IMAGES FROM THE MINDS EYE – LOOKING BACK

The minds eye stores many thousands of images some of which lie dormant whilst others linger on the surface never fading completely. As a teenager I fished from the Banjo Pier at Looe in Cornwall a place I have revisited on numerous occasions since those formative angling days in the early to mid seventies. Strange how certain things stick in the mind, I just checked out the year Carl Douglas released Kung Fu Fighting. For some reason I remember this playing in the amusement arcade in Looe all those years ago in 1974. I was thirteen and by then fishing at Looe with the local lads. ( I never actually liked the song but it stuck in the mind!)

My father had introduced me to sea angling during our annual holiday to Looe which almost always fell during the last week of September and first week of October. Then as now fishing was prohibited from the Banjo until October 1st. prior to 1974 I had fished with my parents and it was garfish, mackerel and Pollock that would drag a brightly coloured sea float beneath the surface. The garfish would toy with the bait causing the float to dither before sliding beneath the surface or lying flat as the garfish swam up with the bait. I probably caught my first fish from Looe when I was seven or eight.

Those childhood and teenage days are long gone, the essence of those days remain etched in that marvelous minds eye. Strange to say that whilst I have revisited the Banjo on many occasions with Pauline watching the ebbing and flowing of the tide, the coming and going of boats and the vast seascape I had not taken a rod in hand at the venue since my last holiday with my parents back in around 1976/7. This was I guess partially due to timing as it was generally out of bounds due to it being summertime.

I remember clearly how I had fished for grey mullet on the ebbing tide in the eddy formed as the estuary meets the open sea beside the old banjo. When discussing a trip to Looe with the Combe Martin Sea Angling Club where better to fish for mullet than my old haunt? My connection with Looe had resulted in a long-term friendship on Facebook with fellow angler Matt Pengelly.  Matt is a fanatical sea angler who has fished Looe all his life. I have exchanged stories of Looe with Matt on many occasions and over the years he has freely shared a vast amount of information to which I owe him a big thank you.

As regards to the Looe mullet Matt confirmed my thoughts in that several generations of mullet later little has changed. Hence close to fifty years after catching my first sea fish I find myself on the banjo pier rod in hand along with our son James and five other members of the CMSAC mulleteers.

Quiver tips and floats are employed and mullet are caught up to around three pound.

I drop my orange tipped float into the ebbing flow. After drifting a few yards it dips slowly beneath those familiar clear waters. I lift the rod in expectation and feel a familiar gyrating motion transmitted through the line. I swing the garfish up into my hand, “Look a swordfish”, cries out a young child.  I remember such comments being made all those years ago. The green scales stick to my hands and that distinctive small of fresh garfish triggers childhood memories.

I chat with Matt who has joined us on the Banjo for a while and he tells me of plans to redevelop Looe and its Harbour. I am saddened to hear of these plans to bring prosperity to this old Cornish town. The pleasures of Looe are simple and special and locked in my minds eye and I am sure in many others who have trod a similar path.

Looking back, I have a wealth of memories relating to fishing and the places it has taken me to. I also have memories of Ilfracombe when it had a pier and how the removal of that pier has contributed to the loss of a community. I Remember how on cold winter nights we would gather on the pier safe above surging waters; ever hopeful. Sadly I feel the essence of angling holds no tangible value to planners and councilors. The social benefits are overlooked in the search for marinas and visions of splendor.

Where lies the value in a garfish and a disappearing float?

http://www.redgill.co.uk

A room full of memories – Looe Sharking

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The Cornish town of Looe has a rich history as a fishing port and during the 1940’s and 1950’s the sport of shark fishing in the UK became popular primarily among the wealthy members of British Society or the upper classes. The book, “Shark Angling In Great Britain” by Brigadier J.A.L Caunter documents this early period and is a fascinating read.

My own connection with Looe stems from annual holidays with my parents during the late sixties and seventies. To a large extent this was where my lifelong passion for angling was formulated with many happy hours spent float-fishing for mackerel, garfish and grey mullet.

Each evening the shark fishing boats would return to port with their catches. Back then in less enlightened times virtually all shark were slaughtered and brought back to the weighing station of the Shark Angling Club of Great Britain where their bloated carcasses were hauled aloft in front of masses of tourists. As a young boy I gazed in awe and dreamt of days when I could set sail to do battle with these beasts of the deep.

Looking back the wanton slaughter was misguided and undoubtedly contributed to a steep decline in numbers. Fortunately, all shark caught today are carefully released and their numbers are increasing once again. Shark fishing is an important part of Looe’s history and the recreational fishery is vitally important in supporting Looe as a fishing port as commercial fishing declines due to competition from larger ports and other factors.

The Old Sardine Factory on West Looe harbour front recently opened as a heritage centre and Restaurant. The centre hosts regular events and recently held an evening to bring together members of the shark fishing community and share memories in a memory café style event.

