A few weeks ago at a very enjoyable shoot dinner I fell into conversation with Tweed ghillie Andy Murray. We were surprised to find that our paths had crossed on many rivers but we had never met with ‘rods in hand’ so to speak. Our conversation rambled on throughout the dinner and encouraged by Andy, I decided to write a few short stories recalling my experiences fishing for trout and eels and other species over the years.
Some of my earliest recollections go back to the end of the war when, using my homemade rod and reel, I often supplied Sunday high tea with trout and the occasional eel. This was of course a welcome addition to the larder as we were still under rationing. My rod consisted of a hazel wand with the reel made from a large cotton bobbin and the rod eyes from safety pins! The line was worsted thread and the float made from a cork and a feather quill. The only expense was a size 16 hook to nylon which came from Mrs Larcombe’s shop in Ringwood that sold both sweets and fishing equipment – a small boy’s utopia! As for bait, most of my quarry fell to “The Blackbird’s Fancy”, a pink and yellow brambling earthworm often found in dung heaps.
By the time I was nine years old I had moved my fishing exploits to a more commercial level. Throughout the summer months a group of us took to “treading”, mainly for trout and eels but sometimes pike also succumbed. The equipment needed for this operation consisted of a five foot diameter steel hoop onto which was fastened a large net of fine chicken wire. Also required were six to eight small boys who were prepared to spend the afternoon in the river up to their waists (and sometimes necks) in water!
Held by the netsman, this hi-tech piece of equipment was pushed as far into the reeds or bank as possible with the open end facing upstream. The rest of the boys, some three or four feet apart and about six feet from the bank, then lined out upstream from the mouth of the net. The “treader” would then walk twenty yards upstream and with his feet and a pole would prod and probe under the bank and in the reeds, slowly moving downstream towards the net. Picture now this line of small boys who were standing six feet from the bank, marching on the spot to guide startled fish and eels into the net! The net would then be hoisted aloft to reveal our catch some of which was returned but much was not, especially the eels which found their way to Mr Penny the Fishmonger.
We were restricted to fishing only certain streams and small feeders to the main rivers by both the riparian owners and the river keepers, one of whom was my great uncle Enos. How were these restrictions enforced? Well, if we were caught anywhere else, a swift clip behind the ear and confiscation of equipment was summary justice!
In those early days I was lucky to learn an enormous amount about the flora and fauna of the countryside without the need for a classroom. I do believe my boyhood was truly blessed!
In the next episode – “The many rivers I have fished and the colourful characters I have met”