Peter Henton casts his mind back 60 years to the time the bug seized him and asks, are we the lucky ones?
I was eleven years old. A very impressionable, eager to learn, bright boy at school but then it all fell apart on a visit to an uncle in Poole, Dorset. He took me out to his conservatory, and there on the wall was a pike in a glass case.
How big? To the uneducated it was monstrous, with teeth to match. My uncle then went on to show me a jointed plug and told me stories of how the predators chased and were caught on such lures. For years, nothing else in my life would transcend the need to catch such a fish on an artificial lure,
All of this coincided with Mr Crabtree goes Fishing in the daily paper, which further triggered my enthusiasm. At the time, my big sister was courting. The happy couple went for walks along the estuary and fished hand-lines whilst they planned their future. The important bit for me was that they made lead weights in my mother's cake tray on her gas stove! Exciting stuff for the budding scientist. That did it! In no time I too had weights and followed them to the hot spot, and eventually took my first fish - a Dab, from a bridge spanning what was to become my favourite river, the Test.
The next few years were both informative and magic as I fished my local river, the lower Itchen at Woodmill. Gudgeon were pretty much the order of the day, with the odd eel thrown in for excitement. Meanwhile I watched the experts as they expertly trotted a float-fished worm in order to lure a fresh run sea-trout or maybe the odd salmon.
Around this time I became an expert rod builder – ex WD tank aerials were very cheap and offered the young angler an inexpensive way out of owning a long rod. I could make them in any length you wanted, providing the hacksaw blade survived the butchery! Charged with this new found talent, I ventured forth to my local tackle shop and offered my services. Upon asking me about my talents I quickly replied that I was a rod builder. I was lucky that Jock, the shop owner, had a sense of humour. He handed me three pieces of Greenheart, each roughly half an inch square, ferrules, winch fittings (remember those?) corks and rings, with the command “Bring me the rod next week”.
Hand planing with a blunt tool does not produce perfectly round and tapered rod sections, however I eventually cobbled together a rod and I got the job. So at the tender age of fourteen I spent my Saturdays counting ragworm, boxing it up and pushing it down to the railway station on a sack barrow. It did have its spin offs however. Jock only fished for salmon and the nearest “fush” lived in the Test!
His introduction started a lifelong love affair for me with the magic of this beautiful river, and also introduced me to the many water bailiffs and riparian owners who, for some reason, seemed to take a dislike to my poaching instincts. I didn’t neglect the Itchen either. My brother had returned from military service in Hong Kong and presented me with a built cane fly rod in a wooden case. I taught myself to cast and caught many dace from the top..
So… Are we the lucky ones? You bet your life we are! The joy of being at one with nature, the buzz of expectancy of the next take... I was lucky enough to be involved in the tackle trade my whole working life. I earned my keep from selling rods and reels and made many lasting friendships. The outcome as I see it is, that it's not all about our fish as conquests. We can fish all of our lives without realising that the fish are only secondary to our pleasures; my study wall is full of photos of memorable moments rather than big fish.
Thanks Uncle (even though I've forgotten your name!) for a life full of the thrills of fishing, for nothing can compare with what we have and nothing can compare with those lasting friendships I made.
Oh. How big was the Pike that eventually took the plug? Not as big as the one on uncle's wall!