My first fish was a small Rudd in Acklam Park Lake, Middlesbrough. I must have been 9 years old. My dad and I used to fish there on a weekly basis during the Coarse Season. Soon I was cycling 7 miles to the river Leven catching small dace and desperately (and occasionally succeeding) hoping to hook brown trout.
By the time I was 10, dad must have thought I was strong enough to cycle to the South Gare at the mouth of the Tees. It must have been August and we got there for dawn. I can still feel the aching legs, the warmth of the rising son and mounting excitement. Dad would secure the bikes and, even before assembling the rods, pour a cup of tea. On my very first trip, my very first cup of hot sweet tea poured from a flask. In my oil wool sweater from a Merchant Navy store, I felt very grown up. Dad put together a greenheart rod, Scarborough reel and a float baited with a piece of mackerel He cast out for me in the basin, told me to be careful and moved off to the block on the end of the Gare. Of course it was here that I caught my first sea fish, a mackerel. Just the one but I was hooked for life. However, the ride home was a nightmare. All those bridges on the Trunk road (A1085) and my bike had no gears.
I passed my 11+ and was promised a new bike, and hoped for a lightweight ‘racer’. However, my reward was a really heavy ‘sensible’ Raleigh! Fortunately, it did have gears. The next two years saw dad and I fish the Gare almost on a weekly basis. We would get there for low water, dig 100 lugworm, always placed in folds of damp hessian cloth and then fish either the river side or on the end depending upon the season.
Again at the Gare, I learnt respect for the sea. I suspect this will be familiar to many who fish breakwaters. High tide, but with no seemingly high swell. We were fishing the seaward side but not off the block at the end. I was walking back to the wall to rebait when I stopped and stood motionless watching the sea rolling along the deck. Dad shouted and swooped me into the air. Of course we lost the bag, the bait and the flask.
I must have been about 13 when dad got his first car. This opened up new marks to fish. Down to Greatham Creek to collect peelers and then fishing the creek for flatties. My mum would never eat them; black backed flatties never looked natural! Saltburn pier became one of our favourite spots. Shelter provided by the bandstand. However, with dad now working shifts he wasn’t always available for bait digging and lifts. A friend, John McGreevy, and I would catch the train from Middlesbrough and fish the pier all night with scraps of bait. Of course you had to fish the pier all night because you couldn’t get home until the first train in the morning! We would take it in turns to patrol the bandstand, asking the anglers who were leaving if they had any bait they were going to throw away. Over the next few years I caught a huge variety of fish from Saltburn: cod, whiting, pout, bream, billet, mackerel, scad, plaice, dabs, gurnard, and weever.
Having ditched the green heart rod and Scarborough reel I bought a glass beach caster and an Abu 7000. I’ve forgotten who told me about the Abu but I do remember that at the time it was regarded as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of reels. Dad was still using his split-cane rod and Scarborough reel. However, it became clear after a few sessions that I was outcasting and outfishing him. He was very reluctant to change and even more so to pay for an Abu. So he bought a Penn Sea Intrepid! Now if there exists a reel that will give you more ‘birds nests’ than the Intrepid it must be in another Universe. But he was so stubborn. The next few sessions were exercises in frozen fingers (mine!) attempting to untangle him. Eventually he got has Abu, mum bought him one as a Xmas present. By the next cod season (October) he also had bought a glass beachcaster. Mind, it took a few more seasons before he ditched his wire ‘paternosters’ and shark hooks.
Then came a 5 year leave of absence as I left Middlesbrough for University. Upon my return I was employed as an Operational Research analyst at Dorman Long. Through contacts I found myself fishing on a weekly basis in Ernie Fowler’s boat out of the Tees. By now bait digging was out and I used to pick up my bait from Angler’s Corner, Abingdon Road Middlesbrough and then on to Paddy’s hole. Ernie had a cabin where his brother was living and we would bring fresh food and drink. My very first trip was the stuff dreams are made of. Ernie took us to a mark, approximately four and a half miles out to where the slag from the steel works used to be dropped. I caught 27 haddock!
