Rarely, at the relevant time, do you realise the influence certain people have on your future life path. It can be a simple word of advice, a stern telling off, or just a joint experience that sets the transition in motion. But often it’s the written word that fires the imagination, and an interest that was just a spark becomes a flaming ambition that charts a specific path for that individual to explore.
For me those people were sea angling writers that inspired a small boy to want to fish in the sea at a time when the sea was over 100 miles from home and only rarely visited in the summer holidays. Their adventures told in spirited words that made you feel like you were there, casting in to the breakers alongside them, feeling the power of the hooked fish, and the elation of the catch amongst nature’s elements.
Looking back, those sea angling writers that influenced my life also influenced modern sea angling as it stands today. Their influence was at the forefront in the mid 1960’s and 1970’s, a time when their innovation and fresh thinking produced tackle and methods that were the foundation of how we fish today.
My pocket money from the age of 8 or 9 was mostly spent on fishing magazines. I bought “Creel”, which then became “Angling” magazine edited by Brian Harris, probably the best investment I’ll ever make.
Under Brian Harris “Angling” became, for me and many others, the font of all knowledge. It attracted some of the best “thinking” anglers in the country to put their thoughts to print and massively drove the sport forward.
The biggest influence for me personally was the late, great John Darling. His passion for bass fishing was insatiable and highly infectious. I was instantly consumed by a world of wonder as I read more and more of his work. It stood out, because what he experienced and wrote about, I, in turn, also experienced and found his words to be fact. The chapter on bass in his book, simply titled “Shore Fishing”, is pretty much all you’ll ever need to know about bassing. I was scheduled once to fish with John, but bad weather postponed the trip and the opportunity regretfully never rose again.
The interest in long range casting goes back to Primo Livenais, a San Franciscan, who back in the 1930’s was already casting well over 200-yards, but in the 1960’s we had Leslie Moncrieff, an incredible caster and angler who wrote about the big cod catches being taken off Dungeness Beach in Kent, and the long range tactics that were catching them that ultimately fired a revolution that swept rod design to where it is today.
In the early 1970’s, I can’t be sure when, “Angling” published an article by Dennis Darkin called “How To Reach Out For Those Big Cod”. It was my first introduction to the pendulum cast, a method that would transform my attitude to fishing. It carried just six photos of the cast in sequence. I spent untold time in a field and on the beach struggling with and practising this cast, making so many mistakes, until one day, just like riding a bike, it came naturally and another new world of fishing opened up to me. I still have that now tattered original article and it’s been to the other side of the world with me.
I missed the latter half of the 1970’s as I went to work in Western Australia, but on coming home I bought a book purely because of the author, it was “The Guinness Guide To Saltwater Angling" by non-other than Brian Harris. It was a compilation of much of what the author had learnt and experienced during his tenure as editor of “Angling” magazine. Published in 1977 it remains my bible and the techniques described in those pages are as relevant today as they were when fresh. Brian Harris has now extended his passion to fly fishing for trout and is still prominent in magazines.
Another writer, and I stress the word in its truest sense, is Clive Gammon. His articles and books flowed poetically with the spirit of fishing. Feeling a little depressed, weeks of work to be done before the next fishing trip, then reading Clive’s words would have your heart soaring and spirit rejuvenated. His book, “A Tide oF Fish” is an all-time classic. John Darling was a devotee of Clive Gammon and was the inspiration for John to write, and I know why. I’ve fished just once with Clive after he returned home from years working with Sports Illustrated in America. It was off Swansea over the banks for bass, and what a dour day it was. The fish were elsewhere and not inclined to feed. It was fitting that Clive caught the only bass, a small fish, but a bass none the less. Clive still writes occasionally!
Digger Derrington, sadly no longer with us, was an Australian, endured being a Japanese prisoner of war in the notorious Changi Prison, then lived in the UK and was one of the most down to earth, logical anglers of that important time. He was part of the “Angling” magazine revolution and on my return to the UK he and I swapped a few letters on various subjects. Typically it was me asking the questions and he providing the answers. He was a pioneer of uptide casting, but he was good with people and initiated the “hands on” approach with anglers helping them hone their skills. Helping rookies improve their fishing ability is now part and parcel of modern angling publications, a door he first opened.
