Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Breakfast for all, and barbel for Pete (Christian Anglers weekend Retreat- Sunday morning)

A frequently asked question in strategy meetings I attend is "what would good look like?" or "how would we know if this was a success?" Sometimes the answer is easy: there are metrics, measurables, performance indicators and outputs that answer the question, but at other times the response to the enquiry has to be more nuanced. 
As I reflect on the last weekend and the Christian Anglers Retreat, what I see looks very like success. The number of barbel was significant but a long way short of spectacular, the weather at times was shocking but the "sum of the parts" created a wonderful "whole". Only one angler blanked, some lovely barbel were banked, most anglers connected with the odd decent chub and the camaraderie and fellowship were second to none.

My own lack of barbel didn't diminish my sense of having had a great time fishing, and although my "two for the price of one" pike and chub adventure on the opening night (both fish are pictured below) provided a few minutes of high adrenaline excitement, it was spending a couple of hours trotting with a centre pin during a rare sunny interlude on the Saturday afternoon and catching a steady stream of 4 ounce perch that was my angling highlight. Sometimes the pleasure lies in things altogether more subtle than mere pounds and ounces.



Very few of us fished on Sunday. It was a morning for chatting, loafing about, eating and packing up, which began (as all fishing and camping mornings surely must) with bacon and mugs of hot coffee or tea. Pete, our normal camp chef had been called into work to sort an emergency, so David and I took on the role of catering corps, and the smell of bacon wafted across the campsite.


Only three anglers fished, the indefatigable and endlessly enthusiastic John Rellie tried legering worms and Jez tossed a maggot feeder into the river for half an hour, but even the small fish were proving obdurate and uncooperative, and quiver tips remained still, baits untroubled.

Loz was awarded the "angler of the Weekend" prize, for catching a brace of barbel on his first ever trip in pursuit of the species. Primarily a fly fisherman, Loz is a recent member of the group, and he and John Rellie (both on only their second trips out with Christian Anglers) have proved to be good company and welcome additions to our happy "band of brothers".


Predictably, when Pete returned from his unscheduled dash into work he couldn't resist a few casts (there are few people I've fished with who are as single-minded in their pursuit of their quarry than Pete), and his persistence paid off with four barbel in under an hour, a fitting end to the weekend. As has often been said "if your bait's in the water, you've got a chance", and Pete certainly took his.


Roy, retired Yorkshire miner and the weekend's "king of the bleak" (he did also manage a decent chub) formally rounded the weekend off with a prayer, and a succession of anglers returned to the four different Counties they'd journeyed from tired yet refreshed and eager for the next time we get together on the bank.
Catching fish, sharing friendship, making memories ..... it doesn't get much better.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Barbel, Bibles and "near death experiences"- (Christian Anglers weekend Retreat- day two)

Saturday morning began as Friday evening had ended; wet, windy and with Pete catching barbel. By 5:00am there were shadowy figures moving around the camp as unshaven and slightly dishevelled anglers began, in dribs and drabs, to move towards the river, rods and tackle in hand.
Pete and I had arranged to fish together and within five minutes of casting, and before we'd even had a chance to begin feeding the swim, Pete's rod was hooped over as he and a barbel engaged in a  spirited game of tug of war. The barbel sat deep and used a combination of its own and the current's power, but after a few minutes the fish was Pete's. Quickly admired, photographed and returned, the day couldn't have started any better.



Meanwhile, downstream by the bridge, in shallower water, John McAngus (the use of surnames an unfortunate necessity in a group which included two "Johns" and a "Jon"!) caught four or five smaller barbel of about 3 or 4 pounds in successive casts, and Jez and Loz both caught several mini barbel of about half a pound in weight, perfection in minature. One of our number, John Rellie, had shown devotion to the sport that went beyond the realm of duty and drove offsite at midnight on Friday before returning, fuelled by a KFC, to fish all night but although he caught some nice chub, no barbel rewarded his dedication.

