John Wilson, who passed away at his home in Thailand earlier this month, enjoyed some outstanding moments during his 60-plus years as an angler.
Here are some of the highlights, in his own words… Extracts taken from ‘Sixty Years a Fisherman’, published in 2008 by G2 Publishing and available via Amazon in Kindle format
Young Wilson, who must have been six or seven at the time, spent his pocket money on some size 20 hooks to nylon, 10 yards of green flax linen line and a small tin of ‘gentles’, as maggots were commonly called in those days. I also invested in a brightly-coloured ‘Day-Glo’ bobber float.
Few of the fish we caught in those days, though we didn’t realise it at the time, had the physical strength to pull such bulbous floats under. Hence the term ‘bobber floats’ I suppose, because all they ever did was ‘bob’.
A cheap and noisy ‘clicker’ (centrepin) reel was fixed with insulating tape to my designer ‘garden cane’ rod which Dad furnished with rod rings made from safety pins.
With this outfit I happily caught tiddlers from Whitewebbs Park Brook in North Enfield and the New River, which then flowed swiftly, sweet and pure right through Enfield and around the town park.
My regular fishing mate, Doug, and I fancied fishing further afield from our local River Lea – where we would stand a chance of catching really big roach and bream. We answered an advertisement in Angling Times and had a week’s fishing holiday at the Watch House Inn in Bungay, Suffolk, which was just a short walk from the then magical River Waveney.
We joined the Bungay Cherry Tree AC which controlled much of the fishing and, employing simple trotting tactics, caught mountains of quality roach from the main river and the many streams using stewed wheat. Even the tiniest drainage dykes were so full of roach it was staggering, and there and then I vowed one day to live among the roach-rich rivers of Norfolk and Suffolk. Ironically that reason for living in East Anglia no longer exists, thanks to cormorants, abstraction and farming policies. From the deep and swirling Falcon weir pool in the centre of Bungay I even caught my first-ever 2lb roach, also on a grain of stewed wheat.
As its massive head-shaking shape came up through the clear water I just couldn’t believe roach grew that huge. I can still picture it now, lying on the landing net, immensely deep in the flank, with shimmering scales etched in silvery blue and fins of red. All 2lb 2oz of it. It made a 15-year-old a roach angler for life.
IN my late teens in the early 1960s I used to relish all-night bream bashing sessions on the middle reaches of the Great Ouse. They averaged perhaps 2lb-3lb with the odd 2lb-plus hybrid for good measure.
By legering bread paste or flake, eels were avoided and in favourable conditions bites could be expected consistently throughout the night, following heavy groundbaiting with mashed bread and bran.
The St Neots to Little Paxton beat was my favourite, particularly St Neots Common where a flood dyke joined the main stream.
Remember 1976 and that heatwave? No sophisticated electronic bite alarms and boilies, thermal one-pieces and two-man bivvies, no carbon, boron or Kevlar wrapped rods, although I did atest fish that year with one of the first prototype carbon trotting rods ever produced. But we did have one precious asset which for the most part is not there today: roach in our rivers. Personally, I would much prefer to go back to those days of less gadgetry when you could trot a swim that actually had roach in it.
My diary book started in January 1976 with a mountainous glut of incredibly large roach, because the clear-flowing upper reaches of Norfolk and Suffolk rivers were as prolific with quality roach then as they are barren today. My diary entries for 4 January 1976 – despite a severe overnight frost and snow showers – included roach of 2lb 9oz and
2lb 10½oz from the Wensum at Taverham in the ‘rushes’ stretch. Both came long trotting.
On January 5 I caught a roach of 2lb 2½oz plus a string of others over 1lb. On January 7 I achieved a huge bag including five over 2lb, the best being 2lb 13oz. The next day I got a roach of 2lb 3oz followed, on January 11, by fish of 2lb 1oz and a 2lb 7oz. Then I caught a 2lb 4oz roach on January 12. Many of these came in very short sessions fitted in before I had to set off to open the shop. It was fairy-tale fishing. It was just too good – unreal almost.
Cauvery River, India. No sooner had I feathered the bait down to the bottom following a long-cast from halfway along the straight, where a huge slab of rock hung out over the river, than there came an arm-wrenching pull, which almost had me off balance and into the swirling water. Instinctively I knew immediately that this fish was big, very big. I had never before felt such awesome power and I immediately started to worry that it might zoom off downriver and over the rapids, a situation I would have been powerless to stop.
Fortunately, it spent the best part of the hour-long battle under my own bank, within a huge undercut, where current force over countless years had carved out a veritable underwater cavern. Try as I might, I could not prise the unseen monster from its lair and out into open water. I was at a complete loss, using up most of my own energy and powerless to stop the line shredding each time the mahseer lunged with its huge tail and bored further into the undercut. My arms were aching, my wrists were aching and my stomach was extremely painful where the rod butt dug in. I never believed that a close-range struggle could be so tiring, and every so often I had to ease off the pressure to relieve the pressure on my own spine – I obviously wasn’t as fit as I had thought.
By now Andy and Bola were also crouched on the rocks with cameras rolling and it was Bola who offered to climb down to water level and heave the huge mahseer on to terra firma. It was something he did with unbelievable strength and agility. That was amazing because Bola couldn’t possibly have weighed much more than the mahseer which scaled an incredible 92lb.
During September 1994 I was to make one of my finest catches ever by landing no fewer than nine double-figure bream in one session from a 13 foot deep swim in a secluded 25 acre Norfolk still water I call the ‘forgotten lake’. I marked an area in the middle of the lake with a buoy and heavily prebaited it for the two previous evenings with a mixture of stewed wheat, casters, maggots, chopped lobworms and brown breadcrumbs.
I was confident of some action and arranged for the video cameras to be there. A thick mist hugged the lake from dawn until late morning which, although it restricted our filming early on, encouraged the shoal of bream to continue feeding far longer than they would normally have done.
This resulted in my enjoying unprecedented sport using a sliding float rig baited with a lob tail. Initially I had started with two 13 foot float rods but quickly put one away as bites were happening within a short time of the lob tail settling on the bottom. I had the choice of accumulating the largest catch of huge bream ever recorded, or taking the time whilst fishing to go through baits and explain in detail my sliding float arrangement with all the inevitable waiting around (when I could have been catching) that filming demands. Frankly I reckon I could have caught 20 or even 30 of those ravenous bream.
Fraser River, Canada. On our first move downriver I immediately connected with something very large, which treated us to a couple of classical ‘polaris’ style leaps. After a wonderful battle lasting around 15 minutes a sturgeon came alongside the boat and was ready to be photographed, all six and a half feet, and 160lbs of it. Fred and I then accounted for another biggy, perhaps 20lbs larger.
Later on that afternoon, I finally banged into a real whopper sturgeon which put up an incredible scrap for over half an hour and which measured eight foot two inches long. Fred estimated it at least 300lb, and being my largest freshwater fish ever I was ecstatic.