Seeing the advert on their Facebook page I could not resist attending and took the opportunity to have a one night break in my childhood haunt with my wife Pauline. I am so glad we made the effort for we were privileged to meet anglers and skippers from an earlier era. I am sure many memories and friendships were rekindled on that summer night. The vast array of black and white photos on display told of a bygone age that was full of larger than life characters.

The shark fishing of that era was seen as adventure on the high seas. It would be wrong to condemn the practice of those days for many believed that the seas fish stocks were inexhaustible. Today we know this is not true and methods and practice have changed to ensure that these splendid fish can be released after being brought to the boat. Anglers share many of the conservationists concerns regarding the oceans and should work in harmony to ensure both the survival of the shark and the shark angler.

One of the nights highlights was to meet Pat Smith aged 95 who travelled to the event from Leicester and still radiated enthusiasm as she recalled those golden days when she caught a huge porbeagle of 369lb.

Much of the credit for the evening goes to Rachel Bond, Dave Clarke and John McMaster.

Below is the short introduction to the event as delivered by Rachel on the night.Many thanks to Rachel for allowing me to reproduce the manuscript on these pages.

Living timeline – Written by John McMaster and Rachel Bond 

Welcome to the Old Sardine Factory Heritage Centre and welcome to our Sharking Legends event.

This event is all about catching up with old friends, meeting people who you thought you might never meet and sharing stories, pictures and other Sharky stuff.

I already know that many of you are well known to each other but by way of introduction and also to give us an opportunity to thank you all let me just mention a few names.

Sharking is littered with successful lady anglers so its tremendous to be able to welcome Pat Smith who has come all the way from Leicester to be with us tonight. Pat is the last surviving Ladies British record holder for shark which she holds for a magnificent 369lbs Porbeagle, caught out of Looe in 1970.  Pat is one of an elite group of lady anglers, many who like her have held and some still hold British and World records. Names like Hetty Eathorne, Patsy McKim, and Joyce Yallop to name only a few. No ladies list would be complete without our own Looe ladies legend, Daphne Case. Sadly, these ladies are no longer with us but I am pleased to say that Judi Berry, Daphne Cases daughter is with us tonight and has brought along her mothers scrap book which you must find the time to have a look at this evening. 

It’s also great to have Jackie Gould with us tonight who has brought along some of her pictures and I am sure some stories to share with us as well.

Sharking was not just about skippers and anglers as it also brought revenue to many businesses as well. Here in Looe names like the Salutation Inn, the Hannafore Point Hotel, the Portbyhan and the Jolly Sailor and many more welcomed anglers and their families to Looe.  One of the most influential of those businesses was of course Jack Bray & Son. In the early days the cost of sharking fishing tackle put it beyond the reach of many. By hiring fishing tackle for the day, Jack made the sport accessible to many people, which helped tremendously with the growth of the sport and the SACGB.  Jack Brays was a weigh centre and sharking trips could also be arranged via the shop and while sadly, Martin has been unable to make it tonight, Martin has an invaluable wealth of knowledge of the sports history.

And last but certainly not least we have our skippers line up which I can best describe as a, living timeline, with us tonight.

 

We have Alan Dingle who skippered the Lady Betty when Pat caught her record Porbeagle and when Joyce Yallop caught her record Mako. We have John Kitto, and Bill Cowan from Polperro. We have Ernie Curtis and Mally Toms, Ian King from Lyme, Richard Butters, Paul Greenwood and Graham Hannford from Plymouth.

No sharking skipper gathering would be complete without mentioning some of those legendary characters who are no longer with us but the memories of them won’t ever leave us. Skippers like Ivan Chaston, Bonzo, Edgar Williams, Bill and Jack Butters, Bert Dingle Robin Vinnicome, Phil Gould and some many many more.

Then of course we have the “younger skippers”!! Well, I had to call them that to get them to come. We have Murray Collings, Pete Davis, Dave Bond, Phil Dingle, Phil Curtis, Dan Margetts  xxxxxxxx

I would very much like a group photograph of all of you at some point this evening and if any of you would like a copy let me know and I will arrange to send you one.

I would also like to say a couple of last thank yous, firstly to the Shark Club for their assistance in curating this exhibition and loaning us some fascinating items, and secondly to John Mac, John  has been my go to shark expert, exhibition and speech writing consultant, photo mounting expert, coffee provider, and general fountain of all knowledge and has been a huge support to me throughout the lead up to this exhibition, so thank you.

We aim to close the event around 8pm but in the meantime we have cider at the bar, and please do say hello to our volunteers with cameras, who will be trying to capture the event and your wonderful memories and stories for us.

This heritage centre runs on donations, so anything you can give towards us being able to put on events like these would be hugely appreciated. Dave Bond guaranteed me that he and the other skippers would whack a tenner in each…

Finally thanks very much for all your input and I hope you enjoy the event.

Below are a few photos I captured on the night with the kind permission of those displaying the images.