It’s curious then, that no-one that I can bring to mind, has developed his assertion that to catch the right fish, you need to offer them the right music. Well, what a load of kibosh, you might think. But just hang on a minute, we’re talking here about Walker – THE Walker. He wasn’t often wrong, was he? As he reports in No Need to Lie (and Peter Stone repeats in Come fishing With Me,) his amateur operatics on the waterside were pretty-well guaranteed to produce fish. I checked this with Peter Stone the other day, and he confirmed that this tactic was demonstrated before his very eyes. Walker stated categorically that to catch dace you had to sing a Giordano aria. Four snatches of song produced four dace, to Peter’s nought. Proof enough. By all accounts roach required the singing of that maudlin old Scottish song Annie Laurie, and chub an aria from the Barber of Seville (but more of that later).
Scoff if you like, but I can offer three further reliable instances of this fine witchcraft at work. The first returns to my long-lost youth, when I was a member of the Crystal Palace Angling Club, and fished their lovely little lake in the Crystal Palace park. The day had been hot, and the carp were all on the top, sunning themselves, and without the slightest interest in our invitations to dine. We’d tried everything – baits on the bottom, slow sinking breadflake, showers of maggots – all the usuals.
Behind the club lake was another little lake, which we called ‘the breeder’. The local council used this lake as a setting for their summer concerts in the park, and a large concert orchestra stand was erected for the purpose. So there we were on the club lake with nothing to show for our efforts, when up struck the orchestra with the overture from Richard Strauss’ der Rosencavalier. The effect on our apparently sleeping carp was instant. Their torpor was gone immediately, and they began to cruise quite quickly back and forth across the lake. Better still, these fish were feeding. A decent wadge of flake thrown ahead of the blue backs was taken almost without fail, and soon we were all doing great trade.
Then, the Strauss finished, and as if someone had thrown a switch, so did the fishing. The orchestra went through its program with no further effect on the carp, which had gone back to their dozey ways, as if chewing the cud. The last piece the orchestra played was the Tchaikovsky 1812 overture. Predictably, this also had no beneficial effects on the fishing. All was peace until the last minute of the music when the simulated guns boomed out to signal the end of the battle of Waterloo – and the previously motionless carp when completely mad, plunging down to the bottom of the lake as if on cue, and causing a great commotion of waves that took several minutes to subside.
If you don’t believe it – tough. I know chum, cos I was there. Those carp were Strauss fans. If the orchestra had done that really good bit from Zarathustra as an encore, we’d have had the them taking bait from our baskets.
The second example goes back a few years too, and involves another writer who may be persuaded by means and under the influence of several large whiskeys to vouch for all this: Brian Harris. Brian is now an all-round sportswriter who sadly wastes his prodigious journalistic abilities writing about football, and the like. He also writes reams about spotty fish called trout. But there was a time when he was a proper all round angler, and did a brilliant job of editing the late lamented Angling magazine (surely the best angler’s magazine ever to have been published).
If you’re very old, you will remember a time before European trawlers emptied the coasts off Britain of fish, when there was good chance of catching a sack or two of cod from off the beach. One weekend, about thirty years ago, a team of Angling’s writers (including a youthful me) went to Dungeness to fish for the regulation two sacks-full. It was bracing stuff, with a bitter easterly wind straight out of Siberia, and up our trouserlegs. Far out went our 6 oz. grip leads, dragging snake-sized dungie lugworm on short snood paternosters. Just one hook – we’d proven conclusively that two fifteen-pounders at once with their cavernous mouths open in a three knot tide, just didn’t compute. We were confident. Several hours later the score was a fat nothing, and we were getting bloody cold. To cheer himself up, Harris, who at will could always switch seamlessly from stone-cold sane to utterly barking mad, started to dance around his propped-up rod singing the goon show’s ying-tong song. I mean, you really had to see this bloke to believe it, dancing around and around singing ying tong ying tong ying tong ying tong ying tong diddle-eye poo. The rest of us were wetting ourselves with laughter, when whoosh, over went Harris’ rod tip, and soon in came a fat cod – if memory serves me well, along with six other angler’s lines.
Well you can pooh-pooh this as a matter of mere coincidence if you like, but experience over many visits proved that this song and dance routine was a pretty good cod procurer. Certainly, it worked as well as any other initiative we came up with. Harris, of course, claimed full credit for the discovery. Whether or not he stoops to such witchery these days, when he’s fishing for posh spotties at Bewl Bridge, I really couldn’t say.
I hadn’t thought about the music and fishes business for years, in fact until a day or two back, when I was barbelling on the Hampshire Avon near Somerley. It was a gorgeous evening after a really hot day, with the remnants of a gentle south-westerly sea breeze, and a slickly flowing river, still full after several days of rain.
In went some diced cubes of chopped bacon grill, and a couple of handfuls of hemp. It was one of those wonderfully soft English summer evenings, when anywhere else in the world would have been second best. Setting up the lovely old Judd Senior Wizard, I became suffused with the magic thought that with or without a fish or two, this was to be an evening to remember: you know – you get that special feeling sometimes.
A pair of wood pigeons sat on a low branch of a tree right opposite my swim, cooing and bobbing about in a courtly sort of way, and a reed warbler was belting out his best drinking song somewhere close to my right. In the grass the grasshoppers were grinding away furiously, in competition with ten thousand bees in the clover. In its own wonderful way, this peaceful English valley was full of tunes.
