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A hazy past - A new dawn - by Scott Ashworth

          Since joining the NAC in 2009, I’ve thought about writing an article for Anguilla, but to be honest I struggled a bit (probably like a lot of members) just thinking about what I could write about that might be of interest to members.  I don’t have a string of big eels to my name, and I’m not particularly inventive when it comes to trying to suss out new and innovative rigs, I’m just a bloke who loves fishing and has always loved fishing for eels.  So I thought “why not just write about where I started, where it’s taken me and how I got here today as an NAC member with a recently caught P.B“? Someone might be interested, even if it’s only my dad!

          In fact talking about my dad seems like a fairly logical place to start, as I suppose it’s him that I have to thank for the two enduring themes of my life - fishing and heavy drinking.  The Ashworth genes were kind enough to furnish me with an addiction to both, but I can cover the second theme later in the article.

          My old man first took me fishing back in 1979 when I was 7 years old, on his club pond in Whitefield, Greater Manchester.  Many happy days were spent catching small perch after small perch, before I progressed on to the more wily tench and crucians that were in there as well.
My dad and my grandad, along with some of their mates, would often go up to the Lake District to fish Windermere, Rydal and Grasmere for eels, and I can remember pleading to be allowed to go along on one of these adventures, but always being told I was “too young“, or “maybe next time”, much to my disappointment.  Then finally, when I was probably about 11, my dad said I could go with them for an overnighter on Windermere. 

          I don’t remember a lot about that particular trip other than we fished off the jetties at Bowness, we caught a few small eels, my dad unhooked them all and put them in a keep-net, and then I got incredibly tired and went and slept in the car for most of the night.  I remember waking up in the morning and going back down to where my dad was and seeing him lift up a keep-net with well over 50 eels in it for a photograph, before slipping them all back.  Bear in mind that my grandad had caught a similar amount, as had my dad’s mate Fergie, and you get a picture for just how prolific Windermere was back then.  It really was almost like the Lake bed was carpeted with eels.  Saddening then, to think that my dad still goes back up to Windermere for a week every year and now can barely get a bite on there!!

          After that trip I was allowed to join them more regularly on their eel trips to the Lakes, and can remember fishing on Windermere, Grasmere, Rydal, Ullswater and Brotherswater in the Lake District, as well as Bala Lake and LlynMaelog in Wales and Pickmere in Cheshire.
These trips, together with the influence of my dad’s affection for the species, nurtured a love for eels that has obviously stayed with me to this day.  Sure, there have been distractions along the way that have pulled me away from eel fishing, sometimes for fairly long periods, but I’ve always come back to them.

          In 1988, aged 16, I left home and joined the RAF, serving and fishing my way around various locations, including four and a half years based in Germany, where I didn’t eel fish once, and when I think back now at some of the waters I was fishing out there, I absolutely kick myself as they were perfect for eeling, but all my eeling took place with my dad when I came back home on leave. 
          One particularly memorable trip took place in 1990, when I was home on summer leave. We went and fished Esthwaite Water for 3 nights, and we were tucked away in really thick trees as there was no night fishing allowed on there at the time.  The two of us sat on folding chairs under a 45” brolly covered with a dark green tarp for the three nights, and it absolutely battered it down for pretty much the whole time.  My dad didn’t drive and I hadn’tpassed my test at the time, so we had been dropped off my one of his mates who was coming back for us at the end of the trip, so there was nothing else to do but sit it out.  My dad was rewarded with a fish of 4lb 2oz which is still his P.B, and we had plenty of back-up fish, so it was worth it.  We still had plenty of trips to Windermere right up until about 1998, but the catches were getting less and less.
          From 1994 until 2002 I was based at RAF Uxbridge, pretty much bang in the middle of the Colne Valley, less than 5 miles from Savay, Harefield, Broadwater, Pit 4, The Fisheries, The Cons. - it was fishing heaven, yet I was increasingly more interested in getting bevvied up and getting my hole!!

          Which brings me on to the second enduring theme of my life, which in turn leads on to the second part of the title of the article “A New Dawn“!!
Drink has always been part of my life, dad was a heavy drinker, as was his dad. In fact my dad finally admitted he was an alcoholic 8 years ago and has been dry since.I have also had several periods of my life where drink has played a major part, in fact where I would go so far as to say I was reliant on drink to function.  There have been plenty periods where drink hasn’t been an issue, but it’s fair to say that moderation has generally always been a dirty word with me!

          In 2002, I left the RAF and moved to Scotland with my wife Tracey, and while my drinking wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it had been when I was in the mob, it still reared it’s ugly head every now and again, and I certainly didn’t need any encouragement to join in a bevvy session - (just ask Nick Rose, Terry Woolcock and Chris Daphne after the 2009 Winter Social!!).

