Saturday, September 19, 2020

Catching some for Dad

The handle's a bit wonky but the dusty old Mitchell Match is still silky smooth. The finger-dab bail arm flicks open as I do an air cast in my late father's workshop. It shuts with a neat click as I turn the handle.

"It's 40 years old but it'll still catch fish," I tell myself as I sort through the old boy's kit with my son. "I'll take it out and nail a few on it for him."

I gave a lot away after my old man died of coronavirus on his 85th birthday. His best fishing mate had his best pole. That only seemed fair, bearing in mind he had to go swimming to retrieve the top half after Pops lost a tug-of-war with a carp.

Other bits went to the club he used to belong to while he was a winter league stalwart on the upper Thames, to dish out to any needy juniors. Dad would probably have liked that.

I ended up with some ancient Mitchells and the pair of Daiwa match reels I gifted him nearly 25 years back when I took a break from fishing before I moved to the Fens and the pike bug bit me. There were battered float and tip rods, along with boxes of wagglers and stick floats.

I hadn't been fishing for the best part of three years before he died. As I put one of his old rods together in my study, I knew he'd have wanted me to carry on the passion he nurtured in me through the tears.

So I decided to give it another go, using his gear for his kind of fishing - or as close as I could get to it, while I remembered him and struggled to find some closure.

Fishing was a thread that ran through both our lives. Perhaps I needed to find it again, as I struggled to come to terms with his loss. Maybe I'll go fishing again for Ron then, I decided.


As Dad's dementia started kicking in, it booted his short term memory into the long grass. But for a while, he vividly remembered fragments of his life, like dog-eared snapshots from days gone by.

A few months before he died, he went missing in action when Mum sent him out to the chest freezer in his workshop to get a bag of oven chips.

"Where's the chips," she shrieked. "He's been gone half an hour, you'd better go and look for him. He's probably wandered off."

I found him in the garage. Instead of the chips, he had one of my old fibreglass pike rods in his hands.

"Ah, there you are," he said, as if he'd been waiting for me all along. "You must remember this rod.

"You caught a big old pike on it, didn't you. In the wierpool at Buscott, under the big old tree at the end. It was raining and you'd left your camera in the car. I got soaking wet going back to get it for you. You bought me a pint on the way home."

I found the chips my Dad had taken less than 10 minutes to forget. I couldn't even fathom how he could recall a day's fishing more than 30 years ago when he couldn't remember what he'd gone into the garage for in the first place.

The last time I saw him in early March, he didn't know who I was. He thought he was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. The Luftwaffe were on their way to bomb us and he was ready to sprint to his fighter from the care home when the call came to scramble.

"Your Spitfire must be the only one with a booster cushion then," I told him as we had a laugh with his carers over lunch. "Because you were six years old in 1940 mate."

He was off to the big winter league in the sky few days later. My Mum died four days after. I couldn't be with either of them at the end because of lockdown. I doubt I'll ever get over that as long as I live. 

The Sun's well up over the marshes. It's boiling hot and the carp are swirling up and down the margins. This was Dad's kind of fishing - or the nearest thing you can get to it where I live on the Norfolk coast.

It's not the sort of thing I ever thought I'd ever end up doing as I spent the winter chasing pike around the Fens. 

I didn't quite manage to elasticate the carp crunchin' margin mashin' heavy haulin' lump landin' power pole, or whatever it's called. 

It's still in the study, along with numerous off-cuts of latex and the bits that go on the end that I couldn't quite manage to get to go on the end before I ran out of the elastic.

So it's Mitchell Match and John Wilson Avon all the way, float fishing the margins with new 8lbs line and one of those hair rig spear things you push through your bait, complete with additional flavouring from the occasional puncture wound when you miss when you're poking the needle thing in and you do a Snow White on your finger.

I get the bait in, feed some pellets like they tell you in all the videos and the float shoots off. I briefly see the fish when I pull into it as it surges off.

It looks about 2lbs as it flies off in a great V-wave, before the 8lbs line does its job. It looks a little bigger as it plods around in ever-decreasing circles before I get the one net from my father's workshop that hadn't been shredded by mice under it. I look up to the sky and say: "There you go matey, this one's for you." 

Greylag geese squawk overhead. A large lump of goose poo catches me right down my T-shirt. Life's crapped on me big time lately, but I wipe it off and have another chuck.

The float goes five minutes later and another carp belts around under the rod top for a bit before I slide the net under all three or four pounds of it. I'm not completely sure I'm enjoying this, but I'm catching.

"Wotcha catchin' on," says a bloke who appears down the bank after I slip it back. "What gear you on, corr what reel you got there, is that a Mitchell Match..?"

Bit of meat on one of those needle, watch your fingers health and safety jobs. Yes it's a Mitchell Match, belonged to my late father.

