Cliff Hatton remembers a once famous angler and mate and reflects on modern tenching methods.
I was privileged to know and to fish with one of the best anglers of modern times: Martin Gay.
In angling terms, his last twenty years were spent mainly tench-fishing, using the same baits and methods which saw him achieve truly trail-blazing results at Johnson’s Lakes during the 80s. Around the turn of the century, Martin was concentrating on Culvert’s Mere near Boreham, Essex, and had taken at least a couple of double-figure fish during winter night-sessions.
I would sometimes arrive at the mere around 08.00 hrs to find Martin still concentrating on his goal – a little sleepy, perhaps, but very much fishing: no bivvy, no bed-chair, no stove, no nothing; just two rods on buzzers, a flask of drink and a few sarnies. He fished according to his principles: that the hook was concealed within the bait, the lead was free-running, and that it was the angler’s job to be ‘on the ball’. When a run eventually occurred – sometimes after 14 hours of freezing darkness – Martin would poise himself to strike, rod-handle gripped tightly, line hooked over clenched index-finger. Having the bottle-top hit the rod was not enough for Martin; with nerves of steel he’d wait until the line was cutting-up from the water, the rod-tip bending and the line pulling on his finger, then he would strike!
Martin rarely missed, but when he did, he put it down to his own failure and resolved to put the problem right. But whether he succeeded or failed, the atmosphere around the scene of impending action was nothing less than electric – we’d watch the bottle-top lift…and fall; jump, jump, jump….and fall, then rise steadily to meet the rod; a couple of seconds to confirm everything was ‘in place’, then – whack! The strike was made. THIS was fishing. Commitment, time and judgement equalled excitement and success. It was precisely this philosophy which kept Martin dedicated to his fishing for so many years.
Last Saturday, I swiftly imposed myself in the one remaining swim at the Hatfield Peverel tench lake near Colchester. To my right sat a guy with whom I soon got chatting; to my amazement he’d had 5 tench since arriving at dawn just a couple of hours before – not bad for March! Fishing maggots on three rods at fairly long range, this very pleasant guy (whose name I didn’t get) went on to catch another 6 or 7 tench, making it the best bag of early season tench I’d ever witnessed.
Regular readers of FM will already be familiar with my thoughts on contemporary methods so I won’t actually harp on about the ethics of self-hooking rigs; suffice to say that each and every time I turned to see his bobbins dancing to the tune of a spinning spool, my ‘mate’ was casually doing something else: brewing a cuppa, making notes in his jotter, mixing bait…whatever he was doing at the time was nonchalantly completed before the rod was merely lifted as if to reel-in and re-bait; there was never any semblance of a strike. The fish was duly reeled in, unhooked and returned without the merest gesture of success or victory. The angler later announced that he’d be switching to boilie: ‘Imagine having this all night’ he remarked.
Now, this was a ‘decent’ bloke: civil, knowledgeable, tidy, sociable, and I hope to cross his path again! But even for THIS nice man, fishing was a purely mechanical, predictable routine you went through to pass a few hours. This chap derived ZERO excitement, fun, satisfaction or spiritual fulfillment from what he was doing. Nothing. I need write no more.
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