Carp fishing & the Lea – summer 2016

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IMG_5294-1Having no car to drive for the first half of this year focused my attention on my local river – the Lower Lea,  potential swims were scrutinise more closely than ever before. The trips planned were to be frequent and short, tackle was set up and ready to go, a bicycle permanently rested in the basement, attached to the cross bar – a modified 42″ landing net, a three piece 10′ Allcocks spinning rod strong enough for hard fighting carp and a very long bank stick – in fact its a storm pole off a bivvy door, although I must confess I’m not too sure what the original purpose of it is, I’m guessing it is a method to sure up the door on a bivvy when a tornado hits? Anyhow I saw it in a tackle shop a few years back and thought it perfect for holding a rod high on the river bank, it has proven very useful when barbel fishing. A shoulder bag contains a reel, camera, polaroids, and an old bait box with all the accessories that a modern angler needs to trap a carp. Finally an old green bucket holds a mixture of baits and doubles as my seat.

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Before the season began I kept a close eye on the river and by mid May I could see signs of carp, I also came across one or two other anglers discretely looking with intent, on occasions a few words were exchanged but generally we all kept to the unwritten code of ‘keep quiet and carry on.’  You can find carp quite easily from Broxbourne (and probably beyond) down into Hackney and through central London and out the other side, all you need is a warm sunny day, a bicycle and a some  polaroids, I will guarantee you will find carp within a few hours of riding, whether they are feeding though is another question.

My time on the river since June 16th has probably totalled to about 7-8 hours,  each trip amounts to only a couple of hours but it suits my freelance routine, I can drop my daughter off at school and pop down to the Lea or nip out during lunch time. So far I have not managed to get on the river early morning or at dusk, something I want to remedy in August. The Lower Lea also holds a large head of good sized bream, the ‘silvers’ have all but vanished but I had heard that 5000 dace have been introduced by the EA to the lower Lea catchment in the close season, lets hope that they thrive.

To date I had a couple of carp at the start of the season, notably a linear on the 16th June, and a few days later a common, both fish were  around 7-8 pounds, these fish are very long and strong fighters, but these were the smallest of the carp that I have seen. I have observed a few fish well into their twenties and one or two that could be in their thirties, I had some heart-stopping moments with the polaroids  when these larger carp were feeding hard on my bait, frustratingly these moments were cherished under the cloak of the closed season. IMG_5258-1

August will soon arrive and after a short holiday I will attempt to get back on the river to continue my quest to catch one of the larger fish, but I must confess after cycling down to the river over the last week I have not seen a fish, my theory is that  after a heatwave they move into faster flowing and deeper water where oxygen levels are higher, making observations next to impossible. But I have a cunning plan…

Barbed wire, stingers, flies & heat – summer river chubbing

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The first signs of a heatwave hit England on Sunday and I was in the West Midlands seeking to winkle out a chub from the river Mease, a tiny meandering river that can be fished on a Birmingham Anglers Association day ticket. The Mease flows past the village of Netherseal that sits in classic open english countryside just half an hours drive from Central Birmingham.
NethersealI fancied a break from my current search for large river Lea carp, the Lea sadly contains very few chub in it’s lower reaches and I felt that I needed to be re-introduced since my last chance meeting on the Kennet last winter. My approach of trotting with a heavy chubber float, keeping the bread flake low in the water took me on a good mile long walk along its meandering course, the water was low and I saw no sign of a chub despite my stealthy approach of keeping low, pushing back the stingers and opening up small gaps in the undergrowth to expose tiny swims. With no luck I started to turn back and fish the swims that I had previously baited with bread and maggots, finally I saw  a chub dart up and take a maggot, despite the sun getting hotter and brighter I knew there was a chance of a fish.

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fishing_bagThe BAA do a great job in providing access over the barbed wire fences that follow the meanders of the river Mease but once over the fence you are right up to your neck in stingers, luckily stinging nettles push over quite easily and with a little care you can form an opening by placing your net and fishing bag down to create relatively pain-free platform.  I was now fishing the stick float on a slow drop using a button shirt shot pattern, I continued to trickle in the maggots and soon started to observe the chub darting out unable to contain their hunger for an easy meal. On my second cast I was into a chub of around the 3/4 pound, then another and another, each one getting a little larger.

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Surrounded by stinging nettles and the temperatures increasing the whole experience was becoming quite intense, flies were becoming more persistent as they buzzed around my face, sweat dripped from my brow, there was no place to retreat unless I got back up the bank and over the barbed wire fence, this would have broken my cover and spooked the chub, so I stayed low and continued to fish. For the next hour I caught ten to fifteen chub, the largest no more than a pound and a half, but on a light line and stick float this was fun fishing that reminded me of my summer holidays as a lad fishing on the Sussex Ouse. Finally I dropped a chub amongst the stingers, I had no option but to bury my hand into a clump of nettles and quickly pick it up, the pain was bearable, I was after all fishing and very little could deter me, but as the heat rose further and the flies grew in numbers I finally called it a day.

