Fishing Lines: Meticulous chronicle of a schoolboy's dace and dabs

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THE letter says: 'Dear Sir, we would be delighted if you can review the enclosed. I think you will agree it makes the ideal present for Father's Day.' But when I opened the book, it was full of empty pages.

Actually, that's a slight exaggeration. There are some pages with 'Notes' at the top and others with headings such as Date, River, Fly/Bait, Weather, Water Conditions, Species and Size. But how do you assess something that's meant to record your fishing trips? It's like trying to review a telephone directory.

I know all about keeping a note of angling trips. As a youngster, I faithfully registered everything I captured, however small. Such meticulous record keeping might sound impressive but as I caught very few, it wasn't such a chore. Through one particularly cold November and December, despite fishing every weekend from dawn to dusk, I landed just one pike of 1lb 4oz, which is almost what they weigh when they're born.

As you can imagine, such pages rate slightly below the Frederick Forsyth level on the excitement meter. But there are some red-letter days in those school exercise books that for years chronicled every dabble in brook, pond or rock pool. Reading through them, I can still remember my excitement over 21 tiny trout, 65 dace, and best of all, 136 dabs.

Now dabs are our smallest flatfish. A one-pounder is a monster. On my golden day, off Southend Pier, I didn't catch one even half that size. But each fish was individually weighed: 3oz 4dr, 2oz 10dr, 7oz (that was the biggest) and so on. That spectacular day's sport takes up a whole two pages in the exercise book, and notched 98 on the scoring system I used to rate each day's fishing. I certainly wouldn't have got a haul like that into a neat little box for 'Catch'.

Even in my early teenage years, I realised that a log needed something extra to make it interesting. To be fair, the Fishing Record Book* does have a few pictures by classic artists of leaping salmon or gasping roach. But my ideas were far more interesting.

So occasionally, I included out-of-focus pictures of fish. Because the camera's only adjustment was for sunny or cloudy, and I'd never heard of remote-control photography, all the pictures are of my feet with a fish flopping round them.

But what really perks up those old journals are the scales. On particularly large fish (say, an 8oz trout or a 1lb bream) I would remove a scale and tape it into the book. Of course, the tape has lost its stickiness now, and when I pick up the books, a shower of scales fall out. With edible species, I tried sticking down the occasional fin, which added variety and a quaint, ghoulish charm. Trouble was, it made the books smell very strangely.

I suppose it would be impractical to include some of my categories. These were: percentage of British record of largest fish (calculated to three decimal points and good for my maths in the pre- calculator days, because few ever topped 5 per cent); tackle lost (very important when you only own six hooks in the whole world); how late home; what my mother put in the sandwiches; how many times my bike chain came off; and whether the bailiff had caught me for a day ticket.

I guess they all fit into the 'Comments' box. But where are the fish scales supposed to go?

*Ebury Press, pounds 9.99.

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