The bloke wanders off before I can explain the reel's history and its career catching hard-earned points from far bank chub on 3AA wagglers in Thames winter leagues. Five minutes later, he's back. 

"I was just wondering, well I've just rung my mate and he was really interested," he says. "You don't fancy selling that reel do you - they're getting as rare as hen's teeth, he'll give you twenty quid for it. Twenty quid. You wouldn't get that for one on e-Bay."

I look down at Dad's battered old Mitchell Match, which has somehow helped pull two carp out of one of the marsh lakes.

I shake my head and explain its sentimental value, which probably means I'll never part company with it. Chub down the far bank on double caster. Winter leagues and all that.

"My mate's into his cameras as well," the guy shrugs, looking at my bashed up old Nikons, one of which took a picture that made every national newspaper and went round the world not so long ago. 

"He buys and sells them too. Knows a bit about cameras he does, like what they're worth, he says are they Canon..? How much would you be after for them..? He says he can do you a top price on any cameras like, obviously all cash mate. He'll probably go a good few hundred mate."

I hold onto both the reel and the cameras. Including the one that took the picture that went everywhere. As the bloke wanders off, I hear him ask the angler in a nearby swim if he wants to sell his pole. His mate would give him £100 for it. Cash on the nail.

Grand Dad, Grand Dad. I've got one, I've got one. I've got a fish. It's a fish, look Grand Dad. I've caught a fish. But I've had a bit of an accident too.

I can't remember if I wee'd myself with excitement when I caught my first fish the best part of half a century ago.

That's OK, the wife says. We'll take your pants off and hang them off Grand Dad's chair to dry 'em out boy.

We got an invite to a little pond tucked away in the middle of nowhere by way of thanks for some pictures I did for the local papers. And the bites came thick and fast from start to finish.

Little perch and roach were punctuated by the odd pastie and a bream that might have been worth weighing if you're into knowing what your bream weigh.

Got another one Grand Dad. That's 18 now. I've caught 18 fish. Down goes the float and a bigger perch wangs his elastic.

Granny, when are we going home, he asks. Not for a bit, the wife says, as she nails a skimmer. I haven't felt this chilled in ages, she says, as she expertly snags her float on a tree.

Laughter ripples across the lake, as a little girl on the other bank catches a pastie-sized carp. Daddy, daddy, look - I've got one, I've got one. She's still dancing up and down with excitement five minutes after her old man takes the hook out and drops it back into the lake.  

It hits me as I reel in a 4oz roach on my Dad's old Mitchell Match. This is what fishing's all about.       


Monday, November 16, 2015

Pike don't like Mondays - or do they..?

This one hit the lure and threw it in a tailwalk, before it chased it half way across the drain and nailed it under my feet. Not the biggest pike I've ever caught, but it has to be one of the maddest. It came on a day when I not only caught several, but learned loads.

I kicked off on the Big Drain, after reading a snippet in the local paper which said lure anglers had been enjoying multiple catches. I guessed where, as bitter experience has taught me there's only one part of this drain where the fish seem to congregate in numbers.

Head down there, three or four chucks and bingo. I'm struggling with westerly tearing down the cut. It's hard to keep the line tight, let alone feel what the lure's doing in 20 knots of wind. Two or three fish hit and come off, maybe because I've filed the barb down on the jig head and there's so much bow in the line when one hits that the fish throw the lure as I bend into them.

Go somewhere else, a little voice in the back of my head says. I have a feeling they'd be really up for it today, if I could only fish the lure right.

The Chipper Bailiff appears as I'm walking back to the wheels. Hella, Chris. Hella, me ole podna. Chips says no-one much has been on the next stretch I fancy, where a drain flows through deep, tree-lined banks. So I head off there.

It not only looks nice, I can see where the weed is as the sun comes out. Jink a yellow shad over the top and I can see it waddling its way across. I caught a few on there too. Exciting stuff, as I saw most of them come flying after the lure before they whacked it.

The biggest one might have gone 4lbs on a good day, but every swim I tried seemed to have one or two lean and nicely-marked pike. All came on the same yellow Kopyto, that got ripped and shredded as I hopped from swim to swim.

I didn't keep count, other than the best one looked around 8lbs and I took a break to watch a marsh harrier hunting over the far bank. I was bored by 11am - I could have caught more, but I'd had enough by then.

My arms were still killing me from yesterday, when the woman who keeps horses behind the King's Lynn AA lake at Snetty brought me a Transit tipper-full of muck for my veg plots.

I dropped in the garden on my way home and the garlic and onions are up in the mild weather that's kissed the coast.

And just how mild is it right now? I can't remember an Autumn like it, I said to my neighbour Canary John, as we spread muck on our gardens yesty.

