All my life I've been a great believer in an ability to determine your own luck, yet recognize the role fate plays in how things pan out. Never has this been more apparent, than now, as I look back at my angling journey and the quirks that have occurred to allow me to reach where I am today. I do not have the time or space, in a simple blog entry, to recall my entire life story so will attempt to cherry pick the bits that shape my thoughts. Why produce this post now? (Ever?)
Well, as regular followers may be aware, I've been threatening to write a book for quite a while and, with all the mayhem and disruption caused by our bungalow redevelopment project, I have found myself going back over old photo albums and diaries with renewed enthusiasm for such a venture. Where it ends, is anybody's guess but, at present I feel ready for the task and the recollections of a very individual journey are right at the forefront. A journey where luck has played a significant role, although fate always dictated the route, if not the outcome.
Born in London (Dec 1955), my parents were both school teachers and it was my father's goal to become a headmaster and the new town of Hemel Hempstead was to provide his first position in this role. Hobb's Hill Primary (JMI - Junior mixed and infants) was a brand new school and the reason why I, and my two younger brothers, grew up in the Hertfordshire town with the surrounding countryside our playground. Dad's tenure wasn't long as he ambitiously pursued his career with a move back to a London school. Home remained in Hemel Hempstead and he became a commuter as St. Mary's, in Kilburn, became his passion as he grew in stature within the teaching profession. The school was a credit to all those members of staff that rallied around Dad's vision of how education should provide stimulus to develop individuals to become decent citizens, as well as providing the basic skills associated with everyday schooling.
So it was my father's work that is responsible for Dylan Wrathall being in pole position, when the Tring tench revolution kicked off. I had no ability to have influenced the journey through my childhood, although fishing was a hobby that was a direct spin off from my school friends and nothing to do with parental guidance. Thus far it had all been fate involved in my road to Tring, in June 1981. Already married, with a young daughter, I was working shifts at Kodak, the ability to exploit this extraordinary event was slightly compromised by my circumstances, yet by using my time wisely, I was able to amass a very enviable list of big tench from the Wilstone depths. My involvement in The Tring Syndicate ensured that I met with many other, like-minded, and far more talented, anglers which, in turn, got me involved with The National Association of Specialist Anglers at both Regional and National Executive level. Exposure of my angling exploits became a very entertaining side show for me and the regular gang of misfits. If I wasn't being invited to do a talk, somewhere or other, then the Mail and Times were asking for news, whilst David Hall was always happy for an article or, better still, a story of our collective lunacy for a, distorted, mention in the infamous "Snide Rumours & Dirty Lies" column in his Coarse Fishing magazine.
If I rode my limited talent close to the edge, at Tring, then I pushed new boundaries with my luck, as Kevin Maddocks and Bob Baldock (RIP) set about launching The Catfish Conservation Group. Too good an opportunity to ignore, the gang surpassed all previous exploits when we set about the Lieghton Buzzard AC waters at Claydon, then later, Tiddenfoot. Our behaviour was riotous, but we were regularly catching catfish and that really pissed off the big noises and raised our profile even higher. NASA conferences, be they national or regional, were a mainstay of the angling circuit during the 80's & 90's and our photograph board was proudly on display next to those of the established oiks within the specimen hunting clique. My links with Kodak were fundamental in the quality of images we were able to display; these were the days before the digital revolution and Kodak's film quality and print production was unsurpassable. Was it luck, or fate, that I worked for them, therefore had access to this technology, during this period? I care not, they were fantastic times when fishing and fun took my life to another level. Not a particularly good advert for me as a parent and something I will return to later, although probably in another post.
|Claydon "Middle Lake" was catfish central during the mid-80's.|
The scrapes we got in to and the strokes we pulled are the stuff of legend.
Didn't go down too well with the mainstream speccy boys - the papers loved it!
