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Andrew Pilgrim

Back to the old school.

When I was a lad growing up in South Yorkshire in the 60s & 70s (stick with me) things were different in many ways. In my late teenage years it seemed that everyone was a fisherman – at work on a Monday morning the question “Where did you go at the weekend?” invariably received an answer of “Trent”, “Witham”, “Middle Level” etc or even  “16 foot” “20 foot” or “40 foot”      (Drains in Lincolnshire if you don’t know) … Ask the same question to todays youth and you would probably get the reply “Yates” , “Walkabout” or ………… (Insert the name of your local crap generic nightclub here). And the follow up query of “Any luck?” has completely different connotations these days that do not need discussing here, so I shall return to piscatorial matters.

 Like most people it was my Dad that showed me how to catch fish on rod and line, but, for me, it was my Granddad who taught me how to fish.

Back in the 60s as a young nipper I would stay over at my Grandparents house and my Grandad, Sid, and I would head off down to the woods to dig for worms next to the stream, and the evening before fishing would be spent learning knots and sorting tackle, whilst on the stove bubbled away a pan of Wheat, Tares or Hemp. The following morning we would rise at dawn and creep around the house like secret agents gathering our gear together and then leave, gently closing the door behind us. These were magical times for a young lad not yet 10 years old and, 50+ years later, whenever I cook Hemp I am instantly transported back to my childhood and the happy memories are as vivid as ever. We usually caught the bus to local fishing ponds but just occasionally another family member joined us who had a car and this young lad armed with his 6ft rod, Intrepid Black Prince reel and a tiny aluminium bait tin crammed with worms was whisked off, wide eyed in anticipation, to new and exciting ponds, canals and lakes,. Once there I often, awkwardly, caught tiny Perch whilst all the time being in awe of the old man in the next swim catching, what seemed to me at the time, an endless stream of huge Roach. More often than not I would sit with him and listen to his fishy stories. I remember those days fondly.

A young me and my fishing hero.

  My grandad passed away then I was early teens and I never had the opportunity, or took the time, to thank him for planting and nurturing the fishing seed in that young lad. Being a fisherman has taken me to many far off places and I have met some wonderful people, it has changed my life in many ways and helped make me the man I am today, I am eternally grateful to him for that. So Guys, if your Father or Grandad or Uncle or whoever taught you how to fish and they are still around, thank them….. Do it now!

Well that was a bit heavy and you are probably wondering why I brought up, well I mentioned in a previous blog (My Wife is a Tart) that I still had my Grandads old rod and Centerpin reel so I hatched a cunning plan to take it on my next trip and review said 50+ year old tatty length of cane. My plan became even more cunning when I decided that it might be interesting to compare it to my current favourite rod a 25 Year old Shimano Compare Specimen Match, and if that wasn’t enough my cunningness reached new heights when I decided to compare both of them to a brand new top of the range rod, “ What a genius!” I modestly thought, a real time comparison of a 50 year old rod, a 25 year old rod and a brand new rod. My smugness took a sharp dive when I remembered that I don’t possess a top of the range new rod …… Bugger!      But I know someone who does…. Sheena my wife (and Tackle Tart).

 So I asked the question. “Sheena my darling, I don’t suppose I could?….” Well it turns out I could………

I could do the washing up, I could mow the lawn and I could cook tea, but, as they say, fair exchange is no robbery and permission was given on the condition I cherish Sheena’s Drennen Acolyte as if my life depended on it, and to be fair it probably did! So I had the tackle now to decide on a species and venue. 

The criteria I set was thus, I wanted to try and get a good bend into all three rods to fully compare them so a day ‘bit bashing’ would be of no use, likewise I didn’t intend to put too much strain on the old cane rod or, God forbid, Sheena’s cherished Acolyte, so commercial carp fisheries were also out of the equation. I had to be static, walking miles of river carrying three rods was out and to be honest I didn’t fancy the idea of holding a heavy old rod for hours trotting a float. So I needed a Stillwater with a good chance of some nice sized fish but nothing too big. …… .Hmmmmm? Tench? Perfect.

But where to find a venue with a good head of Tench but none of those pesky 10lb+ Carp waiting to smash your tackle. Then I remembered FOXEARTH FISHERY. Just through Sudbury this venue offers 3 Lakes. A “Big Carp” lake for the weekend camping fraternity, a Pleasure Lake stuffed with assorted Roach, Bream, Perch, Rudd, Tench, and smaller Carp plus a ‘Traditional Lake’. This small lake (Pond?) has a good head of Tench and Crucian Carp, and NO big Carp, perfect. For the record this venue is very well run and has toilets and a snack/drinks machine in site, I highly recommend paying a visit.

Full details can be found here,  https://foxearthfishery.com/

So armed with a veritable Tench banquet of Red maggots, Casters, Hemp and lots of worms I set off on the scenic 40 minute drive to the furthest tip of north Essex. The weather had been settled for the previous few days a little muggy at times but mild and overcast, just how I like it for Tench fishing, and I chose a very comfortable looking swim (they all are) with pads to my right and a gentle breeze from right to left. It took me an hour so set up all my gear in which time the chap who was already fishing on the next peg had 5 Tench so things were looking good. I chose to use my Speedia centerpins as I don’t think there is a better reel for this type of fishing but I was rather annoyed to find I had left my ‘modern’ pin at home so the Acolyte had to make do with a fixed spool.

