WRIGHT THINKING: A fisherman’s tale of crabs on the bus

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The recent stories of huge fish being landed off the Durham coast brought back some splendid memories of my amateurish sea angling exploits as a youngster.

I never came close to catching an eight foot long shark, but my attempts with pretty limited equipment brought a lot of fun.

Our fishing tackle was cheap and cheerful, and my friends and I would drool at shop windows and catalogues with expensive rods and gadgets way beyond our pocket money budgets.

Our favourite spots were both on the Headland, at the Pilots’ Pier and right at the end of the Heugh Breakwater – a structure in much better condition in those days.

That far end of the breakwater always felt a bit like being at sea – looking back on the lovely frontage of god’s own country from quite a distance. Rather than a rod, we usually used a simple square frame which had the line wound around it.

You had to be really careful when you unwound the line as the hooks could cause serious damage if you lost concentration and ended up with one stuck in your hand.

The next job was to thread some unlucky lugworms onto the hooks and it took me a while to get used to doing that.

We used to call at a fishing tackle shop in Northgate to pick up the bait, and I can imagine those huge buckets of wriggling worms even now.

Uneducated people outside the north east won’t appreciate how confusion could reign with the two very different meanings of the word “bait”.

As well as meaning what went on your hook to tempt fish, it could also mean, of course, what your dad took to work as his lunch-time snack at the shipyard.

I don’t remember having a lot of success as a fisherman. But there was always a sense of optimism every time you swung the weighted line around your head and cast it into the waves of the cold North Sea.

Quite often, one of us would shout excitedly that we had a bite and would tug away at what felt like a huge fish on the end of the line.

Frequently, it was simply the sinker caught on a rock and the last tug snapped the line and all went slack.

A marine archaeologist searching around the Headland would find a huge haul of hooks, sinkers and lines we left behind.

Rather more successful was our technique of using an old bike wheel as a way of catching crabs and, if you were really lucky, the occasional lobster.

You would scrounge some fish heads from a shop and then, even worse than threading worms on a line, jam them on the rusty spokes of the wheel.

With a length of rope attached, you then whirled the wheel around your head like an Olympic hammer thrower and sent it into the sea. Then you simply waited – an hour or more - before hauling it up to check your catch.

We usually took an old sack with us to store the highly surprised crabs before their journey home to the kitchen.

One day, we had a really successful trip with five crabs captured – but we had all forgotten to bring a strong bag.

We carried them home on the bus in our bare hands. But we realised on disembarking in West View that we now only had four of the beasts with us.

If you were on that bus after us, I do owe you an apology.