Coarse Fishing

A Summer Like No Other

As I write this, the clocks have gone back, and I’m listening to the sounds of a brilliant new band called Bleach Lab. They play beautiful melancholic melody, which is absolutely right up my street, and their signature tune is a track called “Life gets better”.

It resonates immensely with me at the moment, and it would be totally remiss of me not to acknowledge the unbelievably kind feedback I got from the last Cadence blog I wrote. The response has been so kind, and truly humbling. I would like to thank all of you who got in touch and sent me so many wonderful, positive messages.

I hope it achieved what I wanted it to do, and I know from the messages and phone calls I have received it might have started some healthy conversations. That can only be a good thing.

Onto this blog, then, which has also been difficult to write. In fact, it’s been darn difficult and this is actually my fourth draft.

For all the lovely compliments I have received about my writing, it certainly doesn’t come easily or naturally to me at all. When I look at the earlier blogs I wrote I can see a massive progression in my writing, and being honest, some of those earlier blogs are not great really, but I suppose I tried and I have become slightly better.

This has definitely been a summer like no other I’ve ever experienced before because I did something in early July that I will never be able to do again.

That it came at the near beginning of the opening of the river fishing season was a bit of an inconvenience really, however as it turned out, not so much of one, and I’ve managed to cram in an unbelievable amount of fishing despite going through this major life-changing event.

But all that selfishness about missing a bit of fishing is totally irrelevant and there was a much more important and bigger picture involved, as you’re all about to find out.

So, what did I do then, and why did I do it?

Well, to explain that, I have to go back to my childhood yet again and to try to understand what makes my me tick and how I’ve become the person that I have, for better or worse.

As a small kid, I distinctly remember having infrequent visits to the doctors, as all children do for minor ailments and vaccinations. I can recall so vividly the information leaflets on the notice boards in the waiting rooms, and the ones that really stood out for me were the ones about blood and organ donation, even at the young age that I was.

I have understood as I have got older that I definitely have a pre-disposition to certain things in my life.

I know for a fact that I’m strongly attracted to Slavic culture, history, languages and (I have to say it if I’m being totally honest) Slavic women as well. It’s been there since I was a little kid and I cannot explain it whatsoever, why it is so, or where it comes from.

It’s the same with this donation thing, and again, it totally baffles me in what makes me think like this and why?

As I got older, it never wained and when I became of age, I immediately signed up to become a blood donor, and I quietly donated blood for many years.

I also signed up to the organ donation scheme and carried the cards as well in my wallet.

Unfortunately, a relationship I had with someone meant I was unable to continue to give blood, which I felt absolutely gutted about, but there was no way around it because of the strict rules surrounding blood donations.

Around the same time, I was beginning to become very successful in my chosen occupation and I became a manager at quite a young age, with enormous responsibilities and in charge of a complicated department with up to eight people working in it.

One of those people was a truly lovely gentleman called Ken.

He had had his second kidney transplant just before joining our team, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure that he would be able to cope with the workload we had, so I tended to give him more easier tasks to complete, also because he was well into his fifties as well.

I learned so many things becoming a manager so young, and Ken quietly taught me the very valuable lesson of never to underestimate someone because you might have a preconceived idea about them.

As I got to know Ken better over time, he became the most reliable member of staff I had, and we struck up a really nice friendship. I was always intrigued about his struggles with kidney disease, the processes of his transplants and the aftercare he had to go through.

He was an amazing guy, and he was happy to talk openly about it any time I enquired, which was always highly illuminating and informative.

Sadly, Ken has passed away. However, he lived to a really great age, and he was definitely a massive inspiration for what I would end up doing over 25 years later.

Time passed, I settled down and had my family, and got consumed with all that entails, including trying to create an almost impenetrable financial legacy for my kid’s futures, and hopefully the future generations of my family also.

As I’ve written before, I didn’t fish for nearly sixteen years because of this, and sometimes you get so focused on the immediate goals you’ve set yourself that you forget about some of the other things you used to do or might want to do in the future.

It hit home one night when I was on my own watching TV and the film Seven Pounds came on. It stars Will Smith, and without wanting to spoil the story for those that haven’t seen it yet, it hit home so intensely that I became extremely emotional afterwards. If you haven’t watched it, then please do, you won’t regret it.

