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The Compleat Tiddler Catcher
West of the Salisbury Plain through the great chalk downs of southern England the placid River Stour meanders peacefully toward Bournemouth; it did meander peacefully, that is, before the matter of the tiddlers, the tiddler catchers and the tiddler catchers' catcher came up.
A tiddler, the uninitiated and un-English must be advised, is any small grubby minnow-size fish. In the vicinity of Bournemouth, even a graceful silvery salmon must start as a humble tiddler.
A tiddler catcher by the same token is almost always a small boy, fresh from bolting a Saturday morning breakfast of "bread 'n' marge," and rushing to the nearest river, lake or pond with a tiny net to see how many tiddlers he can transfer from nature's waters to a water-filled jam jar carried for that very purpose. When a tiddler catcher grows up he is called a fisherman.
The man who catches the tiddler catchers is Stanley Tomkins, 60, an old spoilsport who leases the fishing rights on six and a half miles of the River Stour from the Earl of Malmesbury for �2,000 a year.
It is Tomkins' position that Bournemouth's tiddler catchers "take hundreds of thousands of valuable fish every season. In one jam jar we found five salmon, three sea trout, a rainbow trout, a brown trout and seven minnows."
Conservation instincts boiling, Lease-holder Tomkins went to the Avon and Dorset River Board and demanded that tiddler catchers be prosecuted. Not on your life, ruled Douglas Pass, chairman of the board's fisheries committee, with the mien of a man who might have slipped a tiddler into a jam jar once or twice himself not too many years ago. "The children aren't doing much harm and if we prosecute we'd be laughed out of court. After all, these boys are the anglers of the future."
At that, Tomkins reeled in and cast off in another direction by ordering his bailiffs to smash the nets of any young anglers they could apprehend flagrante delicto and to return all captured tiddlers to the water. "I shall bring a test case," he publicly thundered. "I shall have the matter raised in Parliament." But public opinion and the aroused indignation of an outraged people at last served to mollify even Stanley Tomkins. "I'm not an ogre," he protested weakly last week, offering to give fishing lessons to any tiddler catcher willing to try a hook and line. "But I won't," he firmly concluded, "have those damn butterfly nets and jam jars cluttering the riverbanks."