Its strange how seeing something totally random can cause the human brain to recall an age old memory from some long forgotten corner of your past. That certainly was the case for me when I saw a picture of a rather sunburnt Jeff on his blog the other day. Although I too have been sunburnt many times, this striking image evoked memories of an event from my youth which was a defining moment in my angling life, and definitely one that has influenced me ever since.
Young anglers who are not brought up with angling fathers or older brothers often find themselves as I was, confined to fishing waters within close proximity of home, or within whatever distance you are capable of cycling whilst heavily laden with fishing gear. These home waters if you would, I feel carry heavy influence over our angling futures. For me with the Coventry canal being my home water, it was inevitable that the hard fishing conditions of the terribly polluted rubbish filled canals of the late eighty's and early nineties would hone my angling skills towards me becoming a tow path scratcher.
Though the story I feel I must now share with you was not one borne of the hard worn tow path but one forged on a reedy banks of a distant village pond which is long since silted away from public view, and as far as I know now exists only in the memories of a small number of middle aged men who once trod it's banks in their youth, it had just as much influence on me as the canals.
The story begins not at the aforementioned pond but much further away during a quintessentially British summer holiday at the sea side. I cannot remember what year it was or how old I was at the time and those facts seem unimportant, only the place itself and what was there is integral. That particular year my mother and farther had chosen to vacation late on in the summer holidays at Great Yarmouth. The excitement in our house had been building for weeks prior to leaving. When the day finally arrived myself and my younger brothers were wound to the point of insanity; giddy from the first view of the sea and entranced by the gaudy lights of the arcades lining the promenade.
A few days in our parents, with a gaggle of rowdy boys in tow, dragged us all the way from our camp site at the north end of Yarmouth to have a look around the main street full of sea side gift shops that connects the sea side resort with the actual town. To a fishing obsessed youngster, the gift shops that spilled out onto the pavement held no interest whatsoever, but whilst hanging around outside one tat shop waiting for the rest of the family something caught my eye above the sea of multi coloured buckets and spades. It seemed to be a oversized fishing float protruding from one of the shop fronts. To be honest it didn't take much moaning for me to persuade my already bedraggled parents to move on in the right direction and soon I found myself standing in front tackle filled windows, above those tempting windows in foot high red letters was the awe inspiring words Pownells fishing tackle. Once inside my eyes lit up! the few local tackle emporiums back home were nothing like this wonderland. Every possible square inch was brimming over with fishing gear aimed at getting holiday makers to part with their hard saved holiday cash. For me it was no different and with my dad standing as any non angler does, near the door way with that unimpressed look on his face, I delved in. Most of the tackle was still well out of my price range at the time but after a while I came across a rack of Silstar telescopic roach poles that seemed to qualify for my meger funds. The smaller three meter versions held no interest and the six meter one was a few pounds too expensive, but if went for it and blew the whole £14 of pocket money I had saved the five could be mine.
After a consultation with my father I was reluctantly talked into returning at the end of the holiday if I had any money left to make my purchase. The subsequent days were torture as I spent the whole holiday living like some kind of monk as my younger brothers blew their holiday cash on frivolous things such as rock and arcade games right before my eyes. But I held strong and the day before we had to leave the pole was within my grasp. I tagged along with my dad on his early morning stroll along the sea front and before the shop even opened my excited face was peering through the glass trying see if there was still any left. Of course there were some left and in no time at all I had parted with my hard saved money and was marching down the concrete promenade carrying my brand new five meter midnight blue pole over my shoulder like a solider on parade.
Back home in deepest Warwickshire it was few days before I could scrounge enough cash to go and buy a packet of hooks which were desperately needed and a quarter of a pint of mixed maggots to enable me to test this deadly new weapon on the canal. The first few outings were a bit of a let down as only a few gudgeon and small perch fell into its expansive range; looking back now I see that fishing with five meters of pole and the same amount of line with a large float was probably no different to what I could have achieved with my red six foot fibre glass rod.
Few day before the end of the school holidays the news reached my ears about a pond which myself and my angling chums liked to fish. One of the older lads had finally waded into it and cleared out the pond weed that gradually choked it throughout the summer. The pond in question was simply known to us as Bulkington boys club. This demure little puddle was home to a population of what we always thought were crucian carp but now thinking back were more likely to be crucian gold fish hybrids, as they were always a bit too streamlined to be a thoroughbred crucian. Linage aside, they were total mugs for a tiny ball of bread and on more than one occasion my friends and I filled a keep net with hundreds of them.
The next day I rode to meet up with my companions for the day, two cousins who were strangely enough both called Lee. The first was a lad called Lee Spencer of whom the only thing I can really remember was his family's sand coloured Staffordshire bull terrier that could sniff out a chocolate bar hidden in any pocket and was partial to tearing of that pocket off to get to it. The other was his cousin Lee Gibson, about whom I remember two odd things; that his party trick at school was lifting up his shirt and rolling his stomach muscles up and down like a wave to freak out the girls, and his name spelt backwards was eel nosbig, a fact of which he was very proud.