It gave me a big reminder of what I wanted to try to do, if there were no health problems with my kids or my immediate family; and if the conditions were right for me to be able to do it as well.

It replanted that seed from all of those years ago and gave me the inspiration to try to make it happen and help someone by becoming an organ donor.

I still needed to wait as my kids were still young, but over the next ten to twelve years it became clear that my children had no major health concerns, apart from my youngest son being autistic, and I could start to maybe look into how to go about beginning the organ donation process.

I was entering into my late forties by now also, so I couldn’t take too long about it. However, it’s not an easy thing to get involved with, especially if you have no family or friends in need of anything.

I decided to bide my time, and as usually happens in my life, a situation would present itself and I could go from there.

A couple of years later, that is precisely what happened on a cold February night in 2020 as I was browsing through Facebook.

A person with whom I was friends with, and who I had also met a couple of times (I’m pretty certain they won’t recall such insignificant interludes), wrote about their need for a kidney transplant as they were having to have to go onto three days a week dialysis soon.

I had followed this person for quite a while on Facebook and I had found them to be interesting and knowledgeable, plus we agreed on many things. He had written some nice comments to my contributions on his posts.

It was getting late, but I plucked up the courage to send him a private message explaining that I would be interested in becoming his donor and that I was prepared to go through all the tests and procedures to try to make it happen. Also, that I was 100% genuine, and that he could call me anytime to explain what it was all about and how could we get the process started.

He called me back fairly quickly and expressed his gratitude to me for wanting to even contemplate starting this journey and potentially giving him a new lease of life.

He explained, though, that he couldn’t really go into too much of a conversation with me about it because of the very strict rules on coercion, and that I must contact the renal unit of the hospital he was under and take it from there.

He has since told me that the initial message and subsequent phone call we had that night was one of the most joyous, yet surreal conversations he’s ever had in his life.

I called the telephone number he had given me and tests were arranged months later, due to Covid restrictions imposed at the time. It was found that I was in excellent condition health wise to be considered as a kidney donor. However, I wasn’t a direct match for my friend.

I was then asked if I would consider becoming an altruistic donor, hopefully in a pair matching scheme, which would enable my friend to get the kidney transplant he required. I didn’t hesitate and said yes straight away.

Ongoing health checks, tests and matching runs were done to try to ascertain a pairing match, until we finally got the long-awaited news in April this year that we had one; over three years after my initial enquiry!

A date for the 5th July 2023 was set and that gave me time to lose a bit of weight, get fit for the operation, and put my affairs and work in order.

I had generally tried to be a bit more health conscious over this three-year period by eating much more healthily and trying to keep my alcohol content to a minimum, but I’d had lapses, not helped by my personal situation over that period.

However, I was determined to get down to a really healthy weight of 82kg (13 stone in old money) and be as ready as possible.

I only had one naughty weekend of a few beers at the Barbel Society show in early June, and I got down to a very respectable 82.5kg just before my operation.

It was then pointed out to me that I would be losing nearly one kilogram by actually having one of my kidneys removed, something I hadn’t factored in whatsoever! I still find this highly amusing to this day, as it was my recipient who pointed this out to me!

I was absolutely mentally prepared for the whole procedure, and only very close members of my family knew and a few really trusted friends.

My eldest daughter knew about what I was going to do three years ago at the start of the process. She’s married and knows me well enough to trust my decision-making, and that once I make my mind up to do something, then it’s pretty pointless trying to persuade otherwise. She gave me her full support and said how proud she was of me. She knew where to find my will, and I’d gone through everything with her, so she knew my wishes. I didn’t expect anything to go wrong whatsoever, but I wanted everything in place.

I had a meal out with my children at the lovely Polish restaurant, near where we live, the night before I was due to go into hospital. I told them what I was about to do, and that they were not to worry about anything, and I reiterated how much I loved them all. It was the perfect evening.

I’d asked my recipient if they would keep it to just his close family members knowing who their donor was also, until after a successful operation, and I had asked this throughout this process from the beginning.

I had my own personal reasons for doing this, and I didn’t want anyone to judge why I was going to go through with what many would consider a potentially risky process for someone who wasn’t a family member.

