Everything’s here, warts and all, completely unexpurgated, in other words nothing has been removed. The fishing, the sex, the scandal, the lies – just a minute! ….. There’s some of that, but it’s about fishing and fond memories.
MORE FISHY TAILS.
As a child I was totally obsessed with the local canal, so much so that I was constantly in trouble for being in places that children just shouldn’t have been found in, and living on the edge of an industrial conurbation like Manchester, the amount of places to keep you in trouble was astronomical.
Railway bridges, private ponds, mill lodges, old mine shafts, pipes over rivers with spiked railings on them; lots and lots of wonderful places in which to catch fish from, all very much dangerous and illegal, but I’m afraid the spirit of youth got the better of me and explore I did. Indeed when I think of the risk’s we would take to get that extra dip of the float, my heart goes in my mouth, but we survived those distant days and the memories linger on.
The Hunt’s by wash was a notable hotspot for big perch; it was a lock system on the canal that had been left in a derelict state with a sheet metal company occupying the land opposite the towpath. The large basin at the foot of the lock held some enormous perch with possibly a few which weighed in access of the three-pound mark. The basin lay in the shadow of an old iron bridge that carried the Manchester and Leeds Railway across “the cut”, this stood majestically like a huge medieval guard watching over the canal below.
The big perch in Hunt’s always appeared to lie in the most inaccessible areas of the basin. A favorite haunt was directly below the bridge parapets towards the side of the sheet metal works. It was difficult casting an old tank aerial and Nottingham star back to the desired spot, and the only way to get the bait anywhere near these fish was to climb inside the bridge and straddle a kind of partition which separated the railways lines.
Once inside the bridge you were invisible to the railway lines and the canal towpath (unless somebody looked up of course). Edging your way across the inside the bridge girders, and being careful not to look down, you could position yourself, rod, reel and bucket, in such a way as to be able to lower a bait directly over the fishes head, this being only a mere ten foot above the water!
Fortunately, I never hooked a large perch and I dread to think of the problems I would have encountered had I done so. The thought of hoisting a three-pound perch, from ten foot up, between my legs doesn’t bear thinking about. The smaller fish however, came up with little trouble, although it must have come as a bit of a shock to anyone passing below, seeing a perch flying out of the water.
The Coolers, which were large power station water cooling towers, really were a hotspot for both perch and pike alone, access was however, again a little tricky. Most of the noted hotspots were situated opposite the towpath in the grounds of the power station, and it did take us some time to discover how we could actually gain access to this restricted section of bank. This was, however, discovered purely by chance.
The power station occupied the off-side of the towpath while the cooling towers sat on the towpath bank and at a number of points bridges which held pipes crossed the canal, there was one pedestrian bridge for the workers, and on all our attempt to cross here, we had each time been either chased away or caught. One of the pipe bridges was our only chance.
While fishing from the towpath one day we did notice some maintenance workers on one of the pipe bridges, when they had finished we discovered a trap door, which when lifted, gave access to the inside of the bridge. It was a tight squeeze even for us and at times the pipes were hot and other times quite steamy. Passing the rods across the pipes was also difficult and it often required the test curves being stretched to their limits, with the bucket being left behind. The fishing was however superb, a fish a cast on some occasions. Indeed we took some quite exceptional perch in these warmer waters, mainly over sandy bottoms of which the area was largely made up.
We made numerous trips to the far bank and sport was indeed plentiful, that is until one day when we arrived at the bridge, we were horrified to find a new iron manhole cover, which was locked, was replacing the wooden door and the entrance to the inside of the bridge. We had been sussed and that was our lot really as we never experienced the same sport whilst fishing from the towpath. Great days though, if not a little hairy at times.
ENCOUNTERS WITH A PREDATOR.
My first fishing venue was a section of the Rochdale canal in Chadderton, Lancashire, and my parent’s house was situated close to its banks and the canal was probably my second home.
Fishing in those days used to be provided for with very primitive tackle by today’s standards, often comprising of greenheart rods with fibreglass top sections, tank aerials, bamboo cane roach poles and later Spanish reed. The reels would consist mainly of the tin plate varieties of centre pin design, Nottingham star back type wooden reels and if the pocket money would stretch, then one of the new intrepid monarch fixed spool reels. Being brought up on the banks of a local canal, I was fortunate in that I knew a number of good and experienced anglers, many of whom were considered old men at thirty-five! I’d spend hour after hour sitting on the grass banks talking to these men, watching them fish and listening to their tales of awe.
One particular tale that was told was about a huge pike called “Samson”, the story had become legendary. Samson lived in the Malta Mill stretch of the canal north of Middleton Junction and his usual haunt was noted as being located on the far side of the canal opposite the towpath and near the hot water outflow from the mill. Many a story had been told of anglers being broken, even having rods pulled in by this giant pike. In fact there was even a story of a small dog being attacked while swimming in this stretch.
To me as a small child, Samson had always been around; indeed I had had the opportunity of sighting him whilst returning from my paper round early one morning. He was just below the surface in the central channel between the rushes and the far bank, just hovering with his gills slowly opening and closing. As I moved to the edge of the towpath for a better view, Samson simple sank out of sight and vanished without a trace.
I had never, in my young life, seen anything like him before. The canal at this time was in the main, inhabited by carp, ostensibly, koi-varieties, with predatory species being relatively rare (a situation that changed dramatically over the following decade). Behind the Malta, the canal was at its widest and I could never quite manage to cast a line across its entire width. Opposite the towpath was the forbidden zone (at least for me), it was inaccessible from the towpath and I’d been warned, many times, by my parents not to fish from this side.
