Anniversary of the dawn of a new angling era

Tomorrow, May 8, marks down the day of angling's rebirth. It was a Tuesday in 1945 when the German high command unconditionally surrendered to the Allies to end hostilities in Europe.

Tomorrow, May 8, marks down the day of angling's rebirth.

It was a Tuesday in 1945 when the German high command unconditionally surrendered to the Allies to end hostilities in Europe.

And, although the British people waited until the following August 14 before the Japanese waved the white flag, we youngsters of the time were able to revisit rivers and Broads that had been out of bounds to the general public for reasons of national security.

However, villagers with rivers running by the bottom of their gardens had fished for food during the war years and access to the North Walsham/Dilham canal was open for angling throughout even though searchlights and gun emplacements were located along the banks.

On most freshwaters fishing from boats was taboo and many of the vessels that could not be adapted to the war effort were deliberately scuttled to keep them out of the hands of the enemy if the worst happened.

Thus, after the VE Day celebrations were over, freshwater fishing began again and was to grow into one of the biggest participant sports in the nation.

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Servicemen were demobilised and re-assimilated into civilian life but food supplies remained critical and bread was not de-rationed until July 1948.

Pre-war anglers mostly used a mixture of bread and flour kneaded into a sticky dough but now these ingredients were scarce.

So in 1945 the main bait for bream and roach consisted of brandling worms raked out of the garden compost heap or larger lobworms forked out of the soil or turf, and stewed wheat when available became an excellent bream bait.

At that stage of the early development of the sport, nylon monofilament had not been invented, fishing reels were ancient but free-running centre pins.

Fishing rods were fashioned from cane, line consisted of woven thread and the majority of floats were home-made from various bird quills and Norfolk reed.

It was a period of great innovation in the sport until the emergence of the man-made fibres that offered anglers thinner but stronger fishing line, ultra-light rods and fixed-spool reels.

Fishing tackle and bait was available at many hardware stores and cycle shops but the main supplier of top-class angling equipment in Norwich during the early post-war years was Browne's of Timberhill, where father and son served the angling public for many years until Peter Browne moved his business to Costessey, sadly extinguishing the nationally-famous 'Browne's of Timberhill' trademark.

Bluebottle fly larvae, commonly known as maggots, were available in some tackle shops but before it was understood the development of these grubs could be retarded by refrigeration they rapidly changed to pupae (casters).

Anglers wanted fresh bait and they queued in numbers awaiting fresh deliveries to Norwich tackle shops that often arrived on a trades bike, having been railed to Thorpe Station, contained in biscuit tins.

By the 1950s, local angling clubs had got going again and the popular venues were the tidal rivers Ant, Bure and Thurne and the non-tidal reaches of the Bure and Wensum.

The River Yare below Norwich and indeed the River Wensum in the city were both seriously polluted by domestic and industrial effluent. And it wasn't until water quality improved around the mid- 1950s that competitions appeared along Riverside.

Once the new range of cheaper, mass-produced fishing tackle became available, including fixed-spool reels, there was a massive surge of angling interest. Catching fish became easier because bait presentation required less skill and throughout East Anglia, especially on the Fen rivers of Lincolnshire and West Norfolk, open events of up to 1,000 anglers were staged, offering attractive cash winnings and bookmakers on the banks taking bets on the outcome before the first whistle.

Men who had been fighting for victory but were now coalminers and industrial factory workers were drawn into the countryside every weekend and they made up the numbers considerably in the early Broads Championships that catered for 650 rods.

Then another serious sea change entered the sport - the emergence of the commercial fishery. These guaranteed the angler a catch of fish on every visit and the coarse fishing scene was transformed by tame carp. Now the debate goes on. Was this change for the better or the worse? What is certain, if angling ambition is too easily fulfilled it can result in a loss of interest.

And perhaps this is why more coarse fish anglers are being drawn back to the tidal rivers that have never since that important day in May 1945 guaranteed success on too regular a basis.