Most anglers at some point in their angling lives will join a fishing club and depending on their individual circumstances and interests, some will happily remain within a club structure for many years, or others will decide to move on and fish solely freelance. For young anglers and beginners it was and still is always a good option to join a club to tap into the accumulated knowledge of the membership. Clubs are good for social contact and perfect for the more gregarious angler who thrives on banter with his mates.
I must admit to have preferred not to match or club fish because of an idea that formed early on that matches are often fished either at the wrong time or at the wrong venue. Catching my chosen target fish has always been my raison d’etre for fishing rather than accumulating a catch of species that were not my focus at a particular time. Although it has to be said that we all have to compromise at times.
I joined the now defunct Lowestoft South Pier Angling Club in 1970, as a very keen fifteen year old. All clubs have their share of both interesting and colourful characters within the membership and my club was no exception. The Chairman was a local angling legend, Sam Hook, who held the British rod caught cod record for fifteen years with a fish captured off the Lowestoft Claremont Pier in 1945. The demographic of the club was interesting at the point of my joining as the average age of the membership must have been close to seventy years. I joined along with three or four other teenagers and our arrival must have been a bit of a shock for the membership, but we were welcomed as overnight the club had a thriving junior section. I can remember one of the female members, Olive Scriggins, remonstrating with us as we starting messing around when fishing was quiet. She fished with her husband Harold and son Ronnie, and she had a voice that lives on in the memory as she admonished us. The club held regular Sunday morning matches throughout the year, with an additional Wednesday evening match in the winter season. Some of the members were difficult to beat match fishing their favoured venues such as the South Pier or the Lake Lothing (the Port inner harbour) with harbour ragworm for flounders, soles and eels.
I was an active member of the club for three months and won my second match on a very cold evening in January when beach fishing had plunged temporarily into the seasonal doldrums.The venue chosen was an odd one at the time because it was the shallow stretch of beach located between the two piers and in those days it was not considered a viable option by most local anglers. The South Pier marks the north boundary of the beach and parallel to the beach is the main promenade.
On this particular evening, with a moderate but miserable cold wind blowing from the North West, it proved to be almost hospitable, with a substantial seawall providing shelter as a wind break and the promenade lighting illuminating the beach. There was a bit of sleet in the air and even in the lee of the wind behind the seawall it was still bitterly cold. I chose to fish a spot close to where a statue of Triton, the Greek Sea God, still stands prominently on the promenade.
I fished with and shared my heavy tripod rod rest and Tilley lamp with Mervyn, who I had known since my first day at primary school. I had set up my eleven foot honey coloured hollow glass fibre beach casting rod with its comfortable full cork handle and screw lock reel seat. Although the rod went from my ownership many years ago I still have the reel, a classic Penn Surfmaster 150, equipped with a plastic spool loaded that evening with eighteen pound Gantel monofilament line with a thirty pound shock leader. The rig was simple comprising of a single 4/0 Mustard Aberdeen hook tied to a blood loop paternoster and a five ounce fixed wire lead. I could manage a consistent sixty to seventy yard cast, using a simple ground cast.
As the rising tide was pushed even further up the beach by the biting wind causing us to huddle under the seawall the prospects did not seem too bright to young inexperienced eyes. Despite multiple layers of clothing the evening was chilling and after a couple of biteless hours, we began move around mainly to keep warm and secondly to exchange banter with each other. It was Mervyn that first saw the bite on my rod develop as the tip, which had been painted white gave a couple of knocks and remained in a static bent position over the rod rest. A fish had picked up the bait and bolted, hooking itself at the same time. I grabbed the rod and experienced that exhilarating response from feeling a fish kick to regain its freedom. Standing in the wash from the surf taking in a boot full of water or two I gradually eased the fish towards me. It wasn’t a big cod but it was a modest codling of just over four pounds. I landed it using a wave to good effect, and it lay flapping on the wet sand with its mottled yellowish green flanks and white underside illuminated by the promenade lights. I think that it was the only fish caught in the match and the thought of my success made the walk home ladened with fishing tackle a breeze.
I still treasure the memory of that evening despite catching many good cod from the shore during my fifty six years of shore angling for the species. Even now in my retirement every time I walk past that particular spot on the promenade the memory of that evening match still brings a smile to my face.
It goes to show that this sport is not always about catching the biggest fish, but there so many other elements which combine to give great pleasure. It is, however, also a cause of sadness as two of my young friends are no longer with us.