Email Address

Childhood Days by Paul Walker - 08/08/19

I was lucky enough to be born into a house that was situated close to water. The house was in Nottingham on a lane that ran parallel to the river. It was only a short walk the the waters edge and you could be fishing in five minutes if you went to the nearest point. The river was the Trent and it would become the centre of my life in many ways as I grew up, and still to this day, even though I no longer live in England, the Trent holds a very special place in my heart.

Though I would have been taken along the river for walks as a very young child, and no doubt begun to absorb the atmosphere of this magical place my earliest recollections are of going for walks along the river bank and the water meadows with my father armed with a small fishing net attached to a bamboo cane, along with a small bucket, we would roam around searching all kinds of wonderful places, as long as they had water we would spend hours looking in the weed beds and under stones along reed beds. This was a great introduction to the natural world at a young age, it brought me an understanding of the links between the land and the water and the creatures that inhabited them.

There was an area locally know as the swamp, here we found a small pond with a grey clay bed, the only sign of plant life were bright green blooms of algae, in amongst this fluorescent weed lay alien looking creatures [or so I thought ] they were newts, great crested and smooth both inhabited this unlikely looking water. Specimens were gathered and placed in the bucket to be taken and studied further in our small pond in the back yard along with tadpoles frogs and toads, these were wondrous creatures for young boy to see at let alone have them in the garden.  

I spent all my time in that garden watching the tadpoles morph into frogs, and some of our newts were female and so there were amazing little beings appearing, I loved to watch them suspended motionless in the water. All this early contact with nature and the natural world sparked curiosity and desire to spend more time involved with the beautiful creatures that surrounded where I lived.

One day in May I walked with my father along the footpath that followed the flood wall ,on the other side of the path ran a tall hedgerow, so as you walked along only brief glimpses of the water could be seen, this of course added to the anticipation. At the end of the flood wall the path carried on to follow the river along a stretch called The Willows, at the start of the stretch was where Robin Hood stream passed under the flood wall and entered the Trent, the mouth of the stream formed a bay where I had seen small fish before but that day it was different.

My father said to be very quiet and move slowly as we approached the water, a valuable lesson that has stayed with me, and when ever I approach water I think of his words. As we came to the waters edge I could hundreds of sticklebacks in rows facing the incoming water, behind them were large numbers of gudgeon, then came roach and a few perch and right at the back where the bottom dropped away into deeper water, hanging suspended and looking menacing was a pike. This was a defining moment for me to see all the species together in one place. It gave me knowledge of some of the fishes that swam in the Trent, my father said the gathering was because of the spawning season , but I never saw that phenomena again.

Early one Sunday morning I lay in bed, outside the window a silver birch tree was just visible and in the top branches a blackbird was heralding the dawn of a beautiful day; it was the first of June 1961 and Elvis was top of the charts with 'Surrender' 

I heard my door open and my dad said "Are you awake?"

"Yes" I replied.

"Do you want to go fishing?"

"Oh yes!"

By the time I had got dressed and gone downstairs my father was waiting for me in the back yard. He held a bamboo cane in one hand, the same cane that we used before but with the net removed. He was winding nylon fishing line around one end, this was to be my first rod. We then went to the shed and took a few small pieces of lead from the roof, then we dug up some worms from the veggie patch, and with that we set of on an early morning walk that I have re-enacted a thousand times in my life.... every time I go fishing.

We once again followed the flood wall path but this time we carried on along the the riverside. Pushing our way through tall grasses, I was unable to see above them, so I just followed faithfully in my fathers footsteps. It seemed to take forever until we stopped. We had walked the full length of the Willows stretch and we now stood under the arches of a railway bridge, At the bottom of the embankment that carried the railway line to the bridge lay a pond. The story was that it was dug up when the embankment was built, it's name was ironmongers pond and this is where my angling life was about to begin.

Here we stopped for short while while my father tied on a hook length, he then used a piece of twig as a float held on by a rubber band, on with the bits of lead, and then a worm and we were ready .

"Keep quiet and get in amongst the reeds " said my father. 

"Is that so we don't scare the fish?"

"No it's because we don't have a license and the season doesn't start for another week "

Yes my introduction to fishing began as a poacher of sorts, quite exciting at nine years old.

My father cast the float next to the marginal reeds and we settled in. I watched the float as it lay half cocked on the water and I was entranced, even to this day whenever I fish I think of that first float literally a 'stick float'.

How long we waited I have no idea, but eventually our stick float began to sit upright in the water and then slowly slid away under the surface. My father lifted the rod and said "He's on!" He then let me hold the rod and I don't think I've ever been so excited as I was at that moment.

It was such a thrill for a young boy, and when I saw what was on the end of the line I had never seen anything so stunning; as I lifted the rod a wonderful fish was on the end. It was a perch, not huge but to me with its stripes and bright orange fins it was splendid. I had caught my first fish on a rod and I was hooked on fishing.

It was July 1962, and Ray Charles was number one with "I can't stop loving you". I was about to turn 10 and father took me out one Saturday morning to get my present. We caught the bus that went to Nottingham and got off before the city and walked. As we walked along my father said he thought I had shown enough interest in fishing to have my own rod, a proper rod. So I was to be introduced to the delights of the local tackle shop, ours was Archie Tyzley's. We entered and friendly greetings were exchanged with my father, and Archie said "'Ey up me duck " to me."'Ey up" I said, and they both laughed.

While Archie and my father selected the best purchase I stood in awe at what was only a small shop, but it was an Aladdin's Cave of fishing tackle. Rods in racks on the walls, reels in glass display cases, floats of all shapes and sizes in containers; I loved all the bright colours. Then there was the smell of ground bait in big bags stacked up, and of course as all fishermen know the scent of maggots, wriggling in their containers. This was heaven.

