I had better start off by saying that I have never had any success as an angler, and probably that is a term I shouldn’t use when describing myself. My earliest experiences were at Roundhay Park little lake, where my older brother and I would have nets fixed on long cane poles. The nets were a green mesh and we would trawl along the edge of the lake seeing what we could discover lurking in the olive green depths. Usually the results were weed and little else, but occasionally we would discover minnows and the odd stickleback. We would be equipped with the obligatory jam jar so that we could fill it with water from the lake and we could keep our prizes. Understanding of the environment was very different in the late 1950s early 60s and no one ever suggested that it was wrong. We would keep one or two of the fish we caught and took them back to our house. Unfortunately these beautiful, tiny creatures had about the same life expectancy as the goldfish from the fairs and would not live beyond a day or two. Of course, we were not the only children doing this and the accumulative effect would have been great.
The same occurred with frog spawn. Children collected it and often took it home. We placed the spawn in an empty goldfish tank and after a few days we saw the spawn hatch and the tadpoles appear. There were large numbers of these tiny black creatures swimming in the tank. Over time the numbers decreased as some got bigger and we realised they were eating the others. Back legs developed and they got bigger still, and of course, the numbers decreased even further. Finally we were left with froglets and dad took us to Hetchel woods where we put them back into the dam to give them a chance. Today the collecting of spawn is banned and for good reason, as frog numbers are becoming endangered.
Our early experience with fishing did not put us off and developed to the next level when we were both bought fishing rods. I am not sure if they were Christmas presents, but if they were I only ever remember going fishing when the weather was good. The rods were nothing like the carbon-fibre models of today, with fabulous spinning reels. No, these were cane and made of three pieces that fitted together with metal joiners. The eyelets were bare metal thread spliced onto the cane and the reel was a very basic round wheel with a handle. Even so, we were delighted. Dad took us on our first outing and we went to Collingham on the River Wharfe near Wetherby. Prior to going we went to purchase a coarse fishing licence. Now, we had a couple of licences over our angling career, one from Frew’s sports shop in Harehills and another from a newsagent’s where Easterly Road becomes Wetherby Road at the bottom of Wellington Hill. My dad also bought maggots and my brother and I were fascinated by the crawling mass of grubs.
We arrived at Collingham and after a walk along the riverbank we found a spot that my father seemed to think would be a good place. We put the rods together and dad showed us how to thread the line, tie a hook, add floats and then lead balls as sinkers. The next bit was the one I hated and that was putting maggots on the hooks. The poor creatures just writhed in the box and I really didn’t want to touch them. They had a strange smell and were like something out of a nightmare. Dad took one out and pierced it with the hook and then did a second one. It was horrible! They may not be much in the animal chain, but it seemed wrong to inflict pain on them. As you can tell, I was a bit sensitive at this age and probably still am. My older brother did it, but I refused. Anyway, the hooks were baited and then dad showed us how to cast. He did it once or twice and then we had a go. It took quite a bit to master getting the line to flow and the hook to travel a suitable distance on to the gently flowing river. We tried to avoid weed and rocks and finally we had our lines out and the floats bobbed up and down. It was all so exciting, but then nothing. We waited expectantly for the fish to rush to our bait and seize the hook, but nothing happened. When you are under ten, waiting is not a good thing.
It went on for an eternity. After a while we wound our line in, re-baited the hooks and then dad cast mine out with great aplomb. Unfortunately as he whipped the rod back and forth the hook, maggots and all, caught me between the eyes and latched on. There was a sharp tug, and probably a cry from me, dad realised what had happened. To my horror, apart from the pain, there was a hook lodged between my eyes and even worse, two maggots dangling there.
Hooks are designed to easily pierce, but the barb is there to prevent the hook being easily dislodged. Dad realised how close he had come to putting my eye out and attempted to remove the hook as quickly as possible. It may have been that another experience with my mother’s displeasure, the incident after losing Sabot at the soccer, was still etched in his mind, that explained his urgency and panic. I, in return, was not happy about having more pain inflicted and did not stand there calmly, but writhed, making his attempts and probably the pain more severe. Finally it was torn loose and after being told not to be a baby, we returned to fishing. The blood between my eyes had been wiped with a hanky with a certain amount of spit.
After this experience I can’t say that I was enamoured by this pastime, but we persevered for the rest of the afternoon. We didn’t even get the excitement of a nibble. Knowing my father’s game-keeping ancestry, I must say he was a bit of a disappointment in the angling department. We did return on several occasions and never did we threaten to catch any fish, but it was a peaceful way to spend time in beautiful surroundings, have a packed lunch and get fresh air. To be honest, I am not sure what we would have done if we had caught anything. My fishing ability seems to have been passed on to my sons and in particular the youngest. He has fished many times here in Perth, but has never brought anything home to show for his efforts.