In 1974, just as I was leaving the UK, another of my favourite sea angling writers, Ian Gillespie, a school teacher, published his book “Cod”. Gillespie was a thinker, always pushing for improved tackle and techniques, and alongside Nigel Forrest of Breakaway helped develop the Breakaway lead, possibly one of the most important developments the sea angling world has seen and one that remains with us to this day. He was also at the forefront of light tackle fishing from both shore and boat, but was sadly taken from us at the end of the 70’s.
One of the best story tellers, but with the ability to educate as well, was Anthony Pearson. He wrote several books, but the one that stood out was “Successful Shore Fishing”, a compilation, told in story form, of his experiences fishing mainly the North Wales coast, the Yorkshire coast and in Ireland. He was a professional journalist working for The Guardian newspaper, but had fishing articles published in “Creel” and “Angling” magazines, amongst others. His words were like Gammon’s, an inspiration to get out and go fishing. I get the impression from his writing that he was happiest when fishing alone, or at best with a single companion of like mind. His contribution remains immense. Anthony Pearson passed away a few years ago, but he left us with a major insight in to what sea angling was all about in the 60’s and 70’s.
In Ireland, again during those so influential 1960’s, the Irish Inland Fisheries Trust, later to become the Central Fisheries Board, started to assess the angling potential around their coast. And what potential there was! Many of the sea angling writers mentioned above found their way out to Ireland, meeting and fishing with Kevin Linnane and Des Brennan.
I’ve been privileged to meet both men, Kevin Linnane several times over the years and discussing many things from bass to pilot fish that accompany oceanic blue sharks. Des Brennan I met just the once. It was on Killybegs Pier in Donegal and we chatted about Sputnik uptide leads which he’d never seen before, but noticed in my lead pot. They took the first steps to setting Ireland up as a major sea angling destination, and also were instrumental in establishing the Irish bass tagging scheme, and equally important were deeply involved in the Irish Specimen Fish Committee which remains, in my opinion, the definitive list for specimen sized fish due to its strict controls. Des Brennan also wrote the “Sea Angler Afloat And Ashore”, which again has become a classic book and another bible to me personally when targeting new species. Both Kevin and Des are gone now, but again their contribution lives on for us all to take a benefit from.
For those of us that have lived through sea angling history and these special times and witnessed the great fishing that was available through the 60’s and 70’s, these then where some of the anglers who scouted the way forward and brought us individually, and as a sport, to where we are now. Only a few older anglers remain to remember and appreciate these guys for what they were, leaders, innovators and motivators!
As well as special people, there has to be special places in sea angling history. Dungeness being witness to all those big cod that revolutionised long distance surf casting techniques would be one. The wrecks in the English Channel off Plymouth where so many records were broken and new deep water angling techniques developed would also qualify. Dinas Dinlle beach south of Caernarfon in North Wales where Pearson, Bruce McMillen another great angler/writer, and so many others took big catches of bass and tope in the 1960’s would also rate inclusion, as would Cefn Sidan in South Wales for its bass.
The place you feel nearest though, to the spirit of these sea angling writers, Darling, Derrington, Gillespie, Pearson, Linnane and Brennan is in Kerry, Ireland on the Castlegregory beaches at Stradbally, Kilcummin, and Fermoyle where they all fished in their heyday and venues that produced great catches for many of them that featured in their writing.
I’ve talked to Norman Dunlop, someone I’ve fished extensively with over the past 30-years, about this. Norman’s known and fished with some of the sea angling writers mentioned here and he’s come to the same conclusion. The Castlegregory beaches have that “feel” about them, a sense of history and atmosphere
Fish a night tide under the distant outline of Mount Brandon, stood up to your thighs in white rushing water, feel the “thump” on the rod tip as a fish breaks the lead out and those with that uncanny 6th sense can feel these great anglers presence in the surf beside you. A strange thing to say some will think, but I’m not the only one that feels the atmosphere when fishing these beaches. Special people and special places go together, it makes sense!
Why write this? Lest they be forgotten!
Thank you to the Central Fisheries Board, Swords, Dublin, Ireland for their kind offer to use their library photographs.