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Andrew Pilgrim

The Painful Truth….. WARNING, Graphic image!

I have never experienced anything like it….. Beyond excruciating…. I blame John Wilson!

It is beyond debate that the late John Wilson was an angler of some repute and did much promote Fishing in this country, and if you are of a certain age, as I am, you may know of other angling legends through-out history starting with Sir Izaak Walton who in 1653 published his seminal book The Compleat Angler. Now if you think that there is nothing to be learned from a book written 370 years ago you are mistaken, as even back then with their simple tackle and pretty basic methods the anglers of the time really knew what they were doing and understood the specific traits of species and how to catch them.  In 1937 E. Marshall-Hardy published Mirror of Angling Vol 1 containing a series of short articles to help anglers outwit their quarry .And there is another book that should be compulsory reading for any young angler, Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing. As a young lad I read this time and time again. First published in 1949 and wonderfully illustrated this book gave me my understanding of watercraft, species and weather conditions. Over the last few centuries angling had changed and the equipment available is mind-blowing, however let’s not forget that the fish have not changed and what was true 200 years ago is still true today. It’s very easy in this commercial world in which we live to become all to obsessed with Carbon Graphite rods, Fluorocarbon lines and the latest hook patterns and rigs, we are all guilty of wanting the latest tackle. My Sheena certainly is (see previous blog “My Wife is a Tart)  

Over the last 40 years or so angling in this country has changed dramatically from the 70s & 80s with its emphasis on match fishing for big weights of Roach and Bream to the 90s with the sudden growth and popularity of Carp fishing and recently we have the explosion of Barbel Hunters on the rivers across the country, however over the last 20 years I have noticed a worrying amount of “instant Anglers” appearing on the banks. We have all seen them the “All the Gear, No Idea” brigade. They spend a couple of hundred quid on a full set of Carp gear from Go Outdoors (other purveyors of crap fishing tackle are available) and off they trot with their mates for a weekends fishing (camping) with 24Kilos of bait to be thrown in the water and 48 cans of lager to be chucked in the nearest bush. Now please don’t think I am anti Carp anglers, I most certainly am not, and if you are reading this blog I’m guessing you are a reasonably well informed and well behaved angler, but you have to admit that these “instant fishermen” do the reputation of our sport no good at all.

What I am trying to get across is this …… The things you can’t buy from your local tackle shop are very important, Watercraft, Experience and all round knowledge. You can however stock up on these by reading the books I mentioned above and watching some of the newer videos and TV shows, A Passion for Angling featuring Chris Yates and Bob James, Anything with Mat Hayes and of course the Go Fishing series with John Wilson, who I personally blame for my painful ordeal with a tropical Catfish!

Back in the mid-1990s I watched one of his TV programs where he was fishing in Africa, The Gambia to be precise. And I thought…… “Oooo!, I fancy a bit of that, so I rang the travel agent and in November 1998 I was on a plane heading to the tropics with some fishing gear. The Gambia is a remarkable country with stunning beaches.

 Within a couple of days I was in paradise with a beach to myself, a stunning sunset,a cool-box stuffed with Big Shrimp and an old 3lb TC carp rod & rugged old Mitchell 300. I set up a running ledger rid with a 2oz lead and No2 hook direct to 15lb line. A gentle lob of 30-40 metres got me just over the surf line and I waited. In fairness I didn’t have to wait long a firm rattle on the rod tip resulted in a small Bass like fish (Casava) which was followed in quick succession by another and then a variety of assorted tropical beauties all in the half to 2lb range. Then just as the sun was beginning to set I had a slow definite pull, “Bloody Crabs” I muttered and lifted the rod. Well I have to say that this particular “Crab” was quite feisty and proceeded to make its way out to mid-Atlantic at an alarming rate and it was at this point I realised that I had seriously miss judged not only the strength of tackle required but more specifically the amount of line needed on the reel.

I never did know what I was connected to that day, although in the years since then I have caught many fish from that same beach, Travelley, Snappers, Captain Fish and Big Casava to 20lb+ but nothing went like that fish. I vowed to return to The Gambia suitably armed and I did, many times over the next 20 years. So thanks to John Wilson I had discovered my fishing Utopia.But I also cursed him for a rather unpleasant and very painful experience.

A couple of years ago Sheena and I were in our little boat fishing in the maze of mangrove creeks close to the coast. We call it our happy place and you can see why.

As I recall it was a nice enough day with a few fish being caught, including a very beautiful African Sicklefish.

 So all was good with the world until I caught a little Catfish. Now I have encountered hundreds of these little blighters over the years and I am well aware of the spikes on the Dorsal and Pectoral fins so I always handle them with great care.

I usually net them as I don’t like spiky fish being swung about in a boat. So it was easily netted and into the boat and as I laid it down a tiny bit of mesh got caught on the end of a pectoral fin. I instinctively went to lift it off and the fish flicked embedding its spike into my middle finger, well it wasn’t so much as in but through my finger and into the adjoining digit ‘Nailing’ them together. So there I was holding the leader with one hand and my other was impaled on a rather angry fish! “Pliers” I screamed at Sheena, “Pass me the bloody PLIERS !!!!” A quick snip and the fish was off leaving my fingers still painfully joined, I eased them apart and luckily the tip had only just penetrated the second one. Now the spines on a catfish are barbed and the only way to safely remove one without it breaking off inside of you is to pull it through not back the way it went in. I gripped the pointy end with the pliers closed my eyes and pulled. “Oh Heck”, “Flipping Nora”, and “Oh dearie me that is quite painful” were some of the choice phrases I recall uttering.  As if the barbed spines on the Catfish weren’t bad enough they are also coated with slime whilst not being poisonous it is a very powerful irritant and an anticoagulant. So, I was now a few miles up a remote mangrove creek, with my fingers, dripping with blood, it felt like someone was ironing them, I myself was feeling quite woozy so Sheena took the helm and quickly got us back to the mooring where we explained to the locals what had happened. Lots of screwed up faces and shaking of heads followed by helpful comments like “That will be painful” “Mind the spines” and “Don’t touch Catfish” Thanks guys! Two weeks of antibiotics and although the pain had gone my fingers remained swollen and remained so for a couple of months.

So an all-round unpleasant experience, and to this day I blame John Wilson.

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