You Gotta Keep It Small

By Steve Richards of The Perchfishers

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin. I suppose my fishing career started when I was about 5 or 6 years of age in Croyland Brook, being a Northants man. This Brook runs through Croyland Park, Wellingborough and we lived at the top of the park so you can imagine even at this early age me and my mates were always messing about in the water of this brook.

We didn’t have rods and lines, just a bit of cane or brush handle with a bit of wire somehow tied on the end with an old nylon stocking for a net We usually acquired the sticks from somebody’s garden or backyard, in a word "nicked!". In those early post war years we didn’t have any money or entertainment, not like the kids today, so we had to survive the best way we could. I think looking back it made us better blokes for it. Any fish that we did catch were only sticklebacks, minnows and loggerheads (Millers thumb). We used to argue who had caught the biggest "logger" but the most important thing about it was that the seeds had been sown from my point of view forever.

Princely Sum

I remember each year I would ask Father Christmas for fishing tackle, train sets weren’t any good to me as you couldn’t catch fish with these and who in their right mind wanted to sit at home watching trains going round the front room? That wasn’t for me!

There was a toy-shop in town that also sold fishing tackle and there was a fishing set in the window made by Allcocks selling for the princely sum of £l-14-9d. How I looked at that set, now if only that was mine! I used to go to town with Mum and Dad on Saturdays which was the main shopping day and we always passed Horderns (the toy shop). The set was still there! Just before Christmas, I suppose it would be about 1954, I looked in the window for my beloved rod and my heart sank. It had gone! What was I going to do, I knew it was a lot of money and was out of reach but at least 1 could look at it and imagine what fish I could catch with it, but that had all gone now.

Christmas morning came and Dad said "he’s been, go and look under the tree", and there it was, my fishing set! I couldn’t believe it! I actually owned a proper fishing rod. The set comprised of a centre pin reel, 3 porcupine floats, a card with line on, a packet of hooks, split shot and a disgorger. The World really was my oyster now.

Complicated

That following summer Dad took me down to the gravel pits on the edge of Town. He said "If you want to fish I am going to teach you the proper way and with luck you will be better than me". He taught me how to cast and set up the floats etc. I remember those immortal words "To catch fish consistently, above all else you must keep it simple". I still believe these words to this very day. "Fish are not complicated creatures, only man is". Every time we went fishing, Dad said, "You gotta keep it simple". I think in the end I was brainwashed and I still am, although Dad is 80 now and has long since stopped fishing, he still says "Do you remember what I told you that first time we went down ‘the pits’?" How could I forget?

My mates and I spent all our spare time, summer holidays, you name it we were down the pits catching tench, rudd, perch, roach and bream. Not giants but never the less good fun for us lads. There were carp in these pits but we never caught any. I suppose looking back we weren’t good enough at casting right out to where they were, or we were too noisy. We never used maggots unless one of us scrounged some from an adult angler. The only baits we used were bread, worms and stewed wheat. But we did get results.

Landing net

Because we didn’t have much money, keepnets and landing nets were impossible luxuries so we made our own out of Brussel nets or onion nets from the local greengrocer. As far as keepnets were concerned we used bits of sticks to keep the mesh from collapsing on the fish but the fish would keep getting out so we always carried a good supply of nets with us. The landing net was made on the same principle as the fishing net from ‘Croyland Brook’ days. I really didn’t know how we managed but, of course, we did. At the end of one season a man named Arthur Cove, now an accomplished trout angler and writer, gave us his keepnet saying that he always changed his net after each session ended. We weren’t bothered about that, we had a keepnet and were over the moon, the landing net went on our Birthday lists.

In 1958 in the name of progress, some bright spark decided to fill the pits in and use the land for building so the Nene River Board netted the pits and put all the fish in the River Nene across the road. We duly followed and our style of fishing changed dramatically. Where our beloved pits were now stands Tesco, Texas and Car Showrooms. Such a waste.