At 10 o'clock we wound our rods in and reassembled in the gazebo for a welcome hot  breakfast of bacon rolls accompanied by coffee. Breakfast was followed by a Bible study, and although Scripture states that it "rains on the just and the unjust", the weather cleared and seemed for a moment to reflect the less Biblical, but commonly quoted aphorism, that states that the "sun shines on the righteous." We discussed the story of Jesus calling his first fishermen disciples in Matthew 4, and at least one angler described the Bible study as the highlight of the weekend. (at this point it's important to add that he was an angler who caught barbel, so our time of fellowship and study wasn't being "damned with the faintest of praise"!)


Following the Bible study angling was resumed, but mostly in a less focused and more light-hearted manner. David and Keith resolutely continued to set out their stall for "barbel or bust", but most of us took a break from sitting behind rods pointed skywards and spent the time trotting or swimfeeding with maggots. Roy caught bleak a plenty trotting a stick float, and I had an immensely pleasurable couple of hours in which I trotted a small 2BB perch bob and caught 30-40 perch, beautiful examples of their species, bright green backs, dark stripes and lovely red fins and probably averaging about 4 ounces. The procession of perch was interrupted by the occasional bleak, gudgeon or small chublet.


We broke off from the fishing for an early "tea", burgers, onions and all the usual accoutrements of a traditional fisherman's meal (ie. an excess of things that taste nice and almost inevitably lead to heart disease!), told fishy tales, exchanged tips and tactics and teased Roy about his bleak catching prowess.

After tea, the quest for barbel was resumed in earnest. One or two had been briefly encountered and lost during daylight (Keith proving particularly unlucky), but we knew that as evening drew in and dusk fell that our chances would increase. I set up in a swim downstream (as it turned out, an error of  tactical judgement) and shared a swim with Jez and a flotilla of visiting ducks.


The only fish that Jez and I saw was a chub that happened upon Jez's swimfeedered luncheon meat, and apart from one twitch and bleep my bait remained untroubled by fish. However, the conversation and the chance to catch up with Jez made up for the absence of fish falling to our rods.


Elsewhere on the river, especially in a small concentration of upstream swims barbel were being caught. Not in large numbers, but odd fish were finding their way to the bank. John MacAngus had the pick of the captures with a barbel just ounces under 10 pounds, Loz (who had never previously caught a barbel managed a brace) and David also banked a good fish. Predictably, Pete also found himself among the barbel, his being the only one to come from one of the shallower downstream swims.




The weather continued in the capricious and changeable vein that had marked the weekend, driving rain giving way to light showers, giving way to sunny spells, all resulting in a rather spectacular double rainbow decorating the early evening sky, a reminder both of God's faithfulness and sheer artistic flair. The weather also provided us with the weekend's biggest drama, when a tree creaked, groaned, split and crashed spectacularly to the ground, landing with a thump on the chair that 30 seconds earlier David had been sitting on. I was standing at the top of the bank and saw the trunk split, shouted a warning that led to David adroitly leaping aside, leading to a ton of tree missing him by just a few feet. Had he not moved .... well, let's just say that I might have picked up some funeral business that I would much rather not have had to pick up!


By the end of the evening our barbel count had grown, and four of our number had shared 11 barbel (not including the clutch of small ones of under a pound that Jez and Loz caught earlier in the day), with most of the rest of us with chub to our name, and the occasional nuisance eel.

A wonderful day that had begun with fishing for barbel and moved cyclically from there through breakfast, Bible study, general "fun fishing" and barbeque back to barbel, ended with hot drinks and a prayer in the gazebo, before retreating to our tents.
 I discovered the next morning that I was not the only person whose sleep had been sporadically disturbed by dreams that centred around trees landing on tents. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

"Barbel fishing like a Magyar"- (Christian Anglers camping retreat, 1st evening)