They were more than happy to comply and keep my name quiet, as I am reciprocating here whilst they are still in recovery.

It has been a revelation to discover whilst going through this whole process that the actual recipients are not the most important consideration when doing a donation. The donors are, and it’s their health that is taken as the most high priority, as no detrimental risks to their health can be taken.

This was quite a shock to me, and it’s why I was under so much physical and mental observation all the time during this process. It couldn’t have been more thorough. I have always felt calm and reassured because of the professionalism of the renal unit that I had been under for over three years, and that was never more evident than when being wheeled down to the operating theatre by one of the nurses (Caroline) who I first contacted all that time ago.

She had insisted on being there to do that, and she couldn’t believe how calm I was; heart rate monitors don’t lie.

I felt at peace, and I was ready for whatever would happen, even if that meant never waking up again. Everything was in place and absolutely nothing was going to stop me from carrying out what I had promised to do from day one. I was totally prepared for anything. I could’ve pulled out of the operation at any time I wanted, even at the last second, but that was never going to happen.

As the anaesthetic was applied, I was asked to think of the things that made me happy.

I thought of three: stick float fishing on my favourite stretch of river Trent at East Stoke, my beloved Ukraine, and my six kids; the best any father could ever wish for. I thought of them all before…zzzzzzzz.

I then had the most beautiful and vivid dream I’ve probably ever had, something I shall keep just for me. However, I remember it all just as if it had happened in real life.

I was then awoken six hours later and asked if I knew where I was and if I was OK?

I made a joke about them stealing one of my kidneys and then assured them that I was fine.

I did feel amazingly OK, I knew I’d had an operation, but the pain was far less than I had anticipated. I had mentally prepared to have to go through a lot of pain, but it was more than manageable.

Sleeping in hospitals is never easy, and luckily, I’d never had to do it before, but I could never really get comfortable in the bed, no matter how hard I tried or how manoeuvrable the bed was. I was able to walk by the next day though, mainly because I’m a stubborn so and so, and I could also visit my friend who had his transplant that evening.

We had been in the hospital at the same time, so we saw each other both before and after our operations.

For me, that was the most worrying time, knowing he had the more difficult operation and anything could go wrong. It was with great relief that the nurses woke me in the early hours of the morning, as I had asked them to, so they could let me know he was out of theatre and recovering well.

The daft thing is that he said the same thing, but opposite, when I was under the knife. He said he couldn’t live with himself if something had happened to me. Neither of us cared what happened to us, we were just worried about the other. Weird stuff and probably unexplainable?

Four operations took place that day. Mine and another donor’s kidneys had been removed in the morning, with my kidney going into that donor’s recipient and his kidney going into my friend.

Both donors, me being one of them, had technically allowed two recipients to receive kidneys because without either of us then no transplants would’ve been able to take place.

It is just one of the many wonderful kidney transplant sharing schemes that are available, and it is possible that just one correctly matching donor can help to make a multitude of other donor transplants happen. Think of it a bit like a house selling chain, and you won’t be far from the concept. Hopefully, the photographs explain it better than I can.

My eldest daughter came to visit me two days after my operation, which was lovely, and I was deemed fit enough to leave after three days on the Saturday lunchtime.

My great friend Ray Zadwirny, who knew about the procedure, came and picked me up. I took it easy the rest of the weekend, watching TV, sleeping, and being waited on hand and foot by the lovely Ukrainian refugee girls I have living in my house.

I was walking fairly decently by the Monday, and I took my two youngest kids to school and walked around the block a couple of times.

On the Tuesday I did the same and actually did a bit of food shopping with someone else doing the lifting.

On the Wednesday, exactly one week after my operation, I drove and went to watch the Newark Fed’ open match on the Trent where James Robbins and Dave Harrell were drawn on the Crankley Point section.

I spent a good hour chatting with Dave, after picking up some of his excellent new hybrid stick floats, then watched James fishing the stick float immaculately for five hours for double figures and second in his section.

Thursday I rested at home and on the Friday my good friend Richard Sullivan took me fishing, except we didn’t fish as it was actually chucking it down with rain, and I hate fishing in the rain when I’m fully fit; so absolutely no chance because of the condition I was in.

