Following the capture of my first fish, a bleak from the Lee Navigation at age 4, my early fishing life was a somewhat contrasting mix of club match fishing and a more basic, traditional, schoolboy's journey, visiting the surrounding waterways with the lads from my street. It was the club fishing that really defined the sort of angler I became, so it is the very start of that part of my upbringing that I'll be focusing on here.
My dad was a member of the Waverley Angling Society; a club with a small but talented membership, and quite a rich history. I believe that they once had the fishing rights to the famous Fisher's Green stretch of the River Lee, long before either of us were on their books. By the time we joined, the society had none of its own waters, but was affiliated to the Lee Angler's Consortium (LAC), London Angler's Association (LAA) and was part of a syndicate of clubs which could fish the woodland lake on the Forty Hall estate; a wonderful carp fishery, the like of which I have not encountered since those days of living in North London.
I remember the palpable excitement whenever my dad returned home from a Waverley outing, even before I understood that when he spoke of pounds, he was not referring at all to money. I was about 7 when he decided that the time was finally right for me to join him to fish a club match. I don't think that the venue for this particular match was the basis for his decision, as the Hertford Union Canal at Victoria Park was hardly the epitome of paradise. I recall well, the angler on the end peg retrieving no fewer than seventeen carrier bags from his swim throughout the day. Little did it matter to me though, as I had been told that there were tench in the stretch, and I'd yet to see one in the flesh.
No tench came my, or anybody else's, way that day, but I did land my first eel on an elasticated whip that I fished at four or five metres for the entirety of the match. Combined with two small perch, my offering to the scalesman was a paltry, but very satisfying, six ounces. I don't recall what fish anyone else had. I guess that I would have had to have stayed close by my dad whilst the weigh-in took place, as he no doubt had to do the majority of the packing away. It is only now that I appreciate what an almighty pain in the arse it must have been for him to have me sat right next to him every trip during those early days, and having to set up and pack away two lots of gear must have been tiresome, but I can honestly say that I never recall him bemoaning this situation even once, although I know I did get the odd clip round the ear when I whinged about things not going my way!
That match at Vicky Park was actually my second outing with dad to a club match. The first was to the lily-lined River Beult in Kent, another venue reputed to hold a viable stock of tench. I believe some were caught on this occasion, but again, I did not witness them.
I was supposed to be watching and not fishing, but dad temporarily handed me the pole whilst he rummaged through his box for a plummet or some such small item of tackle. A dip on the float and an instinctive strike resulted in a vast and unfamiliar quantity of pole elastic streaming from the tip. I managed to bring the fish under control and towards the net which dad had waiting. A 1lb 2oz pike was the result - probably my biggest fish ever at the time - which baffled me, as I had been told that pike didn't eat maggots. Unfortunately for dad, it weighed more on its own than his collection of half-ounce chublets and he was also to endure a painful moment after snagging a bankside tree. Whilst pulling for a break, the line snapped below the float and the sudden retraction of the elastic propelled the whole lot back at him at such speed that the pole float bristle went into his finger and straight out the other side. A dramatic day on the bank indeed; my first pike and a gory incident. I probably couldn't wait to get home and tell mum.
In those days we would often fish on after the club match had finished, such was our mutual enthusiasm. I rarely slept well before a fishing trip, even though I caught a fraction of what I do now, and I sleep like a log these days. It saddens me slightly to think that, as much as I still love my fishing, I will never get that same thrill or sense of adventure again. Perhaps this series of Backwinding posts can help me recapture that perspective. At the very least it is reassuring to know that some of these early memories are still residing, with such vividity and detail, in the still accessible recesses of my brain.