The rod we bought was three pieces, the two bottom sections were of cane and painted black, the tip section was solid glass fibre. The reel was a Black Prince, de rigueur for small boys in the sixties. With a small cane basket and a few floats my life was looking pretty good.

As a side note 'Archie's' became my favourite place over the years as I grew up an angler, I spent many pleasant hours talking in that shop learning from older anglers. Then as I got older passing on my own experiences, what a wonderful place the local tackle shop was in those days.

My thirteenth birthday was the next big milestone in my angling life, as this was to be the first time I would be allowed to go fishing on my own. The Hollies were number one with 'I'm Alive'. I had arranged to meet my first fishing buddy, a friend from school, to go fishing the Trent, near the pleasure boats at Trent Bridge.

He was already there when I arrived. He had an idea to bait up really heavily with ground bait and maggots; I had used a bit before but not this much. We went ahead and threw in what at time seamed like a mountain of stuff, we fished laying-on style with double maggot on a 16 hook. The bites started quite soon after, a gudgeon was the first fish we both caught; in fact it was to be only species we caught all day. What a brilliant day as one after another the fish kept coming and we only had one keep net between us and no weigh scales. When we lifted out the net at the end of the days fishing it was bulging with gudgeon. We decide to count them and between us we had landed 373 of these little wonders. It was an amazing day for us both and an experience that would lead me down the path of match fishing in the very near future.

So it was the following season, I was in the butchers with my mother and she happened to mention to him that I liked fishing, "Mad keen " I think she said. Anyway he was involved in the Trent Bridge Angling Club and said that if I was interested they had a junior section that fished along with the older anglers in their club matches, and that I would be welcome to come along on Sunday to see what I thought of it. It was a bus trip to the Lincolnshire fens to fish one of the drains. Needless to say I said "yes!".

The coach left Trent Bridge at 6 O'clock and every seat was full. They let me sit at the front near the driver as it was my first trip out. I remember hearing The Kinks singing "Sunny Afternoon" on the radio as we drove away. I sat intently watching the countryside passing by, absorbing all the waterways that we passed on the way; canals and ponds, rivers and streams, all were noted for future reference. There was a lot of playful banter amongst the regulars with side bets being made on who would win or get the biggest fish. I found it all very exciting, but kept quite as a mouse as I was a little shy of all these real anglers.

After a couple of hours we reached our destination. We pulled up next to a drain that after fishing the Trent looked a little small, but anyway this was the place. I lined up with all my fellow anglers and waited to pay my money for the right to draw a peg, something I had heard of but never done .As the men before me paid up and drew their numbers there where all kinds of expressions- some of delight, some of indifference, and some even at fourteen I didn't quite understand. It was soon my turn and I drew my first ever number, it was somewhere in the middle of the stretch and by all accounts not a bad one so I set off up the bank to look for my spot.

When I arrived, I sat on my basket for a few minutes and surveyed the scene. The swim only about four rod lengths wide so I decided to float fish only about one rod length out. I placed my basket and proceeded to set up watching the water all the time, then I mixed ground bait and flicked a couple of small balls in to test it. It broke up about mid water just where I wanted, with that I sat and waited for the signal I had been told about.

After few minutes of waiting I heard a whistle blow and the sound of men shouting came down the line "We're off!" I baited with double maggot and made my first cast in a competitive match, my float sat nicely in the water and there was a sedate flow. As it reached the end of my swim down it went under and I was into my first fish of the day. I nervously played it back towards me and swung it into my hand as I had no landing net then. It was a roach of about six ounces but I was very proud to slip it into my keepnet. I had a quick look up to see if anyone had noticed, and the angler above me said "Well in lad", I felt very proud of myself and my confidence grew with each fish that came to hand. I caught fish at regular intervals through the morning until the flow stopped, something I didn't understand at the time.

The afternoon was quite hot and sunny, nothing much was moving anywhere along the stretch. Across from me were some lilies so I decided to try legering. I flicked a small coffin lead across and under the pads, tightened up and waited. Soon after I had a bite indicated by the rod tip; I struck and felt a sensation coming through the rod I hadn't felt before, it was an eel and it took me sometime to get it on the bank.

Now somewhere in my mind I had heard that eels didn't count in matches, so after admiring it I let it go back into the water. I recast again same place same bait and waited; the next bite was different, it produced a good fight and I was relieved to get it on the bank. It was my very first tench, but my last fish for the day. Not long after it seamed the whistle blew and cries of "Get 'em out" came down the bank.

So it came to the weigh-in. The scales started upstream and made their way down. At some pegs there were no fish at others only a couple, there was one peg that seemed to cause a lot of interest and shouts of "I think he's got it!".  Eventually it came to my turn,"Have you got any lad?".

"Yes a few", I lifted my keep net out and in the bottom lay three roach, four bream, and the tench.

"Ooh!" went the crowd of anglers, "I think he might have done it". My chest swelled as the catch was put on the scales, round went the dial to 3lb 15oz.  A mighty effort, I had won the juniors section and was only 3ozs short off being overall winner. It wasn't until we were on the bus back home that I found out that eels do count.

This experience was to fire my imagination to find out more about the ways of the match angler for the next few years. 

I wanted to write something for Angling Heritage not because I am a famous angler, though I have met few, and not because my fish have been record breakers, though in have caught my share of nice specimens, I wanted to write because of all these things. I wanted something recorded for the future from an ordinary angler with a love for the sport who's thoughts and reminiscences might bring pleasure, and maybe remind others who read it of their own beginnings in this glorious pastime.
                                   Paul Walker