There are some really anal folk in the fishing game and you’ll find plenty of them posting various degrees of bile on Internet forums. They really won’t like this next chapter because I’m going to share a few of my experiences of ‘guesting’. Call it poaching if you like. Indeed call it what you will. I’m neither ashamed of it nor remorseful.
When I caught sticklebacks as a kid I didn’t have a license, I’ve still no idea who owned the Mill Dyke and what difference would it make if I did? Too many people rent fisheries with the sole motive of preventing others fishing them rather than fishing there themselves.
If you have a spirit of adventure, if you have a true passion for angling, then I’ll guarantee you’ve done a spot of guesting at some time or other. Let’s face it, this isn’t a crime of the century, it isn’t exactly stealing the crown jewels and who says water belongs to anyone in the first place.
How come I was born owning nothing while someone else can be born owning the title to thousands of acres?
I can get it when a bunch of guys rent a lake, stock it with carp then manage and maintain the water until the carp reach specimen size.
I can get it when a group takes on a river, let’s take the Wensum as an example, sets out to protects the river system in a holistic way, literally changing the river habitat by creating a riverine environment that enables them to stock and grow on fish from fingerlings to specimen size.
What I simply cannot accept is the selfish bastards who hijack prime stretches of river on the basis that they will collect a couple of bags of litter each season and keep out the tiny riff-raff element. They do this by denying access to the vast majority of good and well behaved anglers. In my eyes these syndicate holier than thou’s are simply pariahs, leeching on the sport. Frankly I’d sooner have the littering fringe because at least I then have the option to pick up their rubbish and take it home.
What makes things worse is that the littering element will probably continue to poach the stretches when it suits them, immune to reason and quite prepared to offer physical violence towards anyone who naively confronts them. That’s when the cowardly do-gooders show their true colours and back off. Hence the only folk who are really affected are the ones who were behaving perfectly reasonably in the first place.
I’ll accept that river syndicates are good for the sport when they start buying up crap stretches. Meantime I’ll have difficulty in differentiating between them and the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Oh, and let’s not forget their willingness to flash the cash to preserve their exclusivity creates a knock on effect for everyone as riparian owners suddenly believe every stretch of river is equally valuable. Consequently those who are not in the ‘elite’ groups have to pay more and get less.
Gee thanks guys, you really are a credit to the sport.
In my youth I gained a serious kick out of ‘guesting’ on waters. I spent precious little time on those waters that I actually had a ticket for. Fishing them didn’t provide the same adrenaline rush that comes with a fish caught from somewhere you are not supposed to be.
Not that I ever stole fish, did any damage or even left litter behind. I was like the heron, dropping in at dawn, silently stalking my prey and moving on again, long before the rest of the world had awoken. Looking back I was a bit of an angel really. My idea of mischief and adolescent thrill seeking was a million miles removed from the vandalism, violence and criminal activity that now passes for ‘high spirits’.
But our life was much simpler back then. We played cricket in the summer and football in the winter. In between times we would look for bird’s nests or go fishing as a gang. Hobbies were simple, too. Some kids of my generation collected cigarette cards, others went train spotting. Me? I went guesting, mostly alone, on any water I could find and there were dozens to pick from.
But it didn’t always turn out in the way I expected.
Should you happen to travel north, to York, by train, then 7 miles or so beyond of Doncaster you will spot a pond through the left hand window. It’s not a big pond, perhaps only three acres, but you can’t mistake it for any other because wooden shelters tower starkly over many of the swims. Reaching high above the pond is the unmistakable shape of a brickyard chimney, for this pond was dug, like many others up and down the country, to produce clay which in turn was fired to make bricks.
Perhaps the shelters are no longer there, I don’t know, but it is immaterial to my tale about a time when my driven desire, my intrepid enthusiasm for fishing and adventure was far stronger than the restrictive streak of common sense I was cursed with at birth. It was the day on which the Jonah and I came to a decision that we had ignored the charms of the brickpond for long enough. It was time to pay a little visit.
