Angling Encounters by Bob Buteux, Tony Meers and friends
Big thanks to Stephen Harper for allowing me to publish these extracts from Angling Encounters, a collection of fishing tales buy writers like Fred Crouch, Ron Clay, Pete Climo, Terry Theobald, Alan Rawden, Len Arbery, John Searl, Vic Beyer, Eddie Chambers, Chris Quinn, Maurice Pledger, Stephen Harper, Paul Swainson, Bruce Vaughan, Peter Baker, Chris Ball, Dennis Gander and Peter Jackson. Is it any good? Well, let me borrow Keith Elliott description in Classic Angling magazine, ‘It makes a refreshing change from fat blokes droning on about carp’.
Well worth reading.
Foreword by Bob Buteux
When Stephen Harper asked Tony Meers and I to get some of our ‘more mature gentlemen of angling’ to write for this book about some unusual events that happened to them while fishing, I quickly thumbed through my old address book and sorted out some names that I knew could tell some great stories, for many of them are old fishing mates, with whom I have whiled away many years on the banks of innumerable lakes and rivers.
It’s inevitable that, as an angler, sometime or another something unusual is going to happen. Spending such a lot of time close to the water’s edge, there can’t be many of us that haven’t entered that watery environment that we love so much unwillingly at some stage, even if it’s only a bootful. But the stories in this book go much further than that, and tell of the unexpected, odd, amusing and even weird tales that have occurred while out fishing. One contributor recalls that it’s many years since he enjoyed a meal of freshly-caught elvers mixed and fried with an egg; one had a large dog scoff all his live-bait from his bucket, and another recounts tales of ‘strange goings-on’ at that most mysterious of waters, Redmire Pool, with others talking of rivers gods, unknown beasts, legends, and even phantoms…
All have passed their fiftieth birthday, and most have been great anglers at one time or another; I suppose they would be called ‘mature’, and although they are showing a few bald patches and grey hairs, I am sure they can still hold their own with the youngsters when it comes to catching a big fish or two, having that added edge of experience. But none have lost their lust just to simply go fishing, albeit in a more composed way, and they will continue to do so while they are able to get to the water’s edge.
So what better qualifications do you need to tell a tale from those years spent on the bank with other fanatical mates? Gods, fate, strange paths to the water, that first time of night fishing alone, such weird noises in the dark, those hairs on the back of your neck, and those embarrassing incidents that will make you smile; all are here for you to enjoy…
Inexplicable Redmire by Len Arbery
Len Arbury, a retired precision engineer, was born in London in 1939, and has been fishing for almost as long as he can remember, on both stillwaters and rivers.
Len’s quest for ever-bigger fish led him farther afield, culminating at Redmire Pool in the 1970s, in the late Jack Hilton’s syndicate. The renowned Herts-Chiltern Specimen Group included Len as a member from 1973 to the present day, and he can count some iconic anglers amongst his wide circle of friends. Len has also belonged to the British Carp Study Group, the Barbel Society, the Barbel Catchers’ Club, the Carp Society, and the National Association of Specialist Anglers, and has sat on the British Record (rod-caught) Fish Committee.
Len’s first foray into angling journalism occurred in 1978, and he’s been contributing ever since. His first book, Redmire Pool, written in conjunction with Kevin Clifford, was published in 1984. This was followed by five further titles: Catching Big Tench, 1989; The Complete Book of River Fishing, 1993; In Pursuit of Big Tench, 1996; Ripples and Reflections, 2007; and Carp for Life, 2010, and Barbel For Life, 2011. Len has also contributed chapters to several books, has broadcast on radio and TV, presented talks both at home and abroad, and his photographs have been widely reproduced and are well known.
Since catching his first-ever barbel from the River Thames in the late 1950s, he has now taken literally hundreds, including 13 lb+ fish from five different English rivers. His current PB is a Thames fish of 15lbs 10ozs, caught this past winter, 2011-12. He’s also caught numerous carp, the first in 1967, and the biggest a 43 lbs 12 oz French common in 2009, plus specimens of other species including chub to over 7 lbs and tench to over 9 lbs. Len reckons the pinnacle of his long angling career came in 1990, by winning the Drennan Cup outright, with a 6 lb chub and a 14 lb barbel.