John Paget was a 19th Century agriculturalist, traveller and writer who had the good fortune (literally) to marry a wealthy Hungarian Countess and described his newly adopted Countrymen thus:
" ... a Magyar never moves when he can sit still ... his step is measured, his countenance pensive, his character a singular mixture of habitual passiveness and melancholy mixed up with a great susceptibility to excitement."
I am always suspicious of racial stereotyping, and as my own personal experience of Hungary is restricted to 48 hours in Budapest over a decade ago I can't vouch for the veracity of his observations, however I am qualified to remark that he could just of easily have been writing about barbel anglers. Barbel angling requires a measured step, great patience, and in those often lengthy periods between feeding spells reflection can lead to melancholy, but when the rod tip starts bouncing and a barbel tears off into the current, excitement (and not a little fear) take over as the adrenaline races as fast as the streamlined, torpedo-shaped barbus maximus.  
It was Friday evening, and as I bade my time for the light levels to drop and the sky to turn to dusk, I sat on my unhooking mat beside the River Trent, barbel rod pointing towards the fading orb, net, bucket and tackle bag beside me and coffee cup in my hand..... and waited  .... and waited .....


The annual Christian Anglers weekend retreat is, for me, a yearly highlight. Now in its third year, it brings together anglers from around the Country who share their  passion for fishing with one for their Christian faith, and every year has proved to be a time of relaxation, camping, barbecues, camaraderie, humour, good fishing and fellowship; a time to enjoy this most engrossing of pastimes while simultaneously enjoying the company of like-minded anglers and, in doing so, to recharge batteries both physical and spiritual. This year the target species was to be the mighty barbel. However, conditions could hardly have been worse, the most severe drought for over 40 years meant that there had been no rain for a couple of months and the river was alarmingly low and clear. However, all of that was to change and we found ourselves setting up camp in torrential rain with thunder rolling around and lightening streaking the sky. For a few moments the rain even gave way to hail, sharply stinging mini balls of ice bouncing off tent roof, ground and angler alike. On the bright side, at least the water would be better oxygenated, but the rain appeared to make only the most  negligible of differences to the water level and the air was chill as the temperature plummeted from its recent balmy heights.


Despite the inclement weather, there was to be plenty of excitement for the susceptible among us to enjoy. Once the thunder and lightening had retreated to a reasonably safe distance (no-one wants to be holding a carbon rod, the ultimate "lightening conductor" in a storm!) we made for the river, with thoughts of barbel and chub in our minds.

I chose a swim with plenty of flow about 60-70 yards across and a willow tree on my left on the nearside and started fishing to the edge of the faster current, initially with bacon grill as bait, and then drilled Robin Red pellets, while catapulting out pouch-fulls of pellets.  There were no screaming runs of the barbel kind, but several clear plucks from chub, and on hitting one of these I connected with a chub which, three quarters of the way to the bank suddenly seemed to become turbo-charged. As the fish began to see my side of the argument all became clear. Despite the chub being a good two and a half pounds in weight, a pike had taken more than a passing fancy to the chub, which was now clamped firmly in said pike's mighty jaws. A ferocious tussle ensued between fish and angler, with the pike eventually being drawn into the net (along with the unfortunate chub). The pike, long and lean as river pike tend to be, and with an outsized head and jaws was weighed at 10 pounds 14 ounces, photographed and gently nursed back into the river. The chub, badly mangled but gamely hanging on to life, was also returned in the hopes that it would recover the ordeal.


My evening, following the double capture, was uneventful with no further action, and with the river out of sorts only the very occasional chub or eel bothered the assembled Christian Anglers faithful. David landed a chub of about 3 pounds, but just before packing up time, with darkness on the edge of falling Pete caught the fish that was to give us hope for the following day- a splendid barbel of 9 pounds 12 ounces. I waded into the river to net the barbel, getting my feet and legs wet for the second time that evening. Three others of our party had lost hard-fighting barbel in the snag festooned river, and so- with first contact made- spirits were high. They weren't going to be easy to catch in the conditions, but the barbel were there, and tomorrow would provide ample opportunity to go after them.


We retreated to the Gazebo that was to serve as camp kitchen and headquarters, and after hot drinks and hearty congratulations to Pete, and some leg pulling for my "two for the price of one" chub and pike double, following a quick prayer together, all turned in for the night to prepare for Saturday's 5am start..

