Tales Of The Riverbank – Part 3

Toll Bar Tincas


There’s an area north of Doncaster called Thorpe Marsh. Cornelius Vermuyden’s creation of the Dutch River

We Didn't Catch Tench Like This In Those days

We Didn

and his diversion of the Idle so it discharged into the Trent rather than the Don drained many thousands of acres.

His work wasn’t entirely successful and at some point in later history the banks of the Ea Beck were raised to reduce the impact of flooding. Spoil was scraped from adjoining land for this and a number of ponds were created. Toll Bar Pond was one of them. It was perhaps 15 to 20 yards wide, 600 yards long and anything between 3 and 5 feet deep.


It contained roach, perch, pike and some fabulous tench. Back then a 4lb tench was a monster in these parts. Unfortunately the pond was very weedy, two thirds being un-fishable.


The local experts had deemed them un-catchable. The only way you could hook one was to scale down to present a single maggot or caster on a size 20 hook and fine line which meant you’d either be snapped up or weeded every time. For a while I went along with this but the writings of Walker pointed me down a completely different route. Walker promoted strong tackle and bigger baits and that was a route I intended to follow but I needed a rod that was up to the job.


As ever I was strapped for cash and the purchase of an purpose built Avon rod was out of the question but I got lucky when I discovered a two-piece split cane blank in a sale that was on offer for peanuts. I could just about afford to purchase all the bits and bobs and make up my own rod – so I did and life was never going to be the same again.


We observed a close season back then but quirky regional bylaws meant the Yorkshire season kicked off on June 1st rather than the 16th. Papers called it the stolen fortnight.


Unfortunately the club rules were quite restrictive and carried bans on everything from hemp to groundbait but when you’re a kid rules tend to get bent. In the run up to the season I began a campaign of swim raking and pre-baiting. On opening night I was there at midnight, ready for a dawn start.

Six cracking tench to 4lb 12oz graced my net. All took either flake or lobworms presented on a size 8 hook tied direct to the 5lb main line and I was done and dusted by breakfast time. So much for the local ‘experts’. What did they know.

Well, they knew I’d broken the rules. Not so much the baiting rules, no, I’d broken an unwritten rule, you don’t make the grey brigade look stupid by catching tench on strong tackle! The result was I received a ban of sorts. Actually I hadn’t picked up my ticket before opening night, though I was a member of the club, so the issue of my ticket was delayed for a few weeks.


When I returned I took up where I left off. Catching the uncatchable became the norm rather than the exception and where previously the capture of any tench was an event, I was taking multiple bags regularly. My best net included thirteen tincas and a big perch, all on lobworm, but I never did catch a five pounder. Did the old brigade change their ways? Did they heck. Instead they muttered about anyone being able to catch them on cranes and winding rope.


A couple of seasons later the new bailiff, ‘Sliding’ Fred set about the weed problem with a vengeance, removing all the pads, and for a while the place fished its head off but it was never really the same again.

Toll Bar Pond taught me an important lesson. Success can breed contempt and jealousy.


The Station Pond


One of my early stomping grounds was a magical little pond next to Arksey railway crossing run by Bentley Colliery AC. Unlike Toll Bar pond you could catch small tench, anything from an ounce to a pound and a half was the norm, and gorgeous rudd to 6oz. Ringed by trees and strewn with beds of thick lily pads. It was a picture in summer, a blaze of green and yellow. It was the first place I night fished.


We didn’t leger or use bite alarms, instead we shone torch beams on our floats. If you’ve never done this, try it. The bites are amazing. Because the height of the float is doubled by its reflection, the speed of the bite is doubled. Lift bites are amazing. Quite how we managed to fish all night sat on wicker baskets with precious little in the way of proper clothing puzzles me looking back but we did, and it was fantastic. We caught tench in the dark hours followed by perch and rudd as dawn broke. I’d often catch 40 fish or more and that, to me in those far off days, was more than I dared wish for.


I honed my fish catching skills at Arksey and you might say I was pretty cocky about my progress. I cringe looking back to an incident at a pre-season work party. The club had organised a sell-out match on opening day and sitting around afterwards with some of the older members including a few stalwarts of the open scene, blokes like Sammy Welsh who had served their time representing Doncaster and District AA in the ‘All England’.

“If I draw peg 42 I’m going to win Sunday’s match, you know!” I think it was Jack Axon, the club secretary, who turned to me and said, “Ho-ho! Really? You’ve no chance, son.”


Peg 42 wasn’t exactly a flier, it was simply my favourite, but cometh the hour, cometh the man. I paid my pools, put my hand in the hat and pulled out peg 42. What’s more, I won the match with 15lb 12oz despite only catching three small fish in the final hour and a half. Never has a victory felt so sweet. I was on cloud nine.

And for one of the few times in my life I managed to stifle those words I so wanted to say, “I told you so!”


