“Never bothered with the pond myself,” bumbled the Wing Commander through a mouthful of toast, as he stood by the range in the kitchen of Deepcroft Farm.
“Prefer Salmon fishing on the Teme myself. And a spot of shooting too. Have to keep the rabbits down and all that; and we get the occasional mink passing through as well. Shot one of the blighters only last week. My god, they can do some damage.”
Wing Commander Guy Morgan, retired, now mine host of a comfortable Bed and Breakfast near Tenbury Wells in Worcestershire, sipped a mug of tea and moved to clear our breakfast dishes from the huge oak kitchen table. He then passed them to his neatly coiffured wife, Gaynor, who had prepared a splendid full English breakfast for my wife, daughter, son and I.
“If you really want to try the pond you are welcome to do so, but I’m not sure you will be very successful.”
“What’s in it?” I queried inquisitively. The Wing Commander blew out his cheeks, fingered his bushy grey moustache, and cogitated for a few moments.
“Certainly little rudd and a few perch. Probably a tench or two as well.”
“Any carp? “I asked hopefully. The ex-RAF pilot paused for thought again, his eyebrows crinkling.
“Not that I know of.” But as he crossed the kitchen he remembered another species and spun on his axis. “Well, when I say there’s no carp, I mean big carp. There are little ones, gold-coloured things about the size of my hand.”
“Crucians?” I suggested helpfully. “Yes, that’s them, crucians. I do believe you are right Sir!”
Armed with this meagre information, my son Mark, then a mere 10 years old, and I decided to fish the farm pond that evening. Without the benefit of a convenient fishing tackle shop, I bought some white bread, corn, and luncheon meat in the village shop to supplement the worms I had dug in the compost heap at the rear of the farmhouse garden. After donning our Wellington boots and gathering the rods, creel, nets and two folding chairs we set off down the mud-splattered lane with high, neatly trimmed hedges that separated our route from the adjacent apple orchard.
At the end of the track a drooping metal gate, secured by orange rope, barred the way into a field full of cows. Climbing over, as instructed, we made our way across a field peppered with mighty Oaks, under the suspicious gaze of the cows, towards a wooded enclave that hid in its midst an exquisite, reed-fringed, pear-shaped, pond, no more than a third of an acre in size, seemingly choked with pondweed and some white water lilies at one end only.
At the other end, the bank had disintegrated into a muddy quagmire where the cows had come to the water’s edge to drink and churned the ground up with their hoofs. In between, there was sufficient room to fish though casting was challenging because of the overhanging branches. Because it was so sheltered, the surface was perfectly still, and slightly greasy with a film of algae suffusing the pool with a discernible green tinge – often a product of fertilizer being washing into the pond from surrounding fields. Just above the surface, a cloud of insects danced in a shaft of sunlight, their whirring wings creating a background humming noise that pervaded the silence. I prayed there weren’t mosquitoes. At least we could admire the dragonflies and variety of butterflies.
Enthused by the attraction of catching newts in his net, Mark, like all 10-year-old boys, was clearly impatient to get started but I managed to persuade him of the value of observation and its advantages when it came to select a swim. We crept around the peripheries watching the swifts and swallows skimming the surface to sweep up flies. Alongside the nearest cluster of lily heads there were unmistakable signs of fish bubbling just beneath the surface. Tearing some white bread from the sliced loaf I threw three small pieces to the lilies. Within a minute or two small fish were nudging the bread trying to break it up. Rudd! The upper layers were boiling with small fish the size, and colour, of gold sovereigns each tipped with crimson.
If there was a big carp or two in there – and the size of the pond would suggest that would be unlikely – I concluded surface fishing for them using crust would be fraught with frustration. My inclination was therefore to fish on the bottom and try and catch some little crucians and maybe a tench. The air heavy with the scent of apple blossom from the nearby orchard, we ignored the presence of the ever industrious bees, foraging amongst the bluebells and daffodils, and elected to fish where a small gap between overhanging branches allowed us to cast underarm left and right without too much hindrance. That said, I failed to consider the tangles that may ensue when striking upwards!