I'd left Kodak and started working for Brooke Bond Oxo, which was destined to become part of the Unilever empire during my employment. Something which played a part, much later in this story! My involvement as R/O of The Chiltern Region of NASA was to see me come into contact with Chris Scott, who was a local specimen hunter with a very enviable PB list and, better still, a good mate of Fred Crouch, the best barbel angler of that period. Once again, I ride my luck and am taken under the wing of this wonderful man. Fred was to teach me many lessons about watercraft and tackle control, which included the mastering of centrepin angling, plus a wider appreciation of the wildlife that anglers are able to share these environments with. Fred Crouch is, without question, one of the most influential anglers of his generation and I feel unbelievably privileged (lucky?) to be able to call this guy a friend.
|A barbel from the "Compound" on The Royalty Fishery, Hampshire Avon.|
Fred Crouch was so generous with his advice and knowledge. I owe this guy so
much more than "thanks" - he was a visionary angler who I am so lucky to have spent time with.
Pike fishing was very much a part of my annual cycle and because Tring was central to much of my winter pike efforts it is no surprise that I crossed paths with Eddie Turner, Vic Gibson and Bill Hancock, the original ET gang. Eddie was/is a great pike angler, extraordinarily generous with advice to anyone who asks for it. I have fond memories of time at Wilstone, vane floats drifting across the vastness, banter incessant as we sought ways of winding each other up - happy days! I can't claim any part in my birth date, but am able to say that I've been incredibly lucky that so many others have crossed paths and made my angling adventure such a pleasure.
The adventure continued, unabated, until that crazy trip to Madeira and the events of July/August 1993. Nothing had prepared me for the impact that Atlantic Blue Marlin can have and I returned home completely blown away by what what I'd witnessed and been subjected to. Once again fate intervened and my Unilever connection allowed me to move from Hertfordshire to Kent, payed for by the company, and I spend the next eighteen years birding the Garden of England, setting new year list total figures for the county, as part of my involvement with the Kent birding scene. But that's another story, for another post?
It was May 2011 that I, once again, pick up the rods and find myself on the banks of Kilchurn Bay, Loch Awe, in search of the, hard fighting, pike of these wild waters. Just like riding a bike, the ability to cushion the lunges of a spirited pike returned as soon as the hooks went home and, once again, I'm on my way. Why was I there? Bloody Benno, my much maligned and neglected (not!!) son, recalling the childhood adventures when he had accompanied the crazy gang to this magnificent fishery wanting "just one more chance". That first trip was to see Benno achieve something which had eluded me since 1982. He landed the first "twenty" that I'd ever seen in Scotland and the seeds were set for a return to angling as my primary hobby.
Since my return, the adventure has been incredible as I've targeted various species. I have had dalliances with perch and chub; both species providing new PBs despite my lacklustre approach. It was a desire to remedy my lack of a Scottish twenty that drove me on. We've had six more trips to the fabulous Loch Awe resulting in my capture of a superb pike of 24 lbs 10 oz - a new centrepin caught PB and the end of a thirty three year odyssey.
Along the way, Benno and I had embarked on a barbel project which proved to be the hardest angling challenge I'd ever undertaken, until then! Everything Fred Crouch had ever taught me was pushed into service, plus all I could glean from the grapevine. I'd like to think that Fred would be happy with my efforts. Five doubles, to a new PB of 13 lbs 14 oz, out of seven fish caught over two seasons - six taken using centrepins, just like I'd been taught by the master.
It hasn't stopped there, however, as my winter eel project was to provide a challenge unlike anything I'd previously undertaken. That I succeeded, at my first attempt, is testament to my stubborn drive to get a result, despite my inabilities as an angler. The realisation that it was now, or never, that kept me focused on the project when the weather suggested failure. The fact that I got my result is an example of how I feel able to influence luck in my favour.
|One of the "threes" taken during the pike season eel challenge|
So back to reality, and where I'm currently at. My split cane thirty project is stumbling along, without any real chance of success, but the basis for the challenge is once again a demonstration of fate intervening in my personal angling journey. I'd captured my first twenty pound carp, since Feb 1984, on a remote marshland drain because Benno had alerted me to EA weed cutting on The Stour, thus my original barbel plans were scuppered. That accidental capture of an eighteen pound wild common carp has set in motion a series of events which cannot end until I capture a thirty pound carp, or die trying! I know what result I'm hoping for!
|10th July 2015 - my first "twenty" since Feb 1984|
Once this building project has ended, and it will, I should have opportunity to get back on track with my pursuit of that carp. In the meantime, I happily seek minor challenges as I continue to look for adventures and experiences which provide a distraction from reality.