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Some readers will never of heard of 'Jack' Martin let alone his pseudonym of the 'Trent Otter', perhaps a rather dubious nametag given the current controversy surrounding otter predation on some game and coarse fisheries.
His 'nom de plume', acquired as early as 1882 when his first book was published, stuck with him despite the fact he only fished the Trent for 13 years – so he must have been fishing the Trent from sometime in the early 1870’s.
When you read the works of 'Trent Otter', his enjoyment, experiences and knowledge leap out from the pages. It’s just as if you are there, on the bank, fishing alongside him at the turn of the 20th Century.
Today we can only wonder at his fantastic catches, interesting stories, fascinating reminiscences and wonderful experiences. Martin belonged to the late Victorian and early Edwardian era living through one of the greatest periods of invention in fishing tackle (present day excepted of course). You won’t find his name in the record books, either for match fishing or for big fish but he was a 'giant' of the angling world.
I’m of the opinion that John William Martin was born an angler, much like Jim Bazley and latterly contemporaries like Dick Walker, Peter Stone, Billy Lane and Ivan Marks to just to name a few of the true greats the sport has produced.
Born in the Lincolnshire fens, a former canal boat boy, farmyard help, bricklayer’s labourer and blacksmith’s assistant JWM learnt much about life. He was not well educated by today’s standards and in his books always made excuses for his lack of learning but you would never have known had he not told you.
Date unknown, he walked apparently from the Lincolnshire Fens to start afresh in Newark. He soon became an accomplished Trent angler learning much from the wily 'old' Trent anglers like Charlie Hudson (the old Dunham professional) and 'Nottingham' George Holland. He became an institution, fishing alongside Jack Bailey (son of William Bailey), David Slater (the Newark reel maker), Henry Coxon (inventor of the Aerial reel), and F W K Wallis (joint holder of the barbel record in the 1930s).
Considering the mode of transport in Martin’s heyday was train or horse and carriage JWM wrote 'During 46 years I have roamed 16 counties, have cast my lines in the waters of 25 rivers, and have seen much to instruct and very much to interest.'
An early book by Martin is 'Float Fishing and Spinning in the Nottingham Style'. What for goodness sake is the Nottingham style? Well quite simply it was, and still is 'trotting' the steam with a good centre pin reel' – a method that 'specialists' and 'enthusiasts' are returning to in great numbers.
Martin described it thus 'Long casting with a short rod, a fine silk line, and a rather heavily shotted tackle, the bait tripping along the bottom or nearly so: and every inch of water searched by the bait.'
Few words but beautifully and accurately described. He elucidates further about fishing on the drop and holding back, styles that are sometimes attributed to Benny Ashurst in the 1960's.
Around the 1880’s he set up a fishing rod and tackle manufacturing business at 4, Northern Buildings, Lover’s Lane, Newark-on-Trent (yes it was in Lover’s Lane). Modern references show him in partnership with a man called Openshaw. John William Martin later moved to Huntingdon and so became more famous for his exploits on the Ouse and the Fens.
More books followed with amazing titles. 'Days Amongst the Pike and Perch', 'Roach and Bream Fishing in Many Waters', ' My Fishing Days and Fishing Ways' , the 'Trent Otters Little Book on Angling' and 'Practical Fishing for the So Called Coarse Fishes.'
A successful fishing tackle inventor, Martin eventually moved to London around 1900 to set up a tackle shop in Seymour Street, Euston Square, which had to be closed in the early days of the First World War due to his son joining the army. Unfortunately the Trent Otter's untimely death followed on March 23rd 1915.
Long after his passing, Hugh Tempest Sheringham, himself a great author, wrote a few 'In Memorium' notes as a short introduction to the reprint of Martin’s 'Coarse Fish Angling' by Jonathan Cape in 1924.
'The Trent Otter was one of those rare men, who without help from circumstance or early education, reach the heart of their fellows because they have a message to deliver. The author's sentences ring true and they say exactly what needs saying, sometimes with a beauty of thought and expression, always with the grace of a kindly disposition showing through.'
Warmth and expression, close to nature - few words but much said.
John Essex was a key member of the legendary Leicester Likely Lads match team of the 1970’s. He picked up five first division one national championship team medals and was third overall in the 1975 match on the Nene, landing two carp, which was a remarkable angling feat at that time. John coached the Leicester juniors to five NFA junior titles and chaired Leicestershire Angling Federation for nearly 30 years
Still fishing weekly at club level, John is an avid collector of books and old tackle with an extensive library of nearly 1000 books. He will be releasing his first book, 'History of the National' shortly. John blogs for us about angling history and heritage.