Before setting up a simple peacock waggler arrangement on both cane rods, with a size 16 hook tied to 2 lbs bottom, I plumbed up to find the bottom was fairly even and about 3 ft. 6 ins deep, and then mixed and moulded a couple of balls of soft, heavily scented, red ground bait laced with minuscule goodies. I bowled one ball each into our respective swims and watched as it fizzed turning the green-tinged water a cloudy vermilion colour. Mark chose to bait his hook with a single grain of corn while I carefully pinched a piece of flake around the hook ensuring the point was exposed.
I wondered when the pond was last fished, if at all. Perhaps it was indeed an authentic ‘virgin water’. Surely not, I concluded. Someone else staying at Deepcroft Farm must have availed themselves of it at some time previously. After positioning our yellow-tipped floats in the algae scum we had to wait all of ten minutes for the first bite, which I missed. Mark drew first blood with a little palm-sized crucian carp – his first-ever of the species – seconds later.
For a few seconds, his float had bobbled about in the middle of an effervescent cloudburst of infinitesimally small bubbles before finally dipping beneath the surface. With an expression of pure unadulterated joy, and wonder, that only catching a fish can bring to the face of a boy, Mark lifted a pristine specimen of maybe four ounces straight to hand for me to unhook. Like a cat that got the cream, his face beamed with delight and pride. “Can I have a photo Dad?” Who could refuse? At that point, I also explained some rudimentary rules on how to handle fish safely.
No sooner had I performed that unhooking than my own float vanished from view and I found myself connected to something that clearly had designs on reaching the sanctuary of the lily pads. As my Allcocks Aerial spun and the split cane tip of my much-loved Richard Walker Mark IV Avon rod shuddered and bent to take the strain, the fish was brought to heel just in time and within a minute a chunky, slime-covered, tench of around a pound and a bit joined the crucian in our shared keepnet. This was a good start. Next, Mark had a splendid roach of about ½ lbs and I responded soon after with another immaculate golden crucian of comparable size. As my son latched into another plump, flapping crucian that necessitated my assistance with the landing net, I could sense the challenge forming in his mind long before he uttered the words.
“Bet you a pound I catch more than you do Dad,” he said with an impish grin. “You’re on,” I replied in the full knowledge that if I won – and I couldn’t recall ever ‘defeating’ him in any contest – I would never get him to concede a penny of his pocket money. In such circumstances my son has shown himself to possess quite a determined and competitive streak – certainly more than I do.
He then caught a pristine tench of his own – it may only have been 12 ounces – but the beaming smile on his cherubic face told its own story of innocent delight and pride. Not for him the dismissive, and often disdainful, treatment the so-called specimen hunter sometimes affords a small tench when it has the temerity to snaffle a hair rigged boilie intended for a gargantuan carp.
There may not have been quality in such a small farm pond, but on the evidence of the first hour after tea there was certainly quantity in abundance. According to the impromptu scorecard on a scrap of paper, Mark was leading 23 fish to my 19 at the end of the first hour – most of them small crucian’s – but despite equally apportioned introductions of red groundbait, by 7 pm I had soared ahead by 44 fish to his 36. I had also captured the best crucian so far -probably all of 1¼ lbs and a nice perch on worm.
Sensing the frustration on my son’s face as the crucian bites became evermore tetchy and difficult to hit, I eased off as we headed past 8 pm, allowing him to catch up with several tiny golden rudd, after I reset his rig to sit shallower and baited with slivers of bread flake. As the warm August sun retired behind the lush tree cover casting a crimson glow across the pond, it suddenly felt chillier as the birds performed their nightly rendition of evensong.
On the far side of the pond, there was a huge splash amongst the white lilies, forcing the mallards and coots to scamper for cover. For a second, I thought a cow had fallen in, but then realised there must indeed be a big, or better stamp, carp in the pond – unless of course, the small tench had taken to synchronised summersaults…. With dusk rapidly descending we decided to finish for the night and tallied up the marks on the official scorecard. Mark had beaten me fair and square with 56 fish to my 51, so that was another pound I owed him. His cheeky face beamed with delight and a degree of cockiness. In the surrounding woods, an owl hooted. It was our cue to pack up.
After carefully releasing the contents of our joint keepnet we headed back across the field and up the muddy track to the farm in semi-darkness, just as my wife and daughter were starting to get concerned by our continued absence. Within half an hour of our return to the house, though my son was in bed and had drifted off into a contented sleep. “I love crucians Dad, they are so beautiful,” were his final, wearisome words as I tucked him in. No need for a chapter from Mr Crabtree goes fishing that night.
