Castle Gunmakers, Norham, Northumberland


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Castle Gunmakers, Norham, Northumberland

Pike fishing in Scotland

Following on from the last two short stories describing my first forays into what would become a life long passion for game fishing, I thought I’d try and recollect some of the places and people that helped me along the way and to share some fond experiences. Apologies go to those I have inadvertently missed out – the memory’s not quite what is was!

A lifetime before I started selling fishing supplies at Castle Gunmakers, my first attempts at fly fishing were in the streams of the New Forest when I was about eight years of age. The old keeper Mr White at Linford (a friend of my grandfather), had often watched me worming and one day gave me an old Greenheart fly rod and a brass reel with an old greased line. Using a “dapping technique”, I managed to catch some of the small, beautiful golden coloured brownies that abounded in all the forest streams. I gradually learnt to fish wet and dry fly and my exploits were tolerated  by those much more proficient than I – Bunny Collins the bailiff on the Mill Stream at Ringwood, Bimbo Small at the Bickerly and Uncle Enos of the Severals, amongst others. I would often catch dace and roach together with the occasional trout and grayling.

When I was about eleven years old I spotted a lovely built cane rod in the display at Dickie Blanton’s gun shop in Ringwood Market Square. My uncle Tom worked here and at Christmas 1954 I was delighted when it appeared along with a new reel and floating line! I couldn’t wait to use it and as there was little fly life in mid winter, I confess to a trip to the Midden with a jar of brambling worms to fish the Blackbird’s Fancy. Sadly this rod met its demise on the Torridge many years later, broken by a sea trout.

My father enjoyed pike fishing and was friendly with two well known bailiffs, Colonel Crow of Somerley  and Tom Williams of Longford, occasionally meeting them in The Bull at Downton, a famous fishing watering hole run by Pete Scott-Newmans. Over a pint or two he sometimes managed to arrange the odd outing for us on the main river and side streams in the Water Meadows. I was thus very fortunate to fish the Avon from my early teens (although I was not aware of it at the time). The Avon was then prime fly water and this was mainly due to the efforts of Frank Sawyer, famous for his “Pheasant tail nymph” (often referred to as the Sawyers Pheasant Tail). Frank instigated ‘the great clean up’, where the riparian owners and the River Board were encouraged to restore the old water meadow carriers and hatches providing natural filtration for the rivers and nurseries for fry and small fish.

When I was about 18,  I met Phil Hood, keeper and bailiff for Jack Sykes at Bicton nr Fordingbridge, and we began a lasting friendship. I actually caught my first salmon at Bicton and although I went on to catch many more, the first is always special! This 12lb ‘bar of silver’ might have been caught by me but it also caught me – I’m not sure who was more hooked, the salmon or me! I went on to catch many salmon on the Avon including a 28lb fish at Avon Causeway but the Bicton fish will always be remembered.

I had by now become a very keen fisherman and I was very fortunate that, being in the “right place at the right time”, many venues opened up to me and great friendships were born. I remember fishing the Bridge Pool at Christchurch and also its harbour with Ken and Malc Keynes and my old chum and fishing companion Steve Hare. Great days were spent with Gerry Barrel on the Piddle in Dorset and the Avon at Bisterne. I still have two plastercasts on my wall of  sea trout of 13 1/2 and 15 1/2lbs caught by Gerry on the Piddle. I also had many happy trips with Charles and Benje Innis on the Torridge, staying at their pub The Half Moon at Sheepwash.

I started to widen my fishing horizons and great trips were made to Ireland fishing and drinking Guiness! Steve and I have great memories of trips to Lough Derg on the Shannon staying with the Tottenham family at Whitegate, fishing for the big Ferox trout that only come up for the mayfly. I also remember catching three fish in a day on the Awe with Jack Touzel, as well as many wild wanderings with Drew Wilson around the limestone lochs of the far north west.

Occasionally I would venture sea fishing off of the south coast, sometimes catching Portbeagle and Blue sharks out of Looe in Cornwall but game fishing was always my first love. In the early 1970’s I joined Chaplin Gunmakers of Winchester and new fishing friends and contacts opened up to me. I had the opportunity to join Dr Potters’s syndicate on the Little Test at Nursling and spent many days in the company of the very special Vic Foot with whom I caught many fine salmon. On one ‘red letter’ day I landed four fish between 10 and 16lbs fishing an upstream mep between the weed beds. I fished the Test at Broadlands at Nursling Mill and Testwood Pool, listening to the wisdom of both Ben Aldridge and Vic Foot – a priviledge indeed! I am also thankful to have been indulged by Alfie Groves at Longparish, Ron Wilton and Mick Didlick on the Itchen – the list goes on!

In the 1980’s I moved to ‘Waterybutts’, a shooting and fishing lodge in Perthshire. Here I spent much time on the river Tay with Jimmy Last from Scone and we became good friends and the occasional drinking companion to the irrepressible Colin Leslie of Cargill. What a man! – from surviving the sinking of two motor torpedo boats during the war to a lifetime on the Tay – someone should write a book about him. Scotland became fishing heaven for me. I caught fish on the North Esk at Mr Ruttenberg’s Gannochy; fished the South Esk at Kinnaird catching sea trout at night; caught fish on the ‘freshet’ at the Bridge of Balgie on the Lyon and had much success on the lochs and rivers of Amhuinsuidhe on Harris. I was truly spoilt! A spell working in Texas even brought me largemouth bass and alligator gar.

I have had a fantastic time game fishing all over the UK (and further afield). Now I live near the wonderful river Tweed and keep a small but comprehensive range of fishing equipment and high quality, unique hand tied flies in the gunshop. After more than 50 years with rod and line I occasionally still fish and arrange full or half day fishing packages on the Tweed, but more often reminisce with the local ghillies whom I shoot and drink with. I’m sure I sometimes stretch the truth a bit but that’s part and parcel of being a fisherman! I have had some wonderful experiences and made some great friends – long may that continue.

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