The 100 Foot at Sutton
The Hundred Foot River was cut into the Fens many years ago to take floodwater from the Middle Ouse area and to drain the Fen; it was a huge feet of engineering. A Dutch bloke thought it up and was in charge of the hundreds of navies who excavated the very straight drain-like river. Some 30 or so years ago part of the straight bank was developed for testing a special motor on a concrete track laid on top of the bank. I think it was called a linear motor and it kind of hovered over the concrete track - it was indeed quite impressive as they tested it. I often watched it as I fished the drain. It was ahead of its time, but suffered from cut backs in capital. The thing would burn up and down the track. Anyway enough of this history stuff.
The river is wild and rugged and there’s often a fierce wind blowing down it. Add the impact of freshwater and tidal water – often creating a two-way movement on the water along with a Severn type bore and you were really up against it. Put a maggot or worm near the bottom and all you could get were eels. The bream and roach in the system were prolific and not shy - but how to catch them in the difficult conditions? I passed my driving test when I was 17 years old and was lucky to have a Mum and Dad who lent me their motor – I had two accidents in my first year. Having the car meant I could access the river in mid-week: I had lots of time being an Art student and all that – seven weeks of bliss. Ian Asplen’s Dad was my instructor; we spent most of my driving lessons in a café. Top bloke! I first visited the river with my Dad, when I was a bit younger, at the age of 14, I had been doing well in junior matches under the tutorship of Percy Anderson. My Dad, as with all good Dads had the task of taking me to events, and eventually decided to go fishing himself. To fish the 100 Foot River we had to have some special floats. Percy was a float maker and he got us lads to make floats; not for us - for him! Yes that’s right; he showed us how we could make them, broke any that were no good in two (some of us cried) and then kept the good ones. I caught on to his tactics and held back my best floats. Anyhow, we all ended up making these huge straight peacock quill waggler floats that were two foot long. They were used on the Ouse and Lower Cam. They were designed to ride the waves you would get on these wild rugged open waters. Six or seven swan shot were needed to shot them down. You didn’t need the weight to cast; it was used as a huge anchor. It is all about presentation “my boy”. So weight below the float, holding straight and true, and then with very little down the line. The bites would be positive and therefore the ‘Pimpernel lads’ ruled the match scene. You would see other competitors thrashing away with small floats, busy blown all over the river while Percy’s boys would have floats sitting well in the water and using every inch of the float to gain any true flow while keeping the straight line. So your bait presentation was natural and not all over the place. Simple! So off I shot with Dad to the Hundred Foot. We negotiated the barbed wire the steep flood bank and went down to the waters edge. What a sight! The river was highly coloured and was racing fast left to right on its way to the Wash at Kings Lynn. There were fish topping all over, mainly bleak, but occasionally a bigger fish would roll. How on earth was I going to fish this? We could see the mud sides of the lowering river (tidal means tidal, so it goes up and down). Dad got covered in mud trying to mix our breadcrumb ground bait. We kept stale bread, baked it in the oven, and then crushed it with Mum’s rolling pin. We figured to throw the stuff up stream, as we needed it to settle in our swim. I tackled up with one of the big jobs. Casting was a bit awkward and it did rather make a plop when it hit the water. What it did was sit up well in the water and be stationary for the briefest of moments before the flow pulled it up and dragged it downstream. It would then dip under; I would strike and would come up with nothing. Again and again I did this; I needed my mentor to guide me. Fed up, I placed my rod on the rest and the float swung round in the fast flow and settled in the water. I must have been 18 inches over depth right under my rod rest. The float was being pulled under to my tight line to my reel, but the extra length of the float and the over depth rig meant that I was lying on the bottom in the fast flow with just a little bit of the float tip out of the water. I had all but given up, only catching a little bleak, but as soon as the float settled, my rod buckled and to my surprise the float lay flat on the water. I struck. What a fight, a huge fish for a 14 year old, a bronze bream of 5 lb, then another, then another. I had about an hour of fantastic non-stop fishing, until the river went still and started to back-up. The best bream I had was 6 lb 9 oz and I was awarded the Best Fish of the Season for a Junior Angler. I still have the trophy. I’m not certain my Dad enjoyed himself, but it was for me a lovely Saturday afternoon. At the time I witnessed my first bird of prey working over the Marsh/Wash area. This was at a time when the chemical DDT had been sprayed on crops and had wiped out many of our birds of prey and so for me in the 1970’s seeing such a bird and having caught so many bream was truly wonderful. It was the beginning of many adventures in my student years. Maybe if I hadn't spent so much time fishing instead of studying I would have become rich or a politician or something grand. So here's to the long hot summer of 1975 or was it 1976? I parked Dad’s new bright red Cortina and clambered over the bank. A bream rolled, and so my next story.

Notes

The “Dutch bloke” was Cornelius Wasterdyk Vermuyden who started work on the project at the beginning of the 17th century. The test track Graham describes was built in the 1960s to test a train powered by a linear induction motor. This was a revolutionary concept made possible by Professor Eric Laithwaite of Imperial College, London, who developed the linear motor from an interesting laboratory toy into a practical power unit. Linear motors provide linear force and motion rather than rotational torque. The motor’s “stator” was mounted on the underside of the vehicle, and it’s “rotor” was located on the track. Professor Laithwaite’s linear motor also provided magnetic levitation (MAGLEV) so his train was basically a tracked hovercraft: It had no wheels and so didn’t require a steel track and therefore wasn’t affected by the wrong type of leaves or snow. This being the time of one Dr Beeching the government cancelled the project, but more farsighted countries have developed it. Japan’s JR-Maglev, for example, has achieved 360 mph.