On a recent fishing trip to the Cotswolds I met a few pike anglers from just outside of London and had a very interesting day sharing funny stories from previous pike days when I realised that a lot of the people I mentioned were not recognised by any of them. This left me to ponder on how a group of pike anglers generally known as the Newport Taffia could be unknown to a wised-up group of anglers as these.
Bearing this in mind I decided to write a brief article on these individuals who remarkably all came from an area less than a few miles square. This is made particularly significant due to the fact that there were no pike fishing venues of any worth within an hours drive in any direction.
It is important to note that the anglers in question, when at their peak, had very few books of any significance available to them, no internet or informative magazines. No fancy clothing or thermal boots at a time when we had real Winters, they just had instincts and a great love of this past time so misunderstood by the general public.
Now the reader may not be aware of the name of these anglers so I will name them now in no particular order of achievement.
Bob Jones, Pete Climo, Phil Pearson, Paul Sullivan, and John Matthews. I don`t include myself in this group as I am a Cardiff boy who although born outside of the magic triangle, from the age of fourteen was brought up (angling wise) within it. The one thing that may explain this enigma is the fact that we were all members of Newport Anglers Association which was the catalyst that brought us all together. Inter school angling competitions also played a part which unfortunately no longer take place. So here goes.
A teacher by profession who in the early seventies was one of the only anglers to have caught a thirty pound pike and carp. No mean feat considering the scarcity of carp in those days. The aristocrat of the group (I use the word group under advisement as these are not group people), he was the lucky one and nicknamed Golden Balls for some reason which escaped me as I write. A few occurrences come to mind when thinking of Bob from those days and one was the day when he had two twenties (using two live baits given by me) on a day out with me and Pete.
On the way home we were sworn to secrecy and not to tell Phil or Paul when we had our weekly get together in a local pub. Pete and myself were in first and both stated that we all blanked, then Bob came in and said,
Did “you hear I had two twenties on Saturday”. Unbelievable.
His first 30 pound pike is a story in itself. John Matthews had arrived at dawn at the venue and was set up when Bob appeared an hour later and asked John (who hadn`t caught anything up until then) if he could fish next to him. John agreed and Bob cast his first rod out and within minutes his dead bait was taken and Bob had his first of his 5 thirties. From that day to this I haven`t witnessed John bank fishing with anyone else and may explain his hermit like behaviour in later life.
I can also remember one Winter day when we were fishing a local water where I always brought a small gas cooker with me to have breakfast. Positioning the cooker up wind so as the smell drifted down to where Bob was fishing I knew it wouldn`t take long for him to weaken and come to me with his begging bowl. I had the opinion that Bob was rationed meat at home. True to form he sidled up and asked if he could have a sausage. I said yes and as quick as a flash and like Billy the Kid in a gun fight he drew a hot dog bap out of his pocket. `Stick in there` he said. I wouldn`t have minded but it was already buttered.
Another memory from the past was when Bob and myself attended a meeting concerning the proposed closure of Llangorse Lake to all boats including anglers. This was an attempt to turn Llangorse into a nature reserve by local bird watchers stating that some rare threatened species over wintered the Lake, and it was a vital location for their survival. I represented the PAC and Bob represented himself which is not an uncommon occurrence.
The local bird watching `expert` enthralled the Lake owner and local councillor with his knowledge of these birds until Bob stopped him noting that the species in question were wading birds and the area he had designated for their survival was 14 feet deep and totally unsuitable for these precious birds. Admitting that he hadn`t carried out any sort of depth survey we quickly agreed to a restriction around the Lakes perimeter approximately 50 yards from the bank leaving the rest of the Lake for the rest of us. It was the only feasible resolution considering the circumstances.
Without doubt if Bob hadn`t have been there with his wider range of knowledge I am sure fishing and all boating activities would have been banned to this day. It is his legacy, a legacy not many people are aware of and they should be eternally grateful.
Pete worked at the British Steel Whitehead site in Newport and is the only one of the gang to catch a forty pound pike. This Llandegfedd pike was caught in a most unusual way succumbing to a small spinner maybe intended for another species but none the less a fantastic fish form a man who first got me interested in piking and was a great help for a long time. For the life of me I can`t remember when or why we stopped fishing together. I think my emigrating had some thing to do with it and we lost touch for over six years. Peter is a direct individual not afraid to set you straight (in a nice way) but also has a sense of humour. He told me one day of a trip away when the local bailiff noticed that he had a small stone resting on his silver paper attached to the line for bite detection saying it was noddyish. The following day he saw the bailiff coming and from a bush behind where he was fishing produces a half house brick which replaced the stone. I think he used that method for many years after. Peter was also responsible for the statement that fishing with mackerel was like fishing with bare hooks which I think he lived to regret. He and Bob also couldn`t understand why we all went to Ireland when we could catch the same stamp of pike at home. I don`t think they really “got it” as unless you fish away from your home patch you will never realise the challenge presented by fishing these large untamed waters.It must be noted that Bob and Pete smashed the British eel record the story of which has been detailed in a previous issue of Catch Cult. Pete and Bob mainly fished together and this partnership has only been curtailed for non- fishing reasons.
A steel erector/draughtsman by trade he was for a long period Phil Pearson boat partner until one fateful day when he had a number of twenties from his end of the boat and Phil blanked. From that day they fished together but not in the same boat.
He was part of the trip to Lough Corrib that resulted in a week that will forever last as one of the most production weeks pike fishing in pike fishing history considering they were fishing a vast Lough of over 20 miles long.
