It’s a truly sad fact that recounting one’s boyhood adventures – fishing or otherwise – is, or can be, akin to telling someone about that really weird dream you had last night; it meant SO much to you…it was SO life-like…it was SO strange! (Yeah, yeah, get it over with for Christ’s sake…I’ve got some serious paint-watching to do)
Hopefully the stories behind some of the pictured Kingfisher Guild certificates will prove to be of interest despite them now being pretty ancient and of relatively mediocre specimens but, at the time, such fish were considered enormous for a youngster, so the receipt of these beautiful Venables-designed awards from the Angling Times was a thrill indeed. The excitement and pride in being pronounced ‘Grade ll’ or ‘Grade lll’ is impossible to feel again at this distance and most certainly impossible for anyone else to understand unless, of course, they have their own certificates to cherish!
The capture of the 11lb pike is seared into memory. It was the last knockings of a winter’s day on The Ripples, South Ockendon. With me was 14 year old Tony Corless, one of those rare fishing-individuals who never allowed the eventual discovery of alcohol and women to mar the pursuit of Esox. We’d spent yet another glorious day exploring the numerous channels and were now down to our last couple of sprats. My one was suspended a couple of feet below a genuine green and white Fishing Gazette bung and gradually making its way back to me in the narrow, choppy channel. This modest strip always looked good: lined with reeds on both sides, fairly deep and linked to a substantial bay which positively reeked of pike.
As the light faded so my bung inched ever-closer and thoughts of packing-up were weighing heavy: we never EVER wanted to go home! The sandwiches had gone and the flasks were empty; the sounds of a nearby football match had long ceased and Kenneth Wolstenholme would have been ready to deliver the results: “Stenhousemuir 4 – Motherwell 2…”
Then the float was gone. I saw it go but had to blink and re-focus. Yes, it was out of sight and my line was pulling tight to the rod-tip. I allowed a few loops to leave the spool of the Intrepid Elite then wound the bale arm shut and struck – I was in!
Eleven pounds is not a big pike but it IS a big fish and for me, at thirteen years of age, it was a monster. On a 7ft spinning rod and 10lb line it gave me the thrill of my life and, at last, came over the rim of Tony’s landing-net. I’ve had plenty of 20s up to 26lb since then but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a bigger one than that 1966 specimen. Not getting a photo was unthinkable so we wrapped it in….something…and rushed it back to the bath upstairs at home! Don’t worry…it was fine, and after much admiration from neighbours and friends the next day, the fish was hurriedly transported back to the pit for release.
The 5lb 4oz wildie occupies another special place in my memory. It came from The Slurry, one of Moor Hall AC’s waters and the gravel company’s repository for their washings; it was, then, the colour of tea and seemingly 50% solids! No weed grew in The Slurry but it was host to an enormous number of swan mussels which would tempt fish of every species onto the hook, pike and perch included.
It was with a large pocketful of these that I ventured out to an island one evening. It was no larger than an average bathroom and certainly un-fished before I decided to chance wading – in my underpants – through the hazardous jungle and sand-beds to this small sandy hump. The same 7ft spinning-rod lobbed out a ball of cheddar and I sat watching for the silver foil to rise…
After five minutes or so, the line twitched once or twice before rising from the water then falling slack again. Shifting to my feet, I adopted the pre-strike pose and willed the foil to rise…
It did! In a split second, the rod launched itself into the drink as swiftly as an arrow from a bow! Unable to believe my eyes, I stood frozen for what seemed an eternity before I waded in and felt around for the cork handle. Up to my knees in silt and up to my thighs in Slurry water, I probed with outstretched arms for my rod and soon felt something scrape the back of my right hand. With both hands I grabbed blindly and found myself gripping a pole made mad by a supercharged wildie; it leapt and rocketed for the snags time and again until I brought the beauty under control and into my net.
Me? A hoarder?
It is important to understand that twenty and thirty-pounders didn’t inhabit every other piece of water in the 60s: 10lbs from anywhere was a good fish, so for us Moor Hall members brought up on surreally hard-fighting fish of 3-4lb anything bigger was truly leviathan! This orange-finned cracker pulled the Little Sampson to 5lb 4oz and was noticeably much bigger than most wildies from The Slurry. Where the photo went I’ve no idea but the memory is good enough for me.
The capture of the 1lb 14oz perch from The Slurry simply can’t constitute much of a story but the circumstances of its capture are unforgettable. Neither my brother nor I owned an umbrella at that time so when the heavens opened-up that morning we routinely took from each of our rucksacks a large sheet of red plastic and draped them over ourselves; we’d done it dozens of times. However, this was no shower… For 24 HOURS without as much as a breather, the liquid stair-rods pummelled us without mercy; it simply wouldn’t stop. All day and right through the night the heavy, leaden downpour and its deafening drum-roll battered our senses; there was never a breath of wind – only the amplified din of heavy water on plastic. Little active fishing was done but we did manage a couple of wildies and my 1lb 14oz perch, on mussel.
By the time sanity returned, Planet Earth had made one full revolution and the water-level had risen six inches or more!
Note: my fish-diary was started in 1966 and has been kept religiously right up to the present day.
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