Keen angler and long-suffering Leeds United fan Andrew Wood recollects his early fishing career and how this eventually inspired him to become actively involved with our Let’s Fish! campaign.
For my 12th birthday my grandad bought me my first fishing rod. It was a 3-piece, 11-foot long fibreglass rod with an end ring that contained the screw-in section for either a swing or quiver tip. This allowed the rod to be used for both ledgering and float fishing alike. Back then, few people I knew had the luxury of owning two or more rods. I practised both techniques with equal enthusiasm.
Slowly but surely, I learned the basic skills of fishing. Thanks must go to Jack Hargreaves, who through the TV programme ‘Out of Town' fired my passion for angling even more.
We would all get on a coach on a Saturday morning, weighed down with our boxes or wicker baskets and holdalls, to fish a section of one of the Yorkshire rivers, such as the Ouse, Nidd, Wharfe, Derwent, Swale or Ure. Leeds & District ASA had many fisheries available to members. They still have a healthy number, but they are certainly not visited by as many anglers as when I was growing up in the 1970s.
Junior National matches
I will never forget catching my first fish in a match – a gudgeon on the Swale at Ainderby. Eleven more gobios found their way into the keepnet followed by a small dace. My first match weight was 11oz, as gudgeon grow big in the Swale.
I ended up representing Leeds in two Junior Nationals. The first one was on the Lancaster Canal in Garstang, followed by the Sibsey Trader Drain in Lincolnshire, where I won my section with just 4oz, 1 perch. I lost another trying to swing it in to hand. Yes, it was a stupid schoolboy error but luckily it didn't matter in the end.
Nidd junior match memories
I remember fishing the Nidd at Horseshoe Bend. I was pegged under the willows. Our mentor Charlie Taylor said, “Have you got any big baits?”. I had some big lob worms and Charlie implored me to “put one of them on” because big chub live under there. I never had a bite, so after a while I switched to a float attached bottom-end only and caught 22 small dace.
My mate in the peg around the corner, in the faster water, hooked several chub and barbel, but only got one two-and-a-half-pound chub to the net. When you've only ever seen small roach, perch and gudgeon, that was a massive fish. Even though the catch wasn't my own, it filled me with enough excitement to last a lifetime, and fuelled the fire for many years to come.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal memories
I remember catching the bus with my mates, aged 15-ish. Off we'd go to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Rodley, with a few maggots and worms, and a bag of brown crumb groundbait. The canal was so clear you would throw your balls of groundbait in and a big dark mass of gudgeon would appear over the top. Every now and again a stone loach would intercept the bait. If you were really lucky, a 2oz roach would put in an appearance.
Oh, how beautiful those days were. I do remember one day when a shoal of about five 4−5lb bream came into the swim under my feet. My eyes nearly fell out of my head.
When I was 17 I remember looking in our local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Post. There were details of an inter-school fishing match to be held at Roundhay Park in Leeds. Nobody at my school, Cross Green, had said anything about it.
I set out to investigate and it turned out that there were no plans for our school to enter. I contacted the organiser, put a team together (mainly my angling mates), organised transport, and we went and fished it. I think we came 12th as a team and I came 5th overall individually.
Putting something back
God's sense of humour has led to me getting a little greyer on the head and a little less agile in the feet. To compensate, I‘ve developed a desire to bring this love of mine for fishing to the next generation. I'd like them to be able to feel and experience what I felt, all those years ago and still do feel to this day. That is to say, the total excitement and love of catching a fish.
A short prayer to God found me setting up a community group. I worked with UK Coal and Wakefield Council to try to set up an angling coaching centre in the village of Sharlston, West Yorkshire. Unfortunately this didn't work out, for many reasons.
Five Towns Angling is born
A few years later I'd completed both my Level 1 and Level 2 angling coaching certificates. ‘Five Towns Angling' was created inside the structure of my church, Five Towns Christian Fellowship.
In the first year we organised and ran three events, all at Pontefract Park Lake. In the second year I was involved in nine events. I joined the West Yorkshire County Action Angling Group, which is led by the legend known as Clive Milson. There are several other Level 1 and 2 coaches, including Zabir Ismail, with whom I now put on Let's Fish! events on the canals and ponds of Yorkshire.
Expanding my efforts
I have just completed my third year, with a total of 21 events, including coaching at Sky Sports' ‘Fish'O'Mania' event and the Game Fair on the River Derwent at Chatsworth House. The old favourites of Pontefract Park and the canals of West Yorkshire were also used.
Our relationships with both the Angling Trust, through working with Angling Development Officer Danny Williams, and the Canal & River Trust, working with John Ellis and Peter Henery, have grown and flourished. I attended one of the Trust's ‘Mottification' training sessions with Simon Mottram. Simon taught me the importance of minimising the impact of the wind as an aid to bait presentation. Introducing me to the wonderful world of squatts and pinkies, he shotted his float even lower than Leeds United sank in those dark years before the rise that I predict will end with our forthcoming return to the Premiership.
The joy of coaching
I have caught many quality fish and have loved every minute of it. However, nothing can quite match the excitement of when you're teaching a child and they catch a fish for the first time. The size of the fish doesn't matter, it's just the fact that they have caught something, be it a little perch, roach or gudgeon.
When that fish appears from the invisible depths, the children's faces just light up. The excitement is palpable. This is only matched by the excitement of the parents asthey see their child's joy at what they have just achieved.
Now the child is hooked, and they want to catch another one and another. It's so much fun seeing families enjoying themselves together, sharing successes and failures, as the odd fish slip the hook.
What does the future hold?
As a Level 2 coach I hope to organise many more events for both the Canal & River Trust as part of the Let's Fish! programme and the Angling Trust.
The Aire & Calder Navigation canal runs around the outskirts of Castleford − my home town now. I hope to develop coaching down there with a new club, Walton AC, who have taken over the fishing rights. The stretch of water is also used by the Desmond Family Canoe Trail and I hope to aid the partnership of both organisations, so it is used for the benefit of all. Five Towns Angling is presently working with Wakefield Council, the Environment Agency and Pontefract Racecourse to develop the potential for angling coaching on the park lake and another water course close by.
As you can see, I have a lot on my plate, but if it gets families out there enjoying fishing and the countryside by a canal, river or lake, then my work will all have been worthwhile. For people of all ages, creeds and colours, life is better by water.
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