By Jack Salad
In July of last year my son Jonjo suggested that we visit the local fishing shop HF Angling in Shavington just to check out prices and to see what sort of equipment was available.
I hadn’t been fishing for nearly 15 years at this point, as for many others life had got in the way but I’d retained my passion for the sport which started around the age of five.
On a family holiday to Cornwall my father had taken me out on a small boat so we could feather for mackerel, once I got over the intense fear of drowning I agreed to hold a line that my father carefully placed into the sea. For some 10 to 15 minutes I sat there wondering why fish would eat feathers tied to a long piece of string, the man had clearly lost his mind but the man was my idol so I played along. Suddenly I felt a sort of knock and the line tightened in my hand, I thought we’d probably gone over a sunken boat and were about to be pulled in and eaten by the very fish we were supposed to be catching. I said nothing to my father then I felt another knock and the line became even tighter and began to judder in my hand,
”Dad what’s going on!?” I shouted “something’s trying to pull me in, help!”.
My father who at this point was busy practising being varying shades of green told me to slowly wind the line around the wooden frame that I was holding in my other hand, then he hung his head over the edge of the boat and was violently sick. Now panic had sunk in, I truly had no idea what was happening on the end of the line and now my father was too busy vomiting to help me so I did as he said and slowly began to wrap the line around the frame. I was just getting the hang of it when suddenly another knock and the line became heavier again but I carried on regardless now starting to feel an unexplainable sense of excitement.
Soon enough my father had recovered from his ailment and turned to help me, we carried on winding and eventually I saw what at that point was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life. There were three or four shimmering, flapping creatures coming towards me splashing around in the foaming water, my father took control in the final moments and before I knew it in front of me were four beautiful fish dancing around on the floor of the boat. My dad detached them from the feathers and gestured to me to pick one of them up, frankly I was petrified thinking the fish was sure to either bite or spear and poison me with one of the sharp spikes that were coming out of its back but I took hold of it steadily just as he had said.
This was the moment that I fell in love with fishing, I managed to hold the fish still long enough to get a good look at it and I was in awe. To be so close to a creature that was this beautiful but that I had no business even being near to, like it was from another world, a world that I was not party to and in which I didn’t belong but there it was… I was face-to-face with an alien and I loved it.
For the rest of the holiday I no longer wanted to play on the beach or go to the amusement arcade and play the one arm bandits, their bells and lights meant nothing now, all I wanted to do was catch more of those incredible creatures… The bug was in me and it’s never gone away.
Over the years I did lots more sea fishing but none in freshwater, it was predominantly just a holiday treat that as I got older became a stronger and greater thrill. In my late teens I started to go on fishing trips with friends, now we had cars we could drive over to the North Wales coast, take our tents, gallons of beer and bags of unhealthy food and I could feed my habit for fishing. Occasionally we’d book a sea fishing trip on a boat from Rhos on Sea or Colwyn Bay, sometimes fishing over wrecks sometimes over flat sands for plaice and rays.
The one thing that was always the same and never dulled from that first trip in the boat with my father was how stunning I found any fish that I caught and always that sense that I was making contact with an otherworldly creature.
The buzz just got stronger and stronger every time and the desire for different species and larger fish that fought harder was always as satisfying, people that don’t understand it maybe never will but those who do will never shake it off.
Did I mention about life getting in the way?
So off I went into the world of marriage and fatherhood, the latter was and still is my “meaning of life”, my two sons (now grown men) are the very reason I exist, nothing comes close to the joy that being their father brings to me so I have no regrets that other areas of my life were put to one side.
In 2004 at the age of 38 my party lifestyle had finally caught up with me and I was going through what might be described as a sticky patch mentally, I’d been written off work for three years suffering from severe depression and anxiety. My youngest son Jonjo had been introduced to fishing by a friend and one day I decided to join them on the River Weaver in Nantwich, my doctor said it would be a good idea to go and be at one with nature during my time of recovery and this seemed like the ideal way to do it.
I think the first fish I caught was a dace and I was immediately reminded of my passion for fishing but now in a totally new environment with totally new challenges to meet and the chance to be face-to-face with a whole new variety of species…. Something in my heart and soul lit up, I felt a sense of happiness again, a sense of excitement but now without the need for man made chemicals running through my bloodstream, I felt hope and I liked it very much indeed.
I fished our local river pretty much every day for 12 months, I never took technique too seriously as I was enjoying the simplicity of just sitting on the bank surrounded by the true beauty of nature and the results were outstanding. By that I don’t mean that I caught incredible fish by most anglers standards but I cherished every bite, fight and even loss…I was learning to take things as they came and to soak up the joy of just being basic.
After that sublime year I noticed that I was feeling a new strength deep inside me, my anxiety still came to me occasionally but I was able to control it now and see it for what it really was, I was empowered and ready for the next stage of my life. At this point I stopped fishing and took the next steps toward my future but I was fully aware that my time on the bank had been an integral part of the new energy and positivity inside me. I will never forget that and years later it was to serve me well yet again but to a much deeper level that would not come to an end as it had before.
Little did I know that this wouldn’t be the last time fishing would save my life, fourteen years later something truly wonderful was about to begin….