I must explain before going further, especially for younger readers, that carp have not always been as widespread as they are today. I guess I never even saw a carp in the flesh until I was about 12 years old and that was in the aquarium at Regents Park Zoo. Today it is inconceivable that anyone would make a 160 mile pilgrimage in order to see a carp for the first time but it serves to illustrate just how rare carp were in those days.
Whether Clarissa was the very first carp I actually ever saw is not certain, for there were others in the same tank. It matters not though, for a seed was sown. One day I would catch a monster like those swimming in front of my eyes.
Later on, a few carp were stocked into Askern Boating Lake and the Willowgarth at Arksey, then Carcroft Pond, but it was there, in a London Zoo, that my first physical contact with a carp took place and you might say my destiny was set. Carp would feature more and more in my life in the fullness of time but on the home front, for the time being, catching a carp was an impossible dream. And those that did exist were of a size that today’s jaded breed might describe as ‘pasties’.
I’m conscious that some of you will think I’m romancing – carp a rarity? Come off it Bob! But I swear it’s true. Read George Sharman’s excellent book, ‘Carp and the Carp Angler’ and you’ll understand.
By the time I discovered the pond at Moss I had left school, was working and had transport. The world was my oyster. I’d also met one of my great fishing friends, let’s just call him ‘the Jonah’.
As for guesting, I’d practically gone straight. It worked like this. If I found a water I wanted to fish I’d offer to buy a ticket. If the owner or club said no, then I took special delight in guesting there. It might have been one trip or a number of trips, that wasn’t the point. Honour had to be satisfied.
Anyway, I’m sure you understand by now that I was a hardened criminal with countless other offences to take into consideration should I eventually be caught! It will come as no surprise to you then if I tell you that destiny decreed I would sample the brick pond’s delights at some point. It lay on my ever widening doorstep and sooner or later it just had to be fished. Then came a startling discovery. It contained carp. Good carp too.
One minute I was exchanging pleasantries with a chap, the next he opened the lid on Pandora’s box. He began bragging about a water he fished and the carp it contained. Carp! Bloody hell!! Now here was something a little bit tasty. Of course, riff-raff like me would never be able to fish there because it was absolutely private.
Little did he know.
I recall hatching the plan as if it were yesterday. I knew a sure-fire way of getting in there when no-one would be around. I’d fish it in the close season. That way I’d be certain to get the place to myself. Well, I would have done had the Jonah not insisted on tagging along.
We parked up well away from pond and snuck in undetected on a sultry late May afternoon. We had one rod, a net, a few bits and pieces of tackle in our pockets and a loaf of bread. Butterflies flitted, skylarks twittered and we experienced a few jitters. None more so than when we came across the syndicate hut and crept inside, as you do, for a nose around.
I’d beter explain that my ‘snout’ had let on that a syndicate of bookmakers controlled the fishing and back in those days bookmaking wasn’t the domain of glitzy high street chains it is today. Bookmaking was regarded as a bit shady, the sort of profession that attracted dodgy customers and aquaintances, nudge-nudge.
Whether it was, who knows, but to us the bookies was a den of iniquity freqented by upstanding citizens only on Grand National day. No, they were definitely seedy characters to a man and so the risks, being higher, made the whole adventure that much more exciting. Throw in a few good sized carp and you can see this was no ordinary guesting session. Oh no!
The hut wasn’t at all what we expected for there, inside, was a bed. Perhaps these bookies entertained ladies on the premises. The mind boggled. Rampant images rattled around in our heads but other than a bed, there was little else in the hut.
As we turned to leave we spotted a note pinned to the back of the door. Scribbled in large letters was the message,
WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE
WE WILL CATCH YOU AND WHEN WE DO
WE’LL BREAK YOUR F*****G LEGS
Now this put a new complexion on our adventure. I mean, these guys certainly didn’t take too kindly to uninvited guests. Was the prospect of adding another notch on the butt of my rod really worth the risk. Of course it was!
