Bob the Floats – ‘Old Father, My Father’ A Thames relationship like no other.

I have been fishing the Thames ever since & have created in my mind a thirty-year portfolio of trips, adventures & stories whilst also catching some special fish along the way.

I have a relationship with old father Thames like no other river on this beautiful island of ours. Its a relationship that spans over thirty years and it’s also the river I dream about the most and it’s never far from my thoughts.

My love and fascination with Thames began way back when I was a small child. I was introduced to the river by my nan and grandad and have associated the river with them ever since which may explain why the river is so special to me. Grandad Terry and Nanny Vera were the most amazing grandparents a child could ever wish for, my siblings and I had a wonderful sometimes magical childhood a lot of which we owe to them.

For a number of year’s, we travelled up to London every Christmas to see the lights and sights driving over the famous bridges. London and the river Thames lit up at night is spectacular. We would wander for hours and always look forward to bag of roasted chestnuts. Our summer’s spent with nan and grandad also involved spending time on the banks of the river. Henley regatta is another fond memory, as well Hurley. It was Hurley where we used to picnic as a family and swim in the river on hot summer days.

My first experience of actually fishing the Thames came via a friend from school his dad very kindly took a car full of us (all school friends) down to fish at Hurley Lock for the day. I didn’t know it at the time but the place we used to picnic with the family was almost a stone’s throw from the Lock.

We had the stretch to ourselves for the day and all just wondered off in our own little worlds. I found a lovely looking spot in between two moored boats, casting to an overhanging tree on the far bank which meant an underarm cast with my feeder was needed and the rod pointing straight at it once it had settled. I had read about touch ledgering and knew that this would be the right tactic in this situation. It was only matter of minutes until I felt the tapping on the line wrapped around my fingers. I lifted my bright red wobbly fiberglass Shakespeare firebird rod into the bite and it began lunging.

After steering the fish away from the boats, I soon had it on the surface and could see it was a good-sized perch and as lots of inexperienced anglers do, I decided to swing the fish in which put an unhealthy bend in the rod. I walked backwards with my prize and called the lads to come and take a look. The whole time this poor perch bouncing around in mid air. Once everyone had seen it, I unhooked it and slipped it back and I’m glad to say it swam off strongly to live to fight another day. I’m certain there were a few fish caught that day but that’s the only one I have a clear memory of. I loved the look of perch as a child and to this day they are my favourite freshwater fish and I’m at my happiest in their pursuit.

My second visit to Hurley Lock was with my nan, mum, brother, sister and cousin. As it was the school summer holidays my dad (a non angler) was working and so was my grandad Terry, grandad also was not an angler being more of a golf man but he was very fond of the river Thames.

Sadly, the farmers field we used to park in for our swimming and picnic days was no longer open to the public. My nan had been informed of a place very nearby where we could spend the day. Once we had arrived, I immediately recognised it and was able to take everyone to the spot where I’d caught my lovely perch.

This time the stretch was a little busier which must have been due to the field down the road being closed, but it was mainly people picnicking with only one old chap fishing. My little brother, cousin and sister and me spent most of the day swimming as it was so hot that day. The day wore on and we had devoured the lovely spread put on for us and we decided it was time to wet a line. The first hour or so was spent catching bleak one a chuck, the feeder wasn’t even settling before the rod tip started bouncing.

We couldn’t seem to catch anything other than bleak that day as the only bait we had were maggots and no matter how many I tried to squeeze on the hook the bleak always got to them first. I got a bit bored after a while and decided to go and have a chat with the elderly chap I’d seen fishing earlier. I approached his swim quietly and politely asked him how his day’s fishing had been. He informed me that he’d had a few and had also been smashed to pieces in the night by big carp on more than one occasion. He’d been down there for a couple of days and night’s and had his daughter and granddaughter popping down to visit him with supplies. My brother, cousin and myself had all seen his granddaughter walking back and forth and had all fallen in love with her! I spotted the gentleman’s keepnet and asked if I could see what’s in it.