The following morning at breakfast Wing Commander Guy Morgan was at his guffawing, muddled best making an ‘officer’s mess’ of the fried eggs. “Well, did you catch anything in the pond last night? “Yes, it was brilliant,” chirped up my son enthusiastically. “I beat Dad by 56 fish to 51 and he owes me a pound now!”
“Oh really? Didn’t know there was that many fish in the damn pond. I was going to fill it in last year,” he blustered in his affected accent adding, “So pleased you had a good evenings fishing.
“Oh, and were there any crucians?” Before Mark could reply I jumped in. “More than enough to send him to sleep dreaming of ‘Crucians at Bedtime.’
This sample chapter gave “ Crucians at bedtime” its title. If you enjoyed it, the 224-page softback, published in 2018 by Vivlia, can be obtained through AMAZON for £7.99 plus p&p. Written over 25 years ago, I believe that story encapsulates the joy we experience as anglers, and fathers when we take our offspring’s pond fishing for the first time.
Thomas Moran was born in 1948 in Penang, British Malaya. He was the son and namesake of a British serviceman, while his mother, Clara Montano, was Filipino. At the age of two, he was sent to England to live with his grandmother in Southport, Merseyside. As a boy, he had a deep fascination with the natural world and had a particular interest in all things aquatic.
He was a very creative person and he needed a medium in which to pour his creativity. Very literally, rod making was the answer to his desperate plea for something meaningful. In his twenties and staying at a holiday cottage in the Lake District, he happened upon a couple of old Hardy cane rods… and that was it; the bamboo spoke to him.
His son said he LIVED rod making. When he wasn’t grafting, he was innovating – it was 7 days a week, including Christmas, honing his craft and paying his dues. The real crucible was the finishing; he lived anywhere between the sheer elation of getting it right, and the absolute dejection of a varnishing process gone wrong. Such was his obsession he made a special room in his house a room- barely the size of a closet. He cut holes in the floor to accommodate the dip tanks, which protruded down through the kitchen ceiling below. The zen art of “Bamboodo” exacted total commitment.
By the mid 1980′s his rods were starting to become famous – people from all over the world began showing up at his house to talk rods. Japanese, Dutch, Americans – people who would usually have no business on a Redditch council estate, all came to talk to Tom who used to give away hard fought rod-making advice freely and without a second thought; such was his generosity and enthusiasm for the craft. At this time he also did work for Alan Bramley managing Director of Partridge Hooks who had a business in Redditch and this increased his fame.
My first knowledge of Tom came about in 1987. I had just joined the Pickering Angling Association in North Yorkshire. Pickering Beck and the other Club waters are small streams with much tree cover. A short rod is essential and I resolved to buy one.
At the end of 1987 I was privileged to travel down with a group of Yorkshire men headed by Mike Mee to fish the annual Grayling match against members of the Piscatorial Society.
Tradition dictated that at the end of the match on the Saturday night Yorkshire members and invited guests would have a dinner at the hotel where we were staying.
On that evening I happened to be seated between Oliver Edwards and Hans Weilenmann a Dutch fly-casting champion. During the course of the evening, discussion turned to the question of which rod I should buy for fishing at Pickering on their small rivers.
I asked for their opinions about all the top rods –should I get a Sage, Hardy’s, or Orvis rod? After a period of reflection Hans said “Buy a Tom Moran rod.” I at that time had not heard of that rod and my initial reaction was to say ”Who is he?”
Hans went on to explain that Tom was one of the world’s greatest rod builders and would “make a rod to measure” with two tops.
He explained it was a split cane rod with a fast action, 7.6 feet long and ideal for such waters. I asked him why he would choose such a rod and he told me on a cold winters night when it was snowing he would often get out the rod to admire it, and think of a warm summers evening with rising fish.
He told me he never did this with his carbon fibre rods. That was a recommendation!
At this point Oliver Edwards interrupted the conversation and added that that it was THE rod to buy and he would let me have details as he had seen them at the Gamefair and tried one. They cast perfectly. Such a recommendation from two top anglers was enough for me and I firmly resolved to buy one.
A few weeks later when Oliver had provided the phone number I rang Tom and we had a discussion about the rods.
