Fishing Lines: Fish ran away with the spoon

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IN THE days when you could buy a penny hook, I used to make my own spoons. This had nothing to do with musical aspirations or setting up a cutlery business: my spoons were designed to catch fish. Actually, "designed" is a bit of an exaggeration. My basic model was inspired by my favourite book, Make Your Own Fishing Tackle. For someone surviving on pocket money, this tome was invaluable. You could rig yourself up like a tackle shop, merely by adapting everyday household items.

I was a dumb kid. I didn't know any better. I honestly thought you could create a rod that would be the envy of friends, just by taking two garden canes, three paper clips and following the instructions. When my cotton- reel winch or trout landing net made from a nylon stocking (sorry, mum) didn't turn out like the one in the picture, I was baffled. I never realised that their drawings had been enhanced by some very creative artwork.

Some were just about usable, as long as nobody was looking (the pike gag made from a clothes peg and two meat skewers, for example). But most were a disaster, especially the Mount Your Own Fish. I bludgeoned a hapless pike to death, hacked off its head and dropped it in formaldehyde. Meanwhile, I sawed a piece of wood into a shape vaguely resembling a shield, washed off the pike's head and nailed it to the backboard. I was pleased with the result, though the eyes had turned a ghostly white, which was a bit disconcerting when I went to sleep with it over my bed.

I've always had a poor sense of smell. But after two days, even I realised something was wrong. My trophy smelt like an extra from Night of the Living Dead. A heady mixture of formaldehyde, dead fish and a sickly smell I couldn't identify pervaded the room. I tried to deaden the whiff with copious quantities of after-shave, flung round the room like a priest performing an exorcism. Even my normally understanding parents, well used to my experiments, complained. Though my room was out of bounds, they broke in. That was when they spotted the maggots crawling from the pike's open mouth.

This brought an abrupt end to my career as a taxidermist, but I didn't give up on the book. This was because one project worked superbly well. I can't remember the exact words, but it went something like: "Take an old spoon and cut the handle off. Drill a hole in each end. Attach a split ring to both ends, then thread a swivel on to each. At the less pointed end, attach a treble hook. You now have a spinner that will catch everything from salmon and trout to pike and perch."

Spinning is very easy. You cast out, wind in and with any luck, a fish grabs your spoon thinking it's a smaller fish. The Elliott Family Crest Mark I (II, III, IV and so on) tricked pike, perch, trout and mackerel. I became very adept at making spoons. This was a good job because I lost them almost as fast as I made them, thanks to believing the classic advice when spinning: "Spin low, spin slow." This was undoubtedly devised by a tackle-maker. If you spin slow (that is, so your lure fishes close to the bottom), it gets caught up in old weeds, rocks, bicycles and a mess of underwater paraphernalia awaiting the purist spin-fisher. I even lost them on fish.

Well, before long it became apparent that the cutlery drawer's spoon section had gone out to lunch and not come back. I pleaded innocence. But a combination of bad luck and untidiness caught me out. I failed to dispose of the handles one day, and left them on the toolshed floor after separating heads from tails. A rummage in my tackle box revealed the awful fate of the 12 apostles. They had all adopted Peter's profession, and gone fishing.

Spinners have moved on a way since then. Powered by the American market, lures (as they are now called) are now very big business. Some of the very old ones can command prices as high as $20,000. Next week, I'll tell you how to spot the money-spinners (none of which, sadly, includes the Elliott's family silver).