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Fallons Angler 6 – “getting better all the time”.

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Words once penned by Lennon and McCartney but it is true, Fallon’s Angler is getting so much better. It’s been just over a year since I started  working with Garrett Fallon on the publication, searching  out a narrative that has balance in our multi-layered world of angling. With so many specialist areas, attitudes, and outcomes each issue is a challenge but as stories unfold and content collected  we feel we are growing a personality that  our readers now feel akin to. Each month we discover new writers, photographers, anglers and artists that fit the Fallon’s Angler ethos, although to say we have an ethos could put up boundaries so perhaps we could label it as the Fallon’s Angler spirit?

Personally it has made me look closely at how lucky us anglers are, with multiple options we can use a fishing trip as a springboard to be immersed in nature, an elixir giving douche for the anglers soul.  Meeting the Fallon’s anglers over the last year has made me want to vary my own angling and shy away from my normal habits, spice it up a little, take on the unknown and most importantly share it with others. The tuesday swim has always been about seeking out the less obvious elements in fishing, to seek out “otherlyness,” (if its not a word it is now) but now I want the tuesday swim to branch out and consider the landscape as important as the fishing, something that Fallon’s Angler is already in the process of undertaking in some of our forthcoming articles, this summer we will take on the landscape by canoe, by foot over the moors, and by sea kayak.  Our skies are becoming larger, bringing new ideas to our readers, celebrating the past (as we have done in issue 6 with our tribute to Fred Buller) and embracing the future. The art of angling is ever changing but the deep down urge to fish has remained unchanged for millennia. And if you can’t get out but still have that burning desire I hope that Fallon’s Angler is the next best thing.

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Issue 6 is out today, it looks stunning with our new and improved print process the images are now singing from the pages partnered with words carefully choreographed by amongst others, Danny Adcock, John Andrews, Carlos Baz, Domonic Garnett, Andrew Griffith, Ted Hughes, Dexter Petley, Maurice Neil, Graham Vassey, Chris Yates and words on Fred Buller from Jon Berry, Garrett Fallon and David Profumo.

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The last angling auction house in London

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On Saturday 2nd April 2016 the Angling Auctions in Chiswick finally drew to a close when the hammer fell and lot 630 – “An unusual American Bamboo trout fishers creel” was sold. Slow applause permeated throughout the hall in appreciation for Neil Freeman who has put the hammer down on 32,000 lots over the last twenty five years offering vintage fishing tackle, taxidermy, books and angling art to a worldwide audience of collectors and angling enthusiasts.

My involvement began in 2011 (I’m considered a relative new boy) when John Andrews of Arcadia asked if I could help out on the rods. Arriving in Chiswick I was soon put to task in the construction of the rod rack, an antique in its own right, but a protector of fine fishing rods. Neil told me that he built the rack in 1991 with a drunk Irishman, a story I must confess I believe looking at the quality of its construction, but in  defence of the Anglo-Irish workmanship it still survives with it’s biannual kicks and trips that it has to endure from eager anglers grasping at the wonders it beholds.  Five years on I am still putting up the same rod rack, stuffed with even more matches and bound with ever more gaffer tape.

Over the years staff have come and gone but generally there is a core that stay loyal,  Neil’s brother has been involved from the start and more recently Neil’s son Sam has worked as a porter. Fresh sandwiches and cakes are made and the all important tea urn is switched on as soon as we arrive on the Friday morning, the tea urn is first off and last on the van, a tradition that has lasted since the beginning. Last Saturday the tea urn was loaded onto the van for the last time in Chiswick and a new beginning for the Angling Auctions has begun down in Romsey, Hampshire. Hopefully I will see you there?

Wibberly wobbly world.

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Great documentaries are produced by great story tellers, visionaries with a clear message and understanding of the subject. Angling is generally documented through the prize shot, the end result, the final climax, man or woman holding fish, sometimes thrusting the fishes head into the camera for extra dramatic effect, it’s a macho world of size and weight recorded for everyone to give the big thumbs up or ‘like.’ The photographing of anglers and angling in a different light is sorely unrepresentative when it comes to the main angling press and media with very few exceptions. I agree that on occasions a good trophy shot is interesting to view especially in the case of an exceptional capture but there is more to it than that. With technology in both stills and video improving and affordable, there are many inspiring images coming from anglers many of which come from using their smart phone, its portable and always in your pocket.  A more recent addition to the anglers kit is the Go Pro style of clip on video camera, they are brilliant but placed in the wrong hands (or head) have now left us with a deluge of wibberly wobbly footage of man struggling to land fish with the winds blasting out any comprehension of what they may be trying to say. In the right hands this technology can be exciting and enhance a sense of freedom that film makers have never before experienced. Two lads that I have followed for a while are Carl And Alex, who started off filming their fishing exploits while still quite young and now have a huge following, including coverage in the main press, but their passion and enthusiasm for fishing is key and a real joy too watch. Even as two youngster they show a real maturity and can put together films with a strong narrative,  that engages the viewer throughout.