I wasn’t going to fish anyway, and was just going to help Richard catch some barbel. However, we walked miles and miles of the banks of the Trent, with me explaining about where the fish lived in different stretches of the river and many lovely looking swims.

A day out like this can sometimes be worth years of actual fishing if you think about it, especially if you don’t know the river so well. It was a day well spent, and we walked over eight miles that day.

I rested up that weekend with my kids and then went running the bank for James Robbins on a Newark RiverFest qualifier the following week, with him failing by an ounce to qualify from his zone; the fourth time this season that happened to him! I think I was more gutted than he was to be honest, and I have to say a few words about him.

He’s not just been a truly great friend to me for a long time, but also an inspiration. I have learned so much from him over the years, and nothing is ever too much trouble. If you ever get the chance to sit behind him quietly and watch him fish, then please do so. You cannot fail not to learn something from how he fishes and tackles a swim, and I ALWAYS learn something from him every single time I do so. He’s world-class, end of, and one of the nicest blokes around that you will ever meet.

The next day I had my two-week post-operation check up, and the welcome I got from the staff was astonishing.

They couldn’t believe how well I had recovered, and how I was walking as if nothing had happened. Caroline, the nurse who had been with me since the beginning and had walked me down to the theatre, was almost in tears and wanted a hug. I was warned not to overdo things and not to lift anything really at all. However, I was allowed to go fishing if I was accompanied by someone, and it was for small fish only. I smiled, knowing that I can fish for small fish, but on the Trent big ones can come along at any time!

A couple of days later, I went fishing on the Trent with Richard Sullivan again. We took it very steady, obviously, and I hooked and landed a nice double figure barbel second trot down on a piece of roasted ham joint, of all things. I was going for those small fish, honestly guv’!

Richard was right next to me at all times, and I could’ve handed the rod to him at any moment if I was struggling or in any pain.

I wasn’t at all, and the fact that I caught it on a rod (the 14ft #4 Match) that I had helped develop made it all the sweeter. The true art of rod design is that the rod should play the fish, and if ever there was a more apt time to test that theory than someone playing and landing a double figure barbel two weeks and two days after a major operation, then I don’t know if there is a better one?

That fish meant a lot to me, and she went back safely, barely leaving the water, bar for a few seconds for photographs. Richard had the swim for the rest of the afternoon, landing quite a few nice barbel and losing a couple. I just basked in the late afternoon sun, stood in the river gillying and soaking up all that countryside. You just can’t beat it.

I’d been out fishing the day I was admitted to hospital, catching a few barbel, chub and silvers, having a lovely early morning session; so I’d only not fished for two and a half weeks. However, that was a lifetime to me, especially in the summer months when I do most of my fishing, in which I can be out every other day sometimes!

The following weekend I was invited to fill in for fellow Cadence brand ambassador and good mate, Paul Kozyra on a match at Holme Marsh, just above Cromwell weir.

A quality field on a section of river I had never fished before, and I was obviously up against it. The reason I could fish it though was because it was park behind your peg, and Paul had explained to the lads that I had had an operation and that I would need help lifting my gear in and out of the car.

They couldn’t have been more obliging or helpful, even after I had inexplicably won the match with 47lbs of feeder caught bream, casting halfway across the river and a lovely £200 pick up. It wasn’t all plain sailing though as I was mithered by strategically off-putting text messages by my ex-better half, halfway through the match that lost me ten fish and almost cost me.

Luckily, I gave my head a wobble, ignored the phone, and cracked on, landing what turned out to be the winning fish ten minutes from the end. John Urruty’s 45lb 10ozs of snail and meat caught barbel had run me close, and I had nearly cocked it right up, but I managed to scrape home and a lesson learned. Don’t answer any texts from certain people next time, while you are fishing a match! John and I have a good laugh about it now, but I can assure you that I wasn’t laughing at the time!

They’re all absolutely fantastic guys who fish these matches, and I managed to fish a couple more times on that same stretch, including an unbelievable match where Paul Kozyra broke the match length record with 209lbs of bream.

I was one peg below Paul and two hours into the match I was 60+lbs behind him and biteless! He genuinely told me to cast upstream, but I refused as I would be cheating not only myself but the others in the match also. Paul just wanted me to catch some fish and I really appreciated the gesture, but I banked on persevering and hitting my feeder on the same spot every time so that hopefully a few of them would eventually drop.