I settled on the following Rod:
Bamboo split not sawn, nodes arranged in an alternating spiral 1,5,3,6,2,4.
Colour very light Mahogany
Action Fast progressive
Ferrules own design 18% nickel silver
Snake guides with carbide stripper ring
Windings Transparent “White Sand” silk at grip winding check snake guides and tip top. Transparent “Copper silk at ferrules. Edge tyings only at grip winding check ferrules and tip tops
Finish Marine dip varnish
Two tops with rod bag and heavy duty aluminium tube with brass caps.
There was a further discussion about the reel seats. Tom had a friend in the USA who made stocks for guns and as a by-product and he had off cuts in rare woods. We settled on American Black walnut as the reel seat.
A few months later the rod arrived and it has been my pride and joy ever since.
Why was Tom such a great rod maker?
Well with the rod was a note about the construction of the Rod which reads as follows:
“Of the first importance is the stability of the bamboo section, a resilience achieved by selection of bamboo poles with suitable fibre density and fixing the moisture content through controlled heat treatment and heat cured resin adhesive process, and by the same means obtaining optimum stiffness.
Prior to bevelling nodes are heat straightened and filed flush and the split strips are lightly hand scraped to remove the outer enamel only. Special care being taken not to remove any of the out of power fibres
To accurately cut the six strips identically to the required compound taper the devil has a 5 inch taper control schools along the length of the bed in much the same manner as a Garrison planeing former but working vertically and under specially designed HSS milling cutters.
Cutting is performed in a three-part process of reduction so that in the final cut strips are very flexible and conform accurately with the tapering former bed.
In lamination on the heat curing melamine-urea-formaldehyde adhesive is used which gives the section on indestructible bond. Glue lines are critically inspected and any which are not 100% perfect are destroyed.
The rod finish is the result of exhaustive experiment over many years and I believe the quality is amongst the very few critically fine finishes in the world.
The actions are being developed to produce a balance of casting efficiency and delicacy of presentation- ability to cast a narrow loop with fast dampening for line control accuracy, with fine tips to cushion takes with light leader tippets.
Rods are individually registered with the customer.
My Rod I have since learned was stored, split, milled and glued at what was known as “the rat pit” at that time – a miserably gloomy rented space in Redditch town centre. It was barely lit, damp and only a Health and Safety visit away from being shut down. From these inauspicious beginnings the blanks would then come back to his house, a three-bedroom terrace on one of Redditch’s new council estates. They were finished upstairs in a converted bedroom complete with a lathe. The Rod Bags were sewed together by his wife.
I lost touch with Tom over the years as in 1992 they moved to America where Tom worked with long-time influence and brother from another mother, Tom Dorsey. Emigrating to the States with its great fishing fulfilled a life’s dream for him, but the family moved back to the UK in ’95. Tough times lay ahead and he had to lean on a lot of good friends in those days. Life was not easy as commercial success didn’t really come to Tom but he was never in it for the money a self-confessed terrible businessman. In 2005 I again got in touch with him in the UK. The rings on the rod had worn and he overhauled the rod fitting new rings and re-varnishing it. It looked like new on its return!
However in a funny way his career book-ended perfectly when he joined Hardys of Alnwick, the home of the rods that first sparked his interest in fly fishing, all those years ago. His firm ‘Tom Moran Rod Co’ was passed to Callum Gladstone; a fine rod maker in his own right, and who was held by Tom in the highest esteem.
I never met Tom and only spoke to him on the phone. In June 2014 I went to Alnwick on holiday and I called at Hardy’s Factory and asked to see him. I was informed he had died of cancer some three weeks before.
I was very sad not to have met him but his rod remains with me-a tribute to a great man and a master rod builder.
As was usual in my early career I was a’ fishing alone with my two companions, anticipation and expectation. Perhaps sometime during the morning the third member, excitement, just might put in an appearance. But as the following will show the events of the day will follow me around for decades. They will haunt my memories, question my beliefs and combine in the slow development of the “noble art of the piscator”. So, let the journey unfold and may my fellow travellers who accompany me feel that the journey has been worthwhile.
