even up the strains.
I have no idea how you care for such a line, although I suspect some kind of dressing would help its life along and perhaps make it more supple. I concluded that knots were likely to be tricky and whipping the line to a hook was a better proposition. If I was doing it again, I would consider using a four strand braid, to produce a round section line.
My plaiting skills were also then used to make several bowstrings (using the inner threads from 'paracord') and I made a number of 18" plaited nylon traces out of 8lb Platil, used for worming for pike on the Rye Dyke. These had a loop at one end, were attached to the main line using a link swivel and the business end had a size 6 long-shank low water fly-hook whipped on. These worked well and they were never bitten off, although the traces were generally only good for two or three fish each.
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 Cheshire 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, another was often lurking close by. 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 finished 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, which 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 have 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.
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 had (back then) parked ourselves on one of the Leander Club's pontoons and permission had been granted 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 am ashamed to say I cannot recall the ladies' names. The rest was predictable bo11ocks of course but I still have the good quality shirt. Small world.
1977. Alasticum Wire. I was, once fired up by the first pike, enthused; so I decanted from High Wycombe library many 'big books about pike fishing' and ascertained that one must use Alasticum, so then made a variety of lethal looking traces for fishing with monstrous baits for even more monstrous pike, none of which ever got out of the tackle box as (a) I knew not of monstrous pike and (b) had no means for fishing for such. However, Dyke pike were still pike and although it is a mystery to me why sprats did not feature more heavily in our fishing at the time, quantities of lob-worms did, on which many pike foundered.
Alasticum wire was single strand, could be stretched slightly, so one might 'pull' bends out of the wire after use, it didn't rust and was available in 6lb to 'Loch Ness' strengths. However if it kinked, it was considerably weakened, but so is any wire. Making traces of doubled and twisted Alasticum helped to avoid this potential doom.
The traces evolved to a pinnacle that consisted of a single size 6 long-shank low-water salmon hook, with the barb ground down about two-thirds, to ease both the insertion of said hook and its removal, this then being connected to a 12-18" of best Alasticum. Connection was simple - the wire went through the eye, around the shank a few times, back around towards the eye and back through it from the other direction to the standing part. Then twist the two ends together for about an inch, then wind the tag end around the standing part half a dozen times (which may need to be under strain to facilitate neat windings) and then trim the tag-end off flush, achieved using electronics' end-cutters.
At the other end a loop was made in the same way, with a small swivel in it. That was the whole rig. None remain, but here's one...along with some long obsolete Alasticum wire, which these days serves as the best wire for making floats' eyes.
|The Rye Dyke Rig, kinda.||Alasticum Wire; I retained two spools, 8lb, 10lb, from way back and bought two spools about 6 years ago, for making float eyes.|
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.
1977. The Cardinal 40. Buoyed by the continuing and regular wage of a part-time job with 'JS', I bought a Cardinal 40, a thing of elegance and solidity when set against the, by now, 'slightly foxed' Intrepid Challenger. The reel's foot is stamped '760400', identifying it as having been manufactured in April 1976. It seems likely I bought it in late 1977, which fits.
Plus, the Cardinal 40 had a 'stern drag' sdI am fairly sure I went out with a girl like that. Just once. which worked. I still have (c. 2021) the '40, although I have since stripped off the blue paint and plan to re-assemble it as a 'gunmetal' version. One day.
|I am content to wait. I am well used to it...(and back to the top of the page)||...a very subtil fish||Watch for magpies on your path. Throw salt over your left shoulder. Walk around ladders.||if you will Fish for a Carp, you must put on a very large measure of patience||I am content to wait. I am well used to it.|
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).
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 Mk.I 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 six or eight 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.
31st May 1978. The Cardinal 40. A step up from the 'Intrepid Challenger'. So that's good.
I acquired four spools and carried 3lb, 6lb, 8lb, 10lb lines for all occasions. It served me faithfully until about 2004 when the gears ground down to a slow crawl. My only real criticism is that the ratchet is loud and sounds hollow, due to the plastic body cover. Around 2016 or so, I thought to try and renovate it, so stripped it down and removed the paint. I now have a pile of gunmetal-colour bits sans paint and will one-day re-assemble it into a gunmetal-grey reel...probably.
Here is the Cardinal 40, with its 'match' spool which, I think, was never used. I did keep three others, 6lb, 8lb, 10lb line, all of which fit nicely on a '44x.
|The much travelled Cardinal 40, pike, carp, wrasse, flounders, gudgeon and everything else...||The much travelled Cardinal 40, pike, carp, wrasse, flounders, gudgeon and everything else...|
Here's the manual which I kept around for some reason.
|The Cardinal 40 manual||The Cardinal 40 manual|
|The Cardinal 40 manual||The Cardinal 40 manual|
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 are 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 had 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.
1978. The Careless Pheasant . This suggests there is some other sort of pheasant. On reflection 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 left-hand 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...
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 are 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...
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.
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).
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 had acquired 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 its 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 actual bread punch, which I must use more...|
|Split...(and back to the top of the page)||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot||Split...||...shot|
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 has 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 was 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 (a random adjustment 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 normally that good. A good five seconds later bob-bob and 'gone' and I soon had a half pound perch in the boat. It has 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 there's 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 Mk.IV 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.
