Bob Continues his tales from a very different era…
A Dream Rod
A pedantic reader might insist my first rod was the one I first fished with. In that case it was a split cane fly rod that had belonged to Ray’s dad. The first rod I actually caught a fish on belonged to Keith Gale but the first rod I can honestly say belonged to me was a birthday gift. Two sections of tonkin cane topped by a solid fibreglass tip, ten feet six inches long with brass ferrules; it cost 27 shillings and 6 pence (£1.37½p) from Bullers tackle emporium. I had arrived.
That rod fired my ambition but a revolution was under way. Glass fibre had arrived on the scene and serious anglers simply had to have one but they cost a small fortune. The true object of my desire was an 11 foot Octoplus rod made by Edgar Sealey costing the princely sum of eight guineas (£8.40p). I would peer through the window of Gale’s tackle shop and gaze longingly upon this wand. How on earth could I ever afford something like that?
Roy Gale, who ran the shop, came up with an answer. He would let me have it if I put down a deposit and pay the rest off in weekly instalments. I had a paper round which paid the princely sum of twelve and six (62½p) for seven days work and if I was prepared to pay ten bob a week (50p) the rod would be mine. I snatched his hand off!
For four months every single penny I earned went on fishing. The coppers left over after paying my weekly instalment were spent on terminal tackle and bait. Can you imagine kids doing that today?
I loved that rod and I used it everywhere but it almost came to grief during a family holiday on the Great Ouse at St Neots. We had rented a static houseboat for a week which came complete with a dingy. That dingy opened up a whole world of opportunity. It was possible to fish in so many secluded, out of the way places. Unfortunately the Ouse carried lots of floating weed and debris in the summer and the water-cooled Evinrude outboard motor would regularly cut out as the intake became blocked with debris.
On one such occasion I swung the propeller clear of the water and leaned over to clear it. Unfortunately the shaft had become very hot and I brushed my arm against it, burning my forearm. I hollered in pain, as you do, and jumped backwards landing a size nine trainer smack on top of the butt section of my prized Octoplus rod.
I was distraught.
I was able to have the rod repaired and it served me well for several more seasons even though it had lost its immaculate looks. But by now I had become an aficionado of Richard Walker and everything had to be camouflaged. Thanks to a coat of matt black paint the bodged butt section whippings merged nicely and in my eyes at least my prized possession didn’t look as good as new, oh no, it looked even better.
I still have it today, stored away safely in my loft.
Askern Boating Lake
Askern boating lake was and still is a very special water. Way back before Askern became a mining town with a skyline dominated by the Coalite Coking Plant it was a spa town. Even earlier the town had a history of mining and I believe copper ore was dug.
The boating lake reflects this history. It has spring fed crystal clear water. You can easily see the bottom in ten feet of water and more, even today. Developed as an ornamental water it had two islands, each draped with a variety of trees, a tarmac path ran around three sides. The other side, which is now alongside the main A19 road, was then a row of terraced houses.
I guess the average depth of most of the lake was less than four feet but there were three deep holes which were apparently bottomless. No one tried plumbing them, it wasn’t worth it, everyone knew they were too deep and when you rowed over them the bottom would suddenly disappear into blackness.
The fishing was from punts. You rowed out to the edge of the pits, stabbed the oars into the mud and tied onto them. Ideally you would have 3 feet of water behind the boat and eight or so at the rod tip. If you cast out more than a few yards it was bottomless. We caught roach, perch and occasionally tench. Bread sorted out the tench.
Askern was one of the first waters in the area to receive a stocking of carp. After John Smith caught one weighing 1lb 12oz, on caster, he was treated with reverence. We didn’t know another soul who had actually caught a carp.
The lake was run by the local council and as a result you could only fish workman’s hours. Boat hire cost a shilling for four hours, 8am till noon, noon till four. You queued at the boat house situated next to the saw mill and set off for the hot spots in a convoy, oars flailing.
My abiding memory of the place is one of mist rising from the water. The place always seemed to be shrouded in a nine inch layer of dry ice that would burn off as the sun rose, that and the perch which would come and sit beneath the hull of your punt.
Normally we caught the 7-o’-clock bus but that wasn’t good enough on opening day, June 1st remember, Yorkshire had a ‘stolen’ fortnight in those days, and we chatted excitedly at the bus stop opposite The Magnet pub as we waited for the first bus of the day at 6am.