Primitive

That same year we started fishing the Nene opposite Whitworths Flour Mills on Wellingborough Embankment. The only fish we ever caught were large gudgeon and roach, never any of the fish that came out of the pit. I suppose they had all dispersed down river. To catch these fish we had to cast right across the river and fish right next to the Mill wall where the barges unloaded the wheat. The distance was probably 25-30 yards, a long way with our primitive tackle. I remember we used to pull as much line off our centre pin reels weighted with two 1oz bullets. We then would cast across the river. The side of the Mill had a corrugated tin wall and we had to hit this to get the bait in the exact spot. We knew we had got it right when the bloke came out of the Mill! What he was going to do with us if he ever caught us! The dents in the tin are still there to this day. I can still see that bloke in my mind’s eye, with his clenched fist, swearing at us.

During that same year of 1958 Dad bought a car, a black 1937 Standard 10 for £15 and we started to go further afield. We had no limits now! Not that we went very far, there were some doubts whether we would get back! 5-10 Miles, that was it, but it was better than the Nene. Dad used to go fishing with 3 other chaps he knew, Harry the Yank, Richard Wigglesworth and Jimmy Potts.

They decided to go tench fishing at Castle Ashby Lakes and I was to go with them. Harry was a quiet chap, Wiggy (as he was known) was refined. You know the sort of chap, I mean he always talked posh. Old Pottsy was a real rough diamond, but between them they could catch fish, always the big stuff. They said, "It is time to be educated, young Steve".

I didn’t fish, I was told to just watch and you will learn how to catch the big’uns. I must have been as green as the grass that grows on my lawn. These chaps had other ideas for me. They decided that since Dad was providing transport, Harry supplied the bait, Wiggy the groundbait
and Pottsy brought his Primus stove for brewing the tea. The special day duly arrived, Dad put the roof rack on the car. It didn’t have much of a boot, so the tackle went on the top. Imagine it, 4 holdalls, 4 wicker baskets. 1/2cwt of groundbait and other odds and ends we might need. So off we went, Wiggy sat in the front with Dad, Harry, me and Pottsy in the back. Apart from Wiggy and myself, the other three smoked woodbines. The more Wiggy was complaining about the smoke the more they did it, we only went about 4 miles to the lakes but it was like sitting in an ashtray.

Struggling

We arrived at the lakes and we all bundled out of the car. My eyes were sore and streaming. Harry said, "You will soon get over that now that you are in the fresh air". The four of them decided to walk round the lake and find their swims. They settled in four swims quite near the car thankfully. While they were talking tactics I just stood around like a spare part. I made a comment "When are we going to start fishing", Wiggy replied "Steve, start unloading the car, we will start in a minute".

After about 10 minutes and a lot of struggling with their kit they proceeded to their swims and started to tackle up. Harry looked at me and said "Steve, mix the groundbait up", then Pottsy said "Steve, pass the worms", Dad said "Do you know what, I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea. Jim, show our Stephen how to set the primus up". All four of them carried on like this all day. I didn’t argue, after all I was here to learn. One thing is sure, I had been stitched up. I was just their skivvy.

As the day went by the four of them were catching fish after fish. Pottsy was into the tench, big’uns as well. Dad and Harry were pulling good rudd out, Wiggy had managed to get into a shoal of bream. All day long all I heard was "Steve, bring the landing net. I need help here". I was like a puppet on a string. In odd slack moments I asked Harry how he was so good at fishing. He replied, in his broad American accent, "I guess there is a school of them down there". One thing Pottsy didn’t like was people watching him fish, especially non-anglers, so to get rid of them he used to paddle about in the black mud by the lakeside. That soon got rid of them!

Expert Guidance

Around tea time the four of them decided to have a cup of tea before packing up for the day, so I got the primus going under Pottsy’s expert guidance and we had the final brew of the day. It was my job to take the mugs of tea along to the four of them. Wiggy stood up and then walked down to Pottsy and said in his refined posh voice "I say James, You make a damned fine mug of tea. How do you manage to make the water last so long? Pottsy replied, "I didn’t bring any bloody water with me, where do you think I have been getting it all day?" Shortly afterwards, they packed up and we set off home in the ashtray.

After that day, they all said what a good bloke I was and would I like to go with them again. I just replied, "I can’t, I am going trainspotting!"

Steve Richards, Perchfishers – 1999