The low cloud and the mist combined into a velvet cloak of fine drizzle made for a very damp and uncomfortable start to my fishing day. Visibility was poor and with little wind to move the weather system I was still hopeful and expecting some success. As I walked through the dark, dripping wood and on to and along the dam wall a slalom course had been set by the bedraggled “woolly backs” as they lay seemingly immobile as if transfixed to their own parcel of dry ground. Winding my way through the rounded sheep mounds I came to the inlet of the reservoir where I had decided to fish. Both my basket and holdall were wet, I was wet and the whole damn place was swathed within a wilderness of wet. Crossing the stream, I assembled my rod at a favourite swim and noted that the far bank was barely discernible. I could not make out the difference between the horizon of the high ground and the sky. This was a grey misty heavy watery landscape. Seeking shelter beneath my dripping umbrella I tried to concentrate on the red tipped quill float. I was used to fishing alone and with my angling adventures only just beginning I was determined to stick it out despite the atrocious conditions.
I soon became aware of the sound of coughing, a deep throated and persistent rasping cough which seemed to come from the top of the far bank. Could this really be a person or was it the guttural tones of a sheep who had succumbed to the cold and the damp? At one point I did think it was the sound of a car’s engine being brought to life with a starting handle, after all this was the 1950’s! The sound was most disturbing and continued for some time until the cloak of mist partially separated and atop the far bank was a rounded shape. Not a sheep but a man crouched, low on his haunches and close to the ground with his head in his hands and the fearful cough emanating from deep within.
This was someone I had not seen before. Why was he out in this weather when his condition surely suggested he should be at home? As the mist became further diluted his features became clearer. Here was a large powerfully built man, thick-set with a closely shaven head on broad shoulders, but huddled up and obviously in some distress. He squatted on his haunches his head bent in his hands as in prayer. After another bout of coughing he looked up across at me and waved. Unsure if I had seen him, I replied in a similar manner. Still no movement from my float, a change of bait and moving my bottom shot away from the hook to allow a slower descent I hoped for a reaction. After another fitful round of consumptive coughing, the man slowly rose and with a parting wave walked over the top of the high bank and disappeared from sight.
The session continued slowly with only a few small brightly striped Perch and a single Roach to show for my discomfort. Anticipation and expectation had long disappeared and excitement failed to appear and I packed and walked over the bank and retraced my footsteps across and around the obstacles on the dam wall. This encounter although brief occupied my thoughts for some time as I made my way home. With so many unanswered questions whirling around in my mind, I vowed to return to this venue and hopefully to learn more. After a couple of visits when he failed to materialise, I began to think I would never see him again. However, the next time I was late in setting off from home and arrived on the dam wall to see, on top of the bank, his distinctive rounded posture. He was here and I had to pass directly in front of his crouching body. As I approached, the coughing returned and the closer I found myself the more I could hear the gasping, clawing for his search for breath.
“Hello, I thought you might be fishing today.” He spoke slowly in a low voice because of his constant struggles for breath.
My reply was slow in coming for I was transfixed by his appearance. His pallor was washed-out, pale and pallid, his skin was smooth although it was clear he had numerous scars around his eyes and cheeks and his closely cropped hair revealed further mended wounds on his skull. His hands were large yet uncommonly soft looking, not what I expected from a person who looked ideally built for heavy manual work. I could see from the tell tail wisp of blue smoke that he was trying to conceal a cigarette in his partially closed hand. On seeing me observe the curling smoke he commented.
“I have been told I must stop smoking but after so long I cannot. Maybe it will not make much difference?”
All these outward signs gave me the impression of an institutionalised prisoner or at least a successful pugilist who was now past his best.
We talked for a few minutes mainly about being free, in the open air where his breathing was easier. He became quite animated and excited when a swallow flew low across and in front of us.
“There, he is alive and free, not caged or trapped but able to do as he wished, to fly and to soar and to go wherever and whenever, by himself or with others.” Turning to me he said how fortunate I was to be able to wander, to go fishing and to see and observe the natural world.
“You see where I have been for very many years, I could not make a decision, I had to do as I was told, and when, and I saw very little of the sky and the changing weather. I was alone for much of the time and longed to be outside to feel the wind and rain on my face, to walk, to roam and to be, to see and to do things. They have now given me back my freedom. I must enjoy what time I have left.”
“Have you heard of “Strangeways”?”