One trip in January resulted in tragedy. On arriving it was blowing real hard but Ernie said we would try it for a few hours. As we left Paddy’s hole, another boat followed us out and anchored with us not very far out. It was only an hour later when Ernie decided we had better return. On seeing us leave, the other boat decided to follow us in. As we made our way in, I would see the other boat intermittently as both boats rose and fell with the swell. However, after a few moments I could no longer see the other boat even when we were on the crest of the swell. Ernie confirmed and as he struggled to turn the boat round I fired off some flares. When we got back to where the other boat should have been, bits and pieces in the water and three men. It must have been a maximum of 15 minutes but the men were helpless. Ernie had to leave the tiller to help me haul them in. There was a fourth man missing. The pilot boat was the first boat to arrive and instructed us to take the men in and they would search for the missing man. We learnt later that the boat had developed engine problems and the man had been in the small cabin sounding the klaxon trying to attract our attention. The tragedy was we hadn’t heard the klaxon and as the boat had went down his leg was trapped in a rope and he went down with the boat.
Now dad and I were fishing Whitby East pier. I have some wonderful, wonderful memories of the pier. We used to park where the mussel shells had been deposited and (there must have been a lot less fishermen then) and could always get parked. Huge hauls of cod and some humorous moments. Dad had a bite and it was immediately obvious he was into something big. He was having to pump it in but remarked he couldn’t feel the typical head shake. He managed to pump it to the pier and asked me to hand line it up. I looked over the side, quietly moved to the bag and picked up a knife and cut his line. The air was blue! I merely took the torch and showed him the door floating out.
We also fished Port Mulgrave but the climb was a bit too much for dad. I was also renting a cottage along Broomhill, behind the Black Lion, Staithes. We fished the jetty and the gulley but again the walk was a bit too much for him. Later I rented the top two floors of the old Barclay’s bank. This was fishing heaven for me (and I’m sure led to my divorce), setting trats (long lines set from the shore), fishing and not having to drive. I used to buy sacks of mussels and like the cobblemen leave them in the river mouth (would you dare do that now?). On my first walk under the cliffs to Boulby (on the old ordinance survey maps it is known as Angling Wyke) to see if I could stay there over high water. I went early morning without waterproof leggings. Of course it poured down on the way back and below my waist I was absolutely sodden. Arriving back in Staithes, decision to be made, back to the cottage or the Black Lion. I walked in to the Black Lion with a roaring fire which was producing steam from my jeans. An angelic voice spoke “you look as if you could do with a bacon sandwich.” Bliss.
By the early 80’s I was fishing Sandsend Beach with John ‘Ossie’ Ayton from Guisborough. Second set of step, look at how the waves were breaking picking out the holes, 2 up hours 2 hours down, averaging 5 - 6 good cod each.
In 1984 I left the UK to teach at National University of Singapore and married Julie, Chinese from Malacca in Malaysia Then for nearly 20 years I was boat fishing again. I don’t want to upset you so I won’t list the fish species, suffice to say there was a huge variety and all with lures.
My final and fondest memory. For a few summers, Bob Graham and I had enjoyed a weeks holiday at Whiting Bay on the Isle of Arran. We took a gripe and it was like old times. Digging the lugworm was ridiculously easy and we would fish King Cross Point for cod and Black Rock in Whiting Bay for plaice (This was in the days before the sea bottom was scraped clean by boats trawling for scallops). After listening to tales of plate sized plaice, dad decides he will join us. Bob will stay at my place and dad will pick us up at about 1.00 in the morning and drive us to the ferry point. Bob and I decide to have few drinks in the Abbey. We had just got the second round in, approximately 10.00 pm when in walks dad! Suffice to say we attempted to stop at every Transport Cafe en route. We were still hours early. The disaster continued, non stop raining all week. I’d dig bait in the rain, dry off and fish in the rain. On the second day we were fishing from an hotel bar. At Lochranza there is a small jetty with a hotel. We baited up, cast out, placed the rods against the railings and hightailed it to the bar. It went downhill on the third day. Bob decided if he was going to get wet he might as well get proper wet and decided to walk to Lamlash. Drying off, in a hotel bar (naturally) he was asked if he would partake in a ‘wee half’. Bob said yes, discovered that a ‘wee half’ was half a beer and a shot of whisky. Bob’s new friend later put him in a taxi, paid the fare and sent him back to Whiting Bay. Dad had also decided to take the day off. I had decided to fish some marks on the Western side of the island. Big mistake, gales blowing in, lashing rain, no fish. Arriving back at the hotel about 5ish I found dad in friendly conversation. It turned out that dad and his new friend had been in the RAF together. They had followed Rommel across the top of Africa and then up through Italy. The rain didn’t improve, the fishing didn’t improve and Bob and I discovered Famous Grouse. On the last night, mindful of the need to catch the first ferry we decided to have a reasonable early night. We could hear boisterous laughter below from the bar. “Who the hell is that?” “John, I think it’s your dad.”
Well thank you for indulging me.