Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!


Sunday 8 December 2019

Fenland remembered

This is a tale from the murky depths of my youth, a sorry period of drunken lunacy, obsession and the pursuit of large fish; some of which I actually caught! I might have told this story before but, I've been going through some very old slides, looking for images for another project and came across photos of the fens and the zander we were then chasing. It was the Bank Holiday weekend, late August 1987, and the motley crew (Cuddles, Elbs, Sye, The Mitch's and I) were back on the Sixteen Foot Drain. It'd been quite a good campaign, up to this stage, with some decent fish falling to our rods. Although I can't find the diary entry I'm pretty sure that Phil Mitch had actually taken a double prior to this session and this is what spurred us ever onward and upwards?

Phil Mitch poses with a magnificent Zander - the weight of which I have no record
What I must mention is the fact that, the late, John Foster was R/O of the Fenland PAC and our antics caused him much angst. Fortunately we were able to resolve our differences, became good mates and he actually invited me up to give a talk at one of the PAC meetings. Looking back, we really were a bunch of c**ts (and that's not coots!) deserving of all the stick we got in the angling press of the day. Did we care? Got it in one - we loved it, catching loads of fish, sticking two fingers up at the establishment of the period. You've got to remember that the scene was far more disciplined than it is today, we really did rock the boat. Don't like it? What you gonna do? The two Mich's and Cuddles, combined, weighed over 60 stone and weren't particularly PC. A guy on the National Anguilla Club stand was left a seething/gibbering mess by Simon Mitch. I think it was Reading University? The Eel guys had quite an impressive photo board and the soppy sod asked Simon what he thought of the display? "So that's what a whole one looks like" Absolutely brilliant - total meltdown by the eel disciple, we were in fits of laughter - completely helpless, didn't help matters when a couple of other guys attempted to act as mediators - we fucked them off as well! Result = another mention in Snide Rumours & Dirty Lies - David Hall loved us, we filled plenty of column inches and he even allowed me to write articles, for which I got paid, couldn't get much better?

Cuddles with a Three Holes zed - RIP old mate.
So back to the day in question. We would have spent lunchtime in The Cherry Trees, at Welney, supping a good few "light ales" probably in the company of Ernie James, the last of the Fenland eel & plover netters, who was well into his eighties and still enjoyed a beer. Zander fishing was all about the hours of darkness, thus days were to be filled with catching bait and drinking beer. Horrible! I'll draw a veil over how we managed to travel around the fenland roadways - we were young and stupid if that helps? All I can say is we never got caught, which isn't a defence, just a statement. The chosen pitches for this particular night were close to the bridge at Three Holes and we were in good spirits, quite literally, as we set up camp for the coming night.  We all drank Nelson Mandela (Stella to the un initiated) which was still rated at 5.2% abv at the time - proper lunatic soup! Twenty four cans a day wasn't beyond the capability of the most hardened members of the gang. Quality street drinking men - guys who lived and have died by their own rules - nothing more to say.

One of my very early Zander from Three Holes - frosty dawn  January 1982. What was that permed hair all about?
I blame Kevin Keegan!

The Great Ouse River Authority still existed and their rod licence was required to enable us to fish these fenland drains. Three rods each, so that's a possible eighteen between us - bloody great. On that fateful night, surely one of us would have a result? We didn't sleep , simply passed out, yet our senses remain tuned in and , at 03.15 hrs, the piercing scream of my homemade back-biter, all 95 decibels of Tandy car alarm, had me swiftly beside the rod as the line steadily trickled off the spool. Was this the moment, the one that I'd been dreaming of ever since my first zander fishing trip, some six years earlier? Only one way to find out! Over went the bale arm and the rod hooped over my shoulder as I connected with my foe, somewhere out in the depths. No head torches back then, just a simple bike lamp, carefully positioned by the front rod-rest which provided the illumination for the finale of any battle during the hours of darkness.