Capturing the quieter moments in angling, the long periods spent in contemplation, appreciation, and solace is something that as a photographer I want to explore further. Last year I spent four days with Michael a ghillie and custodian of a beat on the River Blackwater, a thoughtful man who loves his river, who spoke with a real passion and knowledge for the salmon that run its course. Yes salmon were caught, trophy shots administered, whiskies sunk but one afternoon I took these shots  that  highlighted the trip for me. We were all standing on the Lower beat at Killvullen, a wide shallow open stretch of water, the fishing was slow so I took out my camera with a long lens and caught Michael away from us anglers just for a few minutes,  spending time lost in his own thoughts.

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I consider Carl, Alex and myself all artists who want to share our experiences, we are different, but we both have a place, I hope that more anglers will realise and explore the possibilities beyond  the hysterical world of high fives, numbers and wibberly wobbly footage. As someone famous once said and I cannot remember who, music is nothing without the silent spaces between.

Ghost pond.

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Sunte House

Growing up in the seventies and eighties, the local woods was my playground, a place of freedom and discovery, a real living breathing Xbox,  where armies were formed and disbanded, explorers lost and found, a place of endless possibilities. To get my band of brothers to the woods we had to negotiate ‘no mans lands’ – a hundred yard track that led up to the gates of Sunte House, a seventeenth century manor house and its custodian, Mr Gorer or ‘Old Man Gorer’ as us brothers of the woods called him. Unlike many manor houses, Sunte House was not austere, its large windows gave it an airy appearance, the slate roof tiles enhanced this, in bright sunlight they sparkled a silver-grey, echo’s of  past garden parties resonated in the grounds , there seemed to be an air of happiness about this place in the not so distant past.  At the start of the track was a cattle grid with a hand painted sign in black and white now flaking away, it read ‘Sunte House – Private – No through road.’ The cattle grid was ‘ours’ a place of safety, a look-out for Old Man Gorer, it was a game of cat and mouse that we played out for years. Old Man Gorer was an elderly man, always dressed in a three-quarter length beige mac, normally undone, he looked  dishevelled and always aided by his scruffy collie dog. For years I feared he would collar me, in hindsight he was frail, he was quite elderly and never posed a threat .

As we grew so did our courage, one evening we decided to break into the gardens of Sunte House and explore, dressed like commando’s we entered on the west side through a gap in a barbed wire fence and found ourselves on a meandering path, a canopy of exotic shrubs grew up high and blocked out the sky,  many of the plants were labelled, lead tags etched with their botanical names. The west side was dark and quite eerie, somewhat neglected, but still maintained a certain order, someone had curated this garden in the past, there was a sense of Victorian plant collector about this place. We were relatively well hidden on the west side but to gain access to the east side and the main garden we had to dash across the front drive across a manicured lawn in full view of the house and potentially Old Man Gorer. It was still daylight, there were no lights on in the house,  we waited until dusk, then made our move. As the light dropped we edged out from the shrubs on our hands and knees and onto the  lawn, quickly we sprinted across the open fifteen yards. Once into the cover of the main garden we found more labelled shrubs and another perimeter  stone path. We followed the path around tentatively in case we encountered Old Man Gorer coming around the opposite way. As we crept along the light through the shrubs was changing, it was getting lighter and it was moving, it was unclear what I was seeing and then I could sense  water, the garden was hiding a secret, a large pond. Pushing through the undergrowth I could see a rectangular pond with an island in the middle, lily pads everywhere, and moss covered stones and rhoddendrons lined the edge. It was still and quiet, the distinctive smell of water was present, huge Scotts Pines towered  above creating a high canopy, it was reminiscent of a Japanese garden but with an English accent. Suddenly the wind started to pick up and sway the trees, a barking dog in the distance un-nerved us, could it be Old Man Gorer’s dog? We decided to retreated and return another day. For weeks the pond played on my mind, I sometimes questioned if the pond actually existed, it was so enchanting and I was so fanatical about catching carp from lost ponds, I thought I may have imagined it.