All three rods were set up with classic lift method float rigs and 2 swims were baited up with Hemp. I decided to start on Sheena’s Acolyte, and I was quickly into a succession of Rudd small Perch and a few nice sized Roach.

An hour or so later I struck into something better, not the Tench I was hoping for but a stunning Crucian Carp. It’s not always easy to find a venue that has a good head of these hard fighting fish but Foxearth is one.

 A short while later the float twitched, lifted then slid away in a classic Tench bite and I was into a fish which bolted straight for the pads to my right but the Acolyte was having none of it and with the drag wound down tight she was soon out into open water and quickly landed, and I have to say that this rod is as good a rod as I have ever used, light yet very powerful.

Then it went quiet…. Very quiet…….The chap next door had stopped catching and even the smaller fish had vanished from my swim. This was not looking good for my side by side test. Around lunchtime I heard a familiar voice “How’s it going my love?” Sheena had made the hour and a half round trip just to see if I was catching, how sweet! But secretly I knew she was only there to keep an eye on her beloved Acolyte. “Very quiet” I replied, here you have a go. So she did, and promptly caught a Crucian,

“It’s nice here, Be careful with that rod” she said handing me back her Acolyte and just like that she was gone leaving me staring at a motionless float for the next couple of hours. Although the bites had dried up I was not too concerned as on my two previous visits I had experienced the same pattern, a few fish early on then a burst of fish late afternoon. I decided to use the quiet time to mix a little groundbait and I laced it with a good quantity chopped of worms and crushed casters thinking that the groundbait will get the worm down to the bottom without being intercepted by the Roach and Perch. At 2.45 with the bright sky clouding over I fed the swim and had my next bite at 3.10pm – another cracking Tench.

Confident of more I switched to the Shimano, my favourite rod and almost instantly realised that it was no longer my favourite. It felt heavy and clumsy compared to the Acolyte. It did however catch me a rather hungry and irritable crayfish that tried to eat my trousers.

Next it was time for the old cane Sealey Rapid Strike to have a go. I will be honest here and say that it has been neglected over the years and the previous evening had been spent re-fixing a guide and applying varnish to the many strands of whipping cotton that were dangling off it so it would be fair to say, at this point, that I was a little nervous about its ability to cope with what I was about to subject it to. Casting was’ interesting’ to say the least due to its weight and ‘unique’ action, more akin to casting a clothes prop ,and after 4 attempts to hit the right area, a mere 2 rod lengths out, I settled for an underhand flick. The float settled and I waited nervously.

Seconds later all hell broke loose

The float slid away and I quickly struck. Well I say struck, I lifted the butt end and the tip eventually followed (Rapid Strike my ar*e). The angry Tench on the other end shot under the pads, I applied as much side strain as I dared and heard an ominous noise only it wasn’t the rod, I soon realised it was me going “eeeeeeeeeeek!”…. “out…OUT!!!!” and out of the pads it came and immediately shot off in the opposite direction. At this point of the story I guess you are expecting me to say how horrible the action was and how it was akin to playing an angry dog on a floppy car ariel. Well, I have to say, I was very surprised, the action was absolutely superb considering the rods age and that the butt was solid cane connected via a large brass ferule to a built cane middle and another brass ferule to the spliced cane (Spanish reed?) tip section. But let’s not forget that men have been making fishing rods from cane for hundreds of years and the experience and craftsmanship built into this rod was very apparent. Again a lovely tip action and progressive power through the middle section. Judge for yourselves.

Sealey Rapid Strike in action

Compare this to the new Drennen Acolyte

It really was a revelation, so much so that I had another cast, and another and caught succession of lovely Tench and the odd Crucian.

and on the final cast of the day was rewarded with this stunning fish.

I never picked up either of the other carbon fibre rods for the rest of the session. Yes the old rod was a bit cumbersome to cast, the name Rapid Strike is somewhat misleading and you had to keep the butt firmly under your forearm when playing a good fish but, without wanting to sound all ‘hippy’, there was something wonderfully organic about the way this rod felt. Maybe it was the natural products used in its construction, maybe it was the centuries of knowledge built into the design or maybe it was just all in my mind, knowing my dear old Grandad had caught many fish on this very rod. Whatever the reason after a dozen Tench I was in love with this battered old bit of history and I shall certainly be giving it another outing soon.  If you have any old rods tucked away at the back of your shed, get them out and give them an airing, you may be pleasantly surprised, as I was.

2 replies on “Back to the old school.”

Love the read Andrew.
Happy memories.
I recently had repaired my over 45 year old Shakespeare 14 ft fibre glass rod, had new eyes & varnished.
Now part of my day/ night set up, had some nice 10-15 carp on it, and it handled well.
I remember my mother dropping me off at Crystal Palace Club ( I have been invited for a nostalgic visit after many many years) lakes over 53 years ago , to go night fishing , no carp tents, no bite indicators, just me and my rod, reel , gas lantern and baits ( no boileys in those days).

Here is to to the next 45 years( hopefully).🐠🎣

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