At the lake we joined the queue for boats next to the chained gates of the boat house. The banter among the grown ups was boisterous with lots of Mickey taking and challenges issued. The anticipation was excruciating. We were fourth in the queue which meant we should at least get a decent boat.
At five to eight the keeper turned up and suddenly the mood changed. As he turned the key in the padlock the crowd surged forwards and it was every man for himself. We were swamped, pushed aside and shouted at. By the time we’d summed up the courage to move there was just one boat left. As I strode determinedly towards the boat an arm shot out across my chest and the sky went dark as a huge, hulking moron stuck his be-whiskered chin in my face and uttered, “That’s my boat!”
I reeled back, prevented from going further by my mates who, like me were afraid to speak. It was his boat, make no mistake, and we were in no position to argue.
The guy placed his tackle on the edge of the boards and stepped into the boat. It rocked and he steadied himself as we wished him to fall in. With feet planted at shoulder width he leaned over and lifted his rod bag into the boat. He then repeated the process, leaned over and clutched the sides of his basket lid but instead of doing the old snatch and jerk, his eyes widened alarmingly. The boat was moving, imperceptivity away from the side. We watched intently, not daring to speak as the gap between the boat and the boards widened and our adversary began to stretch.
In slow motion the man opened out like a pen knife until he was in the press-up position, tip-toes on the edge of the boat and hands on his basket.
Watching the bully’s predicament unfold with increasing fascination you gradually began to realise that as menacing as the guy seemed barely a minute earlier, he wasn’t exactly in the best physical shape. His beer gut now hung perilously close to the water. The strain on his face told its own story, with teeth gritted his biceps started to quiver. Soon his entire body was shaking and that ugly gut sunk slowly and inexorably towards the water. The game was up, with a strained, “Whuueeerrrhhh!’ He collapsed into the lake.
His day’s fishing was over before it began and justice was done in our eyes but that was the least of his worries. His mates gathered around in their boats to take the piss mercilessly. Meanwhile we collapsed into a giggling fit, tears streaming down our faces shouting, “Yes, there is a God!”
We still had to wait another four hours before we could have a boat but it was worth every minute.
The best thing about the boating lake was that there was always something to keep you interested. If you couldn’t catch fish you could go exploring in your boat. But there was always something happening on the bank, be that young ladies strutting around in short skirts or the odd fight breaking out.
One day a boisterous gang of girls, ladettes of their time, I guess, were making their way round the lake. Loud, raucous and brash. They stopped for a while to trade insults and vulgarities with us. Now I’m not sure how it began but I guess it was just a bit of jostling that got out of hand.
I’m sure you will have grabbed a mate by his jumper and pushed him unexpectedly towards a road or canal while still holding tight, “Tell your Mam I saved you!”
This was similar but the pushing and shoving ended up with one girl suspended off the ground by four others who each had an arm or a leg as they swung her menacingly back and forth over the water’s edge.
“Go on then!” We shouted. “You’re chicken!”
“Who is?” Came the reply.
The next thing this girl was frozen in mid-air before crashing into the lake.
The image of a young girl draped in clinging, wet clothes isn’t something you forget in a hurry as a thirteen year old…
Splashing Out On A Birthday Present
Another dunking came when a young kid ignored the rules. Cycling is not allowed in council parks, is it? Listen to me being all authoritative, ha! I’m guessing it was his birthday because he had a brand spanking new bike with all the bells and whistles. The cream tyre walls were spotless, the chrome handlebars shone and he was clearly full of himself as he cycled along the edge of the lake, head up in the air, whistling like a kid who’s just been given something that will be the envy of every kid who knows him and a few more besides.
The lake, like most park lakes, didn’t have straight banks. Ever since the Capability Brown changed the British landscape forever ornamental lakes simply have to have sweeping lines. Curves rule, okay?
It was a fact that this kid seemed oblivious to and we could see his front wheel edging closer and closer to the edge. The result was inevitable. Like waiting for a Ken Dodd punch line, you can see it coming a mile off but I defy you to contain your laughter.
At the precise moment his front wheel left the tarmac gravity took over and he was hurled head first over the handlebars. Sploosh!!!
