As a boy Frank Kidwell (born 1928) and his friends would camp on the banks of Ashford strand, exploring the riverbanks and coves. Venturing out to the riverbed at low tide they realised they could catch flounder fish simply by stepping on them. Training themselves not to be ticklish and catching the fish by the gills meant fish for tea.
Later, watching the salmon fishermen sail out along the River Taw, Frank had a new idea. ‘They would go down with the tide, but…to go down there…they’d propel themselves with a prang, they would stand on the stern-sheet and propel themselves along the gut and, at the same time, be catching the flounders.’
Franks prang is a broom-type implement that, instead of bristles, features eight barbed steel prongs. Once a fish is stepped upon, the fish is stabbed with the prang (careful of your toes!). Importantly, the fisherman then turns away from the tide to ensure he doesn’t lose his catch in the river current.
Frank believes he was one of a few prangers here in North Devon. ‘I’ve practised it since about eleven and I got to about eighty-five and I was down the river…and I thought I’m going to go for a swim here soon. I’m getting a bit too old for this business! So, I went home and cleaned and oiled up the prang and that’s the one now in the museum.’
(Frank also has an eel-catching technique which involves worms, a ball of wool, a bucket and a broken umbrella!)