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Martin James award-winning fisherman consultant,broadcaster,writer


14/11/2015 - I Reckon I Had Better Fishing Many Years Ago

Richard Walker with author

Sadly the fishing today isn’t as good as it was when I was a youngster, the 1950's and 60’s were some of the most exciting times for coarse fishing, fish were certainly more plentiful and of better quality than today. Then of course we had Stillwater Angling Pic Richard Walker with author Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing Bernard Venables who was also one of the founders of Angling Times  Bernard Venable MBE known as Mr Crabtree I chose this book when I was awarded the school book prize. Yes, we now catchbigger chub, barbel, perch and other species, but the number of good quality fish in our waters in those days even if they were not record breakers were more plentiful. Take the roach which I personally rate as the nicest fish that swims, in my younger day’s pound plus fish were fairly common in many rivers, from my experience that’s not so today, Pic author with one of many 2lb plus roach

In those far off days anglers freely gave their knowledge and time often with bait and bits of tackle,even suggesting a good swim, if you were new to the venue.There were many occasions when I would say to an angler “How are you fishing today”, I would be given a full breakdown on tackle, bait, shotting pattern, depth of swim, even how to feed and fish the swim. Many of these anglers would take an hour out of their fishing to offer help and put me in a good swim, often giving up their swim so I could catch a few under their instructions. If an angler was catching on hemp, there was a good chance he would be using a hook with a white painted shank, the bait was often a small piece of black insulation rubber from an electrical wire to represent the hemp. Yes it worked perfectly, and still does today.

More often I would be given a couple of hooks with white painted shanks with some rubber tubing taken from electrical wire with a good helping of hemp. As I got older and wiser I would take time out and help other newcomers, in fact many of these newcomers might have been fishing for several years, but still needed some guidance. We wouldn’t think of charging for our knowledge or service. Even today I give my time and knowledge freely.

In the 50’s and 60’s we had easier access to good fishing, in many cases it was free, if you did have to pay it was a lotcheaper than today. Many weekends during summer and winter I or we would camp at the waterside, often beinginvited to join the local farmer and his family for breakfast, sometimesdinner now known as lunch.Apart from my fishing I enjoyed shooting often taking part in both sports during these weekends.

My number one fish was the roach; in those days you had a realistic chance of catching 2lb fish from many rivers and still waters.Yes, we had cormorant predation, but we could shoot as many as we liked, being paid 5 shillings a head. We never had problems getting people to shoot this predator; often the local wildfowling club were more than willing to dispatch them.

Another advantage was angling clubs had their own charabanc to take the members to far away venues. One of the great organisations was the London Anglers Association with waters all over the Southern and Eastern England. Small works or pub clubs along with bigger clubs would affiliate to the LAA which gave them the right to fish the association waters. Many clubs had their own charabanc. With the high price of diesel and petrol these days wouldn’t it be a good idea if clubs were to resurrect the angling coach trip. I for one would be quite willing to take advantage of such a venture if it was available.

Today I get told we have better and lighter rods, quite true,but what advantage have they given me? In the past I fished with a 171/2 foot roach pole with a mahogany butt, with bamboo joints with a length of whale bone fitted into the top joint, Pic my roach pole still in use today. Several of my bamboo rods were fifteen and sixteen feet in length. Did we consider them heavy? Of course not.There were plenty of occasions when I would spend all day standing in the river either trotting the stream, stret-peggingor laying-on. I never felt weakened by holding a fifteen foot rod with its whole cane butt middle and top joints of built cane, matched with a centre pin reel. While on the subject of centre pin reels they are not a fashion item, but an excellent piece of engineering, a perfect fishing tool. l don't reckon you can trot the stream and present the bait as efficiently with a fixed spool reel. Once we had mastered the Wallis Cast we could cover most fishable swims. In my early days I would go spinning for pike using "Kidney and Colorado" spoons, casting them with a centre pin reel, I caught my share of pike. My grandfather done all hisspinning on the River Wye for salmon with an Allcock Aeriel. I suppose it was 1951 when I first witnessedgranddad fishing with a bait casting reel, today known as a multiplier.