That’s exactly what happened, and the last two hours were quite hectic, especially the last 4 minutes where I landed two fish for 8lb, including my first ever “fish on!” shout out at the final whistle. Those last two fish nicked me 3rd place, for 69lb, instead of a default section win, and I’d won another tidy pay out. I’ve learned a lot fishing these matches, and I shall definitely look forward to hopefully fishing a few more over the winter and next season also.

I’ve fished a lot more matches this season, especially with my Barnstone angling club, and everyone has been so good about helping me in my recovery, sometimes giving me the nearest access peg and helping barrow my gear. I wouldn’t have been able to fish otherwise, so I’m extremely grateful for all those that have gone out of their way and helped me.

I’ve had a section win here and there, and with a bit more luck, I could’ve main-framed and maybe won a couple of them. Spending too long on the feeder and losing the odd barbel has cost me, and that’s the Trent in a nutshell. You have to decide how to fish your peg and stick to it rather than chop and change methods too often chasing imaginary bonus fish. I’ve also fished on the tidal Trent a few times this year, and it’s all been valuable experience gained. It’s been really lovely catching loads of little barbel on the float, some gudgeon sized ones as well, which are so cute. The beauty of catching these fish is that none of them have had the small turquoise spot marking them as stocked fish, which is even more encouraging to see.

I couldn’t fish the Division 1 National this year due to me not being able to barrow my own gear or fish a pole on the Gloucester canal. However, I was our designated runner and bank side weighing in assistant for our team, something I thoroughly enjoy doing.

Nationals are great. You get to meet with people you sometimes only see once a year, or you see great friends you know so well also. My teammates treated me as just as an important team member as anyone else fishing in the team, and that goes a long way. My teammate who I ran for, Brin Marrison, fished brilliantly to get a joint 11th in his section; tying with the great Mick Vials of Barnsley, for excellent section points. Unfortunately, the rest of our team suffered in many sections from a poor draw, and we were relegated to Division 2 next season by only 2 points!

One more fish in any of eight sections would’ve kept us up, such are the tight margins in match fishing. It was still an enjoyable experience despite the gut-wrenching result, and I do enjoy being a member of a team where everyone is fishing for everybody else.

The banter and camaraderie is second to none, and I do love our Barnstone AC team. Top lads, all of them.

I haven’t neglected my pleasure fishing at all, and I’ve caught absolutely loads of fish, barbel, chub, and silvers mainly float fishing on the rods I’ve helped design; on a big variety of baits from mussels, pomegranate seeds, small pieces of hemp and also stewed wheat.

Unfortunately, I cannot discuss the vast majority of them because they were caught on a stretch of the Trent that has a publicity ban, so I can’t show any photographs or go into any detail about what I’ve done on there really. It’s probably a shame that I can’t do that, however I truly understand the reasons why, and after my children, I value my membership of Nottingham Piscatorials as my next highest possession. I’d never do anything to jeopardise my membership because it means so much to me.

I have taken many people out on the river this season, helping them catch great fish and experiencing the greatest fishing days of their lives, their words not mine, and I do just love being out on the river even if I’m not actually fishing. I get an enormous buzz in doing that, and it’s a great honour and a privilege to be able to do so.

The other most important thing I’ve done is that I’ve kept my promise to take my little girl Anastasia out much more often this season.

We’ve been out together tens of times this spring and summer, catching all different species of fish including roach, bream, rudd, perch, tench, dace, chub, barbel, and hybrids.

She’s had an 80+lbs chub haul on the pole and a 50lbs chub and barbel catch on the feeder on the Trent, among many others.

Invaluable daddy-daughter days that will live long in the memory, culminating in a trophy on the Nottingham Piscatorials junior match day, which she thoroughly enjoyed. She’s come on leaps and bounds this season and made me one even prouder dad than I was before. I’ve loved every second of it, as I know she has as well.

As I’ve said before, I’m not just a barbel angler, and I do love targeting them, but I do have other passions and obligations also.

However, the main point of this article is to show how positive organ donation can be, not only just for the recipient, but also for the donor as well.