He kindly agreed and pulled the net in one ring at a time until he started to struggle and it was soon obvious why. He must have had 30lb or more of big roach, chub and bream, it was an amazing sight. I’d never seen so many fish in one net before. I then asked him what bait he had been using to which replied “just sweetcorn, would you like some?”. He didn’t need to ask me twice and I was soon back in my swim with a big handful of corn, I flicked out a few kernels with the catapult, loaded the feeder with maggots and baited the hook with a single piece of corn and distributed what corn I had left equally. An underarm flick sent the lot out in to the swim and for the first time that day the feeder hit the bottom and settled. A minute or so passed by and the tip started to twitch and my initial thought was another bleak! Until the tip nearly bounced out of the rest, this was no bleak and after what was probably two or three minutes, I netted the biggest roach I’d ever caught it was every bit of 1lb if not more.I remember shouting to nan, mum and the others to come and see it before I slipped it back. It was absolutely magnificent. I wiped the roach slime and sweetcorn juice from my hands onto the grass and ran down to the old boy to tell him the good news “plenty more where that came from lad” was his response.

We were allowed to carry on fishing until the corn ran out as we’d all had a long day and I managed a handful of similar stamp roach, and my brother and cousin had a couple each as well all because of the kindness of that chap. I’d just had my best ever fishing session and what made things better was as everyone enjoyed the day so much, we were doing it all again the very next day! Another picnic with two extra cans of corn and once again the day was spent swimming, fishing and having lot’s of fun with many more roach being caught on the corn.

Those two days beside Hurley Lock are in amongst my fondest angling memories and the smell of roach slime and sweetcorn on my hands even now immediately transports me back to that time nearly thirty year’s on and that was where and when my love affair with the Thames really began.

I have been fishing the Thames ever since and have created in my mind a thirty-year portfolio of trips, adventures and stories whilst also catching some special fish along the way. Although some adventures are probably best forgotten! and some have been documented elsewhere. I have visited the Thames at every stage of my life and Old Father has watched me grow into the man I am today

I’d always told people that I came from a non-fishing family and kind of had to find my own way, learning from books, television and from the people I met along the path. I found out just before I hit my teens that my grandad Terry wasn’t actually my mum’s real father. I think because he was so much of a hero to me, I was only told once I could understand and process it properly.

My grandad Terry is the best man I have ever known and still to this day is my hero but sadly no longer with us. The news of my mum’s real father didn’t upset me in any way in fact it rather intrigued me. His name was Ronald and he suffered an early departure due to a heart attack at only forty years of age. For some reason unknown to all the family his friends all called him Bob and upon hearing this the penny dropped! For many year’s as a child at certain family gatherings I would hear people say to my mum “my gosh don’t he look like Bob”.

It wasn’t until my grandad Terry passed away a couple of year’s ago that I asked my nan a bit more about him as it didn’t feel right for me to ask before then, I can’t explain why because I know one hundred percent neither of them would have minded. I asked my nan what kind of a man was he? And what were his interests? It was only then my nan thought to mention how much he loved fishing and the Thames was his favourite place to wet a line! I’d spent my whole life fishing the Thames, the river almost feels part of me and I’d always believed I came from a non fishing family and all along it was running through my veins. My nan before she passed had a good sort out with all her old photographs and to my absolute delight found this one of grandad Bob fishing the Thames (quite possibly Walton) which is now in my possession and treasured very much. I never got the chance wet a line with grandad Bob but I do like to think he is with me every time I’m on the riverbank, and especially on the Thames.

I’ve not been able to frequent my favourite river as much as I’d like these last couple of year’s for a multitude of reasons but I can always hear Old Fathers voice beckoning me to wet a line, or so I thought maybe it’s grandad Bob?

Old father my father from source to sea

Your water runs deep and right through me

It’s a lifelong bond between you and I

I wish never to part company or say goodbye

You have watched over me all these years, and created memories everlasting

Our journey will only come to an end when I lay down and I’m not casting.

Writing & Images Bob the Float Winter 2021