Roach Fishing could be Excellent

Today if we get a dozen roach around the pound mark, we reckon it’s a great days fishing, back in the 1950's there were many rivers where some days you could get twenty, eventhirty or more pound plus size roach when water and weather conditions were good. In those days we waited full of expectation for the rivers to be in flood covering the surrounding fields and often the roads. Two rivers I often fished were the Beult and Medway; they could be bank high or over the banks for a week or more. Providing it was warm rain, and not snow broth, then aftera couple of days we could count on some great roach and bream fishing. Our baits would be lobworms one of the great baits even today,  red worms, gentles and bread in various forms. Often we caught good roach and bream from the same swim, the bream often pushing the roach out, some of these bream would go 6 and 7lbs, sometimes an angler would catch an eight pounder. I remember a lady who I believe was a member of the 'Barking Kingfishers' an LAA affiliatedclub catching a 9-2-0 bream from the River Beult.

During the autumn and winter months back to the 1950's and 60’sI and my friends wouldtravel to fish the Hampshire Avon and theDorset Stour,Newman's Boat yard at Canford Bridge on the Stourwas oftenthe venue. Youcould hire a proper punt then fish for roach with a realistic chance of catching a two pounder perhaps three or four such fish. Having dropped our mud weights off the bow and stern so we wereanchored across the stream, we would drop in three or four balls of bread and bran making sure we hollowed out the centre so we could add chopped worms or gentles if these were our bait, we alsoadded a stone. Often we would mix some gravel into our bread and bran mash. Usually our first choice bait was a cube of crust or big piece of flake.In those days we took great care in making up our mashed bread, today I see anglers making mashed bread with day old bread, It doesn't work you end up with a horrid glue like mess. No good for fish or beasts. Bread mashis often made from bread that had been stored in a bin for several weeks

When fishing mashed bread pic you need very dry stale bread, I would get a three or four large loaves cutting these into chunks before putting them into an old keep net, which was then hungin the airing cupboard. A week or more later we would turn that dry bread into a fine mash which when used would give off a nice milky colour sending millions tiny pieces of bread through the swim, that wouldn't feed the fish, but attract them. For fishing the faster water we would make a stiffer mash adding lightly damped bran.

Some great Inn's to stay in those days with fishing were the Bull Inn at Downton, also the Bat and Ball water which was an excellent roach fishing venue, I was fortunate to get invitations shoot  by Col Crowwhat a great gentleman the Colonel was.I also got to fish the Avon upstream of Ibsley Weir in those far off days. A venue I didn't like was the Royalty fishery at Christchurch with its horrid pump housebuilding, along with the pylons and the dirty run down appearance of the place not to mention the litter. Yes it did have some great fish but I much preferred nice surroundings for my fishing. With many nice venues further upstream.

Without doubt in my book one of my favourite waters was and still isthe River Kennet which in those days flowed clear and weedy with some great roach dace and chub fishing, but you also had a good chance of catching quality perch and pike. Today the Kennet is nothing like its former self. The big problemwith the Kennet is the abstraction that takes place and the damage done by the barges that cruise to and fro on the Kennet and Avon canal. I reckon this is one of the reasons that we don't have a clear flowing river in summer with lots of ranuculus that delightful water plant with its daisy like flowers. It’s the most important plant in our rivers. Today the roach have disappeared from many beats to be replaced by the barbel, yes we had barbel in those days but most of us targeted the roach. How often do you see agudgeon these days? The BWB have a lot to answer reference the decline of the Kennet as have the water companies through water abstraction. Les Webber MBE who does an excellent job getting children into angling,  occasionally finds time to fish the Kennet

I can recommend the following books; This Fishing or Angling Arts and Artifices by Captain L A Parker with a foreword by “Faddist” published 1948 Clever Hume Press Ltd London. It’s a great read and full of information. Another title is Roach Fishing by “Faddist” my third title is An Angler’s Hours by HT Sheringham the chapter At Dawn of Day being my favourite.




Author with one of many 2lb plus roach

My roach pole still in use today

Mashed bread

lobworms one of the great baits even today

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