I’ve had so many health benefits, it’s truly unbelievable.

I’ve had the best body MOT anyone could ever wish for, now knowing I am really fit and healthy.

I’ve made some lifestyle changes also that should help me live a longer and healthier life, despite me donating an organ.

My diet has changed for the better and I only drink on special occasions or special nights out now, or I’ll take a shandy or non-alcoholic beer more often than before. Being a donor should elongate my life, as amazing as that sounds.

After this excellent and life-changing experience, I now want to do more to raise awareness of how common and serious degenerative kidney disease actually is, and how it is not that difficult to become a donor if you feel that way inclined.

My job now is to talk about my fantastically positive experiences and hopefully persuade anyone who reads this that you too could become an organ donor, a blood donor, a bone marrow donor or a multitude of other amazing procedures that are possible these days, that could really help someone and change their life completely.

My recipient and I will talk more openly about our experiences and about how our friendship has developed since I made the initial contact, and I’m sure we will do some media, explaining how this all came about and try to raise more awareness. Hopefully, more donors will come forward from off the back of that.

That will more than likely happen in the spring, all things being well and my friend making the strong recovery he is at the moment.

However, I wanted to write something now, whilst it’s all still fresh in my mind and with the hope that this blog could be read absolutely anywhere, being read by anybody, not necessarily even a fisherman or woman.

It could be read in a waiting room, on a train or in an aeroplane, or on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, literally anywhere.

If you are reading this and in reasonably good health, then you too could possibly help change more than one person’s life and also gain a lifelong friendship as well, as I have done; with absolutely minimal risk to yourself and your health.

I am a testament to that, and I can honestly say that I had a week to ten days of manageable to mild discomfort, and it took two weeks out of my life.

That’s it, two weeks! If it had taken two months, it would all still have been worth it.

I can honestly say that if I had three kidneys, I’d absolutely donate another one tomorrow, unquestionably, that’s how good and world-class this process has actually been for me.

I am absolutely no hero whatsoever, and that is not the point of this blog. I am irrelevant to this story really, and it’s certainly not the reason I have written this, nor to try to look good and to look like a saint. I am far from it.

I just want to try to plant a seed in your head, just like the one that was planted in mine in a dreary doctor’s waiting room over 45 years ago.

This has truly been an unbelievable summer, a summer like no other, and I’ve really enjoyed it all.

So many great memories to get me through the not so nice winter months. The Trent has been high or in flood for the last three weeks, which hasn’t helped me this autumn, and I have hardly been out fishing, which isn’t great.

I’ve recently discovered another light bulb moment in my life in that I don’t actually like the clock change and the long dark nights. It does affect me, more than I care to admit, however I shall do my best to embrace the change and make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead until we get to the light and the regenerative growth of spring.

See you all on the other side of that, hopefully catching some late season barbel.

Thank you all for reading this blog, I know it’s long, however I thought it was a story worthy of being told. I hope so anyway, and I hope you get some enjoyment out of it also?

As I finish writing this, Bleach Lab are still playing in the background, and I think it’s apt that I leave the last word to them.

All the best, and tight lines!
Life gets better.
It’s not easy at times.
I change with the weather.
Whether it rains or it shines.
And I want you to know,
I’m doing fine.
Life gets better!

Leigh Harrison

Leigh started his coarse fishing career on his local West Midlands rivers of the Severn, Warwickshire Avon and his favourite river Teme, having been a member of the junior section of Starlets AS in the mid to late 80s. After a period on the local match circuit, Leigh decided pleasure fishing was more his thing, and he spent many successful years catching all coarse species, travelling the country and beyond in doing so. A 16-year hiatus followed before he returned to the sport he loved and had missed so much, and he followed his deep passion for float fishing on rivers. Having now lived in the Nottinghamshire area for over half his life, Leigh spends nearly all his time standing in his beloved river Trent, catching quality barbel, chub, roach, dace, perch, bream and other species, mainly on the float. It’s no surprise that he’s helped develop two match float rods in our Cadence range: the 14ft #0 Match, a silver’s dream, and the leviathan tamer 14ft #4 Match. Both have been extremely well received by the angling community and Cadence customers, giving many future years of pleasure.