As I perch at my keyboard, there’s a small scar on my left hand. It’s a familiar sight, as it’s been there every day since 1979, a physical reminder of the day my dad took me on my first proper fishing trip.
His cousins had not long finished excavating a few acres of fields to give way to two trout lakes on their Warwickshire farm, and as family, we were afforded the first opportunity to fish it after it had been stocked with rainbow trout.
My fishing exploits up until that point had been catching minnows in jam-jars on holidays at Lake Coniston with my grandfather, sticklebacks in nets in the Grand Union canal, and white-clawed crayfish, plentiful in the streams near my home before the American interlopers signaled their destruction.
My enthusiasm was alight. I loved being near water, and I dreamed of catching a big fish. Schooldays were spent talking with my mates of what we would catch on our next trip, and thoughts of pike, roach, perch, barbel and carp almost always gave way to minnows. But now my dad was taking me to catch some trout.
At this point I need to make a confession. My first trout wasn’t on a fly; it fell victim to a float-fished maggot. Sorry, but I didn’t know any better and my dad knew better but he wasn’t letting on. Dad cast in to test the weight, and the first rainbow took the bare hook. We were in!
Over the next few hours, I caught rainbow after rainbow, all of which seemed enormous but I suspect were a maximum of a couple of pounds. My cousin Matthew joined us mid-morning, and while I was going back to the bait box to put fresh wrigglers on the hook, the backwards part of his overhead cast lodged a size 10 into my left hand good and proper. I shouted “Matthew! Don’t cast!”. He looked around tried to cast at about the same time. Ow.
Blood spurted from the thickest part of the fleshy bit between thumb and forefinger and I felt a bit light-headed. Dad ambled over, secured the hook with a pair of artery forceps and yanked it out, leaving me with a deep wound but metal-free.
My hand hurt like hell, but I really didn’t care. That day, Dad and I caught a total of seven rainbow trout. That day kindled a passion within me that has stayed for over 40 years. I was hooked.
Fast forward to our modern times, and children’s attitudes have changed. Why go outside when you can play Minecraft on the PS4 inside where it’s warm? My son and I had an exchange of verbal blows about whether fishing on Minecraft is actually fishing or not. So I took him to Draycote Water for his first proper fishing trip, treating him to a lesson with the cheery Kevin Hart. Kevin’s enthusiasm was infectious, and all three of us got excited when a large rainbow came up from the depths to inspect the orange blob fly before it swam back down again. Next day, we returned and we took a boat out to Rainbow Corner. I tackled up for him, and after going through how to do a retrieve with him like Kevin had showed him, cast, and handed him the rod. Before I’d even finished tackling up my own rod, the little sod was into a fish. I helped him land it, of course, and very soon, we had his first fish in the boat – a bloody three-pounder.
Five minutes later, I was making my first cast, and a voice piped up.
“Can we go now Daddy?”
“What? We’ve only just got here!”
“Yes but I’ve caught my fish now. You lost your fish yesterday.”
He was right. I’d disgraced myself the previous evening when a monster of the deep launched itself at my damsel fly like a torpedo out of a submarine. On a five-weight Hardy, it was too powerful for me to handle, and I only realized that the fish was playing me rather than me playing it after it zipped off back towards the middle of the pontoon and wound itself one of the supports before liberating itself. It had been in full view of just about everyone at Draycote that afternoon too.
I managed to negotiate another half-hour, but that was that. He was getting cold and was unimpressed by fishing.
Like all kids these days, unshackling my son from a console can be impossible. Would you like some food? No. Shall we go into town? No. Let’s go for a walk. No. But to my surprise, since our trip to Draycote, I’m glad to have found something that gets a yes every time: Shall we go fishing? Like me at the same age, he is now hooked – but he doesn’t yet have the scars to prove it.
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