What are the chances of an Australian fishing mate coming to stay in the UK on the very day when England comprehensively win the Ashes? Sadly, Al McGlashan, the professional recreational ‘fisho’, film maker, writer and photographer who helped me get to grips with fishing Down Under, must be the only living Australian who neither understands cricket or who genuinely doesn’t give a ‘rat’s arse’ about the great game.
Al was returning from a fishing and filming expedition to the British owned Ascension Island, home to some of the most spectacular yellow fin tuna in the world. This lump of rock in the middle of the South Atlantic can only be accessed via a special military flight from Brize Norton airbase in Oxfordshire, less than an hour from my home in Reading, so I arranged to have Al stay over for a few days and promised him an introduction to some traditional English fishing.
Starting from humble origins working in a local tackle shop Al McGlashan has become a leading figure in Australian recreational fishing and now hosts a third successful TV show on Channel 7 entitled ‘Al McGlashan – Fishing with Mates’. This followed on from ‘Strikezone’, his first venture into broadcasting, and then the popular ‘Big Fish – Small Boats’. Fishing is massive in Australia with an estimated 4 million anglers in a population of around 22 million and Al’s popularity stems not only from his ability to catch huge snapper, marlin, and kingfish for the cameras but from his predilection for jumping in the ocean to film them in their natural habitat regardless of the attentions of the local shark population.
I was with him the day after a particularly hairy encounter with a 500lbs Mako shark that decided to attack a marlin that was being unhooked beside the boat. Al was in the water filming the release when a massive shape rushed past him and grabbed the rear of the marlin, thrashing the water into a blood soaked foam. Inevitably Al continued filming and his amazing pictures went world wide giving him a new found celebrity status with people coming up to us on the beach asking him to sign their copy of his front page story in the Sydney Telegraph.
Several years and many hundreds of big fish later my problem was to decide where to take this big game fisherman to enjoy an angling experience in the more genteel surroundings of the English Home Counties. Luckily I had the help of my friend Dominic Martyn from the Environment Agency who had been out to Oz and caught some tremendous marlin in Al’s company and who was keen to meet up. We decided that there was no point even thinking about sea fishing in the UK as there’s very little that could match up with sport to be found around Australia and in any case we wanted to show our guest something completely different.
With carp a definite no no for an Aussie the next obvious option would be to target barbel but as our local rivers, the Kennet and the Loddon, were running painfully low this would have meant an all nighter with a less than even chance of success. We only had half a day to play with and so decided to introduce our man to the intricacies and delights of crucians and tench at Marsh Farm. This popular day ticket fishery is run by Godalming Angling Society, an Angling Trust member club. Access to freshwater fishing in Australia is mainly free of charge and the concept of day ticket waters or buying a club permit is entirely unfamiliar to most Australian anglers. We told Al that whilst there were plenty of fine fish to be caught here the catch and release regime meant that our educated quarry would require a degree of subtlety and finesse that he might find hard to comprehend.
Al was accompanied by his good friend Mick Lomas, a fine angler and former charter boat skipper operating out of Sydney – the city I fell in love with in the 18 months I lived out in Australia. Both Al and Mick were similarly bemused when we took them around the onsite tackle shop at Marsh Farm. If the boilies, hair rigs and seat boxes weren’t weird enough for our Aussie guests the sight of strawberry flavoured flavoured luncheon meat and tins of hemp and snails prompted them to ask, on camera, ‘do your Pommie fish really eat this crap mate?’
Just to make our guests feel even more homesick the skies opened and a summer shower greeted our arrival at the water’s edge but it at least meant that they got to experience the delights of fishing under a brolly. Dom took Mick up to a nice looking spot beside a gap in the island that ran along the centre of the lake while I set Al up next to some inviting looking lily pads in area that had produced some good catches earlier in the week.
Lightly baiting with a cloud groundbait and a few pellets eventually generated some interest but even our delicately shotted floats rigs couldn’t seem to outwit the shy biting crucians who were merely nudging the bait before ejecting it. Even so it was great see how enthusiastic my big fish friend had become about positioning his tiny pole float, number 16 hook and single grain of sweetcorn as close to the pads as possible in pursuit of a fish that he would cheerfully use as livebait back home!
Like all good anglers the world over it didn’t take Al long to get the hang of a new fishing style and when our near side float swim failed to produce anything more than some smallish roach he was happy to try feeder fishing across to the island. The swim feeder has finally made it out to the colonies, Aussies call them ‘berley cages’ , but they are far from in common usage. Al had certainly never before fished with dampened 2mm pellets, a tiny method feeder, banded hookbait and quiver tip. However, he was soon plopping one onto a spot I had previously baited and in no time at all the tip was pulling round and the rod was bending with an Australian marlin fisherman on one end and an English tench on the the other. The smile on my friend’s face reinforced my view that angling is indeed the great leveller.
You can read more about Al’s exploits here: