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Steve Walker


Looks like NickInTheNorth has set a precedent for biography so I suppose I'd better join in.


I was born in 1973 in what is now Tameside General but was then Ashton hospital. From what used to be the maternity unit you can see the feeder stream for the park lake where I was later to spend many happy days (indeed, we spent a few happy days handlining two inch roach out of the stream!). I grew up around the area, Dukinfield, Audenshaw, Stalybridge, Hyde (I think my mother must have Gypsy blood to move house so often) and started fishing at around the age of seven.


In the last couple of years of primary school I got together with some fishing friends and we started to explore the local area on our own. Our haunts were the Peak Forest canal, Oldhams' Pond, and later the Stamford Park lakes within sight of my birthplace. There was also the duck pond in the park in which fishing was forbidden, and where huge roach grew fat on crusts of white sliced. The park keeper chased us away from there on more than one occasion, but not before we'd broken our personal records!


Later on, most of us went to the same secondary school. We joined some local clubs and explored further; Compstall Water, the Etherow, club matches on the Dane, the occasional outing to the Trent or to Rudyard Lake or Elton reservoir. We started fishing the club matches regularly, between us even won a few.


After school, I left Manchester for an Aquatic Biology degree in Aberystwyth. One thing I had overlooked when deciding where to go was the quality of coarse fishing; in that area, there wasn't much. For the first year or two I lived in halls and then in lodgings on the sea front, so it made sense to get myself some sea fishing gear. A cheap beachcaster and tackle was purchased, and I was on the road to catching more lesser spotted dogfish than you can shake a frozen mackerel at. Winter brought whiting and Summer brought mackerel, but it wasn't until a friend demonstrated the cunning ploy of freelining peeler crab in the rock gullies that I found bass. I never did catch one big enough to eat, but the excitement never faded. I once hooked something in one of those gullies which put an impressive bend in my old carp rod as it powered off in the general direction of Ireland. My heart says "huge bass", but my head says "strap conger".


After graduation I got a job at the university working as a research assistant. The project was surveying the distribution of 0-group bass and mullet in the Welsh estuaries, and my role was to help with the sampling and to work on age determination from otoliths. The best parts of the job were seine netting estuarine pools and taking home prawns, shrimps and samphire from one of the most hauntingly beautiful coastlines in the country. The worst part was the laborious preparation of otoliths for microscopic examination, grinding them on a glass plate with finer and finer abrasive pastes. Still, otoliths were fascinating. They are small structures of calcium carbonate and protein found in the inner ears of fish. They are built up in alternating layers of protein rich and protein poor material, one of each per day. On an old fish, you can look at them under low magnification and see annual rings of slow and fast growth, like the rings in a tree trunk. On a tiny 0-group otolith, with a powerful microscope, you can count the days the fish has lived.


I got interested in what other information was encoded in those little white lumps. There were papers showing that certain traumatic events left a visible and chemically distinct record in the series of rings. The Freshwater Biological Association were advertising a studentship and inviting research proposals, so I applied to study the effects of physiological stress in otoliths. I was accepted and moved from Aberystwyth to the FBA's headquarters in Windermere. I spent three years conducting research into the effects of environment on otolith deposition. During that time I met some great people and got back into coarse fishing and fished a few of the lakes and tarns. At the end of the three years my research was done but my thesis was incomplete. The outgoing director's informal offer of a funding extension to finish writing up was reneged upon by the new director, so I moved back in with my parents in Manchester and got a job.


Over the next couple of years I moved into IT and ended up working as a programmer in Wiltshire. Working full time and writing up a thesis are not very compatible objectives, but I was running out of time. I used up some holiday, worked some late nights, and with some guidance from Bob Wootton at Aberystwyth, got my PhD. By that time, I had a good job paying a salary somewhat higher than I would get as a postdoc scientist and a mortgage which required all of it. I turned my back on fisheries science. I have some regrets about that, the biggest of which is that I never published my work. It's probably all old hat now, but it wasn't then. On the other hand, studying for a PhD in a research institute shows up the scientific workplace warts and all, and compared to other places I've worked there's at least as much politics, more stress and less money.


So, a few years down the line, I'm still in Wiltshire, now working as the sole IT person for a small dotcom. I got married last year and live with my wife and three cats (I don't like cats, as my wife reminds me every time she catches me talking to them and making a fuss of them). We want a dog, but don't really have room. Neither of us are keen on the idea of kids. I still see some of the old crowd from school very occasionally, it's nice that we only have to pick up a rod and it's like old times again. I've managed to recruit a good friend into the gentle art, and we've had a Winter of fairly dire beach fishing and a Summer of not bad tenching. I didn't get round to tracking down any mythical Upper Thames barbel, but the Winter chub beckon, and the late season species should be arriving on the beaches soon.





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