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.       


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