Almost since Redmire Pool first hit angling’s headlines there have been accounts of strange ‘goings on.’ Although undoubtedly some of these stories have been perpetuated by anglers who have, to put it politely, a romantic if not fanciful reputation, other very level-headed people have also recounted such tales, anglers with both feet firmly planted on the ground, and characters you’d find it hard to believe resorting to whimsical imaginings. Furthermore, there are also examples of difficult-to-explain photographic images.
One of the very earliest Redmire carp hunters, ‘BB’ (the late Denys Watkins-Pitchford) tells us he thought Redmire Pool truly delightful during daylight hours, but after dark found it a very, very different proposition. He wrote, “Redmire is a happy enough place during the day, but when evening deepens into night it is a different story. There is a menace in the black trees at the foot of the dam, there are rustlings and clickings, grunts and the pattering of feet…” Although, admittedly, ‘BB’ mentions nothing specific, please remember he was an experienced night-fisher, having spent hundreds of waterside hours in the dark, and it was rare for him to mention feeling unnerved.
The renowned photographer, the late Marc Ridgeway, was fortunate enough to spend a week at Redmire Pool that included September 13th, the anniversary of Dick Walker’s 1952 capture of Clarissa, his 44 lb former British record carp. Marc constantly felt someone approaching when he was fishing the Oaks Pitch, but when, on a number of occasions, he came out of his bivvy to investigate, he never found anybody there. On his return home, his Redmire films were developed, and all came out perfectly – apart from one. This particular shot was taken from the Oaks Pitch, looking across the pool to the Willow Pitch, where Dick Walker’s fish had been caught, and shows some inexplicable features. At the bottom of the shot there are silver-paper cylinders, as used by many early carp anglers as bite-indicators, and mist shrouding much of that area of the pool. Marc assured us those silver-paper cylinders were just not there at the time the shot was taken, nor was there any mist around. Marc went on to tell us: “The shots either side of this one, taken at the same time, were perfect.”
Some other so far unexplained images on film shot at Redmire, in both black-and-white and colour, are reproduced here. The first of these was taken by me in 1974, and shows my then set-up in Pitchford’s Pit. As you will plainly see, there is a strange apparition beneath the second rod from the right. It has been suggested that this is a bird that has taken flight from under the boards. A reasonable suggestion, I suppose, but I’m certain I’d have remembered it at the time if indeed it had been a bird, and, if it is a bird, why is it not in focus? Even allowing for movement, the object, whatever it is, should appear sharper, shouldn’t it? Especially when it is considered that the remainder of the shot, from foreground to background, is tolerably within focus. This was not the only frame exposed at that time; in fact, I fired three off at differing exposures without moving my feet. For the record, I did all the processing personally, so I’m quite certain nothing went amiss here.
The next photograph was taken around 1960 by the late Gerry Berth-Jones. The negative, however, remained unprinted until I found it in a bundle Gerry gave me to sort through around twenty years later, when Kevin Clifford and I were engaged in gathering material for possible use in our book, ‘Redmire Pool’. Once again, the entire image is in acceptable focus, apart from those two manifestations in the sky above the willow trees, toward the right-hand side.
I have only fished Redmire once in wintertime, in January to be precise, and once is quite enough for me – Redmire does not instil the same level of magic once the trees are gaunt and bare and you never get out of a one-piece suit. Although the weather was bright and sunny, it was cold enough to freeze your socks off, particularly during those never-ending hours of darkness. Because I’d not got many pictures of Redmire’s winter landscape, I rattled off a couple of rolls of slide film through my trusty old twin-lens Rolleiflex. All came out as expected – all, that is, apart from one single frame, taken in Pitchford’s. It clearly shows the just-after dawn stillness of the pool, with the naked trees silhouetted against the clear pale-blue sky. Right near the bottom of the shot, however, is yet another difficult-to-explain apparition, this being a ghostly image, roughly in the shape of an extremely thin, dove-like bird, white in colour, the left-hand side of which is definitely transparent, particularly where it overlaps my rods and rod-rests.