There was one trip when I noticed Paul fishing a area of Lough Corrib which was usually fully reeded with a 6 metre gap in it which had resulted from (what I assumed to be a gravel bar). We had noted this gap during a previous trip in earlier times and it was an area which produce many big pike despite only being a few feet deep. The one positive observation of this area made me develop the Route Theory which explains how pike hold up in the same areas on a regular basis and move from one area to another using the same route most of the time. What this break in the reeds showed that pike were using the gap to access shallower water behind the reeds instead of swimming through then, hence a spawning routes was identified.
Routes exist outside of the spawning period as do holding areas but usually away from the normally accepted spawning areas.
I fished with Paul from school days and were the first to venture to Ireland tench and bream fishing in the early seventies. He is even mentioned in Rickards and Webb`s book, Fishing for Big Tench, catch a big Tench from Lanesbourgh`s hot water stretch.
Venturing to Loch Awe with John Mathews one Winter they spent most (every) evening at the local pub and the one evening the landlord took a call from Trevor Roberts who asked if there were two Welshmen in the bar. The landlord said `There are two blokes here, one has a stretched face and the other looks ninety`That’s them` Trevor replied. Sometimes words are far more explanatory than a photograph.
I get on really well with all my fishing partners and John is no exception after all, you never argue with a man who owns a shot gun. We have had a few Irish trips of note and catching pike has nothing to do with it. Obsessed with my snoring which he describes as `frightening` (separate beds) and his futile attempts to drink more whiskey than me we still to this day get on well and really enjoy sitting in the bailiffs cabin at the Bob Small Fishery talking over the good, and sometimes not so good old days. He was involved with the Irish trip described by Phil Pearson in Dave Horton`s Ultimate Pike which was the only trip to Ireland I missed during that pre-netting period that resulted in a monster at 38+ pounds. On one Irish trip a really strange thing happened when staying in Cornamona with Paul, Phil, Will Travers and of course John when I went to toilet one morning after a few others and noticed that there was a long, thin brown stain on the hand towel (which wasn`t there before, the stain I mean) as though some one had used to dislodge damp debris from their nether regions using the under sling method. I have recently discovered that this action is called `Flossing`. Returning to the breakfast table where they were all sitting and I subtly mentioned my discovery and possible causes and waited for a response. It didn`t take long for John to stand up and race to the toilet, and I quickly followed only to discover the hand towel was gone. This will be forever known (and rightly) as the night of the brown stain. What a legacy.
Phil is a close friend of mine and used to work as a Refrigeration Engineer but is now retired. We still fish together (different boats) off North Wales every Summer and I have noticed a big change in his personality over the years from his fanatical quest for his chosen species to just being almost fanatical. He still puts in more effort than most even bass/tope fishing and I have rarely caught more in a day than him. Mind you that goes for most anglers. He (and Paul) haven’t pike fished for over ten years but when he was, his attention to detail did border to me as mystifying. One instance that comes to mind was on arrival at the digs in Ireland he was distraught that his freezer door was slightly ajar and the tail fins of his mackerel had slightly defrosted. That always seemed a bit over the top for me but he did catch a lot more than me so he may have had a point, but another example of his attention to detail came on one trip to Mask with Chris (from Hull) when I noticed in his `swag bag` that there were seven potatoes in there with felt pen writing on each one as follows. M, TU, W THU etc. He had actually identified the day of the week he was going to eat them. Solely on a pike fishing note I can’t imagine anyone pike fishing harder than Phil in his day as he sets sail before dawn and doesn`t get back until after dark no matter what the weather and if he doesn`t catch they just aren`t there.
Phil was the first pike angler to my knowledge to embrace a more mobile method of angling using a boat and float trolling on the huge Irish and Scottish waters. Armed with a 14 foot Bon Witco Wyth, a Bow mounted electric, and a 40 horse outboard he would speed around the chosen water only fishing specific areas for a short while and then moving onto another area where pike would often attend. It was difficult not to be impressed with his results and eventually I adopted the same methods and success followed. This method has been successful on all the large waters encountered including Loughs Corrib, Mask, Ree and Lochs Lomond, Ken and Awe. Even Windermere succumbed to this method despite its generally huge depths in comparison to the previously mentioned waters.
Pike behaviour doesn`t change from country to country and is a constant especially when fishing large expanses of water. If you had to summarise what makes Phil different from the average then it would be that some people look at a mountain, Phil wonders what on the other side.
It must not be underestimated the influence this group of anglers made not only on me but to a rising group of pike anglers to what is actually possible. One forty, over thirty thirties and hundreds of twenties is a testament to these anglers who fished in different (some say better) times with no access to modern days technology or access to trout stocked reservoirs. This country has produced many fine anglers but you would be hard pressed to find another group of this type from such a small graphical area of population. Some may say, “Why is this recognition so important or even relevant to todays pike anglers” In my opinion all sporting activities have history which has influenced modern day participants and pike fishing is no exception. From an array of individuals who have inspired by their commitment in this very specialised sport, generations have progressed year by year from the experiences of others and these anglers have made a generous contribution to angling in general and not just to piking.
From the 1800`s to today a selective group of anglers have been fascinated by pike as a species and from Lord Inveuries`s list to Fred Bullers Doomsday book and even the Notable Pike Captures list compiled by Neville Fickling we have all been spoilt with access to an insight into what is possible if enough effort is put in on the right waters and one thing you couldn`t have accused my friends of is lack of effort.
So I hope the next time I meet on the bank side other like minded anglers they will have read this article and at least had some idea of what went before them and how modern day pike angling achievements are nothing new and that they have a lot to thank these old stagers for their contribution to pike angling as we know it today.