My heart sank as my brain was jolted. I knew that I was in the company of an “Abel Magwitch” for “Strangeways” was the feared and uncompromising prison in Manchester. My mind flashed to the type of crime he committed, the length of his sentence and why he was released. Had he completed his sentence or had his deteriorating health played a factor?
During this period of my teenage years, my parents used to take me to the pictures every Saturday night in the local cinema, the “Picturedrome” in Water Street. This cinema had a dubious reputation as a “flea pit” and where a polite request for “two tickets and a mallet” resulted in my immediate expulsion to the street outside. Having seen that fine David Lean (1946) black and white film, “Great Expectations” with the opening scenes of the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, I felt a chill and a sharp clarity entered my mind. For crouched before me was the morose character who was the spitting image of actor Finlay Currie alias Abel.
“You best be getting across the stream and start fishing,” and with that I was somewhat relieved to hasten away. As the time went by, he rose to his full height and walked slowly across the dam wall. I could hear his breathing and the occasional cough, and then he returned to squat in his usual position.
The vibration emanating from and through my rod jolted me from my thoughts and on picking up the rod realised I had hooked a good fish. Being busy playing and finally netting the fish, a nice Trench, verdant green and with a red-eye, I did not see the arrival of “Abel” to my side. Being a member of the Angling Times Kingfisher Guild I always carried a specimen form just in case I succeeded in qualifying for a treasured certificate. This was an ambition to get the Bernard Venables designed black and white certificate signed by angling’s great and good. Having checked the minimum weight for Tench caught in the northern regions I had to weigh the fish, fill in the form and have it signed by a witness.
The weighing went well with the Tench simply resting in the net. “Abel” asked if he could release the fish and it was at this juncture that another side of his character emerged. He wet his huge hands and gently lifted the fish from the folds of the net and slowly lowered it into the shallows. With open hands the fish remained relaxed and did not appear overly concerned. Slowly its gills began to move and eventually it swam off into deeper water. I looked at “Abel’s” face and thought I detected a tear, there was certainly a tearful expression.
“That was something very special for me, thank you. I have seen nature and felt a living fish which I released, I gave it its freedom to go and swim wherever it pleases. It is no longer trapped, caged and confined and you allowed me to play a part.”
With the weight of the net taken from the whole, the Tench did meet the necessary requirements for me to submit the form for a certificate. “Abel” as my witness signed his name. It was Franklin D Jones and now I had a name to the face.
During the remainder of the summer, I saw him quite often and we talked. Invariably he would observe the wildlife, especially the Swallows, the screaming Swifts and the busy Sparrows and all the other free-flying birds. He was emotional when commenting on the space and time they could enjoy, their freedoms and vitality for life. His breathing and his coughing gradually became more difficult and unpleasant for me to witness. After one particular bout his face became ruddy and the veins on his forehead bulged a dark red. I thought he might pass out. What would I be able to do? Gradually he revived and recovered somewhat and just sat on the ground for a while.
Autumn was now approaching and the departing Swallows darkened his mood, he became morose and quiet. By now he sat closer to me and watched with great interest my antics with rod and line. I think it was in early October that whilst I was bringing into the hand a small roach that a pike swirled from beneath my feet in an attempt to secure an easy lunch. The pike shot off into the deeper water and as my reel screamed and the rod bent Franklin came to my side and took hold of the landing net.
“You’ll need a hand with that.”
But the pike had other ideas and after a further strong run for freedom seemed just to release the roach and was gone. The small roach was still lip hooked when I reeled in but was clearly dead.
“We didn’t really see the fish and now it is off to swim forever.”
“Not necessarily.” I said.
Setting up a stronger rod and using a single treble hook to twisted wire I lip hooked the dead roach intending to fish sink and draw. No sooner had I cast it out that it was taken by a seemingly even larger pike which retreated into the depths. It did feel that it was well hooked and I began to play it, letting it take line and run and then gradually retrieving line. It was late in the day and light was failing and by now I was tiring. Run after run occurred, many minutes passed and the fish was still very strong and not tiring. Franklin was by now at my side, brandishing the net, watching my every move and totally engrossed in the unfolding situation.
“If only we could see it, to look at its size and if possible, to hold it in the water for a moment before giving it back it’s freedom.”