I suspect that I was not alone in dreaming of barbel. There was little as darkness drew in to prepare us for the drama that the next day would bring.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

"Then sings my (angling) soul ..."


There are many these days who claim themselves to be "spiritual", yet not religious. I know this from having encountered them as either a) vacuous celebrities who attempt to mask their facile vacuosity by clothing themselves in a cloak of "metaphysical depth" which never quite seems to fit, b) random people I meet at parties, in pubs or on trains who probably aspire to being "vacuous celebrities who attempt to ... etc.", or c) harmless New Age hippy types caught in a Woodstock time warp, but one thing on which they all seem to agree is that it's in the great outdoors that they most frequently experience a "transcendent other", and while I find their inability to pursue, recognise and name the source of their claimed experience frustrating, I do kind of "get it." 


What angler doesn't appreciate the beauty of his or her surroundings, as much as they do the fish they seek to catch in them? The wisest anglers are those who sagely realise that the fish themselves are often only the presenting reason for our passion, and that the magic of our hobby is more than just the fish, and is something bigger and beyond our mortal selves.

Norman Maclean in his exquisitely written part autobiographical work "A River Runs through it" begins the story with the line "In our family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing", and goes on to state that he "learnt to cast Presbyterian-style". My own Christian faith was a conscious adult decision that was subsequent to my childhood experiences of fishing, so my early casting was unencumbered by denominational allegiance, but for me, as for Maclean's minister father, the space between Heaven and Earth seems a thinner one when I'm fishing!


I am not for a single moment claiming that only an angler of faith persuasion appreciates the beauty and splendour that surrounds them, but as one who fished before encountering God in a personal sense, and one who continues to fish now as someone primarily defined by their relationship with God, I can attest to an added dimension. For me, the experience of being awed by my surroundings goes beyond the aesthetic or the namelessly numinous and points me to a God who reveals himself in the commonly acknowledged beauty of the natural world and uses that general revelation to draw me to his specific revelation of himself in the words of the Scriptures and the person of Jesus Christ.


The 18th Century poet William Cowper posited that "nature is but a name for an effect whose cause is God", and it seems to me no co-incidence that the two earliest and most venerable works of fishing literature both have a Christian element. Dame Juliana Berners, whose 15th Century "Treatyse of fyshynge with an angle" is the oldest tome on the pastime was the Prioress of a Nunnery in Hertfordshire, and Izaak Walton, author of angling's most famous literary offering, "The Compleat Angler" punctuates the fishing instruction with Christian meditation and God-ward reflection in his piscatorial magnum opus.

For me angling is an icon (a window into spiritual truth), and a sacrament (a visible sign of a greater invisible reality and grace) such that when I'm fishing my heart soars with the hymnwriter's and I'm caused to think (if not to sing) "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works thy hand hath made .... then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee, how great thou art ...."

Fishing as a "spiritual discipline": ..... works for me, and then some.




Thursday, 14 June 2018

Of rods, cartoon perch and glass fibre


The 1960's were a time of change, as that erstwhile social commentator Bob Dylan pointed out in a song of the era. The decade that started with crowds at football matches still uniformly wearing shirt, tie and cloth cap or trilby hat, ended with student riots in France, hippies cavorting naked at Woodstock, mods and rockers entertaining themselves on Bank Holidays by fighting on beaches, the sexual revolution, CND marches to Aldermaston and a general sense that something "new" was in the air. Even in the quieter and more serene waters of the angling scene, change was afoot and cane was beginning to give way to fibre glass. It was also the decade of my birth, which brings me to the point of this piece.

