I still vividly remember being stirred in the middle of the night - being driven through the rolling countryside around Belfast to some mystical lake and arriving just as the first traces of dawn lit the sky - an enormous adventure for a three year old. A year later and I was sometime entrusted to hold a rod and having caught my first fish (7 roach) I've been an angler ever since.
I suppose it's because of these experiences that I've been trying to vicariously re-live my early childhood through my own 2 sons! I first took Matthew when he was a couple of months shy of his 4th birthday. My overriding memory of this trip was him standing in the car park looking up at the stars, open-mouthed in amazement at the celestial spectacle. The fishing didn't have this much hold on him and he was asleep on my chair before I'd finished tackling up. He has been very keen on all things astronomical, though, ever since.
In following years he was still keen to join me, as was Sam who didn't want to miss out to his elder brother. The competition between them though is such that I'd never take them at the same time - once was enough!! It was an outing in September 1998 that I'm sure Matthew is going to remember for a very long time.
The trip almost never got off the ground. The weather forecast was so abysmal that I was all for abandoning the visit to a local pit. But what do you say to an insistent 6 year old who complains that he doesn't care what the weather's like. So I was persuaded to go but, after 6 hours I wished I'd stuck to my guns. The rain had started the second we'd arrived and was heavy and unrelenting all morning. To make matters worse we'd spent that time huddled under a dripping brolly watching a float stubbornly refusing to budge.
"When this stops, we're going" I muttered, a proposal which didn't get any dissent from a bored Matthew. Lunchtime and the rain ceased abruptly - it was time to go. I handed over the rod and started to busy myself packing up. Now, when you've been still for the longest time in your life it's difficult to contain yourself any longer and Matthew tired of watching a still float started twitching the rod to make the float go under. Well I'm sure you can guess what happen next - as soon as my back was turned again I heard a frantic scream of "DAD!" drowning out a screaming clutch as something big headed out for the middle of the lake. The fish went on and on and on as it headed for a Deep Water sign in the middle of the pit. If it got round that all would be lost. The rod was handed over to me and I thankfully managed to turn it and a couple of minutes later had it lumping around under our feet. So the rod was handed back whilst I slipped the net under a plump mirror carp which weighed in at exactly 13lbs.
Well, you should have seen the grin!
"I caught it, didn't I dad?" (obviously worried that handing over the rod in the middle of the fight somewhat negated his achievement).
"Course you did - you hooked it and you landed it - in fact if you hadn't of twitched the float you'd 'ave never have got a bite in the first place". I added truthfully.
The irony was though that until the photo's came back from the lab he was derided by his younger brother for only catching one; Sam having caught a dozen or so perch and roach from the same peg the previous week. That's sibling rivalry for you!
In Izaak Walton's day young boys weren't supposed to start their angling careers with double figure carp. In fact gudgeon and minnows were recommend targets as can be seen from the following
(On gudgeon) "He is an excellent fish to enter a young angler, being easy to be taken with a small red worm, on or very near to the ground. He is one of those leather-mouthed fish that has his teeth in his throat, and will hardly be lost off from the hook if he be once strucken."
(On minnows) "He is a sharp biter at a small worm, and in hot weather makes excellent sport for young anglers, or boys, or women that love that recreation."
My angling month started with my first blank of the season. A short 3 hour mid-week evening session on the river at Aldermaston produced just one bite which resulted in a 10 minute tussle with what I'm pretty sure was a carp before the hook pulled. The rest of the month, though, was more than adequate compensation. I managed to squeeze 4 trips in before the family holiday. A couple of short evening sessions on the river, another go for a big tench and a brief trotting session on the river at Newbury.
The first Saturday of the month saw me back on the lakes after big tench. The morning didn't start too promisingly. I had tench in my swim but they seemed too pre-occupied with my trout pellet ground bait and all I experienced was the odd 'liner' when I offered them bread, paste or meat. So a change of tactics was called for.
Out went the rake again and this time I loose-fed with cockles and fished using a cockle/red maggot cocktail. Results were almost instantaneous. Within 5 minutes the float had sailed confidently under and 4 hours after arriving at the water I was at last slipping the net under a plump tench of 4lb.
The next 4 hours produced 7 more fish, the first 5 of which were within half a pound plus or minus of this first capture. Then I connected with something a bit bigger which buried itself into the weed and took some getting out. I ended up hauling a fish plus a mound of weed into my landing net and didn't get a very good view of it until it was on the bank. Clearing the weed away I realised I'd got a good un and when the scales swung round to 6lb 11oz I was chuffed to bits, as it beat my previous pb, caught a year before from the same swim, by 2oz. Next cast produced a fish of 5lb 4oz. The thunder storms promised for the afternoon were, by now, gathering in the west so I was packed by the time the first rain drops were spattering the windscreen of the car - but I drove home one happy bunny!
Two days later and I had more to smile about. Fishing a warm and breezy evening, I had barbel from the second I settled my first cast. And a real beauty to start as well, 9lb 15oz. A fish which didn't reveal its credentials until I almost had it in, suddenly going 'ballistic' in an explosion of energy at the first sight of the net. The next 3 hours produced 5 more barbel - my best return of the season. Three around the 5lb mark were topped off with an eight pounder and another 9. I even had time for a 5lb bream before I reluctantly packed up - well I did have to go to work the following day!
Exactly a week later and a repeat visit on a hot and sultry evening with thunder and mosquito's in the air produced 3 more barbel weighing in at a few ounces over 7,8 & 9 pounds respectively. For my last outing before jetting off to Florida - I debated long and hard about where to go. I was torn between having another crack at those elusive crucians or getting the centre-pin out for a session on the river. As ever the centre-pin won the day. And what a session it turn out to be.
I would have been content just to catch dace all morning - and that's how I set out my stall. Wading to the head of a long, fast, gravely swim and constantly dribbling in maggots I was soon catching dace and the odd roach. After 20 minutes of this I connected with something really solid and ponderous. I thought it was a big bream - using the current to resist my attempts to coax it upstream but when I eventually sighted it I realised it was a big chub. In fact an absolute peach of a chub, plump, bronzed and scale perfect it weighed exactly 5lbs. My next cast and I was in again - a much more energetic fight this time produced a barbel of 2 and a bit pounds.
The next 2 or so hours continued in this frantic manner the dace still showed but every 15 minutes something bigger would bury the float and we'd be off again; 10 minutes fighting fish and current. Four more chub were brought to the net including a 4 lber and another 5 - 3 ounces heavier than the first. Two more barbel, both over 4lb, led me a merry dance as did an acrobatic brownie of a couple of pounds. It was some morning! A few years ago a winter spent trotting the Kennet triggered an episode of tennis elbow - any more days like this and I'll be running the risk of the affliction returning - my arm still ached 24 hours later.