Kinky Boots


I got married in 1970 and spent a few months living not a million miles from Toll Bar Pond. I’d developed a passion for piking, probably inspired by the exploits of a couple of mates, Eddie Coupe and Howard Dutka who caught a string of fish to high double figures following ‘Sliding’ Fred’s weed clearing campaign. It never struck us that knocking them on the head would have any adverse effect on future sport. It was simply the way things were done in those days.


Throughout my teens I always carried a few spinners and end tackles for pike. When you got bored with float fishing, out came the spinners. Ray Kinnell’s family had moved into the area and we’d become good mates, mainly because we drank in the same pub. He was keen on pike fishing and we often went spinning together.

One late summer’s evening we’d gone down to the pond together and caught nothing. Not so much as a follow between us. We were thinking of calling it a day when my wife, Christine turned up along with his girlfriend. They’d clearly dressed for an evenings fishing, turning up in white knee length boots with heels, black mini skirts and red blouses.


“Can I have a go?” asked Christine.


I showed her how to cast and which way to turn the handle. Half way through the retrieve on her very first cast she said, “It’s stuck!”


Of course it was. Stuck in the jaws of a pike…


Sometimes you simply want to give up, don’t you?


Realtree mini skirts anyone?


They Bred ‘Em Tough In Those Days


A motorbike has never been and never will be the most practical mode of transport for an angler yet two of us would often go fishing on one bike. Two bikes was a luxury and even that was fraught with problems. Rod holdalls are not exactly aerodynamic when they are carried diagonally across the chest. And going round tight corners isn’t exactly the easiest of manoeuvres as Eddie found out one day as he followed Howard and me down Tilts Lane.

Howard and I negotiated the bend next to the park without too much difficulty which is more than can be said for Eddie who drove straight into the ditch. Fortunately he didn’t break anything though his ego took a severe bruising.


It was the height of luxury to step up from a motorbike to a Reliant Robin Van. You could drive one of these on a motorbike license, they were cheap to run and best of all they kept you dry. I won’t go so far as to suggest they were warm but you can’t have everything, can you?


Howard and I both bought one and our horizons expanded exponentially. Because we’d been bikers we had proper clothing –army surplus tank suits – so we could cope with whatever the winter wanted to throw at us. Eddie didn’t, but Eddie was made of sterner stuff. He was ‘ard!


He also enjoyed a drink of a Friday night. Come to think of it. So did we. The drink driving laws were a little more relaxed back then as Howard will testify to. His party trick was falling off his Honda 250 on the exact same bend every Saturday night after a heavy session. Fortunately he never came to any harm. So on a rather bleak and bitter winter’s morning we turned up at Eddie’s house at the appointed hour. His mam said hang on, I’ll get him up, he’s still in bed. He’s not been in that long.


This was bad news because Eddie had a dog. The most placid, likeable mutt you could ever set eyes upon. It would welcome anyone into the house but you try and leave. It would go absolutely mental, snapping and snarling fit to put the fear of God in anyone. They had to grab its collar and hang on tight while you made your exit or you’d be ripped to shreds!


Wintersett in winter

Eddie duly appeared, bleary eyed and clearly hung over, dressed in a T-shirt. “Okay, let’s go.” He said, grabbing a Parka. And so we did, destination Wintersett Reservoir. A 70-acre expanse of water on a day when the temperature barely rose above freezing and the breeze cut straight through you.


By lunchtime Howard and I had had enough but Eddie was still oblivious to his surroundings. We decided a pint in the nearest pub might be a good idea and you can probably guess that one became two, after which it seemed rude not to accept the landlord’s hospitality as we huddled round the open fire.


It was only when we stepped out into the fresh air that the drink hit us. Boy was it cold, too. And we were soon lost – definitely going in the wrong direction. In desperation Eddie pointed to a gateway ahead and suggested we pull into it and ask someone the way.


So we did.


It was only the yard of a Police Station.


No, You Have A Go!


Same culprits, again it was winter but I’m guessing this was just after Christmas because we had one of those huge Watney’s Party Kegs of beer. The idea was that we’d go fishing ‘somewhere’. What we’d not bargained with was the strength of the wind. It wasn’t just windy, this was a gale and roads were blocked right left and centre by falling trees. But we had decided to go fishing so that’s exactly what we would do.


Looking back, not one of us had a telephone in those days. I’m not talking mobiles, oh no, folk simply didn’t have phones, not unless you were rich anyway. These days you check the weather forecast and cancel. Back then if you said you were going fishing you were going. And we had a can of beer to demolish. Somehow we ended up at Arksey Pond. Not surprisingly it was deserted. We tucked ourselves down below the bank so the wind whistled overhead and marvelled at branches crashing down on the water half way across the pond.


A plan had been hatched on the journey. We would set up one rod and draw lots for what order we fished in. Each angler would fish in turn until he caught a fish while the other two drank the beer. If you failed to catch you didn’t get a drink.


Boy did we fish hard and what strikes me looking back is how many fish we actually caught, so much so that we eventually reached a stage where you actually wanted to be on the rod.


My lasting memory of the day was of the empty keg being blown in and bobbing its way across the pond. And of course, we hung around until we could retrieve it, even though you could barely stand up in the teeth of the wind.





If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here