The Jonah was all for finding somewhere else to poach but as I had the car keys I took stock of the situation and came to what I thought was a reasonable conclusion. It was only worth it if the carp were big ones.
We quickly hatched a plan and hid the rod and net so that should we be caught we could feign any knowledge of angling and claim to be birdwatchers. If that didn’t work we could run like bloody hell while we still had legs. Isn’t it strange how a few simple words have the power to completely focus your mind?
We skirted the pond like two commandos in enemy territory, practically crawling on our bellies and communicating through gestures and soft whistles. And then we saw them. No, not a bunch of heavies wielding baseball bats – in front of us lay a group of carp, slowly cruising in the surface layers.
Out went a couple of pieces of crust and the ripples had hardly settled when up came a pair of lips and the bread simply vanished in a loud “slurp!”
Two more crusts, two pairs of lips and the same vanishing trick was repeated. Oh boy, this was going to be easy. Unfortunately our rod was over the far side.
Then a door slammed with a mettalic thud.
“What was that?!!!” said the Jonah.
And then a tractor kicked into life. Whew, panic over, it was the farmer who, for some God forsaken reason, had chosen that precise moment to plough the field behind us.
One fish each, That was the deal. Two fish and we were off. I didn’t fancy hanging around here any longer than I had to.
“Who’s going for the rod then?” asked the Jonah.
“We both are,” I said, “That way, if anyone comes, we’re straight off together.”
I guess we were both half hoping someone would show. That way we could sneak away before things got out of hand, or leg even.
Back in the swim the carp were now looking for food. We began to introduce a few morsels of crust and just like all carp do when there is a close season, they wolfed them down.
If I could capture the atmosphere of that moment and put it in bottles I’d be a very rich man. The sweet aroma of late spring vegetation was intoxicating. It was unseasonably warm, even for May, and dragon flies flitted from stem to stem. Tension was in the air and anticipation weighed on my heart. We couldn’t be more than seconds away from the commencement of a battle royale. These are the times when every nerve, ever muscle and every sinew in your body tells you that you are alive and life doesn’t get more thrilling.
What the f***!!!! My heart skipped a beat and it was a miracle that I didn’t yell out loud. Directly above us, high in the canopy of hawthorn was a magpie’s nest and the two occupants were having a right ruck as only noisy magpies do.
We both laughed – nervously.
“C’mon Bob, let’s get this over with and get out of here.”
Out went two more crusts, up came the lips. Same again.
This time, out went one crust and another with a hook in it. The free offering disappeared, noisily. Round the fish went to begin its inevitable glide towards ‘our’ crust.
Four yards, three, two….
Blood pounded in my ears, my heart was in my mouth and time all but stood still. The magical moment went on forever, frozen in a still frame.
Quite when the tractor stopped I have no idea. The drone of a Massey Fergusson was the last thing on my mind. Had we not been so engrossed, I’m sure we would have noticed and taken appropriate action. We certainly wouldn’t have remained, hidden by rushes, beneath the magpie’s nest when the farmer put both barrels of his twelve bore through it.
Quite what the farmer made of two lads leaping ten feet in the air, screaming and running in all directions I’ve no idea but the two ‘guests’ were learning a lesson they would never forget.
At times like this your instincts take over. Psychlogists call it the fight or flight syndrome. No-one in their right mind fights a twelve bore, especially after reading the warning sign. We were off and running like a pair of greyhounds chasing a hare! Bugger the rod, bugger the net and bugger the carp.
We didn’t stop until we reached the car and I’ll gamble we’d covered a hundred yards before the unfortunate magpie’s first feathers settled gently on the ground.
To this day I’m pretty certain that the farmer had no inclination of our presence and I doubt he cared either.
Unfortunately, for us, the adventure wasn’t over. There was the little matter of my rod, reel and net to consider. It wasn’t so much the cost of the bloody things, it was the fact that when I built the rod up from a blank I carefully painted my name on it!
We had no choice but to go back and retrieve it.
Funnily enough, I’ve done very little guesting since that day. I can’t think why.
If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here