I do try and help other anglers out. I’m happy to help with either advice, or a demonstration, in the hope that my experience, and limited knowledge, may just help them on their way to angling enjoyment. I do it because it gives me pleasure, and I do it because I remember, that once, a long time ago, other people did it for me…
I went to the local club AGM this week. It’s always interesting to see what is going on behind the scenes in your angling club, after all, you can’t really moan about decisions taken if you weren’t there to vote, so it’s worth going. I don’t envy the club officials and committee, it’s a thankless task, and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but they do a fine job… most of the time!
What I was most pleased about however, was to run into a gentleman who inspired me to maintain my fledgling interest in angling, my former science teacher, Geoff Beckett. There have been several people who helped mould my fishing, but Geoff is one man who really sticks in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be forever grateful to my dad, a non-angler, who, under great pressure, took me up to the local cement works lagoons (where he had just finished work) for a few hours on summer evenings. I think that in truth, he hoped I’d lose interest, as he hated returning from whence he had just spent the day toiling amongst cement dust, but I didn’t, and several other gentlemen helped in my formative years, and I owe them a drink!
My local club was small, with only a couple of waters, and frequented by anglers who fished the same peg, for the same fish, on the same day of the week, but they were happy, and knew the waters inside out. As I progressed, Alec Hollins was the first to step in with a glut of knowledge that my non-angling dad, as expected, just didn’t have. Alec explained the mysteries of plumbing the depth, shotting a float, and how to properly connect with infrequent bites (my first perch flew over my shoulder after a particularly hefty strike!) amongst other things. Alec would sit for a while beside us, and gently correct me until I became able to tackle up, and catch fish on my own, safely, with a bit of consistency, and without falling in!
Eventually, the time came to fish the Juvenile Cup. A junior aggregate series, held on summer evenings, with usually around ten budding young anglers, but competition was fierce! Alec coached his protégé son Dave, Dave McKay hovered over his charge Gavin, cousin Stephen fished, but kept his secrets, and several other dads, whose names now sadly escape me, all gave hints and tips throughout the contests. As a 12 year old, occasionally, I won, indeed some years later won the series too, and was grateful to receive a fine trophy, but remember one match particularly. I drew peg 9, a favourite, and fished maggot to amass a reasonable total, but seconds before the ‘All Out’ sounded, my float disappeared, and I hooked a solid lump which fought back considerably harder than anything else that night!
My 11’ Woolies float rod took on a fine curve, and for twenty minutes, guided by older, wiser anglers, I tried in vain to lift the leviathan from the lake bed, my size 20 hook and 2lb hook length straining against the unseen fish, until, eventually, they parted! I was gutted, as were the spectators, who walked back to their peg ready for the weigh in, whilst realising that the lost fish would have won both the match, and probably the Specimen Cup! Despite that loss, later successes followed, and I was then asked to fish for the club in a junior match at JCB Works in nearby Rocester, which brings me to remember Stuart Whiston…
The match took place on a blisteringly hot August day, on South Lake, and I was seated on peg 3, in the shade of a mighty willow. The fish were just not interested, a fly hatch had bloomed, and the hot, sunny weather had put all but the smallest fish off the feed. Experienced angler Stuart sat behind me, offering ideas, but in a gentle way which made me think they were my own! As the match progressed, fishless, between us, (Stuart mainly) we picked up the dice for a final throw, and fished a single maggot, up in the water, in an effort to at least weigh something in. I caught 22 tiny roach, for a total weight of 8 ¼oz; stunningly, enough for third place, and my first ever trophy! I have Stuart to thank for that one, a prize which set me on the way to further trophies, including one almost as big as me, when we fished another team match at Hales Hall Fishery. As Captain, I can’t remember what I caught, or what the totals were, but by God, that was a big trophy, and came about as Stuart maintained patrol, advising us what to try next!
So, back to Geoff. I was a reasonably keen pupil at Middle School, and Mr. Beckett was certainly a favourite teacher, imparting his knowledge of science with booming laughter and a ready smile. I was even more enamoured, when I found that he too was an avid angler, and he would often regale our class with fishy tales between experiments. Imagine my delight, when he suggested a fly tying club at lunchtimes! He supplied the jigs, materials, and whatever else was required, and a few of us (Steve, Damon, Malcolm and I are the ones I can recall) sat as he created masterpieces with feathers, braids and silks, which we tried to copy. In truth, I couldn’t make a competent fly then, and I still can’t now, but I do understand some scientific theory! It wasn’t about the flies though, it was the fact that Geoff took a genuine interest in pushing our angling, and helping us improve our knowledge.
Mr. Beckett eventually suggested a school fishing trip, utilising the school minibus, a rickety Ford Transit, in which we would all pile in, and he would take us to one of the club waters where we would fish under his tutelage. Unbelievably, the club water was famed north western Mecca Capesthorne Hall, and we were to fish within the hallowed boundaries, home to massive carp, and shoals of bream! Unfortunately, for some reason, I was unable to go; I think I was unable to raise the required fee from my pocket money, and was despondent when I reported thus… I really didn’t want to miss this trip, and it must have showed, because Geoff told me not to worry, he would sort it… and he did, seeking permission from my mum, and then chipping in the cash from his own pocket (£2.50 I think) to ensure I didn’t miss out! Brilliant!
Our day at Capesthorne came, and we all trooped excitedly across the arched bridge to try and catch something from this beautiful venue. After a few hours of scorching sunshine, flitting between rhododendron surrounded pegs, but with very little to show for it, Mr. Beckett told us to pack up, and we headed for the stock pond; Geoff was determined that we would all catch a fish! And we did. I sat next to a bed of lilies, the tea coloured water fizzing with bubbles from feeding fish, and my float disappeared repeatedly as fish after fish snapped up the maggot and sweetcorn baits! By the end of the day, I’d caught exactly 51 carp, none bigger than a few ounces, but all immaculately scaled, and capable of giving my tackle a thorough work out. Like the other lads, I was sunburnt, tired, hungry after scoffing all of my beef spread sandwiches, Blue Riband chocolate wafers, and ‘Salt ‘n Shake’ crisps on the journey there, but blissfully happy to have enjoyed such a day…and it’s one I’ve never forgotten, many years later!
Now, years later, my dad still hates fishing, failing to see the point of it, Stuart has sadly passed away, Alec continues to deal with a serious illness which has affected his fishing, and Geoff soldiers on, again after illness, and is still on the committee at the same club where he took us around 34 years ago. I make a point of telling him when I see him that I’m grateful for his interest in me as a young angler, but I can tell he doesn’t really believe me, but I am, and I hope that one day, other anglers may just remember a time when I helped them, and then pass on that memory to help others enjoy it too; after all, angling is about memories, and thanks to dad, Alec, Stuart and Geoff, I’ve got some smashing ones… thank you, and I really do mean that…