It's just nice to get out fishing and catch a few, on a day when they were well up for it.

Nothing any size, but I enjoyed it all the same. I'm starting to love it, like I used to. Roll on next weekend.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Indian Summer

So here I am once more. In the playground of the broken hearts. One more experience, one more entry, in a diary self-penned. Ten yards up the bank and I turned off Marillion before I threw myself in the drain.

What am I doing back here, I ask myself, looking at the gin-clear drain. It seemed like a good idea when I set off, loading up the car as a skein of pinks howled overhead.

On goes a yellow rubber fish thing. I have rubber fish things in almost every colour of the rainbow, but I like the yellow ones. You can see them on the retrieve for one thing, speeding up to lift them over the marginal weed growth.

After more than 10 months off, it's nice to be fishing again - throwing a yellow rubber thing two-thirds across the Big Drain.

I even see some pike. Jacks stalk the lure as it comes into view, fins all flared. Little males chasing a gaudy invader off their territory, with no intention off eating it.

I mess around for an hour or so. Just once, a bigger fish lunges and misses leaving a cloud of silt behind it.

When the temperature hits 18C, I hit the road for home. Perhaps, just perhaps, I might get back into this.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Low water

Had a bash on the new banking they've put along one of the drains first thing. Glorious morning, despite the forecast, but the level's lower than I've ever seen it and the water's so clear I can see the lure a third of the way across.

I wonder how long the new banking's going to last - clay retained by fabric, in turn retained by stakes hammered in like the ones we use to build fences with on the allotments.

An hour of this and all I had were a couple of follows to show for it. That includes one which almost beached itself as it decided to lunge for the shad at the last moment but ran out of water before it turned away in a great V-wave.

Tried the big river, a smaller river and a couple of other places before I gave it best.

At least winter's on the way. Kind of.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Things can only get better

October dawns with distinctly un October-like weather, but hey ho - seemed rude not to. Twenty-two degrees by lunchtime, eaten alive by midges, one missed run. Things can only get better. Hopefully.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Let's twist again, like we did last summer

I was never 100pc happy with the crimped traces I made last winter. I didn't have one fail on me - possibly not surprising, bearing in mind my pitiful tally of bigger fish. I just couldn't find quite the right-sized crimps, it looked a mess passing the wire through three times, you need a sleeve, then you worry whether the wire's OK under the sleeve, etc.

Twisting had its drawbacks too. I know there are people in the Fens with 11 fingers, but most of us only have two pairs of hands.That means it's a faff trying to keep the turns neat as you twist and maintain the right tension in the wire to twist without unravelling or kinking it.

Easy answer..? Make a jig. I don't know why I didn't think of that years ago. It could be as simple as an anchorage point in a block of wood, which you clamp to a workbench or table top, or you could go for a full-on base, with different lengths marked on it.

The anchorage has to be secure. It also needs to turn under tension to get the twists right. Easy way of doing that..? Ball bearing swivel and an old coastlock. Screw it in as shown.

To start off, tie an overhand loop in the wire, cut to length and twist on the bottom hook. Do this by forming a lark's head hitch and heating the end of the wire to anneal (soften) it first.

Take the wire out of the coastlock, cut the loop off and tie the top hook in. Then stick the top hook in the coastlock, while you twist on the swivel at the other end.

Simple or what..?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Some walk

I'd forgotten just how long it takes to cover the couple of miles from the harbour along the floodbank, onto the boardwalk to the bird reserve, then along the tops of the dunes to the harbour mouth. Must have been getting on for an hour - talk about a walk.

Good job I only brought a rod and a few lures today - along with plenty of water. Incredibly, when I get to the spot there's another guy there with rod, sitting admiring the view across the fast-filling bay.

I give it half an hour, rapidly discovering it's a lot shallower than it use to be. It's only a small tide today, but there used to be more than a couple of feet of water out in the middle. I guess lack of feeding birds means if there's any action happening, it's out to sea.

Maybe one to try on a bigger tide.

Monday, August 04, 2014


Today saw just a 6m tide on Mussel Bay, barely enough to cover the rocks on the foreshore at high water. There's worse to come, with heights dropping to 5.6m on Wednesday, before the sea starts to build again towards the end of the the week.

Some reckon the big tides, the sevens and eights are the ones to fish, with fives and sixes not worth bothering with. Others follow the you won't catch them sitting at home school of thought, and fish regardless. I've got a week off, so I'm not really bothered.

I may head for another beach I've been meaning to check out tomorrow to see what's what. It was nice today casting a new lure to see what it does - the lemony sandeel spoony thing. I've binned the packet and I can't remember what it was called. It looks nice and flashy in the water, like the wedge above it, but no cigar.