My recent birthday prompted the standard question from my wife: "What would you like for your birthday?", an enquiry which elicited the usual response: "well, I was thinking about a fishing rod ..." (cue: much spousal rolling of eyes and an enquiring "how many rods do you need, Jon?") The rod in question would be one of the then "new-fangled" 1960's breed of fibre glass rods, the only problem was that I hadn't yet found it. What I wanted was an "avon" from the early days of glass, a general purpose rod, suitable for dealing with reasonable sized fish, and able to be used for either float fishing or light legering. Ideal for most of the fishing I do, which tends to be for tench, roach, rudd, perch and the occasional "rogue" carp. It was one of my angling Facebook friends who came to the rescue, Michael Bartholomew, like me an angler who enjoys putting vintage tackle to good use, happened upon not one, but two, rods that fitted the description, snapped them up and sent me a message. Money changed hands, and the rods were mine.


This wasn't the first time Michael has done me a favour (I have a split cane carp stalking rod, a cane Aspindale Thamesdale float rod and a number of vintage reels that came from him, some of which I paid for, some of which were just the result of a kindness from him), but what he wouldn't have known is that one of the rods transported me right back to my childhood. When I first started fishing, so transfixed was I by everything about the sport, that I often used to walk a mile to the local tackle shop and just gaze at the merchandise on display there for an hour (the proprietor didn't seem to mind, and happily humoured me), and the rod that I stared at with the most desire and the greatest degree of covetousness was made by ET Barlows of Thames Ditton under their "Vortex" banner, whose logo was a highly stylised, aggressive looking cartoon perch. Of the two avons that were transported to my house by courier one was a Vortx Supreme, proudly bearing the cartoon perch logo. Delighted doesn't even come close!

It was, however, the other of the two rods, an unbranded one which- for an early hollow glass rod- felt felt light and responsive in the hand, that I chose to give its debut when I arrived for a brief after work evening session at one of my favourite lakes, one which contains good quality roach and rudd, the occasional crucian, hordes of small perch along with a few bigger "sergeants" and a healthy head of carp.


I left work early, and stopped at home to pick up my tackle and 19 year old daughter, who just days earlier had returned from University for the summer and, to my delight, had suggested she accompany me fishing, not herself to fish, but to have a lazy evening of conversational catching-up in the tranquil environs of the lake. When we arrived my good friend David was already fishing, having arrived at the lake earlier in the afternoon, and I set up in the swim next door, which, fortuitously, also happens to be my favourite on the lake. Shortly afterwards, Roger, another of our regular little gang of piscators, appeared and, in turn, ensconced  himself in the swim to my right.

I teamed the rod with my ancient Mitchell 304 and nonchalantly swung my float and sweetcorn baited hook tight to the overhanging tree branches a rod-length out, tossed out a few balls of groundbait and before long the float was dipping and sinking with great rapidity - the only problem being my consumate failure to connect with any of the bites, even the seemingly unmissable ones. After what must have been close to a dozen missed bites and a bit of judicious tweaking of my shotting pattern, I got the measure of the new rod, and was into the first of a succession of good quality roach and rudd.

The rudd, though fewer than the roach in number, were of larger average size, as illustrated by the photographs here.



The evening was balmy, the lake's surface calm and ripple-free, and the company of my daughter and the vintage tackle being employed made for a perfect end to the day. David, after losing two fish,  managed to land a hard fighting and handsome carp on surface fished dog biscuits, while Roger caught a multitude of small roach and perch on maggot, before switching to pellets and connecting with a larger stamp of silver flanked, red finned roach. Roger was,  I'm pleased to report, utilising a cane rod and Mordex centre pin in best traditional angler style. To complete the relaxed, sociable feel of the evening, Pete (unable to fish on this occasion) popped along for a chat, accompanied by his wife and their youngest son, Max, who with the irrepressibility that comes with being 7 years old, managed to commandeer Roger's rod and land a couple of roach. Thus encouraged, my daughter promptly took control of my rod and instantly hooked and landed a roach. Her decision not to unhook it herself was immediately vindicated and proved wise when said roach decided to ungratefully defecate all over my hand as I carefully removed the size 18 spade end hook!


