Radio Broadcaster and widely travelled angler, Martin James gives us another extract from his excellent new book, Caught At The Water’s Edge…
It all started when I got a telephone call from a fellow presenter at BBC Radio Lancashire who told me that comedian singer song-writer, Phil Cool wanted to meet me. I said, “Tell Phil to give me a call.” Now this comedian is the world’s only ‘Stand up Chameleon’ who is armed with a controllable rubber face which he’s not afraid to use! Phil’s body, too, seems to be able to defy the normal anatomical laws.
With this unique weaponry, he can be anyone or anything instantaneously, from international celebrity to intergalactic alien. He can be shockingly funny, even doing a good impression of Martin James! Phil is one of the most original and unique comic talents to come out of Great Britain. During the 1980s and 90s Phil was a familiar face on BBC and ITV television, working with some great artists of the day: Rolf Harris, Jasper Carrot and fellow angler Chris Tarrant OBE. Phil’s escape from this hectic life is with his wife Beverley and their three children; he certainly enjoys the peace and quiet of angling and the countryside.
A week later Phil called and we chatted as anglers do; it transpired that Phil wanted to spend a day fishing with me. We arranged a chub-fishing session on the River Ribble in late February; it was a day of heavy rain with a gale force wind, what I call horrid weather, not really suitable for catching fish. I guided Phil up and down the beat, urging him on with encouraging words. Just downstream of a weir pool I suggested he bait with a fresh chunk of crust and cast on the edge of a large boulder, in fact a mini-car size boulder which created a nice crease. Within minutes the rod tip pulled over with a perfectly timed strike, Phil was into his first chub of about four pounds. He followed this up with a couple of other nice chub. I was impressed. It was time for a fresh brew of Yorkshire Gold tea in the sanctuary of the cabin away from the sheeting rain and gale force wind.
When the trout-fishing season started I called Phil to invite him to join me on my stretch of the River Ribble for a day’s dry-fly fishing. We met up two days later on a delightful May morning, with a light but warm south westerly wind with fish sipping down a variety of insects, mainly buzzers, which were hatching off in big clouds. I didn’t ask him to fish a buzzer pattern, but suggested he fish a size 14 Grannom pattern on a 12ft leader, the reason for this is that I have found better quality fish will often take the larger pattern of fly. I matched a 5 weight floating line with a Thomas and Thomas 9ft Whisper-Lite rod. His casting was spot on; during the session he caught some fine brown trout, while other fly-fishers that day went fishless, through concentrating on that ridiculous method of down and across with a team of wet flies.
On our last fly-fishing trip in May, Phil mentioned that his lifelong dream was to fish the River Kennet; I invited him to join me for a few days and he accepted with boyish enthusiasm. In late June we drove south from Lancashire for a few days fishing on his ‘River of his Dreams’. That first evening’s fishing was on the Wasing syndicate water of the Warren beat. Having fished several likely spots we arrived at the Rockery just on dusk; during the next half-an-hour, Phil had two rod-wrenching bites. Both fish were hooked, putting a good bend in his rod, but sadly, he lost the two good barbel in an alder tree hanging down in the water. After an hour into the darkness, with no more bites, we headed off to our accommodation.
Next morning I cooked, his favourite breakfast of kippers, toast with tea; breakfast over we were ready to go fishing. After stopping off to view the Rivers Enborne and Kennet, we paid a visit to Tadley Angling, where the first question your asked is, “Is it tea or coffee?” Soon, Kevin’s delightful wife Lynne, produced two mugs of tea, in this shop you even get offered biscuits. As I chatted with Kevin, Lynne and some customers, Phil looked around the shop. As anglers do, he couldn’t resist purchasing a new item of tackle, in this instance a Grauvell 12ft two piece rod designed for big river fish. After more chatting with customers, then buying some tackle items that we probably already had, but couldn’t resist, we finished our tea and went off fishing.
Conditions were rather horrid, sunshine and clear blue sky, it was looking like it would be tough going to get my guest a good fish. As we roamed the river bank on the Wasing fishing syndicate beats of Dalston, Warren, Woolhampton and Aldermaston I pointed out various swims that produced roach, perch, chub or barbel. I explained how I fished for the various fish in the different swims. On one area that is little fished, we pushed through head-high nettles and brambles, getting stung several times and scratched to bits as we did so.
This was jungle-type fishing, but I felt this undisturbed stretch of river bank might just yield a fish for Phil. I found a good swim with an over hanging tree offering shade, peering into the three foot deep swim over gravel and silt close to the bank, I could make out lots of cabbages. (These are submerged water lilies with curled leaves hence the name.) From many years of experience, I have noticed that big fish find these areas very attractive as they provide plenty of food nymphs and invertebrates. Another attraction for perch and chub along with jack pike, occasional a big pike, are the swarms of small fish that seek sanctuary in these areas. If big roach are your quarry I suggest you target these areas. As in catching all big fish we need a bit of luck, despite John Wilson who tells me there isn’t any luck.
