Here, from the age of 5 until I probably started secondary school, Dad would let me tag along on an occasional Sunday morning and set me up next to him with a short, wooden handled, green fibreglass rod, a red tipped float and most likely a few worms as bait, turned over from a heap of grass cuttings or a log on the walk across the cow meadow.
In nearly 60 years of angling, I’ve fished many memorable places – none are far-flung exotic destinations, but instead are local and memorable in the sense I came to know them intimately over the many seasons of my life.
The three most important and formative ones came to mind after writing my recent piece ‘Fancy a swim’ (Aug Edition No. II), and I hope to cover each over the next few publications.
My angling life started on the slowly meandering, chocolatey brown, River Mole in Hersham, Surrey. Here, from the age of 5 until I probably started secondary school Dad would let me tag along on an occasional Sunday morning and set me up next to him with a short, wooden handled, green fibreglass rod, a red tipped float and most likely a few worms as bait, turned over from a heap of grass cuttings or a log on the walk across the cow meadow.
I’d proudly shoulder my gas mask bag of “tackle” – a float winder, a few shot, a packet of hooks to nylon – on the walk to that magical water. Dad would be keeping one eye out for the frisky, inquisitive Steers awaiting their fate at the nearby abattoir he worked in at the time.
He would generally start his own fishing by squeezing on a big lump of almost impenetrable bread paste he’d prepared at home, squeezing the excess water out through a mutton cloth. Invariably he’d leger “for the big stuff”, an additional lump of dough hanging perpendicular just off the tip ring as a bobbin. Meanwhile I gazed in rapture at my float eddying around the nearside bank under my rod tip.
As I started to consume anything I could read on fishing, I set out my intentions for the perch I knew the Mole held in its depths (especially around the tree roots Dad had told me), and which many of us broke our duck as our first fish. It took me some time to reach that milestone
”Got one!” I would say, swinging something Dad-wards for unhooking.
“Nah, that’s anovver Snotty Pope” (more properly a Ruffe, which I’ve now not seen for many decades).…”and it’s taken it right bleedin’ down…”
We fished side by side at one end of the meadow or the other, (curiously never in the middle), invariably in the shade of bankside oaks. Perhaps the cover they offered made it easier to hide from the cattle.
I recall seeing water voles a-plenty at that time, crossing mid-stream, or scuttling about on the undisturbed far bank. I did finally start to catch perch and was thrilled at their bristling defiance, dorsal fin up, angry eyes.
None were big, (mine generally still aren’t!), but this was before the disease which took a lot out back in the 60’s / 70’s. The biggest I ever saw was Dad catching one around 3 lbs on a gudgeon (seconded from my own capture) one evening. I remember being slightly disappointed the fish appeared rather pale by comparison to the younger vibrant perch I was used to seeing. Perhaps that old warrior with barely a stripe showing on its milky flanks, was nearing its end. Or perhaps, he didn’t need to hide as much to survive? As I grew older, I was allowed to stay unaccompanied for an odd afternoon in the school holidays.
Mum would pack me off with Dad as he went back to work in the afternoon, having popped home for ‘dinner’ and a kip. My introduction to a new species came on one such visit.
Having never caught anything approaching a 1lb, Dad never felt it worth leaving me with a landing net – besides the hawser-like line I used would be enough to prevent loss!
Neither would our 4-foot knotted mesh keep net be necessary. In fact, at times of low flow, it would barely reach the water anyway. One drowsy midsummer afternoon, when all about me was the hum of insects, and muted birdsong my now-trotted float bobbed twice… and sunk. I watched confused as it stayed sunk. On lifting the rod there was a bigger response than I’d ever had with the little predators. Nothing swung skywards.
Furthermore, I’d just swapped to the bread paste Dad had put in my bag in case. A silvery subsurface flash eventually succumbed, and my first chub met disbelieving eyes. Certainly not a giant – it still swung up onto the bank where it breadcrumbed itself with the dry dust of the riverbank as it flopped about.
What on earth was I to do? Dad wasn’t coming back to get me anytime soon. He’d barely gone up through the field gate, and shouting would not have turned him, unless there had been a bigger splash (10-year-old me!)
Unhooked, I tried to think how I could preserve this marvellous creature until his return and witness.
Even my desperate attempts to fill the Mother’s Pride bag as a temporary sanctuary soon became a fairground failure as water found its way back out. I came to my senses and reluctantly released the fish back to its true home. I was giddy with excitement the remainder of the afternoon.
But he did believe me. And from then on dace and chub became our new target species
Writing & Images – Sneezewort early autumn 2021