By the time we packed up, Roger and I had both caught around 25 fish apiece, and David had added a handful of decent roach taken on a groundbait swimfeeder and hair rigged pellet to his soiltary carp, but numbers of fish caught (and possibly even the catching of fish) was almost incidental to the perfection of the evening- good company in beautiful surroundings is its own reward, the fish, though always  welcome, fall into the category of "bonus."
It doesn't take much to make me happy, and tonight, twee though it may sound, I felt Divinely blessed.

As we took our leave of the lake a Tern was circling and diving, fishing not , as we had been, for fun but for his supper. I wished him well, and left him to his task, knowing that before long I would be back, drawn to the lake as by an invisible magnet, to resume mine.





Sunday, 13 May 2018

Always the bridesmaid as Wizard fails to work its magic

"We can't ever get back to old things or try and get the 'old kick' out of something or find things the way we remembered them. We have them as we remember them and they are fine and wonderful and we have to go on and have other things because the old things are nowhere except in our minds now" wrote Ernest Hemmingway, and to an extent I concur. However, while we may never have them again, we can, at times, get close.


In the school summer holidays of 1981 while Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were busy embarking on their ill fated marriage, three brothers decided to teach themselves to fish. Aged 13, 11 and 8, they fished solidly for nearly 30 days from dawn to dusk, with short solid glass rods, line thick enough to tether a charging bull and hooks that dwarfed the bunches of maggots impaled upon them, and by the end of those 30 days they had caught  a grand total of 4 fish between them, and had made enough happy memories to last a lifetime. I was the oldest of the three.

Since those days the three of us have continued to fish, have grown in competence and experience, and our paths have geographically diverged. Tim, the youngest lives in South Wales, Andy in Hertfordshire, while I for the last decade have resided in Leicestershire. Various permutations of the three of us have fished together most years throughout the period since we all left home, but all three of us have probably only managed to fish together half a dozen times in the last twenty odd years, and so my 50th birthday provided the perfect excuse to reunite the whole fraternal team for a day's fishing, accompanied also by my 17 year old son, James.

The venue for the day was a favourite of mine, a small intimate pond set in rolling countryside amid a patchwork of fields dotted with sheep. Noted for its fine roach fishing, the lake also contains a good head of small to medium sized carp, an ideal place to christen my recently acquired refurbished vintage (Gold Label) Allcocks Wizard.


As we walked from the carpark to the lake the smell of wild garlic gave way to that smell, hard to describe but known by all anglers, of the lakeside. The weather was cloudy with a slight chill, but mild, and we set to the business of fishing. Andy, James and I all opted for one rod on the float and a "sleeper rod" for carp, while Tim, a long time devotee of the carp, opted for a two rod "carp or bust" approach. James was soon catching on the float, a gudgeon, two perch and a roach quickly finding their way to the bank. Tim landed the first carp of the day (above) and James and Andy landed two "peas in a pod" roach at the same time, which also called for a photographic freezing of the moment.


But after the brief opening flurry, the roach and perch just "switched off", the lake became somnolent with bites becoming increasingly infrequent and a frustrating lethargy seeming to befall the fish of the lake. I was catching periodically as I persisted with the float, but soon James and Andy had made the decision to forego the attempt to build a nice catch of decent roach and had set their stall out entirely for carp. I continued to bring the odd fish to the bank on a very irregular basis, as I was taking pleasure from putting the Wizard to use for the first time and enjoying  the way that in its seventh decade it was far more lithesome and responsive than I am in my sixth, and with its honey-coloured cane and red whippings far better looking than I have ever been, even in what passed for my pomp!

I also had a rod placed on a bite alarm, a superb modern barbel rod which was a birthday present from my brothers and which, as well as being ideal for commercial-sized carp, will hopefully be put into active service this summer on a barbel fishing weekend I'm booked in for, but unfortunately apart from a couple of bleeps from line bites it remained resolutely untroubled by carp.

Tim, however, managed four carp, Andy three and James one, the latter a delightful looking fish, almost goldfish orange in colour , and clearly a fish with a a good helping of koi in its genetic make-up.


