This year the Club held a successful Fishing Competition. To many Club members fishing is a mystery, myself included. To shine some light on the matter I had a long talk with Alan Hodgson, the winner of this year’s biggest catch prize.
He is a local man and first started fishing, with his brother, as a boy of 6 or 7 at the mill pond in Dedham, where he lived. That was coarse fishing and there was no possibility of eating most of his catch except eels, which he still likes.
By the time he was 12 or 13 he would cross the fields, lifting his bike over the styles, to Flatford. There he would fish at Judas Gap in the brackish water at the very top of the estuary. He mostly caught mullet. He says that sometimes there were so many that you could easily see them and could catch them with only a weight and 3 treble hooks, not needing bait. He has also caught sea trout at the same place. He says that mullet need salting before you cook them and they have firm white flesh.
As he grew up in the 1960s, he was able to fish from the beaches at Shingle Street, East Lane, Landguard and Holland and the piers at Felixstowe and Walton, catching cod, and whiting. He likes to fish from the beaches at night because the fish come in closer to feed in the dark. He still uses a pump-up Tilley lamp. He says that, especially in winter, it is important to wrap up well with thick socks. From Halfpenny Pier he has caught flounders and pouting. He uses a beachcaster rod, with a multiplier reel and a shock leader, which is a piece of 40 lb line attached to the main line which is 15lb, this enables a good swing as the shock leader has a few turns on the reel. If there was no shock leader the 15 lb line would break off. For pier fishing a drop net is also needed for landing the catch.
He has never been one for big catches; when he has caught enough for eating he packs up and goes home. On occasions, when the fish have been giving themselves up, he has given his extras to friends.
Now, as well as beach fishing, he fishes in the river on his own, mainly from his dinghy, or sometimes from his cruiser, ‘Evita’.
Bass are common in the river and can be caught on line with lug worm bait or by using a spoon shaped artificial lure that spins in the current. He says that, when sailing in ‘Evita’, he is sometimes tempted to trail a line with a spinner, but, if he gets a catch, handling the line and the tiller and keeping an eye on the wind all at once can be exciting. Bass usually feed on a rising tide so this is a good time to fish with bait in the right places. Of course, he doesn’t say where the right places are. As well as Bass he has caught Thornback Skate in the Stour and Blackwater.
He also fishes with his brother-in-law in the boat ‘Retreat’ and they have just invested in a new drift net. This is long and hangs from small floats along its top edge and is held down with weights along the bottom edge. This is trailed out more or less straight from the boat and left for about an hour to catch herring in winter. The net is a gill net, designed to trap herring by the gills as they swim through. The intention of the size of the net is to cover a stretch of water, rather than catch whole shoals of fish. He likes to smoke them as bloaters and enjoys eating everything he catches. Alan says, ‘The crucial thing with fish is freshness and you can’t beat your own catch.’
He also says that you need luck and that have got enjoy being out in the boat, because you can come home empty-handed.