I can barely believe it myself but I’m old enough to have witnessed the evolution of the electric bite alarm, though I came onto the scene shortly after the commercial production of Richard Walker’s famous ‘Heron’. As a kid, the very sight of this piece of fishing-wizardry – safely encased within a glass cabinet in my local tackle store – would have me near-salivating in anticipation of owning one when I got older and, hopefully, richer – they weren’t cheap for a lad dependent on pocket-money.
With little prospect of securing a Heron for myself, I took to making my own carp bite alarm; an all-consuming and most enjoyable exercise for an 11 year old blessed with few technical skills but bags and bags of enthusiasm. It comprised a plastic darts-case, two 4” lengths of tin pallet-banding and black plastic tape to insulate them from each other, a standard torch bulb…and that was it, apart from the wiring. I don’t remember how I secured my creation to the bank-stick but I do recall – with a smile – the patience, the frustration and the light touch necessary to keep the contacts apart with 8lb PDQ monofil. Thing was, it worked – rather well at that! And unlike the Heron’s sound-box which lit-up intermittently with the uncertainty of a cagey take, MY alarm remained illuminated, allowing me to keep an eye on the dangling cylinder of Baco-foil. Of course, from that point on, bite detection was effectively manual (i.e. visual) and unaided by the bite-alarm, but it had done its job of alerting me to the cyprinoid-enquiry.
Not to be outdone by his youngest, irksome little boy, Dad determined to construct his own bite alarms and locked himself in the garden shed for the whole weekend. Sawing and banging was occasionally heard so it was a fair bet his invention would be wood-based; indeed, being an accomplished amateur carpenter it was a foregone assumption. Now my father was never one to do things by halves; he took pride in doing things ‘as though you mean it’, and even recommended this policy as a way of thwarting school bullies: “Try to avoid trouble, boys” he’d tell me and my elder brother, “but if you can’t, stand your ground, make a tight fist and bop him square on the nose…do it like you mean it, ok? Bang!” We’d recoil at the mock blow and with good cause! The ol’ man could bring his fist to a welcome halt a fag-paper’s width from your nose. We took his advice as gospel and it proved to be a winner on a good few occasions during our school years – and once or twice since.
Anyway, come Sunday evening, Dad was ready to exhibit his rival bite-alarm to the world, a world consisting of me, my brother, Mum and the budgie. It had the appearance of a converted bird-box and I remember my brother’s joyful observation that it was big enough for a pair of tits. Mum frowned, but her displeasure was halted by Dad’s request to help him ‘launch’ his creation. We could clearly see the large red bulb-cover on the front of the box and naively assumed the alarm would be ‘light-only’ like those I’d made in previous weeks but, like I said, Dad didn’t do things half-heartedly. Handing the experimental length of PDQ to Mum, Dad proudly stepped back and ordered his wife to tug it from the grip of the two contacts…she did so, and all Hell broke loose! The bell could have woken the dead or, at the very least, have signalled a break-out from Wormwood Scrubs, and the warning-light flashed red and angry. The budgie panicked and lost half his feathers frantically flailing around his cage; Mum shielded her ears with the oven-glove and me and my brother pleaded with Dad to turn the ruddy thing off. Very much in his own time, Dad brought the mayhem to a halt with a click of the large chrome switch on the back of the Tit Box, as we later dubbed it.
“You’re never going to use that thing over the pit, are you Dad?” I suggested
“Of course! And why not?” he asked
“Think of my reputation!” I cried, “I’M the one who’s always running around the pit telling people to keep quiet…I’ll never be able to show my face again!”
The argument continued for a minute or two before Dad returned to the shed and deposited his own personal Prometheus on his work bench. It was largely forgotten until we decided some days later to do a night session for the wildies of the Main Pool in South Ockendon, Essex. Barry and I knew that Dad was carrying the Tit Box but, I fancy, the full horror of its manifestation had diminished in our minds; we believed, I think, that what had been deafening within the confines of the kitchen would be all but lost in the great outdoors.
At some time in the wee, small hours, a humble grey-pink wild carp of around 3lbs picked up a tasty ball of Canadian Cheddar and caused a riot in so doing. Torches flashed across the lake, shouts went up and the sickening sounds of wellies kicking Thermos flasks to death filled the night air…there’d been a break-out! Barry and I were mortified: fanatical carpers both, reared on stealth and cunning, we adopted the foetal position and gritted our teeth until Dad had landed, unhooked and returned his fish to the lake some months later.
Next morning we faced a Court of Inquiry but avoided a ducking from our fellow Brothers of the Angle by concocting some cock-and-bull story about the “late arrivals” just up from our swim…we’d sent them packing with their bloody alarm and told them never to return!
In the years to come, further attempts at constructing cheap, effective bite alarms were made, though I have particularly fond memories of the Heath Robinson contraptions we made from bits and pieces found on the adjacent land-fill site: innovative? I think me and my fishing pals invented the word!
I’d truly love to see other readers’ accounts of their alarming ways.