Monday, 29 October 2012

The Way Things Were

Taking Parps, the littl'un, fishing recently set me thinking about fishing trips when I younger

My earliest recollection is of going to Frankton Pools with The Old Duffer, or Relatively Young Duffer as he would've been then (had I thought of it), and asking if I could have a go for the first time

He cut me an ash pole from the hedge at the roadside and tied some line to it with a small float and a hook to nylon (I have always recalled this as string and a bent pin but I think this is simply wishful romanticism on my part!). I caught 6 gudgeon...that bit I am sure of...and I was ______ (please fill your own word in here as I can't bring myself to say it!)

The venue comprised two stream-fed ancient pools, some 200 years old, with a dam at the top of a steep wooded bank holding it all back. On one side was the lane and on the other pasture fell into the water at the end of the dam, while trees with pegs between completed the remainder of the scene at the shallow end, I use the word 'shallow' somewhat reservedly as the depth in the middle of the dam was not great. In fact were it not for the quite incredibly deep silt contemporary man could probably have walked across without getting his ear-rings wet

The larger pool featured quite regularly in my early life and remains the only place I ever caught any crucian carp, except for a flukey one on caster during an evening match on the Oxford Canal at Rugby twenty or thirty years later (or more). They all seemed to be the same size and apparently stunted as the water was shallow and they must've been pectoral to pectoral in there. It silted-up year on year and the old stone dam wall always looked as though it could slip down the slope into the spinney at any moment. It was one of those places where the build-up of silt and rotting organic matter was such that the slightest disturbance of the mud would release the most pungent smell into the air which would then linger if you were near it and then follow you home on your wellies as a reminder

There was an occasion when a guy had left his rod leaning against the wall while he wandered off and while he was gone it was towed-in by a fish! He couldn't figure out what had happened when he returned but I'm fairly certain the fish was even less chuffed about the event than he was. A lesson learnt for me at a tender age, and one ignored by him

One of the most entertaining moments was alway when the farmer came round to take money for day tickets. The Old Duffer rarely shirked an opportunity to wind him up and on one occasion claimed he had seen an otter there early in the morning, and then sat creased on his box as the unfortunate stout rosy-faced chap announced it to all-comers as he did his rounds. Otters were locally non-existent in those days. Amusement travels far across water!

Later, when I got interested in wider ecology, it was one of the first places I went to see, listen to and record daubenton's bats, and share the pleasure with The Dog when he was about 7 or 8 years old. That was until a tawny owl hooted and we had to beat a hasty retreat to the 'safety' of the car! Watching the bats' mysterious shapes scooting around above the water's surface like little dark scalextric machines on invisible tracks with tight bends, or snitches in quidditch, against the moonlit water was incredible and the reason I went there for this was that I remembered them from my times fishing there as a kid late into the evening. We had Observer's Books to learn from in those days and the inspirational images of bats in the wild animals volume engaged me sufficiently to appreciate bats and this species even back then. The bat thing has since got out of hand however and takes up many hours with detectors and all manner of other equipment in spring and summer evenings

At a time when I was setting out fishing open matches and team competitions I came across the need for bloodworm on hard venues, mainly in winter leagues in the south midlands. Having gleaned info on how to 'scrape' for bloodworm from various publications the first place I tried, having made the requisite scraper from a broom handle and a suitable blade, was the small pool at Frankton but, as with everywhere else I tried, the bed was littered with leaves and branches and one or two small worms per sweep was about the best I could manage, unlike the photographs I had seen with hundreds of worms in a continuous splodge wrapped along the edge of the blade. It seemed that all of the ponds I could think of shallow enough and silty enough to scrape were surrounded by trees!

The crucians in the larger pool were the first fish I ever caught on bread and it resulted in, first, Fine Lady, when I could get it, or Mother's Pride, and now Warburton's, being propped-up by my bait bill. They were such shy-biting fish but a few minutes after baiting with white ground-bait a few of them would succrumb (sorry, couldn't resist) and give a hard-fighting account of themselves on the old Sigma Canal rod and Shakespeare Match International closed-face reel...a warm glow descends

In fact my extensive note books show that on 31st July 1978, then aged 15, I fished the near end of the dam wall of the larger pool with bread under a '4 dust Ultra dart' (remember those?, a brass-loaded, self-cocking, straight balsa canal float) and white crumb taking 8 crucians for 2.7.8 so their average size was not exceptional! The Old Duffer had 16 of them for 6.14.0. A day ticket was just 60p and the weather apparently was cool, rainy and windy, much like this July
So, to complete the circle, I went for a drive down there the other evening in the knowledge that when the associated farm changed hands a few years ago the ponds would have done so too. This would have been my first visit since the bat watching episode circa 10-12 years ago and it certainly had changed! The whole is now fenced as a deer enclosure and the dam wall is now quite over-grown but the two pools are still intact albeit as the home of a herd of black fallow deer. The path across the dam still leans way from the water at an alarming angle and gives the impression that one might slip down the bank into the dark wood ('went into Noddy mode there for a moment. I wonder if Sly lives in there?) at any time, especially if wet!

Nevertheless, enquiries might well now be made

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