Gazing across this section of water, the bottom dropped away to unimaginable depths. Surely all the big fish in the canal must occupy this area, deep down below the weed beds, Samson certainly lived there! Wouldn’t it be marvelous to see Samson in his lair, get a close look at this leviathan of the deeps, and maybe even face him in battle?
Such dreams, but how could I hope to catch such a fish? I had seen an angler who appeared different from the rest, fishing with a strange centre pin reel that he turned sideways as he cast, he was using a dead sea fish as bait, but even he hadn’t caught Samson? So how could I? I knew deep down, however, that I would have to have a go, but how?
My most powerful rod was a 7ft tank aerial that I’d swapped for a toy train engine from a friend called John Cook; along with this I had a large ratchet type tin plate centre pin reel that was given to me by one of my father’s friends, Jack Berry. I acquired some strong line, catgut I think, all nicely coloured and very springy. A fine wire treble hook was the order of the day and a small fishing gazette type bung with a skewer in the middle. Bait was to be a large lobworm.
Preparations were made and plans were laid. How could I get my bait across the canal to where Samson was so obviously lying? I couldn’t cast that far, never could, so I would have to go round to the forbidden side. My parents had often warned me of the dangers involved by fishing from this section of bank.
I had seen Richard Kolbuck, a friend who lived a few doors away, occasionally over there. This area of bank was situated on private land to the rear of the mill, and appeared quite dangerously sited and indeed a hazardous journey, but I knew deep down, despite my parents warnings, it was a journey I would soon have to make.
The date was set; it had to be early in the morning, missing my paper round on that occasion, the first day of the school holidays. The tin maggot container had some enormous worms on stand-by in the garden shed. Everything was ready and the morning had arrived, the dawn chorus saw a small boy taking a rod and bait tin from the garden shed, jumping over the garden fence and onwards toward Laurel Bridge and the forbidden side of the canal bank.
The first obstacle of the journey was an eight-foot high wall, this having been built right up to the waters edge, and now covered in bulrushes. The gaps between the rushes appeared to be on the deep side, but fortunately some kind soul had thrown old skips into the margins at this point and it was a case of taking a run and jump to enable one to land onto the skips. Then leap from the skips onto the other side of the wall, as the bank was much closer at this point, the rod and tackle could be passed around the wall before jumping.
This I did with limited success, I say limited because although I reached the skips on the first jump, unfortunately my left wellie didn’t! The wellie was eventually retrieved and the journey into unknown territories continued. Now for the hard part a quick scramble across a hill of coal and next a wrought iron fence had to be negotiated.
The fence reached out precariously over the canal and to make matters worse, it reached out about six foot above the water and was rusty! Still we couldn’t turn back now, could we?
Pushing the tackle through the railings I then climbed out over the water and around the fence, high above the water and not daring to look down, phew! During this latest assault, I managed to rip my pants one of the spikes (now I’ve had it). Still might as well be hung for a sheep than a lamb, or a pike as the case was.
Onward I plundered, pulling my long socks over my knees to avoid the nettles, fighting my way through the dense undergrowth and tearing a pocket on my duffle coat in the process, I eventually arrived at a clearing behind the mill. Just one more spiked railing and I should be able to actually see the outlet pipe, and indeed the deep chamber within. Up and around the last railing followed by a slow creep on all fours, in true commando fashion, to the pipe, and I had arrived.
Heart in mouth I cautiously peered over the edge, seeing the outlet pipe for the very first time, was I really here. At first I didn’t really see anything, looking over the edge into what appeared to be a bottomless and empty pit, but just as I was gazing down, something flashed, light in colour, and caught my attention. A large black shape began to manifest itself!
Was it? Yes it was, it was “Samson”, more magnificent than I had ever seen him. I held my breath: never before had I seen so menacing a fish, I was frozen to the spot, not daring to move. Had he seen me? He must have been aware of my presence.
I slowly backed off, away from the pit, not daring to take a breath. With nervous hands I baited my hook, impaling a large lob onto the barbs of the treble and stabbing my fingers in the process. Crouching on the bank I pushed the top section of the rod through the undergrowth and out over the pit. Then gently with shaking arms I lowered the bait into the water, this was in a position slightly in front of where I considered the fish to be. Holding the rod tightly with both hands, I crouched for what seemed an eternity.
Just as I was about to stand up and see if the fish had gone, the rod took on a terrific new shape, I stood up and struck hard and all hell broke loose.
I held onto that fish for grim life, with hands clasped around the reel very firmly. The fish stopped and for a moment I caught a side view of him, but up came his head, he turned and ran out of the outlet and in towards the central channel, while the ratchet on the reel screamed away. Again I stopped the reel, but this time “old Samson” kept going, snap went the line, the rod straightened up, as I staggered backwards, it was all over.
I stayed by the outlet pipe for a good hour afterwards, hoping that maybe Samson might return, but he never did! I had really had my chance and missed it. None of my friends believed my story and eventually I stopped telling it.
That was the last time that I ever saw Samson. I learned that a few months later, the man with the strange reel had caught Samson, the fish was killed and eaten and he weighed 8lbs. It is however such a long time ago and the killing of pike for the table was quite common in those days, which was a sad end to a child’s dreams.