After my Father died when I was just 6 my angling education was taken up by my great-grandfather. The family had moved to Theale - a village 5 miles west of Reading in the Kennet valley. Grandad had lived in the village all his life and had been the village Bobby for a number of years until his retirement in the 1950's. Now in his late 70's he was still an imposing figure, 6'3" in his size 14 shoes with a military bearing, I bet he'd struck fear into many a scrumping schoolboy in his time on the beat!

Grandad was a keen angler and a season ticket holder at Reading FC and he was soon giving in to the plea's of his eldest great grandson (me!) to be taken to taken along with him (thus cementing my two great passions!). Grandad had fished all his life and his tackle wasn't just from another generation, it was from another century! He owned a large selection of heavy bamboo rods and fished using wooden starback centre pins loaded with heavy twisted flax lines, I think the invention of nylon had passed him by! However, none of this seemed particularly out of place to me as I had been left my Dad's 1952 edition of Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing, which I still treasure and which heavily influenced my early angling. Grandad's quarry was always pike and usually for the pot, though anything over 8lb or so 'wasn't worth the eating' and was sometimes returned alive. I, on the other hand, was always thrilled to catch anything.

Grandad lived in a big Victorian house on the edge of the village backing onto open farmland. This afforded direct access, via the drainage tunnels under the railway, to the Kennet. All the swims Grandad fished along the river had names and I was soon being introduced to places such as 'The Old Boathouse', The Swimming Pool', 'The Bend', 'Where the Fields Part' and the 'White Bridge' - which has never been white in my lifetime! I don't know if these names would have been familiar with his contemporaries or whether they were his own but they are not in common parlance today. What I knew as 'The Old Boathouse' is often now referred to as 'The Wall' swim on Lower Benyons. My favourite by far was 'The Little Penlocks', a delightful little wierpool at the start of a back stream. This was one of the nearest swims to Grandad's house and was usually fished whenever we went, as it was a good place to catch livebaits.

On such trips I was allowed to use the lightest rod in the collection, a 9' three-piece split cane, '3-in-1' rod (there were 6' boat and spinning versions) and a 3 inch centre pin reel. I seem to remember I even had monofilament and my task was to catch bait - preferably gudgeon which were popped into a tin bait kettle, alive, for future use. The water was always clear and never very deep and I used to delight in watching perch (some quite big) cruising between the weeds in the quieter eddies. Casting a worm to these stripeys and seeing them slowly
approach the sinking wriggley was always an electrifying experience. A perch of 12oz was a real coup and in one balmy early July evening, after school, I caught 3; the biggest just nudging my Little Samson scales down to the magic 1lb marker. I had fallen in love with the place.

Shortly after my 12th birthday Grandad returned from Elm Park cold and wet after watching Reading play on a miserable January afternoon. He caught pneumonia and died a few weeks later. He was 82 and I mourned his loss as much as my father's. By now I had been fishing 'solo' for a couple of years. I was allowed to on condition that I learnt to swim and was packed off for some intensive coaching one close season. For a while I had to make do with a free stretch at the edge of the village though I was always 'attracted' onto the Reading club water further upstream. The following year my mother had the good sense to buy me a Reading Fishing Club permit which kept me out of the clutches of the local bailiff! My first (legal at last!) trip with my new permit was back to my weir pool.

For the next 17 seasons my first trip of the season was always to the 'Little Penlocks'. At first, due to being packed off to boarding school, my first visit would not be 'til July, but once my education was out the way, the early hours of the 16th June would always see me installed in my spot on the right hand side of the weir watching the sky slowly (too slowly!) lighten over Reading. I was by now usually accompanied by my friend Paul Goulbourn. We would arrive at the water on the evening of the 15th. However, as we weren't supposed to night fish, we stuck to the letter of the law (if not the spirit!) by not casting out until an hour before sunrise. Thankfully we were never challenged on our interpretation of the rule book.

This venue was a perfect spot for an opening day visit; picturesque with the rushes and grasses of high summer. The running water also had an hypnotic effect on me - particularly on a warm June afternoon when I'd been up all night. This meant I often ended up having a contented siesta, amongst the docks and rose-bay willow herb, to round off a successful trip.

And the trips were always successful, blanking was out of the question! You always caught - nothing huge admittedly but if you started with ledgered meat or bread flake you could usually start with a 'first cast' chub of up to 3lbs or, if you were lucky, a barbel of maybe a pound or so heavier. Trotting the main race always produced a mixed bag of dace, small roach and chub and occasionally a big perch. In fact one of the fascinations of fishing there was you'd never quite know what would turn up next. On the opening day in 1983 I caught 10 different species here (11 if you count minnows!) including a 1lb bream followed within 10 minutes by a 1lb 6oz grayling which stood as a personal best for a number of years. Paul would always seem to manage a jack pike of the size Grandad would have taken home for tea, though of course now they always went back alive. Over the years I had 8 different species over a pound from my 1st day visits. In 1979 my 'first cast' fish was a 2lb tench! The place was a real aquarium.

By the late 1980's water levels in the back stream had fallen to ridiculously low levels. I believe the water table had been lowered to facilitate the gravel extraction which had turned the surrounding fields into a moonscape. The place had lost its charm and I lamented the loss of the fields where Grandad and I would collect dew drenched mushrooms to fry up for breakfast after an early morning session at the weir. The fish were disappearing too. 16th June 1990 was the last time I started my season at the Little Penlocks and though I had a fairly typical opener with a brace of 2lb chub and the obligatory jack pike it was sad to see the way the surrounding countryside had been ripped apart. I have hardly been back since.

For a few years after this I was still determined to start my season on the river and Paul and I searched around for a suitable venue. We settled on the Kennet at Brimpton for the next three years and although one year I had a 4lb chub on the bank by 00:10 (night fishing being allowed here) and followed it next cast with a 5lb 7oz barbel, generally sport was a bit patchy. Our chosen swim was also nearly a mile's walk from the car park, which somewhat restricted the amount of beer you could carry!

In 1993 we were caught in a terrific thunderstorm just after we had arrived. Now I'm not a great lover of thunderstorms particularly when I'm waving 13 foot of carbon fibre around and I ran all the way back to the car to see out the storm! I don't mind getting wet - it's getting struck by lightening I object to! It seems funny now how my recollections of openers at Brimpton are always of heavy rain, yet the sun always shone at the Little Penlocks. I'm sure it didn't but that's childhood memories for you!

More recently the first day has turned into as much of a social as a fishing trip and we have pitched up at an 'easy' gravel pit stuffed with ravenous commons averaging 5lb with a few tench and the odd decent crucian. I'm afraid to say we've also got a bit lazy - we park the car and walk - oh, all of ten feet to our chosen swim! A couple of beers and a good natter are the order of the night while we count the minutes down to midnight by the quarter chimes of the church clock. We are settled in a classic 'car park' swim and the fish are used to a free meal from dumped bait. By midnight they are at our feet in the margins happily slurping down free offerings of bread crust and chum mixers which usually ensures we always start off the season with a fish - first cast.

Next Month - 'Death of the Alders'