Jim Croton tells a fishy story

Last updated: 4 August 02

The Incompleat Angler

It was the Autumn term of 1967 and Wilf Hunt being an all round sportsman and keen angler volunteered to run the Wednesbury Boys’ High School Fishing Club. My pal Norman Wigley was also a keen angler and had persuaded me to also take up this leisurely past time. To whit I had saved a few coppers and bought a six foot spinning rod and Intrepid Rola reel. While this isn’t the ideal kit for the serious fisherman, it had the benefit of being of being relatively cheap and so had to do. Norman’s dad was also very keen and had taken us boys out for a few lessons.

When we heard of the fishing club we just had to join. There were to be coaching and advice sessions, regular trips to the choicest waters that the Midlands could offer and the biggest fish you could ever imagine.

So it was that Norman, Jim Brady, John Bowden, myself and about twenty or so other pupils from all years gathered in the school hall for the first meeting of the year. Wilf took centre stage, although not literally as we were gathered under the balcony for some reason and expounded upon the latest theories from Angling Today. It is difficult to sum up the incredible breadth of the advice we were given that day – advice which has stayed with me through to today but I will try: “All the top anglers today use size twenty hooks”.

This was what we had waited for. The secret that would allow us to reap the harvest of the canals. Moby Dick hadn’t a chance – nor had that (alleged) pike which Brady claimed to have netted by Hydes Road Playing Fields, only for it to chew its way out of his net. Our keep nets surely wouldn’t be big enough to hold the catches to come.

Also announced was the possibility of a trip to the Shropshire and Staffordshire canal which would be arranged if sufficient boys coughed up five shillings each to subsidise Wilf’s day out. Now this stretch of water was quite well known and the fishing rights were held by some Working Men’s Club or other that Wilf was a member of. The chance was too good to miss. “Put me down for it, Sir”.

That evening, Norm and I raced home on our bikes, raided the piggy banks and shot straight round to the tackle shop (up the village at Friar Park). Each of us were now armed with a size twenty hook and we couldn’t wait to hit the bank. I swore to save my “twenty” for the Club trip and win the day with eighteen stone of Carp. Norman’s dad didn’t rate the things though and swore never to have anything to do with a hook smaller than a sixteen.

Time passed and so it was that once more, a surly bunch of lads clambered aboard a Don Everall special destined for the promised land of the Shrops and Staffs. The journey up through Bilston and out beyond the fringe of the Black country at Tettenhall flew by as we planned our tactics and swapped ideas about exotic baits. Soon enough we were at the bridge over the cut. Then it hit home. Whose idea was it to spend a day on a freezing canal bank exposed to a brisk northerly carrying a chill factor of minus ten?

Pegs were drawn and at least I didn’t have to walk too far, being only sixty or so paces from the bridge. Some poor devils had to go right round the bend and out of site. Funnily enough, Wilf was one of these but I don’t recall him ever drawing for a peg. Little did we innocents know but round the bend was the very place that the few fish around were to be found!

With the wind gathering strength, the water was very choppy and it was near impossible to keep track of the float which no sooner was it cast to the middle – blew back to shore. I think it was Dennis Onions – who came by at Wilf’s request to ensure no juniors had drowned – that put me right with a trick just for this situation. (I can’t remember it, so you will have to ask him if you see him). Oh well, at least I was fishing and surely the secret weapon – the number twenty would produce the results.

No chance! Forty minutes later, chilled to the bone and bored – the need to move before rigor mortis set in, drove me to amble along the bank to the far end where Wilf held court. He was surrounded by admiring lads who yearned for tackle of the quality he had. “The trick is …” he began and every boy strained to hear the words of wisdom as Wilf adeptly cast his line to the far bank and tangled the tree behind him. No one strained to hear the following choice phrases!

I think it was Vic Cartwright (Might be wrong as memory is a fickle thing.) who was fishing a peg close to Wilf that was at this stage the only competitor to have landed anything. The conditions were certainly better round the bend and the water was calmer. Checking with every lad on my return, it was confirmed that the fish were staying home today – something we should have done too.

Eventually the competition drew to its scheduled close and everyone gathered at Wilf’s peg for the weigh in. I seem to remember that only three anglers had a catch at all. The winner had less than two ounce which consisted of a pair of stickleback – big ones mind you as jointly they beat Vic’s gudgeon into second place! At least this explained the use of size 20 hooks – tiny hooks for tiny fish.

One of the eleven arches back by school had a pond under it. If you wanted stickleback you could go and net any number of them there, without fear of freezing on a canal bank for a day. Suffice to say that my love of fishing suffered a near terminal setback that day and it was three years before I ever fished again. But that’s another story.

Jim Croton