Light, by now, was almost gone when I finally managed to bring it to the surface. Even in the fading light, we could see it was huge, of unknown weight and proportions and my net was utterly useless. The bank was too steep, the water too deep to beach it and there it lay on the top of the water. As I brought it closer to the side, I noticed that it was lightly hooked on the side of its jaw. Franklin reached far out and touched the great fish whereupon it shook its head and the hook fell out. From laying on its side, it slowly came upright and stayed there for us to take in its full majesty. Even in what was the last of the fast-fading light we realised here was a magnificent creature who was in the prime of life. It was now free to go, to follow its own path through life. I cannot recall how long it stayed there but we both drank heavily of the experience before with a powerful flick of the tail it disappeared from view.
I turned to Franklin, who by now was on the point of shedding a tear. He spoke of how disappointed I must be not to hold such a creature. Part of me was and part of me was not. Since then I have not caught or even seen a larger or a healthier-looking Pike.
“We saw that fish; it must have been wanting to show itself or it would have gone as soon as it was free. I am pleased that we both saw it and given it its freedom. That is all we can ask, to let it go and live, to be free and to follow in life’s current.”
Having shared another experience, I packed up and together we walked along the bank, across the stream and up the track to the top of the rise. By now Franklin’s breathing was laboured, he was struggling with every footstep. At the top I turned to the left and the path home through the wood, he turned right to make his way home. We parted and I felt that this might be the last time we would meet.
As the autumnal colours gave way to the winter greys and whites and with the passing of weeks and months my angling sessions became less frequent. The next season I still hoped that I would meet up with the gentle giant that was Franklin. But I never saw him again. How I wished I had been bold enough to ask those awkward questions. I presume that the reason for his release from “Strangeways” was that he was very ill and did not have much time left. Perhaps the inclement winter weather finally took its toll and maybe he passed away. Perhaps he recovered sufficiently to start his life again in a different location. For me the angling bug had taken over and I still go a’angling but I will never forget those few joint memories and experiences which took place during one summer over fifty years ago.
The collective memories from one summer over fifty years ago helped to develop my angling philosophy. I learnt much from Franklin especially his views about freedom. “Freedom” is glorious, it is the ability to follow a journey through life at a speed that an individual may choose. To make decisions and to take responsibility, to seek and to aim high but above all to express oneself in any chosen activity. Angling, for me, is so much more than simply the catching of a fish. It is way of life, observing the landscape and the environment, the changing seasons and the annual return of migrating birds. It is the immediate careful release of a caught fish, no keepnets. Look at it closely, handle it with care and allow for recovery before the release. For this I thank Franklin D Jones alias “Abel Magwitch”.
With some time to spare, I’m filling it by building rods and getting my gear into shape. When I can fish again, I’ll have no excuse not to be ready!
I grew up in the 1970’s and as I couldn’t afford ready-made rods, I used to buy them in kit form, which was popular back in the day. Most of mine came from Terry Eustace.
These days, I have a large collection of Terry-built rods, but I still have to satisfy the rod-building bug and regularly buy old rods and refurbish them. The difficult part is acquiring the old matching rings and fittings.
My style of build has been strongly influenced by Terry’s with a thin, flat finish to the whippings that I prefer to the modern rods with their cheap and ugly looking blobs of thick epoxy. Also, I like glass rods. They don’t cast as well as carbon, but they make better shock absorbers for playing fish and you get less hook-pulls. With carp rods in particular, the good glass rods often weigh less than modern carbons. You can use smaller hooks and finer lines and they have the action to easily stop and turn a fish away from snags.
The rod in the picture I bought about a year ago. It’s a Conoflex glass blank, a 3-piece coarse rod with a short handle section. It has a very soft action, similar to TE’s “Soft Special” and may even be the same spec blank in 3-piece form, with a test curve of about 8oz.
It came to me as a poor quality home-build, so I stripped it and rebuilt it in the Eustace style. I’ve just finished turning the handle, which be fitted with a black plastic butt cap. The rings, obsolete luminous Fuji’s, are already whipped on and sealed. A few coats of gloss varnish followed by matt and it’ll be ready by mid-June.
My next projects are a Normark blank carbon match rod that I bought for just £10 and a brown glass Conoflex blank ex-kit rod with an interesting action, which I suspect is a TE “Spec Nine”.
Best wishes and keep safe.
We may be in lockdown, but there are memories which angling Gives us which we cherish all our lives.
