One for Dad - A reluctant angler
Dad died on 10th September. He had been a great sports fan all his life and in his time he had played Football, Cricket, Athletics, Golf and Bowls to a high standard. However Dad was always a reluctant angler. He was forced to go fishing because I was mad on the sport and I wouldn’t give him any peace. He shared my earliest fishing trips using my grandfather’s ancient gear on the local beaches. These trips were mostly unsuccessful but I remember in 1976 (I think), Dad wound in a Whiting at Shingle Street one cold day. In 1977 we took a family holiday to the Chesil beach, near to a Town called West Bay. Here we cracked it as once Dad had remembered how to use a fixed spool reel we managed to catch lots of Mackerel. When I say we, I mean Dad cast out and I wound some of them in. However, it was on that holiday I caught my very first, totally unassisted fish. It was another Mackerel but in my memory it was the biggest of the holiday.
Once I was old enough to take myself fishing, Dad was happy to leave me to it. I think Dad enjoyed fishing right up until the fish was landed, from that point he was only concerned about getting the “poor ol’ thing” back into the water. There was a river and several gravel pits within cycling distance so that was where I spent almost all of my spare time. Despite starting off on the beaches I’ve been a coarse angler ever since. One Christmas I got a brand new umbrella amongst my gifts. I was Pike fishing in early January and hadn’t pegged the brolly down properly. You can guess what happened next, a gust a wind blew the brolly away and it became stuck on an island out of reach. I peddled to the phone box to ring for help and Dad came. There was no way he was going to let me lose my present so he swam out to the island to retrieve it, in January! That pretty much sums up the kind of bloke he was, he’d do anything for his family.
Dad worked for Blue Circle cement and hidden away in their quarry was a lovely pit with crystal clear water and abundance of Rudd, Perch and Tench. There were Carp too, only small ones but in the early eighties any Carp I managed to catch was a notable capture. It was for employees only so I was always nagging dad to take me. Through the summer months we usually managed to make at least one midweek evening session. By this time roles had reversed and I was teaching Dad how to fish. We caught a few on floaters but the most successful method was to float fish with sweetcorn in the margins.
When in 1997 I caught my biggest Pike, Dad lived a mile away from the pit I was fishing and he came out to see the fish. At that time it was my finest hour in the sport I loved and my Dad was there. Not having an angler’s eye for a photo he took some unusual and interesting shots for me that day. The last time Dad came fishing was on Father’s day a couple of years ago. Shelley and I took him to a pool hidden away in the Suffolk countryside and here we caught Carp on floaters once more. We caught a few fish and had a lot of laughs but Dad still felt sorry for the fish.
Dad caught many species of fish but ironically one he never even tried for was Pike. This was mostly because he considered going fishing in the cold a completely insane thing to do. He had a point. Sometime in September I decided to snatch a few hours by the waterside, my aim was to catch a Pike for Dad. I took a lure rod along with a few bits and tried the local river to begin with but vegetation both on the bank and in the water made it almost impossible. I retreated to a nearby pit but my mind was all over the place and after a couple of dozen casts I gave up and went home.
In September I would normally have a mind churning with ideas for the coming Pike season but this year my mind was full to bursting with emotion and there wasn’t room for fishing. The PAC convention was a welcome distraction and I enjoyed a great weekend with old friends and many like-minded people. I managed to keep my shit together throughout but on the journey home it got me. I was listening to a song by Eels, my favourite band in the world. The lyrics were poignant and I cried on the way home.
The next opportunity to fish was a trip to Norfolk, I had the same CD playing on the slow drive north. A few years ago an angling friend passed away and there’s a point in the journey where we cross a river that we always associate with him. Rich started a ritual of commemorating him whenever we passed that spot and over the years I’ve taken this and turned it into a prayer where I remember all my family, friends and fellow anglers. On this occasion Dad was top of my list and my eyes leaked again. “I know you’re out there somewhere, and I know that you are well…” I was going to try to catch a Pike for Dad and knew I might need his help because where I was heading the Pike are rumoured to be extinct.
I launched in the late afternoon with a rough destination in mind but took my time, checking out a few spots on the way. As I neared my destination I passed a long, enticing looking weedbed in an area I’d never fished before. The spot was sheltered and looked so good I doubled back for another look and noticed silver fish topping. That would do, I dropped the weights and was soon fishing and watching my first big sky sunset of the autumn. This is part of the magic of the special place, even after a decade there are still very many places I haven’t fished.
The night was uneventful apart from a couple of eel pulls but the new alarm set up I’d devised seemed to work a treat. I turned the alarms off at first light so while I was rummaging through the food bag it was the glorious sound of a purring bait runner that alerted me to a take on Lamprey. The rod had a decent curve to begin but the fish came towards me and was fighting like a jack, lots of rapid head shakes and short fast runs but it felt like there was a bit of weight there too. Even so, the length of the fish as it crossed the net was a pleasant surprise. I’d done it! I’d caught a dinosaur! Not a giant but a pleasing size anywhere however after what went on in the spring, magic!
Later that day I sat in another bay and wrote some of the words that would be read out at his funeral. I cried again but this time there was a smile on my face. Although I dropped into several spots that day, I wasn’t really fishing, just soaking baits. I was treated to a classic display of Broadland wildlife; Kingfishers zipped here and there, Cranes flew over and the Harriers came close. Unfortunately so did a pair of unwelcome Otters; Dad would have enjoyed it all. It rained like hell in the afternoon and I had a good loud laugh at the folly. What would Dad have made of this? “You must be bloody mad boy!” I asked aloud “Are you with me Dad?”
A few days previously I’d been beating myself up thinking that my Dad would have done absolutely anything for me but what did I do for him? I didn’t do enough. Shortly after my utterance my train of thought was shoved aside and a memory began to unfold in my mind. Around twenty years ago my Dad had been in a dark place, lonely and depressed. After work I would go round, cook him dinner and chat for a while. When he’d needed me, I had been there.
The rain stopped for long enough to allow things to dry out then with light fading fast I headed back to the slip. Against the odds I’d caught a Pike for Dad from the special place; I must have had some help? I knew I had.
Today, 3rd November is Dad's birthday. Happy birthday, wherever you are.
Today, 3rd November is Dad's birthday. Happy birthday, wherever you are.