          I was still doing plenty fishing during the period 2002 - 2008, piking mostly with the occasional eel trip, but there was nearly always drinking involved on the trip, meaning I was never fishing to maximum effect. 

          In April 2009, after a winter of chatting to eel anglers on Kev Huish’s eel fishing forum, I decided to join the NAC for the first time.  I made contact with Chris Daphne and was chuffed to know that there was a like-minded individual in Scotland, albeit it we were both ex-pats!  I was also well chuffed to receive the phone call the morning after Chris had his 6.2 Scottish record-equalling fish.
           Then in late 2009, we discovered the bombshell that all forms of eel fishing, including recreational, had been banned in Scotland in an attempt to help halt the Eel’s dramatic decline.  A noble gesture, but not one that had been thought through very well, and indeed not one that had been consulted on at all!!

          I was absolutely gutted as I had started fishing a water that I felt could produce a very big fish. I had only managed 3 fish off it in 2009, but they went 3lb, 3lb 5oz and 3lb 10oz.  I had never been pestered with runs by boots, the water was a prison water around 100 years old, and it had an eel pedigree as a couple of Scottish NAC members had fished it for a couple of seasons in the early 90’s taking fish to 5lb 10oz, with an average size of 4lb 2oz.  All in all, a very promising water I thought, and the rug had been pulled out from under my feet with this Eel ban.
I went down to the Winter Social in 2009 and met many of the NAC members for the first time, had a fairly manic drinking session in the hotel at Kegworth with Messrs Rose, Woolcock and Daphne, and really enjoyed the couple of days and left convinced that eel Fishing was the future for me now, all I needed to do was try and find a way to do it legally.

          Chris Daphne had managed to find out that the Scottish Government was planning to amend the legislation to once again allow Eel fishing on a catchand release basis, but there was no timescale on this, so 2010 looked like it was going to be a year of kicking my heels.

          In March 2010 though I had my first breakthrough, although this was a life one as opposed to a fishing one.  After a crazy night out in Glasgow with ex-colleagues which ended with me missing every form of public transport home, I took what was for me, a fairly monumental decision to admit to myself that I had a drinking problem, and decided that I would not drink again.  At the time of writing, that’s 14 months without a drink.
          I revisited my eel water a couple of times in 2010 for overnight Perch sessions, and accidentally caught an eel of exactly 4lb! This made me more even determined to find a way of getting myself eel fishing again properly, so in April of this year I decided to take the bull by the horns and approached the freshwater fisheries department within the Scottish Government and asked them whether there was any chance of getting a licensce to allow me to fish recreationally for Eels on a strict Catch and Release basis.  To my delight they agreed and I received a licensce on May 9th which was valid from May 10th!  I really felt that this, together my relatively new found sobriety, was my “New Dawn”.  (See, I got there eventually!!)

          I wasn’t able to get out for my first “licensced” session until May 27th 2011 but this gave me plenty of time to get myself sorted.Eventually the night arrived and I was down at the water for about 8pm.3 rods out in a variety of depths, R\H rod with JS rigged dead roach, middle rod Dyson dead roach and L\H rod JS double lobworm.Just after 11pm the R\H rod absolutely screamed off and I struck into what felt like a good fish.  The water is very snaggy and I kept the rod high and managed to keep the fish away from any dangers and got it in the net at the second time of asking after knocking my middle rod off it it’s rests with the net and generally getting a bit sweary and panicky!!

          Up on to the unhooking mat and it was hooked just inside its mouth, so no worries to get the hook out. Folded the mesh of the net over it and zeroed the weigh sling on the scales and then weighed the fish at 4lb 4oz.A fish I am very happy to say is my new P.B!

          I missed a further 4 runs that night, but didn’t really care, and after letting a couple of people know via text I managed to put a post on the forum (the wonders of SmartPhones) and was knocked out with all the messages of congratulations.That is what I love about this club, everybody is genuinely pleased for anyone that gets a decent fish or a PB, because everyone knows how bloody hard and frustrating eel fishing can be!
          I have been back to the water twice since that night, and had one fish at exactly 3lb, as well as bumping what felt like a very big fish in a snag, and I firmly believe that this water will produce the next Scottish Eel record.  It’s only a matter of time!!  Hopefully that can be my next article! 
          To wrap the article up I would just like to say that of all the decisions I have made in my life, two of the best have certainly been giving up drinking and joining the NAC.  I feel I have made some great friends and have learnt a hell of a lot, and long may it continue.
A New Dawn indeed. ‘Mon the Eel!!

A beautiful 4lb 4oz fish

Scott Ashworth
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