For a second there was no sign of the boy, just the bottom halves of two wheels belonging to an upside down bike. And then a spluttering head popped up. That was the moment when we fell about in a fit of hysterics, safe in the knowledge that when you’re out in a boat you are untouchable.
Thunderbolt and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening!
Some people are terrified by thunder and lightning. I’m not. On the contrary, I never fail to be stunned by the beauty of a really spectacular storm, but not when I’m fishing.
I do not like storms when I’m fishing, oh no.
The worst I’ve seen involved a huge thunderhead that developed on the horizon while fishing the St Lawrence in Canada and the coastguard came on the radio advising all small craft to leave the river immediately. We sped for home in Bernie’s souped-up boat through the weirdest atmospheric conditions. One minute you’d be in muggy, oppressive, hot and sticky air, the next you’d burst through a mini-front and it would be freezing.
All the while the thunderhead gathered strength and crept towards us, creating mayhem for anything unlucky enough to lie in its path. This huge anvil of a cloud would suddenly light up like a giant strobe light, a violent silver mountain of electrical venom. Black, silver – black, silver – silver, silver, silver…
Scary stuff and according to the local TV station news massive damage was caused to property and a number of unfortunate people were actually killed.
Yes, The Earth Definitely Moved
The storm that hit our party at Maurrepaire, France, was pretty spectacular and the army tents with their scaffolding frames provided by Dave Payne rather than bivvies suddenly began to make a lot of sense.
When Dave ran Maurrepaire it was the sort of place where meals were provided in a communal mess tent, and bloomin’ good it was, too. One night we had stayed on after the evening meal and had a bit of a social. At the start of the week hardly anyone knows who’s who and a few beers always breaks the ice. On this particular night it was raining and a storm was brewing.
Payney stepped out to take a leak at an unfortunate moment because whilst he was out there the tent roof lit up and a huge clap of thunder rocked the air. You could practically taste the electrical charge in the air. Seconds later an ashen faced Dave stumbled back into the tent claming the lightening had actually struck the ground next to him and it was only the stream of urine that earthed him!
And then there was the time I fished with my stepdad on The Rack below Crankley Point. I didn’t own an umbrella in those days. Ray’s had wooden poles and we both huddled beneath it as the rain, laced with hail, hammered down like stair rods, bouncing a full four inches off the river.
What we found hard to take in was that a pair of anglers on the far bank of the Trent were sat in shorts and T-shirts. It wasn’t even raining over there.
Some will tell you that the Trent generates its own mini climate, take the bailiff at Carlton, for instance. He was stood outside his riverside cottage one day as I came off the bank and stopped for a chat. We spoke of the fish I caught and I suggested that I’d been lucky not to get a soaking as the skies had threatened rain for much of the day.
“You needn’t have worried, boy, all the rain round here falls on the far bank. You can watch it coming towards us and when it hits Collingham you’ll see it change direction and go around us ‘ere.”
‘Aye,’ I thought, ‘And when I were a lad we’d break up for the summer holidays and the sun would shine every day until we went back in September.’
Somehow, I think we were both guilty of looking back through rose tinted spectacles, but when I think back, I can’t actually recall a single wet day when I fished at Carlton and I spent many a winter’s day fishing there.
Run Forrest, Run
But the funniest incident, well, for me and John Smith it was funny, occurred while fishing Toll Bar Pond. It was not unusual for three of us to fish with baskets almost touching and floats barely a foot apart no more than a yard past the rod tips.
It was high summer and we’d caught a bus to the end of the lane and walked the last mile. As often happens in the UK after a couple of hot days a storm was brewing. Sure enough huge raindrops began to splash down and we huddled together beneath a shared umbrella.
Keith, I’ll spare his blushes by not naming him, became decidedly uncomfortable when he heard the rumbling of distant thunder. As it came closer, Keith became more agitated. No, agitated isn’t the right description. He was bricking it – big time!
When a bolt of lightning zapped into the wood opposite and smoke began rising John and I were stunned rigid, unlike Keith who had hit the ground running. And running.
Like Forrest Gump there was no stopping Keith as he abandoned his fishing tackle and ran for home. I’ve no idea now whether he caught a bus or simply ran the whole way home but I do know we had to carry his gear home.
If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here