I give you my word – none of these photographs have been tampered with. In the monochrome examples, the pictures have been taken directly from the negatives, with absolutely no re-touching of any kind, and remain exactly as printed. Same for the colour tranny, although it is true this was developed by a commercial company.
Back in 1986, I was experiencing a lot of trouble with small indications from the Redmire carp, and resorted to swing-tips to try to sort them out. The pitch in which the swing-tips were initially tried, near the start of the shallows almost opposite Bramble Island, was heavily coloured by feeding carp, and several were soon caught, the swing-tips working like a charm. None of these fish were monsters, the best one weighing only 18 lbs 7 ozs. Although pleased with the swing-tips’ performance, double-figure carp were never my aim at Redmire. I felt that to contact Redmire’s larger inhabitants, it was necessary to move swims, but even after a careful search for signs, I could see no evidence of feeding fish elsewhere in the pool.
Some obviously bigger specimens were seen in the vicinity of the Evening Pitch, but they didn’t seem to be feeding, therefore I stayed put for the night, thinking that some crafty and larger carp might move into the area under the cover of darkness. (This transpired to be yet another of my habitual errors of judgement). The hoped-for bigger carp did not materialise, and although I continued to catch double-figure commons at intervals, and although the bigger carp in the Evening Pitch still did not seem to be feeding, I moved there, without much confidence, admittedly. I could still find no evidence of other feeding fish, or, of course, I would have fished there.
I had seriously underestimated the number of bigger carp located in the vicinity of the Evening Pitch, some easily in excess of 25 lbs. They appeared to be aimlessly cruising the area, sometimes singly, but more often in twos and threes. Now and again they looked like they were about to begin spawning, but this didn’t occur. But one thing looked certain: they all seemed completely disinterested in feeding.
A pair of rods were in use: the left one was armed with a Richworth pop-up, critically balanced, the other with two sinking mini-boilies, each swing-tip being illuminated by a large beta-light, and my glasses being worn to watch these more clearly.
Two hours after dark, the tip on the right-hand rod lifted about four inches and held. The resulting fast-moving carp was yet another double-figure common weighing 18 lbs 11 ozs; I’m reluctant to admit I was bitterly disappointed with the weight. Half-an-hour later, the same swing-tip rose once more, again with the same results, only this time the common looked to weigh about 15 lbs. Everything then went dead, and by 3:00 am I was feeling ready for bed, as I had to leave for home early next morning.
This idea was becoming increasingly attractive, when I thought I noticed a small movement of the swing-tip mounted on the left-hand rod. Five minutes later it lifted steadily – no twitcher this! Immediately on striking the hook home I knew this was a better stamp of carp, for it came to the surface and wallowed heavily, the resulting ripples setting the whole pool rocking. It didn’t fight much, which worried me not at all, and I just towed it toward the waiting net; then my line brushed the fronds of some floating weed, only the merest scrap, but sufficient to dislodge the hook!
As is my custom when wearing spectacles, before settling down for the night, I hung them on a rib of my brolly to keep them out of harm’s way. When retrieving them from this ‘safe’ place next morning one lens was completely shattered.
Perhaps somebody knocked them down, breaking them in the process, replacing them on the self-same rib of the brolly, in exactly the same place without telling me. Well if they did, they were pretty stealthy, as I’m a light sleeper when fishing and they didn’t disturb me; moreover, my glasses were hanging just inches above my nose. But besides all this, I was at the pool alone. I’ve been called a liar for stating this, and now, more than twenty-five years later, even I disbelieve the evidence provided by my own eyes that morning; and now imagine I could only have been dreaming! And why is it that on that August morning when discovering my shattered glasses, there was a film of ice on my water container? And this was inside the confines of the brolly!