To my slight annoyance, I could hear another sound over those of nature: someone down the valley had left a car radio on. To make matters worse, the mindless drivel coming through the ether could only emanate from Radio One. I was settled in, so I decided to close my mind to this new pollution. The fish were not exactly climbing up the rod, but the river was beautiful, and the air was free.
Now how do I describe what happened next with any possibility of doing justice to the lightning bolt nature of the moment? In effect, someone put a pair on earphones onto my head, turned up the volume to maximum, then poured into my unsuspecting ears a chord struck by 1,000 Jimmy Hendrix guitars. You get the picture? What happened in reality was that I was unknowingly fishing a few hundred yards upstream from a huge rock concert being held at Lord Normanton’s magnificent stately pile, Somerley House. To get the thing off to a good start, the band were giving it their all at ten zillion decibels. The pigeons were shocked, the warbler cowered in his reeds, the insects were all instantly fried to crisps, and I was transfixed with shock. From downstream someone screamed something like … THAT DEAF DUMB AND BLIND KID, SURE PLAYS A MEAN PINBALL. The most warped, wicked, and lateral of minds would find it difficult to concoct a more surreal situation. I felt as though I’d gone to sleep in my own bed, and woken up tied to an American wild west railway line.
As the last echoes of Pinball Wizard died away, finally fading out somewhere over Alaska, the crowd of concert goers, completely unseen by me throughout the event, gave a roar of appreciation. My God, there must have been thousands of them. And I’d thought I was quite alone in my own little corner of heaven. The announcer then got onto the microphone to give me all the information I needed about the upcoming events of the evening. I know he must have meant this just for me because if I’d been closer he wouldn’t have needed to shout so loudly into his mic. GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH …… AND NOW, PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER FOR MR. ………. SOMEONE. I say Mr. Someone because I can’t remember his name. I do know that he was important though, because he was called Mister. Interesting that, and worth knowing. When a singer sings live he’s not plain old George Harrison, or Billy Joel, he becomes Mr. George Harrison, or Mr. Billy Joel. Even more interesting, whether or not she’s married, a lady singer becomes a Miss again when she’s performing live. So Mrs. Cleo Dankworth becomes Miss Cleo Lane. You’ve got to know these things. You never know when they’re going to become important whilst you’re barbel fishing on the Avon.
I don’t know how much those concert goers were paying for the pleasure of their evening, but I figured that I was getting a downright bargain extra from my modest club subscription. For the next hour I was bombarded with the sort of sounds and volumes that I haven’t heard since my student days in London. With those collegiate memories in mind, I expected to see pulsating bums appearing around bushes, but the whole thing was completely without visual input of any kind, so the sweaty shenanigans of fond recollection seem to be a thing of the past. An hour or so later the band went off to be re-filled, or plugged back into the mains for a re-charge, or whatever it is they resort to after doing their best to rock a stately home off its foundations. I returned to my fishing with only a mild ringing in my ears, and a worrying bi-lateral squint.
The fish seemed to have been stunned into a further lack of interest, and the next hour was spent comparing injuries with a roving angler who appeared from downstream with a squint not unlike my own, and the vacantly bemused air of a man who’s recently returned from a near death experience. Then a TESTING, TESTING preamble, followed by a further shattering guitar cord announced that hostilities were about to resume. But what was this – Beatle music.
As the firsts mellifluous strains of Norwegian Wood came to my ears, the cooing started up on the branch opposite me. To my acute embarrassment, I was involuntary witness to what should have been a private act of pigeon bonking. Of course, as a gentlemen should, I looked away, and down at my rod tip, in time to see it bend violently downstream. A marvellous bite that I missed with enough enthusiasm to require me to duck as my lead came whistling back past my right ear. In again, and whoosh, the line tightened on my finger and the tip went round again. Obviously, these were chub – and chub on a mission. OK., I’ll make it short. I had a dozen bites in half an hour, with a best chub landed of just over 4 lbs.
ALL I AM SAYING – IS GIVE PEACE A CHANCE – sang the crowd, and the chub loved it. I had to pack up at ten o’clock to be off the fishery within the stipulated time, and those chub were all still singing along happily, and scoffing my bacon grill as fast as I could toss it in. I’m telling you, chub are Beatle fans.
Don’t get the wrong idea about this, I’m not advocating that anyone should take a hi-fi to the river: goodness knows the waters of England have already been sufficiently polluted with 100 decibel buzzers. But it’s all very interesting isn’t it. I reckon Dick Walker was right. Matching the song to the fish is clearly going to be as black an art as matching the fly to the hatch. Perhaps humming the tune is all that is required. What with Walker’s experience, and my recent coup, the chub problem has obviously been sorted. If you hear some bloody fool singing away in a SHE LOVES YOU YEAH, YEAH sort of way, you’ll know you have stumbled upon my chub swim.
When the music stopped I caught a barbel: a lovely golden creature of around eight ponds. Was is a deaf barbel, or was it the silence that was required. And that’s the biggest remaining question – just which tune, if any, is required for barbel. I’m going to try some of my favourite Debussy first, then work my way back through the romantic composers, then Mozart, Bach, and if necessary to Scarlatti, and plain song. To add further interest to this important line of enquiry, Peter Stone has told me that he’s going off to catch a 4 lb. eel, and in spite of my suggestion that he should try Rolling Down to Rio, he expects a rendition of The Happy Wanderer to produce the goods. We know it works. It’s just a matter of time, and staying in tune.