This  zander remains my PB - 9 lbs 8 oz October 1985
Convinced that I'd actually hooked the zander of my dreams I happily allowed this fish to waste its' energy out in the depths of the central channel. My emotions were a complete mess, never had a Zander done this to me before. Absolutely no idea how long had elapsed before I was ready to draw my prize over the net, but I just recall the absolute horror when I realised that my adversary was, in fact, a pike! I unhooked it and placed it into an ET "Pike Tube" because it was obviously a double, but went back to my bivvy, after re-casting the rod, completely gutted!
With no further action, I slept through well after sun-rise and it was only when I'd dragged myself from the sleeping bag and fired up the kettle that my capture was of interest. Even in those days I only got going once the caffeine had been supped. There was a pike in the tube and one that I needed to  weigh (as I knew it was a double) because my recording of accurate statistics are so much more important than guesstimation!
17 lbs 1 oz - 31st August 1987
In the bright morning sunlight I had a reality slap - what was my problem? It was a truly magnificent fish, absolutely pristine. What's not to like? I realise it wasn't the zander I so wanted, yet not the fault of this pike. My expectations were a manifestation of very personal origins, this pike was the kick up the arse I needed, at that period. In 2019 I'm able to look at the image and smile. What a complete cock I was back in August 1987.


  1. I'll be looking over the bridge at 3 Holes tomorrow or Tuesdsay on my rounds. Forecast is grim so rods probably will stay at home. Great times.

    1. BB,
      They were, indeed, great times. The sheer lunacy of that period is something which I now look back on through rose-tinted specs! If I'd been on the other side of the situation? Not too sure I'd be so happy! Still no chance of turning back the clock so I'll just enjoy the memories for what they were - bloody good times spent with mates who lived life to the very limit.

  2. By coincidence I came across a 1975 Anglia TV documentary about Ernie James. Maybe you've seen it already Dyl? If not, it's on YouTube, and is called 'A Man Between Three Rivers'. Fascinating glimpse of bygone era.

    1. Gavin,
      Many thanks for this link - Wow! I've just watched it and what a guy. A little more sprightly than we first met him, on his 80th birthday in fact, but that same Fenland drawl and outlook. Never once did he mention that they'd made a T/V program about him. We'd quite often tell him that he needed to write a book, because when he was gone all these stories would go with him. The plover netting was a brilliant insight into why the Washes existed. He told us about the Stage Coach stopping in Welney, to pick up his catch before delivering Lapwing to Harrods in baskets made of willow, hand made of course. About punt gunning and using worms, threaded on wool, to "Bob" for them on a summer evening. A wonderful, fascinating character who did like a chat and a beer - top bloke and one that I'm very glad to have crossed paths with during my angling adventure. - Dyl

    2. Ernie James did write a book "Memoirs of a Fen Tiger"I loaned it from the library some years ago.A cracking read.It may be possible to get a copy from fleabay or a book dealer may be able to track down a copy.

    3. I'll get onto it straight away - many thanks for taking the time to pass this on

  3. Hi Dylan,I let you know about Ernie James book yesterday.Hope you can find a copy.Am having trouble with getting this posted so hopefully,you will see it.Been fishing the Fens since 1991,the place sure gets into your blood.Was on the Sixteen foot last week,one pike 13-08.Will be on the Middle level sometime in February,maybe a Zander or two?If you ever fancy a Fenland jaunt contact me and we can arrange it.
    I saw a Peregrine at an Essex gravel pit the other week,first time I have ever seen one in Essex.Brilliant.All th very best,Geoff.

    1. Hi Geoff,
      Cheers for this. You don't have to worry about your computer skills, no comments appear on my blog until I've had chance to vet them first! Spam and trolls being the bane of a bloggers life before the introduction of editorial control by Google, some years back.
      I've not been back to Fenland since the early 1990's and now, living in East Kent, am spoilt by the drains of my local marshes and the Royal Military Canal further to the south. I'm happy for it to remain that way. The Fenland memories are strong, it was an amazing experience but I harbour no desires to return in an attempt to revisit a time now long passed. I've ordered a copy of the book and will let you know my thoughts once I've had chance to take a look.
      All the very best - Dylan

    2. Hi Dylan,Glad you managed to track down a copy of Ernie James book.Great tales of a way of life when things were much simpler and unencumbered by the crap we have to suffer these days.I'm sure you will enjoy it.
      I have some great memories of the Fens and hopefully,will continue to make more.As you know,the Fens are never easy but now and again a red letter day comes along.One of the best ones was a mad hour on the Sixteen foot a few years ago.Me and my mate Bob had eight double figure pike in an hour,I had the best two,a twenty one and a nineteen. Happy days!!I will let you know how I do when I next go to the Fens,going to try the Middle level Neeps bridge area.Enjoy your fishing down in Kent.All the best,Geoff.