by James Chudley.
Like many fishermen I absolutely love tackle shops. It’s a combination of the kit, the banter, the stories and the characters who tell them and in my case the fact that I was once lucky enough to work in one.
Back in the early 1990’s I got wind that a new tackle shop, Bucks Angling Centre, was opening in my local town of Chesham. Having grown up in a village, Saturday jobs were few and far between so the possibility of working in a tackle shop was beyond perfect. So on the first weekend it was open I cycled down there to try and land myself a job.
I met the manager, a lovely chap called Adrian, who I tried to impress with my knowledge of all things fishing, gained from years of obsessively pouring over the angling press. Luckily Adrian was a matchman who fished canals and this was a language I could speak. He offered me a trial, the float had dipped, I was in.
The deal was £15 for a Saturday, free bait and tackle at cost price. In truth I would have done it for free. It was a tenner more than I had got in my last job picking mushrooms, so I shook his hand and started promptly the following week.
My first job of the day was to riddle the bait that had been delivered from the maggot farm. The fresh maggots stank of ammonia and swarmed around the chicken feet they had been reared upon. I cleaned them up, dusted them with maize flour (to make them look bigger) and stored them in a massive silver fridge which chilled them down to a docile crawl.
I soon became a dab hand at serving out pints of mixed, half pints of reds with a few whites, pints of specials (giant squatts from a secret supplier), bags of casters and frozen hemp. Regulars would have their own special requests, ‘You know how I have ‘em boy, whites to the top, handful of reds for the perch and some bronze for a bonus fish’.
Most of the regulars would open up their bait boxes (after I had filled them) to examine their contents. I’d get picked up on short measures by the tightwads and praised on the look of the bait by the purists. I even got to recognise their bait boxes. They ranged from your classic Drennan half pinter to a rancid old ice cream tub that harbored every infectious disease known to modern medicine.
Other than bait, my main responsibility was to sort out drinks. We all drank tea continuously throughout the day. I also made tea for all the regulars. We had a lot of regulars. There was my mate Tommo, Colin, Graham, Nick, Andy to name a few. Gary Newman of Anglers Mail fame also lived nearby and used to pop in now and again.
A typical visit from a regular involved the following. I would make them tea while they chatted to the other regulars and smoked fags. We then chatted about what they caught last Sunday, why it didn’t fish as expected, how bad the boats were, where they were going tomorrow and how they were going to fish it. We would move on to chat about new bits of tackle that had come into the shop that week. This was a great chance for me to play with rods I could never afford under the guise of ‘demonstrating new kit’.
Approximately two to three hours after they had arrived they finally left armed with pints of bait and bits and bobs of tackle, four or five cups of tea to the good and had either paid in part, in full or not at all (we had a special blue book under the counter logging the monies owed).
After a while Adrian moved on to swims new and a chap called Graham took over. Graham was an absolute legend. He was not only sponsored (by Browning no less) but he also had an alias. Graham was also known as ‘the squatt wizard’. What Graham didn’t know about roach fishing on canals with squatts was not worth knowing.
This was great for me. I got to spend my Saturdays with a famous fisherman. People used to come from far and wide to chat to ‘Gray’ about rigs, shotting patterns and feeding strategies. Graham was a showman. He didn’t so much work in the shop but compered within it. The banter was amazing, the jokes were blue and I loved every second of it. After a while the shop started to sponsor an up and coming match team, which brought in more local stars to buy our monster squatts and to drink my tea.
Graham told a lot of stories, my favourite was that was one summer when the giant bait fridge had overheated and its contents had escaped into the back yard. Next to the tackle shop was a chinese takeaway. Tens of gallons of maggots quickly made their way into the kitchen and were soon enjoying a taste of the Orient. Within a matter of seconds the furious chef burst into the shop and grabbed the butt section of a pole which he then spun around his head ‘like a set of nunchucks’ threatening to kick their collective asses if they didn’t sort his kitchen out.
Graham encouraged me to invest in a pole which I saved up for for what seemed like years. I managed to scrape the cash together to buy a 11m pole at a trade show from none other than Ivan Marks. Looking back Ivan was very kind to me. I am sure I bought a right dog of a pole given my budget but he gave me some tips on how to get the best from it and it has served me well.
Graham moved on to run our other shop in Newport Pagnell and Russell took over. Russell was in his early 20‘s and was another huge character. Whereas Graham was a raconteur, Russell was a singer, regularly making up songs featuring anything he could think of at that time. The ‘chub song’ was a particular favourite of mine and went something like “a chub-a, chub-a, chub-a, chub-a, chub-a, chub-a, BREAM!’. Pike floats became microphones, esoX factor it was not.
Often on a Saturday morning I would need to bring Russell back to life with endless cuppas as he would have been out on a massive bender on the night before. I used to love his stories of the pubs, clubs and the ones that got away.
I managed to blag even more time in the shop during the week to do a market research survey for my business studies A’ level coursework, I just could not get enough of the place. The responses to my survey failed to indicate the inevitable decline of a small shop in a small market town. Trade gradually fell away and Saturdays became longer and longer as we filled the quiet hours with cleaning, stock takes, wind ups and bagging up endless sacks of brown crumb into one kilo bags.
I forget when I left in the scheme of things. I got busy revising for my A levels, then went to uni and the shop cut its losses and closed and now a cafe sits in its place.
Whenever I am back in Chesham I walk by the cafe and peer into the windows. I am reminded of those joyful Saturdays talking fishing all day long with a bunch of blokes I would never have otherwise met.
God bless the institution that is the tackle shop.
James, (complete with Bucks Angling Centre t-shirt!), from 1993, with a match winning mixed bag of 8lbs 13oz, fishing for Tring Anglers vs Luton AC at Cook’s Wharf on the Grand Union Canal.
PS. – my top 5 tackle shops:
I will treat this as a work in progress as there are so many more tackle shops to be discovered.
Bucks Angling Centre, Chesham – For obvious reasons
Davis Tackle, Christchurch – You can imagine Mr Crabtree at the counter smoking his pipe buying ‘gentles’ with Peter tugging at his trouser legs, a magical place.
Bennetts of Sheffield – Having browsed their kits every week on the back of the mail I took a pilgrimage there one Saturday, it is like a Tescos full of fishing tackle.
Veals, Bristol – My new local. It is massive and just down the road, say no more. I often wander down at lunchtime and waggle a few rods to keep my eye in.
Chiltern Tackle, Tring – Located near to my spiritual home, the Tring Reservoirs, and displays photos of the monsters that live within it’s hallowed depths.