Memories of fishing adventures

AT the back of my shed at the bottom of the garden behind Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston a fishing rod, separated into two pieces, bridges a pair of nails.

AT the back of my shed at the bottom of the garden behind Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston a fishing rod, separated into two pieces, bridges a pair of nails. From one hangs a disintegrating polythene bag heavy with a reel, hooks and lead weights.

It must be at least a decade since I last used them, standing on Brush Quay at Gorleston and catching my average haul of a pair of undersized whiting lured by mackerel bait. Catching them was a great pleasure for a rank amateur. Killing them by gripping them with an old towel and slamming their heads against the concrete wall was not something I enjoyed.

Nearly every year, as autumn approaches, I vow to retrieve the rod and tackle from my shed, clean it up, oil the Sundridge Dippa surfcaster reel, and try my luck again...but somehow the resolve is never matched by the deed, and the opportunity passes.

In the Seventies, when I would fish perhaps half a-dozen times during Novembers, you had to elbow your way into the line of anglers of all ages, standing almost shoulder-to-shoulder along Brush Quay and on both sides of the pier, so a novice caster like me often misdirected his line across those of others...who were less than thrilled.

But on the odd occasion since then that I have passed that way during the season, only a handful have been there, standing patiently while staring unblinking at the tip of their rods waiting for that wonderful tell-tale movement signalling a possible bite.

I do not know why the interest waned so. Perhaps the cost of lugworms and fish bait; or the preference for home comforts and bought food instead of standing in cold, wind and rain sometimes with scant or no reward; or the Government's plan of recent years - thankfully (abandoned) to introduce compulsory licences; or the shrinking amount of quay and pier available for angling.

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There used to be a camaraderie, non-existent now when the next angler is beyond shouting distance. Whenever I stood on Brush Bend, cycling lads would inquire, “Caught anything yet, Mister?” My usual reply (“Not much” or “Nothing”) brought the information that on the pier head 30lb cod were queueing up to be reeled in one after the other.

Next time, I would opt for the pier and the promise of 30lb cod, but the bicycling boys were quick to tell me that Brush Bend was the spot where everyone was among the big fish. I never found myself in the right place at the right time, even if these were typical tales of ones that did or did not get away.

When I began my journalistic career in Great Yarmouth in 1955, an annual November diary date was the borough sea angling festival, instituted in 1948, that attracted big support from all over the country for its five-hour sessions each day, and I accompanied Mercury photographer Les Gould along the riverside at Gorleston on the Saturday, and the same spot plus Gorleston beach on the Sunday, as he snapped competitors (hopefully holding a prize specimen). Then we went to the weigh-in and prize-giving at Gorleston Pavilion where light musical entertainment was provided.

Recently I chanced upon the festival programme for 1956 which brought back memories of that mid-Fifties era. Thirteen challenge cups (including one given by the Mercury), plus 50 other prizes worth �1200, were on offer. That year the entry fee was 4s (20p) for individuals each day, and 16s (80p) for teams of four on the Sunday.

I also have a Mercury cutting from 1959, the 11th festival involving “hundreds of anglers from many different parts of the country, including London, Swansea, Wolverhampton and Bognor, as well as from many seaside resorts along the east coast” who enjoyed perfect weather.

Yarmouth anglers claimed most of the honours, the individual champion being Mr N C Adams whose 42 fish weighing 7lb 5oz earned him the Steward and Patterson Bowl - ironically, he worked for rival local brewer Lacons! A quartet from the Erie Resistor Angling Club took the Les Berry Cup for the team championship title.

Dab and whiting were prominent in bags, and other catches included some dogfish and several fairly large soles, one weighing 1lb 4oz claiming the cup for the heaviest flatfish. Bait included rag and lugworms, peeler crabs, mackerel, various shellfish - and strips of tripe!

Weed and lack of tide were reportedly the festival's biggest problem.

At the prize-giving, the Mayor of Yarmouth, Mr Ernest Applegate, stated that the borough council was proud of the way the festival had developed since its inception, due to the hard work of people behind the scenes, led by the festival chairman (Mr W N Wyles) and the secretary (Mr Bill Platten).

So, what happened to this popular and well-established sea angling festival?

Nick Pownall, of Seafield Close, Yarmouth, a member of the angling retailer dynasty (originally incorporating a men's barber's) founded in Regent Road by his great-uncle Ernest in 1900 and still in business today, says it was a pity that the festival came to an end. He blamed dwindling lack of support and fish as the main contributor, with the rising cost and scarcity of bait also factors.

“This brings back many memories,” he continues. As young men, Nick and his brother Reg had a regular weekend job, fetching from Yarmouth Beach railway station - and, after its 1959 closure, from Vauxhall - boxes of lugworm dug on the North Norfolk flats. Working at top speed, the brothers would divide 20,000 lugworms into fifties for retailing at four shillings a 100 for eager Saturday and Sunday angling customers.

It was not simply a question of splitting the lugworms into portions of 50, but also involved being fair to all customers by ensuring that each portion included a mixture of the fat and juicy plus the smaller and thinner.

“It was a huge business,” Nick wistfully tells me. But the time came when “the bait diggers were not prepared to go out in terrible conditions to dig.”

In fact, either by chance or because of a dearth of fish, the simultaneous demise of our local sea angling festival mirrored that of the great East Anglian autumn herring industry.