As mentioned earlier (see In the beginning), I became reacquainted with Nick Mulcock (aka Muck, aka Charlie, aka Chas, aka Captain Paranoid) in the late 1970’s. We used to beach fish from time to time at the Cold Knap. Muck, however, was already an avid coarse fisherman. He soon introduced me to the delights of freshwater fishing and I soon joined Glamorgan Anglers Club, which allowed me to fish some of their picturesque waters in the Vale of Glamorgan (usually ferried around by Muck’s long suffering father, Joe). We usually fished Pysgodlyn Mawr and Warren Mill in the Vale, and St. Y Nyll ponds near Saint Fagans.
Freshwater angling held a lot more appeal at that time – potentially bigger fish, more of them, and the chance of a fish actually putting up a fight on light float tackle. There was more of a hunting element about the fishing too – fish (or signs of fish activity) could be spotted & ground bait or handfuls of live maggots put out to entice the fish into a swim. Freshwater fishing seemed to be a lot more innovative when compared to the standard shore fishing approach of the time of banging out a fish or worm bait on heavy tackle with the hope of snagging a passing fish. We caught all of the usual culprits – roach, rudd, bream, crucian carp, perch and eels. We particularly targeted tench – we’d fish for them using sweetcorn or bread baits, and often caught fish up to c.3lb+ in St.Y Nyll top pond. Muck had an individual & innovative approach combined with good technical background gained from subscribing to a number of fishing magazines. He would regularly out-fish me, using better tackle set-ups and bait presentation combined with a willingness to try new approaches. On one occasion, whilst catching a steady stream of tiny roach on 3lb line with a 1lb hook length in very shallow water at Warren Mill, he hooked up to a 7lb carp which he skilfully landed after a good 15-20 minutes fight after stopping the fish reaching a reed bed about half the length of the pond away from where he hooked up!
Partly due to his grounding in coarse fishing, Muck was very conservation minded. He hated it when I kept a sea fish to eat (I was equally stubborn in my belief in my right to keep sea fish to eat). As I got into coarse fishing, however, my appreciation of conservation, careful handling and safe release of fish was nurtured – a belief that I’ve held with me to this day. To facilitate easy release of coarse fish, we used to crimp barbs of our hooks with forceps – this technique worked very well and I don’t recall having a damaged coarse fish after this. I also read articles in Sea Angler and noted that commercial over-fishing in Spain had decimated sea-fish stocks – the message was clear, conservation & selective harvesting was the only way to go.
We didn’t give up on sea fishing, but started to apply coarse fishing tactics and techniques to catching sea fish. We started fishing from the Dock walls using ragworm baits for small pouting, eels and occasional exotic species – I caught a small red mullet once, a very unusual catch in South East Wales waters. I fished with a very cheap, short rod which was ok for the straight up & down fishing from the dock wall. The catch rate was much better than from the shore, you could always find shelter from the wind & weather and you could use lighter tackle. The only problem was avoiding the British Transport Police, who would run you off the Dock if they caught you (& you didn’t want to be caught twice by the same officer ….!!).
During the sessions at the Docks, we notice schools of mullet and we soon turned our attention to catching these wiley fish. Our coarse fishing experience was applied to the task – we would drop pellets of bread in likely spots & watched as the bread gradually disappeared. We rarely saw fish but their presence was revealed when the bread started to disappear suddenly – we would work the quays until we located the fish. That was the signal to drop float rigs with bread pellets into the water. I used a 5’ long ‘toy’ rod with an Abu Cardinal 40 spinning reel (a decent piece of budget kit) & c.5lb line, with a light float & a shot just below the float – the bread bait was allowed to sink slowly so that it dropped like the bread pellets that we periodically introduced to keep the fish around. This set up worked very well and we caught fish ranging from ½ to c.3lbs+. These fish fought hard on the light tackle – we still didn’t use the drag much but we used a backwind technique to allow the fish to take line from the spool against finger pressure. I remember some dock workers laughing at my toy rod one day – I had a smug grin on my face as, a little later, I fought and landed a fine 3lb+ fish that took me into the centre of the second Graving Dock, whilst they looked on in surprise. Muck was equally successful using a fly reel on a light freshwater float rod. I really enjoyed those innovative sessions. All fish were released to fight again, which was our standard practice.
Later, when my father took his sailing boat across the Bristol Channel to Ilfracombe, North Devon, for family holidays, I would fish in the harbour for mullet from the boat at high water and employed the same technique and tackle that worked so well in Barry Docks. I caught a few fish, but could never land them from the boat without a landing net! During those holidays, we would occasionally take the boat out of the harbour and troll for mackerel with spinners when they were running in the area.
We also coarse fished in the docks area – at the Dock Pond. This was a completely free water with no club affiliation. As such it was not stocked or regularly maintained. Swims were prepared on an ad-hoc basis by local anglers, so it was not the best of waters to fish. It was, however, free and local, and it contained some reasonable sized tench and we float fished & ledgered fish in the 2-3lb range.
Another location that we used to fish was the River Thaw at Aberthaw Power Station. We fished the tidal lower reaches of the river in late afternoons and into the early evening. The target species was trout & the technique was to ledger earthworms. We mainly picked up small flounders, annoying green eels. I have a vague memory that we also got a trout ….once, but I’m not sure. Still, it was another style of fishing and all part of the learning process.
By the start of the eighties, fishing was falling down the list of important things to do – I had my first serious girlfriend plus I had A levels to study for. Pubs and beer also (successfully) started to vie for my limited time! My last serious fishing trips of that era came in the summer of 1982 whilst waiting to start university. I revisited the Dock Pond again with a school friend, Neil Manchester (who, incidentally, is now a significant player in Scottish Salmon farming). Fishing trips were made easier after Neil passed his driving test. We float fished and ledgered for tench & the occasional carp. We often fished into the night, and employed the dough-bobbin bite detection technique. During lulls in the fishing we would throw slices of white bread into the reed beds. They were soon attacked by rats (the size of cats) that would drag the whole slice away – it was comical to see the bread apparently floating through the reeds when we fished during these night sessions.
There then followed a 20 year fishing hiatus as I completed my studies at university and then found gainful employment in the oil industry, based in London. I toyed with the idea of joining the Angling Society at university, but never got around to it. In fact, I didn’t really think that I would fish ever again, particularly after getting married and having children – free time was at a premium. As my career progressed, I embarked on a series of foreign postings to tropical climes, and my interest in fishing was re-ignited …. and in contrast to my previous experiences, I was soon to find out that the fish were (relatively) plentiful and big!