I’ve recently learned that another angler, who is unknown to me, had a similar experience to mine. Again fishing the Evening Pitch, after a hot Summer’s day and a calm and balmy evening and night, he awoke in the early hours to find everything inside his bivvy covered in a thick white frost! So maybe, just maybe, I didn’t just dream up that film of ice on my water container after all!
One of the most successful anglers throughout Redmire’s syndicate years was undoubtedly Pete Springate, for Pete accounted for no less than fifty carp of twenty pounds or over during his three seasons’ of membership. Pete is also a level-headed, stolid sort, and, having spent literally hundreds of nights by the waterside, not one to be easily bothered by the dark.
One frosty October night, fishing the Stumps Pitch, Pete hung his weigh-sling in a tree to dry after the capture of yet another twenty-pounder. Some time later, half awake, Pete heard what he thought was someone approaching his bivvy. Next moment he was fully awake, startled by ‘a steady swishing sound’ that he found difficult to identify. Pete readily confesses that he felt frightened at the time, because Redmire is so very quiet on still and windless nights such as on this occasion. That stillness was now broken by this swishing sound emanating from very close by. Pete got up to investigate, and found the sound was coming from his weigh-sling. It had frozen solid, and was now swinging backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, making the swishing sound. Pete looked at it and wondered: “Well, what made that move?” Pete continues to find this a very creepy, eerie, and strange experience.
Other anglers have reported strange goings-on, such as hearing voices, or feelings of being watched. Barry Mills awoke one night to see a shadowy figure under the oaks. Chris Yates says he never actually saw anything unexplainable but has “heard a voice or felt an indefinable yet undeniable presence, as when someone enters a room unseen or unheard, but you are aware of their arrival.” On occasion Chris felt compelled to ask: “I know you’re there, but who are you?”
In Chris’s classic carp book, Casting At The Sun, he reports his first experience of the Redmire haunting as ‘the most disturbing’. Unusually, this wasn’t one of those calm, still nights, during which the majority of these stories of weird happenings occur; it was Autumn 1973 and the wind was ‘blowing a hooligan’. Sometime close to midnight, the wind eased slightly “when a shout echoed across the pool.” It emanated it seemed from only about a metre away, making Chris literally jump off the ground. For Chris, the eeriest thing about the whole episode is he distinctly heard what had been shouted: It was nothing less than his own name!
Barry Arbury, (similar surname but no relation), fishing the Evening Pitch one December, was awoken by children’s voices, coming from the field immediately behind his bivvy, at 2.30 am. Barry got up and went to the field, torch in hand, to reprimand them, but found no-one there. Not only that: there were no tell-tale footprints in the dew covering the grass.
Back in 1989, a joint venture by Angling Times and the Carp Society enabled Rob Brittle, an angler severely injured at that terrible football stadium disaster when 95 supporters died in the tragic crush at Hillsborough, to visit Redmire for a couple of days, in company with his favourite carp star, Ritchie MacDonald. News Editor Adrian Curtis also came down to the pool to cover the event for the paper, and I attended as the Carp Society’s representative.
On the first night Adrian and I fished alone; he set up in Pitchford’s, with me on the opposite bank in the Willow Pitch. Adrian came around to watch me fish until, too tired to continue, we ‘pulled stumps’ at around 11 pm. Adrian then left me to return to Pitchford’s, and I’ll now let him relate his story.
“It was around 2.45 am when I woke. I didn’t know why I had woken, but there seemed a strange stillness in the air, an unnatural darkness hovered over the pool and an uncanny silence filled the skies. Not a breath of wind stirred, no animals moved, no bushes rustled.
Then it happened for the first time: a creeping coldness that began at my feet and worked its way up to my neck. It was far worse than anything I’d experienced as a pike angler in deepest winter. By the time the chilling iciness reached my neck, the muscles in my arms and legs began shaking in uncontrollable spasms. It happened six or seven times within the space of ten minutes. Each time, I was gripped by a fear of foreboding and extreme evil – a feeling I’ve never experienced before and one I never want to experience again.
