I grew up in the mining village of Dudley in Northumberland and my father worked down the pits. I remember he would come home with his face covered in coal dust.
Most of my parents’ conversations seemed to be about work and money troubles, and that’s one of the things that sticks in my mind about our first holiday – no one spoke about those things for two whole weeks. It felt like the shackles had been taken off Dad for the first time and he was given a sense of freedom. There was this peace and contentment in our family.
It was 1971 and I was seven years old, and my parents had decided that we would go to Torquay. They had friends who had been there and there was a certain element of keeping up appearances within our village. They didn’t want to be the only ones who hadn’t ventured south of Gateshead.
So early one morning, we piled into our Hillman Imp to start the 11-hour trip, with all four kids – myself, my brother David, and my sisters Joanna and Dawn – crammed into the back.
David spent most of the trip vomiting, probably because of all the boiled eggs Mum had packed for us to snack on. We stopped six or seven times, at one point on the side of a motorway with a windbreak up while lorries hurtled past at 70 miles an hour. I thought, “Is this what a holiday is all about?”
But when we arrived in Torquay, the sun was shining. There were palm trees and all the houses were whitewashed and immaculate. Our caravan site overlooked the sea and when I peered down over the cliff face I saw all these little coves and people catching fish. We went down to the beach and just watched them hook mackerel off the side of boats.
They brought them back to the caravan site and cooked them on the barbecue with their families, and I thought it was the most wonderful thing. I wanted to try it out for myself.
We couldn’t afford the gear, so my dad bought a little second-hand fishing rod for me from a local shop and used his cigarette paper to wrap round the hook as a lure. Dad had always been a keen fisherman, just as his father had been, and he was keen to pass on his passion – perhaps because he felt that I was destined for a career down the mine, like him, and he wanted me to have a hobby that I enjoyed.
The next morning, we headed out in a little rented boat to a place called the Devil’s Armchair, and I will never forget the feeling of joy and wonderment when I reeled in my first fish, a mackerel.
For the rest of the holiday, I didn’t want to go anywhere else. We’d putter out in the morning with a packed lunch and bring back our haul late afternoon; I remember thinking, “I feel at home doing this.” I had this overwhelming sense of well-being.
On the last day of the holiday, I didn’t want to leave and the thought of it made me cry. After that, my dad and I went on regular fishing trips on the north-east coast.
The great American writer John Gierach says that the solution to many of our problems – be it money, work or relationships – is to go fishing, and the bigger the problem, the longer the fishing trip should be. I agree.
During the 1990s, I was going through a tough time and had neglected fishing, taking refuge in alcohol. And during therapy, the counsellor asked: “What has made you truly happy in the past?”
We discussed fishing, and he said: “You should take it up again.” I did and it got me through that bad patch, and since then it has been a huge part of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to make a career out of it, too. In my other day job, as an actor, I suspend disbelief and pretend to be other people, but when I’m fishing, it’s one of the few occasions when I can be me.
It has taken me to some spectacular places, too – I’ve been to the Amazon four times, to Cuba and Argentina and Paraguay. Ascension Island in the South Atlantic was a highlight; there were so many fish there that I reached over the side of a boat and caught one with my bare hands.
But fishing has never been about the beauty of the place or the size of the fish; it has always been about how I feel. I compare it to being at home. Home is not a house or a garden – it is a feeling, and I have always felt at home on the water.
My dad passed away in 2009, ironically when I was fishing on the Bang Pakong River in Thailand, but I will be forever grateful that he introduced me to the pastime all those years ago. And although I miss him terribly, when I’m out on the water I am always with him.
Robson Green: Coastal Fishing continues on Channel 5.