For a group of young lads laden with fishing gear it was a long ride from Bedworth to Bulkington in the half light of morning, but soon enough we found ourselves free wheeling down the worn track across the scrub field towards the bramble surrounded pond. There was only ever three places to fish around the edge. The first two were long narrow swims through the dense weed which although productive were guaranteed to claim a precious float or two, and the other was ours and every other boy anglers favourite - a large open bay were the weed had been cleared and was capable of accommodating three or more kids. The day began the same as always with a manic rush to set up. No sooner had one of us had got a bite the others would begin to ask 'how deep are you fishing' or 'how big a ball of bread are you using'. Once the sun rose high in the sky the fish went mad and by midday the keep net would be well stocked. Dinner was always the same, we would club in any money we had and one of us would ride into the village to obtain a bag of chips and a bottle of happy shopper lemonade, then race back so we could all fill excess slices of bread with the steaming chips and make bank side butties that were washed down with the sickly pop.
By late afternoon we were all feeling a little frazzled as the sun took its toll on us and the catch of now gulping fish in the net. It was decided between to heave it out and release them to prevent the floating up which had happened before. It took all three of us to drag the bulging net from the water. The sight of all those golden fish was like a hoard of pirate treasure pulled from a long forgotten ship wreck. We always counted them back in and made claims to each other on whose the bigger ones were. With the net emptied we set about catching again but as always the lower the sun sank on this little pond the ferocity with which the crucians took our baits began to dwindle. As always our attention span dwindled along with the bites and casting became more frequent.
Up until now I had been fishing parallel with the others in the centre of the open bay with a vast amount of line laying on the surface even though with a single swing of my new pole I could comfortably land my second hand quill float and bread bait on the weed line. I had been a reluctant to do so as the float I was using was my favourite and the thought of losing it was unthinkable, but boredom took over and I eventually plucked up the courage to make the cast. The weight of a larger than normal blob of bread carried the float to within inches of the weed line with a satisfying plop. None of us had ever fished that close to the dreaded weeds edge and all three of us were focused on the float as the sun went off the pond. By the time it moved the my mates were packing up. Unlike the normal harassing bites of the golden crucians this time the float lifted clean out of the water before just disappearing. All day I had been having to strike quick and hard to pick up all the excess line on the surface but this time I never even got to strike before the pole was severely bent over. My screams quickly attracted the attention of my buddies from the task of tying there rods to there bikes. The first Lee there immediately stated "he's hooked the monster!" I should at this point explain his comment! Like with all ponds, lakes, canals and river that are frequented by young anglers there are always storeys of tackle smashing leviathans and no different to any of these places the Bulkington boys club pond to had it's own monster. No one ever knew what it was or had ever seen it, but not a summer would go by without the rumours that some unlucky lad had hooked it and been dragged nearly into the pond before his line had snapped. But this time it was different because it was not rumour; I had actually hooked and was still attached to the monster.
For I don't know how long I stood sideways on bracing the pole against the savage runs whilst Lee and Lee both gave useless advice on how to keep it out the weed. The whole time all I could think was 'my poles gonna snap any minute' After an age it stopped diving into the weed line and began circling round in the bay with all the force of before just minus the weed. My only hope was to walk back wards keeping the line taught as it neared the bank. The first time one of the others saw the tail splash we all went into melt down as even though we had a landing net we never had cause to use it and which had resulted in a serious lack of net pole on our part. A few frantic minutes of discussion and between them Lee and Lee agreed to screw the net onto a bank stick to try and land it. With both of them crouching at the bank I eventually walked backwards enough for the net to finally slip under it. Putting the pole down I shakily staggered towards the now silent Lees who were still staring into the pond. All I could see in the net was a large dark shape calmly resting under the water. At the time I remember feeling a bit let down as this was the thing that had beaten some many of my peers. That was until we finally lifted from the water and laid on the grassy bank. Unfolding the net I was met by a sight I hope to dear god I remember on my death bed. In the folds of the net lay a foot long dark green fish with a bellie the colour of egg yolk and a tiny red eye's. Straight away I knew what it was, but in my wildest dreams I never thought I would ever catch one it was my first ever Tench. My companions were even more amazed than I as we peered at it lying on the grass. Tracing the line back to it's mouth I found my tiny size 20 well inside along with at least six other hooks which had obviously not been tied on as well as mine. Doing the diligent thing we removed mine and as many of the others as we could though one hook was very overgrown and rather than try and remove it me snipped off as much as we could with a pair scissors. Holding it in the waters edge in the net I watched as it began to kick again before finally releasing it. For many years afterwards I regretted not having a picture of it but now I know it doesn't matter as I only have to think back to that day and I can picture it perfectly every time.
And why should the sight of Jeff's patterned torso remind me of this fateful day?!
After riding home in the cool evening air - with very smug smile on my face it must be said - I walked indoors and was met with a shriek of horror from my mother...I was beet red from my head to my ankles, apart from where my shorts and socks had blocked the burning sun. As I sat in the garden on the cheap white plastic garden seat, eating my leftover tea whilst my mum dowsed me with aftersun, the occasional twinge of pain would momentarily wake me from my tinica trance. This was soon forgotten though as I again remembered that beautiful green and yellow fish.
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