We spent a lot of time fishing in the dykes and ditches in my younger years. The other year I bad beard enough from my son: he “could not go fishing with his mate unless I drove three miles to the tackle shop and got him a pint of maggots.” I explained to him and his friend John, that we never used maggots, so it became a matter of pride that I took the two lads up on a challenge
Armed with their rods, reels, floats and modern hooks, valued at around £40.00, and one pint of pink and one of white maggots they set out with me for the big competition. My gear was what I used in the fifties; one long stick from the hedge; one length of five-foot cotton; one matchstick for a float tied on with a knot and a bent pin. For bait I had flour and a little water made into a very thick paste. A tiny piece of this rolled between finger and thumb made a very life-like maggot. I out-fished them both with fine Roach. The old Roach and Rudd have a way of coming up to your bait and not grabbing it as most people think, but gently sucking it in. This will move a small matchstick, one small tug and you have your fish. With a big float, you hardly notice and wait for a real float movement that only comes as he expels the empty hook with a blast of water from his mouth. You have missed!
Most anglers today use too large a float and, as it bites, they put their rod up to strike; alas this more than likely was caused by the fish chucking the bait out. So try using a float no bigger than a matchstick. If the bait dried out, we dunked it in the water. When it got too wet, we used to mix a little bit of sheep’s wool with it. This was good as it kept the small bait on the pin for longer. In those days all the waters held vast shoals of fish.
In the winter we went live or dead baiting for pike and took them home to eat or sell. One fish I took home mother refused to cook, as it had a whole dead rat in it. So this gave me an idea. Next day I took a few live mice fishing. With a mate, we just nicked them under the scruff of their necks with a set of treble hooks and let them swim over to the pike that you could see laying in the reeds. It never failed, poor old mouse never got more than a couple of yards before BANG! ‘Esox’ had him. Again mother spoke and we were not allowed to treat mice like that again. Stamp on them, gas them, hit them with bats yes, but do not use them as live bait! So it was back to live or dead fish.
A lot of people were hard up in those days. I would not say poor, just no money for finer things. Cheap food was always welcome and us boys did our best. We had a good market for big pike and were determined to do our utmost to supply it. Live mice were out, so it was a case of using what resources we had in our box. One was rabbit wire on a long pole. If the sun was out, we slowly and quietly crept along the banks of the ditches we knew, where the big boys lay in wait for an easy meal. Tucked in near some weeds, you could see them laying in mid-water, slowly breathing through their gills and, with the faintest quiver, move their fins to stay in place. Allowing your shadow to fall over him, gently he would tuck himself tighter into the weeds, thinking he was invisible. We formed a noose with the wire and very, very gently, lowered it into the water ahead of him. It would not work if you tried from behind. He was not going to be ambushed that way; he was always alert from that end. If he could see the wire coming to him, he felt in charge. Slowly you drew it nearer and over his head. It is amazing how far he would let it go; right round him so long as it never touched him. Then yank! He was snared. It took a lot of practice to do this and I was useless. My mate Tuppy was a dab hand at it. A pike under twelve inches of water is closer to you than he looks owing to the refraction of the water.
Another of my mates tried to shoot them with a gun, but always missed. So one day, when he was alone in the house, he took his Dad’s 2.2 into the bathroom, filled the bath with clear water and placed a bar of soap in to represent a pike. The first shot missed the soap, ricocheted off the enamel bath, and did a grand tour of the bathroom. Luckily for him he was not on the bullet’s list of stops. His Father later locked the gun up and gave him ten strokes of his belt. There is no record of the damage it did to the bathroom and I had no intention of finding out.
A grand way of supplying our fish customers was by getting thirty or forty corks from Dad’s fishing nets and, tying a yard of thick twine to each one, with a cod hook on the other end. We would set off early and walk three miles along the river. We then baited the hooks with sprats and cast them adrift where it looked promising. No one would know, and no one could get at them. Three miles out, the river was joined by the main sewer that led us back home to the starting point.
Hours later we armed ourselves with Mum’s clothes prop, and a meat hook on a length of baler twine for the more difficult ones that were tangled in the reeds. Finding the first cork, the fork of the prop was pushed under the float, then raised and swung ashore. Some fish were very much alive but, a tap on the heads, with our lead priest (cosh), soon sorted them out. The pike would gorge the bait right down into his stomach and there was little chance of losing him. The hook we would retrieve when we gutted him, which we did there and then, for we were not going to carry that home and, just maybe, he had eaten a rat to put our clients off for life.
On many days we had six or eight big pike and, if we saw anyone, we hid until the coast was clear. It was poaching and we had no intentions of them knowing. One day we had to hide waist deep in a ditch of cold muddy water, waiting for a man well known to us to go away, as his dog was chasing one of our corks up and down the river. At last the dog could swim no more and came ashore to the wrath of its owner. We got our fish.
Happy Christmas everyone, and have a profitable New Year.
“Rye’s Own” December 2006
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