None of my fish merited a "grip and grin" picture, but I couldn't resist laying a particularly handsome and bristling little perch in my wooden framed landing net, and photographing it with the Wizard, handmade float and Allcocks Record Breaker reel, the acknowledged fact that "small can be beautiful" providing the compensation for the fact that while I didn't catch the least fish, my capture was comprised of the smallest of those that we caught on the day.

We unfortunately timed our departure slightly too late, and packed up in a deluge of Biblical proportions, before rounding off our thoroughly enjoyable day with a pub meal. The fishing had, for all of us, been patchy and for me had lacked any fish of noteworthy size, but neither that or the heavy rain at "last knockings" dampened what had been a wonderful day in which the very average results were more than obviated by the glorious scenery and the camaraderie that always accompanies our family get-togethers. There are few things I'd rather do than fish, and no-one I would rather  indulge in angling alongside than my brothers and son.

The Wizard will have future opportunities to prove its worth (as will the barbel rod), but this day, despite our modest harvest of fish, will join so many others in holding a special place in the annals of my angling stream of consciousness.

Next year Andy turns 50 .... plans are already being drawn up!







Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Swallows, Amazons and a passion for angling


For me, more than any other series of books, the Swallows and Amazons canon of a dozen stories of Cumbrian children who occasionally venture to the Broads (and notably once, by accident, to sea) are the defining tales of my juvenile forays into the world of literature. I'd never been to the Lake District or the Broads, nor sailed a dinghy or yacht, but these children, part refined and privately educated, part feral, were miniature heroes and heroines to stir the spirit. I read the whole collection, and have never been able to bring myself to watch the 2016 film adaptation of the novels, as, for me, the 1974  original remains the definitive cinematic version, and to watch any other would be tantamount to heresy. 


It wasn't until much later, in adulthood, that I discovered that Arthur Ransome, the author of the stories, was not just a keen sailor (that much was obvious from the books), but am impassioned angler with a colourful life story. In fairness, I shouldn't have been entirely surprised, as the Swallows and Amazon books see the children fishing for perch and pike in the Lake District, and catching a monstrous pike on the Broads in another of the stories (my memory is slightly vague on which one, but I lean towards thinking it was either "Coot Club" or "We didn't mean to go to sea."


Ransome, who was born in 1884, a Victorian, and who died the year before my birth, in 1967, was once described as a "Don Quixote with a walrus moustache, a sentimentalist who could always be relied upon to champion the underdog." In the First World War he'd been a newspaper correspondent covering the war on the Eastern Front, and was a sometime spy for the British during the Russian Revolution, although he possessed some sympathy for the Bolsheviks, knew Lenin and Trotsky well, and eventually married Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia.

After the war he became the Manchester Guardian's first angling correspondent, and his short fishing essays (available in print as "Rod and Line" or "Arthur Ransome on Fishing") are superior even to his children's novels. His turn of phrase is evocative, and like Chris Yates today, he then, was the possessor of that rare gift of being able to explain in perfect prose  why we love to fish.



Of carp anglers he wrote "a man who fishes habitually for carp has a strange look in his eyes, as if he had been in heaven and hell." (this, remember, was in the days before bolt rigs and overstocked commercials, when carp were considered all but uncatchable.) He also observed, correctly, that "no man who has ever travelled with a fishing rod ever finds himself able to travel as happily without one." Ransome was eclectic in his angling tastes, as happy to fish for trout with a worm, or bream with a maggot (which he would doubtless have described as a "gentle") as for salmon with a fly, and was totally devoid of angling snobbery.

The historian AJP Taylor wrote of him that "Arthur Ransome was one of the most gifted and attractive literary figures of all time", and Ransome certainly knew the value of a good fishing book, noting that "to read a fishing book is the next best thing to fishing." A sentiment with which all right minded fisher folk must surely concur.

A doyen of both angling and angling writing, I guess like another angler of literary fame once quipped, it might also be said of Ransome, that he was double blessed in that he "he made a recreation of a recreation", and you can't say fairer than that.