The largest river in Wales, the River Severn, in the far off days of my youth, curled it’s lazy way through fields of Butter Cups and Daisies, it’s banks alternating between steep sides and sandy shores, from deep forbidding pools, to murmuring bubbling shallows, where cattle stood knee deep, cud chewing and their tails swishing dislodging troublesome flies. When the sun seemed to be always shining down from clear blue sky, with small fluffy clouds looking down, smiling their approval.
Two young boys walking slowly along its banks, talking quietly, not disturbing the wild life around them, but in earnest serious conversation, each in turn making profound statements, as only twelve year old lads can. They each carried a thin but strong hazel stick, looking like ancient javelin throwers on their way to some Olympian contest. Every few minutes they felt in their pockets, to reassure themselves that the thin strand of copper wire, carefully unwound from the Rabbit snare they had begged from their elders, was now neatly coiled ready for use.
Their sharp eyes scanned the water, having long since perfected the knack of looking through the surface water to the river bed, this was absolutely necessary if they were to become successful in their devious pursuit.
Large tracts of the river were too wide, too deep, or too open to suit them, what they were looking for was a small tributary which would gurgle and trickle over rocks, for that was where the Brown Trout loved to linger and feed. Some would lie on the pebbly bed of the river, lazily dreaming in the sun flecked stream, often too full to even attempt to gobble up a passing insect. These were the fish the two lads were seeking. Swiftly, surely, the thin brass wire would be secured to their sticks, the noose on the end tested and found to run true. A careful look up and down stream to make sure that the Water Bailiff was not on patrol, then almost delirious with excited anticipation, their work commenced. Each selecting a small stretch of water, creeping cautiously along, trying not to create a tall thin shadow, these fish would be used to the shapes of sheep or cattle, but a tall upright human figure would be suspicious. Selecting their fish, the stick would be lowered into the water a couple of metres upstream, and allowed to float gently and slowly down toward the fish, the noose on the wire would have been opened sufficiently to pass over its body, then once past it’s gills, a quick flip of the stick and a lovely fish would lie on the river bank glistening and gasping, a quick tap on the head, made sure that any suffering was as brief as possible.
It was with the necessary skill at this type of poaching possible to gently twist the wire, tickling the fish’s belly so that it wiggled with pleasure making no effort to escape.
When the open runs had been completed, a second and most exciting method would start. Quickly removing shoes and socks, and hiding them on the banks, the boys with sleeves rolled up, the hand tickling would start, sometimes lying flat on their stomachs, sometimes wading into the water, their gentle hand would search under the rocks for hidden fish, when found the tickle started, all the time the hand working its way along the fish to the gills, a firm grasp and another fish was captured. The smaller or lesser fish would be released, , and the bigger ones just as quickly dispatched. The boys were very river wise, and on catching a couple of fish they would use the long established way of hiding them by hanging them in the branch of a bush or tree. Should a poacher be caught by the Bailiff, it was wise not to be caught in possession of their ill-gotten gains.