It was early in the 2016 season when I visited Stockton Reservoir in Warwickshire, and I’d decided to christen lots of new (to me) tackle … targeting the crucian/tench with my Hardy’s ‘Sheffield Surestrike’ with my ‘Perfection Roach’ centrepin, and a waggler float specially created for me by a good friend.
I also intended to pair my Precision Rods “R. Sealey’s Lightweight’ with my Hardy Altex No. 1 Mk. 5, and another waggler float from the same chum … fishing very shallow ‘on the drop’ when the heat of the day built.
Eagerly anticipating either tench or crucian I cast … and cast … and cast … and changed baits from worm (scoured in fennel, of course !!!), to corn, to maggot, to luncheon meat, all to no avail other than a couple of very tentative bites which I missed !!!
Noon approached, and a small unexpected shower started … then stopped as suddenly as it had started … and it was at this point I decided to change tactics to the lightweight stuff.
Spraying maggots in and casting into the area in front of my swim I immediately had success … and lived up to my reputation of “Tiddler Snatcher” by catching 4 small roach/bream hybrids and a rudd … only two of which warranted the net and only one a photo … to commemorate success on the new tackle.
The afternoon wore on as I returned in search of crucian/tench … and I decided to go lighter in tackle … down from a 4lb. hook link and a size 14 hook … to a 3lb. hook link with a size 16 hook.
Nothing … nada … zilch … and I was getting prepared to accept the tiddlers I had caught earlier as the total of my days haul.
As the clock ticked to 4.30pm I cast again … a fresh worm on the 16 … and watched … and watched … and then …
The float slid oh so slowly beneath the surface … so slowly that I thought the hook had snagged on something, and the slight undertow was causing it.
I struck anyway … and thought ‘Oh bother, it is a snag” as I met with rock-like resistance and no movement. THEN …..
The line started to kite slowly, ponderously to my right … gaining pace … making for the bank of reeds that separated me from my next-door swim.
“This is one hell of a tench” I thought and, conscious of my rod and the 3lb. hook length, I tried to exert some pressure … to no avail. Whatever it was lurched into the reeds, and I accepted that I had lost it.
BUT … for maybe 6 or 7 minutes I waited releasing then applying a gentle pressure … until whatever I had moved out into open water, hugging the bottom … but with a few of the reeds it had wrapped the line around still attached to the float. I was still convinced that I would lose it … whatever it was … but called for my nearest companion … a chum who left his swim to offer some assistance on the net should I need it.
He came at once.
Remember … this was on a ‘Sheffield Style’ rod … designed for roach and bream on fenland drains … and the curve that was beginning to be put in it convinced me that it would give way in no time !!
My chum had a brief glimpse of the quarry as it rolled on the surface, and with a look over his shoulder announced to the growing crowd … “It’s a carp !”
There followed quite some time of a revolving carp … sometimes just swimming in circles … sometimes making a rush to the left or right or for open water … but each time I held it with the gentlest pressure I dared … still convinced that either the rod or the line would break.
By now, nearly 25 minutes had passed since I struck … and I hate to say it but the longer the fight went on the longer my thoughts changed from “I’m going to lose this” to “I REALLY want this !!!”
Then my heart sunk as my chum caught another glimpse and announced ‘it’s a 14 or 15 !’
A few minutes more and my heart both sank and soared as he exclaimed “It’s a 20 !!!” … and by this time I realised I was beginning to win the battle.
My net man did his job to perfection with cool aplomb, and slipped the net beneath the fish as I drew it gingerly to him.
As soon as it was ashore it was weighed in the net. I couldn’t bear to look … but my ghillie announced “29 and 3/4 pounds.” Then turning to the assembled crowd, which by now included a bemused local angler, he asked “Everyone agree ?” There was agreement all round.
After a few very quick photographs the fish was released back into his lake to fight another day … and the net was weighed to give the final weight. The net was 14.4oz … so the fish weighed in at 28lb. 13.6oz. (ok … I’m a pedant !!!) Needless to say … a PB !!!
It seems it took nearly 40 minutes of easing and teasing for me to bring the fish to the net … but now it all seems like a blur !!!
Sad to say … the rod never recovered from the experience … the tip cane fibres being damaged … and it has been ‘honourably retired,” along with the float, the hook length and the hook … prized possessions in my little collection of wonderful tackle.