Everyone remembers their first. It was a popular topic in a recent Facebook thread – still running for anyone who fancies adding theirs, and prompted a whole range of answers from minnows to cod & chips. The common denominator was the clarity of that memory for every angler in what is obviously a pivotal moment.
For the novice angler there’s so much to think about and, as a recent convert, I liken it to learning to drive. You’ve watched and listened and played things out in your imagination a million times, but, when it comes to the reality, everything moves so much faster than expected and it all feels a little out of control.
My first fish was a carp, a beautiful common of just over 20lbs. We were fishing Broadwater, Kent on what looked like being a very quiet October day. A stunning misty dawn transformed into the kind of day that British summer time seems to have forgotten of late, and the lack of fish was almost compensated for by the warm sun, a constant stream of tea and chat from other anglers.
We’d had a few line bites – not that I had a clue what that meant at the time – and we’d jumped around a bit as the bite alarms tormented us with the possibility of a fish before my rod shuddered and the alarm screamed.
The strike was a combination of instinct and blind panic but the result was a heavy fish on the line and all talk of clutches and letting off line became a confusing blur of ‘how-tos’ as I jammed the rod-butt into my hip and held on in an attempt to brace myself and keep my wrists strong for long enough to bring her in.
Playing that fish as an unskilled angler made me feel fraudulent – I had no credentials in this area and, as a small crowd gathered on the path behind, I gritted my teeth and hoped that a) I wouldn’t lose it and b) I wouldn’t fall into the lake.
Miraculously I landed her, and had help on hand to unhook her. As we checked her over and weighed her I still felt a bit bewildered, but very proud nonetheless and happy to hold her for the trophy shot.
However, for a good 6 months after that I still couldn’t confidently work a clutch and could guarantee that I’d get the line wrapped around the bail arm EVERY time I try to set up to cast. I couldn’t tie a hair-rig if my life depended on it, but I got very good at making PVA bags if you’re ever in need of a bait assistant.
We’ve produced the book and filmed the first series of Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr. Crabtree since then, and I’ve spent most of that time watching and learning. We’ve set up swim after swim for filming, baited and cast and recast so many times that I’d like to think I’m getting there.
But my story is a little back to front. The carp should not have been my first fish, and this is a common story these days as carping becomes ever more popular. My personal opinion is that there’s an apprenticeship of sorts to be served; you need to know the basics, to fish with simple equipment and grow in confidence and skill before tackling the bigger fish. It’s not just about ability, but also enjoyment. I look back on my first catch and I recall the blind panic more than the sense of satisfaction and it’s not what I’d wish on a child coming into the sport.
One of the best experiences of the summer was a late summer’s afternoon in Norfolk. We’d had a good days filming and John, Lester and I spent a wonderful hour with a centrepin and float on Lily Lake at Kingfisher. Every cast bore fruit and we pulled out enough bream and rudd to keep me happy and have everyone reflecting on childhood days. There’s always so much more to learn – unhooking fish still worries me, they’re so much more gristly than you imagine – but I’ll get there.
Take your kids fishing and let them enjoy the simplest methods you can gift them. Set them off gently on their angling journeys and educate them slowly, giving them the tools to make it a lifelong passion. Then let them come back and tell us their stories.
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