Caught by the River

The Son of Friskney

8th November 2007


i loved the photo of trent otter. he is the greatest angler of all time and a writer who puts others in the shade. here’s an extract of a piece i wrote about him for midland angler earlier in the year,

John William Martin, better known as Trent Otter, was born in 1852 in the village of Friskney in Lincolnshire. Friskney was located in what Martin himself later called, ‘the dismal Lincolnshire coast plain known as the flats’. As a boy Martin could ‘remember listening in awed and frightened silence to the tales of the were-wolves, evil spirits and witches that haunted the unwholesome swamps of the flats in the days of long ago’. Martin’s mother was a widow and it is not recorded who his father was. Life was tough and Martin’s education was short, as a boy of ten he was sent out to work in the fields of nearby farms before being employed in a bricklayers yard and then graduating to work as a canal boat-boy. It was working on the canals in a nether world of ‘gipsy horse-dealers, travelling vans, old ramshackle circus tents and showmans’ booths’ that he met the two men who influenced him to take up fishing, Peter Rice and Sammy Leggatt a wooden legged pensioner. They taught Martin the rudiments of snatching roach and perch from the canals and soon he was fishing for himself with a rod made from a willow branch on an old abbey fish pond in Friskney known as Jacksons Pit.

john william martin’s original works can be found in the british library and an afternoon in rare books with the rain drumming on the roof lost on the trent of the 1880’s is recommended. a strange thing happened to me on the stall two years ago. i was packing up after a day taking only pennies rather than pounds when a well dressed man stopped and asked, ‘do you have books by someone called otter? he was my great grandfather’. i stopped and looked at him. ‘is your surname martin?’ i asked, ‘yes’, he said, ‘how do you know that?’ in the box i was packing at the time i had a copy of martin’s fishing ways and days which i passed to the man. ‘your great grandfather wrote this and many others – he is a legend’. nick martin took the book and wrote to me on several occasions afterwards. the rod he had fished with as a boy had been built by trent otter’s son and came from the shop the family ran on roseberry avenue opposite sadlers wells theatre. i’ve since met others with otter connections on the stall including a lady whose grandfather was a rod making apprentice to martin. she went by the name of pope. i still keep in touch with nick martin, it was a privilege to meet him.

i enclose a map from the 19th century showing friskney. if you walked to the west for a couple of days or so you would come to the nottingham suburbs where brailsford and others made wooden reels.