The air was stifling, almost suffocating, and I was convinced I was being watched by an unseen presence. Who or what it was I had no idea, but I’d been night fishing often enough to realise I wasn’t alone. The presence of something evil was stalking the bank and although I couldn’t see it, I knew it was there just as surely as I know when someone unseen walks into a room.
I tried to remain calm and rational. I unzipped my sleeping bag and emerged from my bivvy, scanning the undergrowth with my torch. I found nothing. The urge to look over my shoulder was all consuming. All the time I searched the fields and bushes with the beam from my torch, and I made sure I stood on the path with a clear run back to the car in the copse if I should spy anything I didn’t like.
The extreme cold remained. My muscles shook violently and the feeling of fear continued to grip my body. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck literally stand up one-by-one. Icy fingers ran up and down my spine as if the bony hands of some ghoulish spectre were tinkling my backbone like the ivory keys on some ghostly piano.
I could stand the cold no longer and decided to make my way along the path to my car, parked under the trees in the copse. I looked around almost constantly as I made my way, and although I had a powerful urge to run, I somehow resisted. I opened the back door and climbed in.
It was an hour later, with the lake and copse still shrouded in inky blackness, that I felt the shadow pass. Sleep had been impossible since returning to the car and my eyes were half shut when I saw it. In an instant it passed silently along the side of the car, like the beat of an owl’s wing across a full moon. I dared not raise my head to see who or what is was, for I felt convinced I was not meant to see whatever passed my car and through the copse that night.
Morning seemed to take an age to arrive, but I felt as though a weight had finally been lifted when the dawn light finally lifted the curtain of darkness over the pool and the copse.
Len crept across the dam to see me not long after and was surprised to find me in the car. Even the watery dawn light seemed a far cry from the cold dead of the last few hours. But although I was due to stay at Redmire for a second night, nothing on earth would have compelled me to do so, especially fishing Pitchford’s, and I left.”
For my own part, that night was undisturbed, and to say I was ‘surprised’ to find Adrian in his car the next morning is a gross understatement on his part. For gone was the confident, almost cocky air I knew of old, replaced by a near panicky and cowering persona. Even before Adrian spoke of his ordeal I instinctively recognised from his appearance that he’d suffered some seriously frightening experience. To calm his nerves I offered to make Adrian a nice cup of tea, but he wouldn’t stay at Redmire even long enough for that, and, moreover, he’s never been back!
The final ‘inexplicable’ incident I wish to relate concerns one of Redmire’s joint owners. He, along with his young son, shared a tent pitched, again, in Pitchford’s. Sometime during the night they both awoke to see a pair of ‘glowing eyes’ dancing around in mid-air. The owner was so shaken by the event that he called in some holy man, a priest I believe, to have the area exorcised! Whether or not this exorcism was successful is difficult to tell, although it is true there have been, to my knowledge, no inexplicable tales since: apart from this one!
Fishing the Evening Pitch in 2010, I awoke to find an extremely beautiful buxom blonde, clad only in a white see-through negligee, standing beside my bedchair. As I threw back the covers in an invitation for her to join me in bed she immediately disappeared: really, the story of my life! (Only joking with that one: honestly, June!)
These mysterious events at Redmire have all occurred in roughly the same area on the east bank, that is, between the Oaks and Pitchford’s, including the Evening Pitch and the car parking area. In times long past, a boathouse once stood hereabouts, and I wonder if it was the scene of some long-forgotten tragic or grisly event, an event so ghastly that its legacy has ensured some poor tortured soul must remain in the area until the end of time, and/or caused people to witness, or imagine they’ve witnessed, something strange?
What I am certain of is that the Redmire Ghost, if such a thing exists, is not to be feared. Whether or not its intention is to commit evil, it’s never hurt anyone; well, at least the innocent, for nobody can argue that it hasn’t had plenty of subjects, down through all the years, upon which to vent its wrath, and all have survived the experience…