I pointed out to Phil an area where big chub could sometimes be found, suggesting he fish legered crust. Creeping away from the waters edge so we didn’t spook any fish – remember chub are easily spooked, they disappear ghost-like. While Phil put together his gear, the new Grauvell rod, matched with a Shimano fixed-spool reel, 10lb line and a size 6 hook with 2 LG shot lightly pinched on the line 5in from the hook. I handed him a chunk of crust which was impaled on the hook, he was now ready to go. I told him to drop the crust alongside some reeds showing just above the water. Phil made five casts, each time the bait was taken, the rod tip pulled round and the bites missed. I couldn’t believe how lucky he was to get so many takes without the fish getting spooked.
I then suggested he hold the rod, and as the tip moves, strike a bit more firmly. Within minutes of making cast number six the rod tip pulled round once more. This time Phil made a firmer strike, it worked beautifully. The rod took on its battle curve; picking up the landing net I knelt down holding the submerged net in the water. Phil was in control and soon was drawing a big chub over the net, I lifted, then said, “Yes it’s a big one, in fact it’s very big!” on the scales it went 5lb 13oz – now that’s a big summer-chub. Later in the day he eclipsed this with an even bigger chub of 6lb 7oz, this time on a piece of Platinum soft paste bait. What a great way to start a trip. On another day we fished a different Wasing syndicate water; after fishing for about half-an-hour Phil had a barbel about six pounds. After a mug of fresh brewed Yorkshire Gold tea, I recorded a session with Phil playing guitar while singing a comical fishing song for my At the Water’s Edge programme on BBC Radio Lancashire. It was time for some food. After clipping the leads of my microwave oven onto the car battery, I soon heated our cottage pie which, as always, tasted good in the open air. It was time to start fishing again. As the sun dipped below the riverside trees we cast out our baited hooks. Within the hour Phil astounded me and everyone else when he hooked a big barbel, after perhaps ten minutes I was able to net a fish that many of us only dream about.
As I tried to manhandle this great fish up the steep bank one of the landing net arms collapsed. I grabbed the net mesh, saying to myself, “If need be I will go in the water!” I was determined this fish wasn’t going to escape. Eventually I had the fish safely on the soft sponge mat where I slipped out the size 8 barbless hook from the scissors of the fish. Moving along the bank, I found a spot where I could peg the fish safely in the water.
Next job was to sort out camera gear, scales and weight bag. Having zeroed the scales, I collected the fish which was placed safely in the weigh bag. Hoisting it on the scales, we watched the needle go round to 14lb 15oz. Bigger than Phil’s previous best fish, a salmon from the River Spey. Again it was caught on Platinum soft paste bait made by Jim O’Hearn, what a winner. Phil had a grin a mile wide with two big sparkling eyes. The tackle set-up was 10lb line, size 8 hook using the Grauvell rod he purchased on the first day of his trip, from Tadley Angling matched with a Shimano fixed-spool reel, with 1½oz of inline stonze stopped 15in from the size 6 hook by a small swivel.
At the end of the trip Phil said, “What do I owe you Martin?” I said, “Just make a cheque out to one of my charities.” After a few minutes Phil said, “I’ll do better than that, I’ll give you a free concert!” For my kindness in guiding Phil on his incredible trip, my two charities: Ribble Valley Crossroad Care and the Army Benevolent Fund, will benefit. What a great gesture. While fishing at Tewitfield Lake I told Les Bratsby, the fishery owner about the concert, he immediately said, “Our band, O’Connor’s Fusiliers, will give an hour.”
The event took place on Friday, 13 November at the Grand Hotel in Clitheroe. It was an evening of fun and music with O’Connor’s Fusiliers and Phil Cool. As master of ceremonies I welcomed the sell-out audience. Then followed by a minute’s silence for those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan wars. After introducing the first half entertainment of O’Connor’s Fusiliers I was able to relax; this group really did put on a first class act and a great show. During the interval, I welcomed representatives from Crossroad Care and the Army Benevolent Fund to give a five minute presentation on their work. This was followed by asking all serving and ex servicemen present to stand up and let the audience show their appreciation.
I then introduced Phil Cool, Old Rubber Face, who kept the audience in stitches; I don’t think there was a dry eye in the audience. Everyone was ecstatic over the entertainment. Before we all departed I asked everyone to stand for the National Anthem, something sadly missing today from many entertainment venues. Two weeks later I was able to present two cheques to my chosen charities for £1,300 each.
Martin’s book, At The Water’s Edge can be purchased on line from Tackle Discounts