|I discovered the thrill and indescribable wonder of fishing when I extracted a glimmering roach, like living metal, from a Shropshire caravan park lake in 1981, at almost exactly the same moment as Prince Charles wed Lady Diana. After two years of ham-fisted failure, my first fish was a moment that will live with me forever.|
But the real power of fishing’s magic was revealed to me on a misty dawn a couple of years later when all my dreams came true.
I had learned the basics of maggot fishing in local millponds and had a few small fish to my name already by this time. So when a friend’s Dad told me that legered sweetcorn was a good bait for bigger fish, and dawn was a good time to catch them, I decided to push my limited boundaries.
For the first time I rose before first light and hiked my cumbersome, rudimentary tackle for three miles to Jack Lodge, the best and biggest lake in the area. The water was devoid of anglers at this unearthly hour and I stood, awestruck for a moment, as I climbed over the stile. The surface was calm and mist hung like a magic curtain over this theatre. The dawn was grey, aloof and mysterious yet strangely alluring. My adventure had begun.
Swim choice was entirely random, and it took a lifetime to set up my first leger rig. A crisis was averted when I realised that my match rod had no screw end for my swingtip. Instead, the swingtip was wedged into the tip ring and the line threaded through its wire supports. By some miracle this clumsy setup worked and I was able to cast a piece of sweetcorn about 15 yards. I threw in a handful around my hookbait and was finally fishing. My confidence in this weird new method was virtually zero but there is always an element of hope, however unjustified, when one is young and unsullied.
Sitting on my wooden basket, I became aware that the shimmering lake was echoing with the dawn chorus and brimming with life. Fish swirled, coots chirped, dragonflies circled and there was no sound of human activity at all. No hum of traffic, no laughter. Just this lake and its ecosystem slipping into gear. The sun rose and I was sure I could hear my heartbeat.
After an hour I reeled in, changed baits and cast again. By this time I was wishing I had bought maggots. Sweetcorn? My leg was being pulled.
And then something wonderful and terrifying happened. After so much time imagining how a swingtip would react if a fish bit, after so much hoping, praying and dreaming, the slow, purposeful, unmistakeable pull arrived like an electric shock. A rushed strike and a fish was on. My heart pounded like an industrial engine. It felt bigger and more alive than the perch I had caught before and when in the landing net it shone like a gold nugget. I gasped as I marvelled at a fish I recognised as a rudd from my fishing books. The euphoria was indescribable. In a daze I gently put it in my keepnet, rebaited and cast again with trembling fingers.
I could have gone home then and been on cloud nine for a week. This was a real fish, one from my fantasies, one straight from the pages of my books, caught from a proper lake where men, not boys, fished earnestly. On a new bait and a new tactic. I shook with pride. I threw more bait out and sat studying the swingtip. It quickly shot straight up again majestically and I struck. This was a bigger fish and I felt a lovely power and pulse down my rod. This was another rudd, a bigger one, around a pound and a half, and it was by some distance the most heart-stoppingly beautiful thing I had ever seen. I pinched myself. Next cast, the same again. This was another fish which I had never set eyes on before but which I knew intimately after hours spent staring at my angling books. A bream of nearly two pounds.
I sat now concentrating hard, throwing in bait, landing fish, recasting and counting in my own head in disbelief. The tally went up and up. After around ten bream and the same number of big rudd, the strike met firmer resistance. I had the delicious sensation of a big fish kiting around, and was euphoric to land my first carp of around two pounds. It was a chunky mirror carp which I wanted to hold, stroke and marvel at forever. I immediately landed another, then the next bite was something else entirely as the reel handle started to fly around like a crazed windmill.
I grabbed the rod and for the first time ever I was forced to give line as this fish shot away from me. For some reason this came to me quite instinctively, and I gingerly played this unseen monster with my tongue between my teeth and a grim look on my face. My angling pal Brian Hayworth appeared over the stile at this point – 9.15am, I still remember, even though he was due to meet me there at dawn. He dropped his tackle and sprinted around to me when he saw the incredible bend in my rod, his eyes popping out incredulously. The fish ploughed up and down and we shouted and gasped. After what seemed like an hour a huge creature appeared under the surface. It was a monster carp. My legs buckled at the sight and we both cried out in amazement. I panicked as it repeatedly dodged the tiny landing net but somehow the hook held. After an eternity balancing on the rim, it slipped into the net and I fell on it, close to tears.
My Zebco angling scales registered nearly ten pounds and we were both awestruck. Into the keepnet it went with the others – fish welfare was not always number one on the agenda of thirteen year olds. Brian copied my new wonder rig in a rush and we continued to catch bream, rudd and roach for the next couple of hours until the action suddenly ceased. I was massively grateful I had stolen a large bag of frozen sweetcorn from my mum rather than a tin. At lunchtime I ran a mile or so to the nearest telephone box to insist that my dad brought a camera and came to pick us up. We pulled out the keepnet to show him and it took two of us to lift it. Even my unflappable Dad was impressed. “It’s like a little pig!” He said of the carp.
And I still have the photographs to prove to me that fishing can sweep your soul away and magic, just occasionally, can happen. A young boy kneels with a smile wider than the Mersey tunnel. His eyes shine with triumph as he beholds the biggest bag of fish he has ever dared to dream of.
No angling experience has ever compared with that – the day my fishing books finally came to life and all my dreams came true.