April 1979. 'Still Water Angling' by Richard Walker (1978)
"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.
June 1979. The Glass-Fibre Aerial Rod.
Circa 1979, I came by one of those trendy solid glass-fibre car aerials from a mechanic friend who'd taken one off somebody's involuntarily re-configured 'Carlos Fandangomobile'jplRemember the Jean-Pierre Luni 'Super Skis'?. It was barely five feet long, a reddish-brown colour, had a core of fine wire and the taper of a fly rod. Nevertheless, I decided to make a fishing rod out of it. I made an 8" handle, with bottle-corks, two salvaged reel-bands and two demi-john corks, the latter fitted at each end, narrow-end inwards to make a neat flared effect (and to keep the reel bands on). I fitted five stand-off chromed rings and an 'agatine' tip-ring (I think 'agatine' is the right word, essentially 'glass') with a quiver-tip thread, although I have no idea why I thought that would be useful. I have no recollection of using it at all, although it is linked in my mind with 'the bridgeWhere's that confounded bridge?', a false memory. A friend, much taken with it, offered to buy it for £20 and I took the money, something I regret, but only because I do not have it any more. I often wonder what happened to it. With hindsight, it would have been smarter to make a 16" × ¾" dowel handle and araldite 4" of the glass-fibre into a hole in the middle, then fit corks over the dowel...
|This space deliberately blank||All tench are good tench... (and return to the top of the page)||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||All tench are good tench||This space deliberately blank|
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 had 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, so I rigged up a slider float which was based on a large porcupine quill with an 'Alasticum' wire slider-eye (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...which I still have in 2014...||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.
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 is 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.
|You can see the "No fishing" sign||
The Pond on Tylers Green, near Penn
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'penny and chess. The 'No Fishing' sign was still there and I took pictures, but they've since disappeared into the digital ether.
1979. Memory Jogging. One summer I had 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.
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.
|#1: This one, 'Ogden Smith, London'||#1: This one, 'Ogden Smith, London'||#2: This one, 'John Forrest, Thames St.'|
|#2: This one, 'John Forrest, Thames St.'||#3: This one, no markings...||#3: This one, no markings...|
On another day he turned up with a 4½" wooden 'Starback' reel. The brass back had snapped halfway between the centre spigot and the reel seat. A 'project' then, so on a garage-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.
|The front view of the reel. You can see long gone handle positions 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.||The back view - with a row of light holes filled with the 'wrong shade' of plastic wood.|
|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.||Just the reel stood on its foot.|
It never got used and I had forgotten where it went, until I found in the loft, wrapped in a carrier bag, stuffed in a box of books. I 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 cannot 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, airmen's 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.
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, and I received 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 is about that - plus seeing the carp amongst the lilies in the moat at Herstmonceux.
|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 had known more about them then. Same old same old...
1979. West End Farm, Docklow...is in a valley just north of the A44 in Docklow, just outside Leominster. It is 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 Halls 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 have 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 (a 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', obviously) and very probably girls, a preoccupation with the opposite sex being apposite, 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, oops, 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 removed my foot from 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.
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.
|One of these, can't recall which one...||A Devon minnow body found in Whitehouse mud, in Anglesey, and three brass paternosters from the Weston Shore.|
On another occasion, in the 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 fitted a new ferrule on both sections of the glass rod and in 1980, using the office soldering iron, whipped the female with brass wire and soldered over it. No idea why, but it remained there for a score of years, the re-assembled Marco rod being the Mk.II Pool Cue.
The bailiff, at least the only one we knew, was Eugene who fished with an 11ft Bruce and Walker Mk.IV 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 rime-crusted winter day I was fishing just down from the boating pool, its spring water flow keeping the first swim free of the ice that was locking the rest of the lake. 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 the longest time, but nothing surfaced.
One cold day the three of us were sitting in a row among the trees at the deep end 'fishing properly' and freezing our way to midday, at which time we hadn't 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 that day.
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Ah the 1970s, the decade that was. Slade, The Sweet, Marc Bolan, Status Quo, Joanne the Harlot, Charlotte the Harlot, Mk.IV Ford Cortinas, cold Three-Day Weeks, terrorist bombing campaigns memePlus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, nylon shirts and sheets, and skool.
There you go - if you have read all that and got to the bottom, all 64 entries, jolly well done. It took me quite a few goes. It might even have been much as I have described it and in this order.
A lot happened, anything recalled that was 'more or less fishing related' is here – chatting with chums it seems likely I recall more than some – I hypothesise this is due to the peripatetic nature of my upbringing – memories become anchored between the parentheses of location – for others, a score of years in one spot must blur more scenes into one, shifting vistas delineate. There is 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, although I once went to a Tuesday night disco in Wycombe Town Hall, something that I have since filed under 'errors of judgement', along with Val from the same evening.
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.
For the 1980's re-consolidated auto-biographical memories head this way >>>'Onwards and Upwards'.
|it's lead free, honest...(and back to the top of the page)||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p||it's lead free, honest||it's lead free, so a bit cr*p|