The rest of the summer was spent  seeking out carp ponds within cycling reach of my house, scanning Ordnance Survey maps for little blue dots often nestled in patches of wood in the middle of open fields, these were forgotten hammer ponds. Once located I would jump on my bike and see if I could gain access, permission was rarely asked for, just some discreet commando style fishing. Hammer ponds are abundant in Sussex and often go back to a pre-Roman era. Sussex geology was rich in ironstone, the main material for iron production and  water was essential to the cooling of the iron. During the Stewart and Tudor times iron production boomed and more hammer ponds were created by the damming of small streams and rivers. Often these ponds had a small population of carp, tench and roach not giant carp but  a five-pounder  was a real prize and I  always hoped to discover a pond with wild, un touched Roman wildies.

My quest for hammer ponds took my mind away from the Sunte House pond for a while but soon I had to return, I would have to try to fish the pond, this was going to take all of my nerve. I decided to return to the garden alone, not with a rod but with some bread and see if there were any carp. Once again I arrived at dusk, I was about to step over the fence when a figure silently walked past literally only a few feet from my face, I froze and he continued on, it was Old Man Gorer inspecting his garden, probably enjoying the late evening air. I was convinced he saw me, the woods were dark but he decided to walk on, I was after all just by the public foot path, and he probably encountered the public there on many occasions, I imagined he had no interest in me, the public and  knew nothing of my intentions. I returned home thankful that I had not gone into his garden a few minutes earlier and  become trapped on the west side by the pond. After that rather uncomfortable close call I decided to have a break from the pond and concentrate on trying to catch a double figure carp elsewhere, I still had a few weeks left of the summer holidays, this was a target I  set myself and had yet to achieve.

It was a couple of years later when one evening after messing about in the woods that I decided to return to the garden with a friend and see if we could locate any carp, it had been a hot summers day and if the pond contained carp then tonight would surely be the night to find them feeding? Our  access to the garden was easier than ever as much of the perimeter fence had fallen down, the house looked neglected and the garden more overgrown than usual, we darted across the lawn as we had done before and into the west side.  Making our way round the dark perimeter path I felt something was not right, the light was different and the smell? As we approached the pond I peered through the shrubs only to discover a flat lawn, no pond, no island, just  green grass, it was as I feared, my imagination had run wild, it was a ghost pond. We left the garden dejected and I was somewhat embarrassed after dragging my friend into danger to see the pond that never was.

In 1985 Geoffrey Gorer died and the house was sold, every now and then the new owner could be seen driving past in his beige Mercedes, he looked fairly en-friendly, new fences and  ‘Private – No through way’ signs were put up, it was clear the new owners didn’t want any funny business, once again  I forgot about Old Man Gorer, Sunte House and the ghost pond.

Thirty years on it is 2016, I still think about that pond, did I imagine it, did I see Old Man Gorer that night, the more I contemplated it the more I doubt it’s presence. I decided that I was to make one final pilgrimage to the garden, my plan was to walk up on the Sunday morning after a family gathering on the Saturday night. Today access can only be made via the public footpath, the cattle grid entrance is now blocked. I set off on a cold wet morning, the mud underfoot was eight inches deep in places but for the sake of an hours nostalgia I was up for it, I soon came to the two open fields in front of the house, now fallow and quite overgrown with brambles, to my right was the ten foot high hedge that hid the garden. The hedges had been thinned to encourage new growth from the base and I could see a way through and into the inner fence. Pushing through the hedge I got to the old iron fence and could see the familiar stone perimeter path, beyond that I could clearly see the ghost pond, a Monet style wooden footbridge spanning over to the island, this time in the plain grey light of a bleak January morning I could confirm that the pond was a ghost no more.

Footnote:

While writing this piece I decided to do a online search for ‘Sunte House’ and ‘Gorer’ and was pleased to discover that Old Man Gorer or Geoffrey Gorer as he was known, was one of three brothers from a well to do jewish family from Hampstead, all  educated at Westminster college, with Geoffrey and his younger brother Richard both going on to Kings College, Cambridge.  Richard studied music and horticulture and moved in to horticulture professionallly soon after Geoffrey bought Sunte House in the 1950’s, the house must have been the spark to change his career.  One day while walking in the grounds Richard noticed a spontaneous hybrid of the shrub Abutilon which is now a popular species that still exists today called ‘Suntensis.’ It is probably Richards influence that made the gardens more a botanical collection of some repute. Throughout his career Geoffrey  had been a prolific author on the subject of anthropology, he  had a passion for the arts and mixed in some rather interesting social circle including George Orwell and the poet Edith Sitwell. His body of work including 10,00 letters and manuscripts are now preserved in the Kings College archive.

 

 

Ode to Jonni Berlin.

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If you move to Berlin in search of the great escape there are municipal parks dotted all around the outskirts, a breather space for a post war generation, within the parks lie some interesting lakes. Today Berlin is a town un-paralleled in its relaxed outlook on work, life and love, but with fishing it has a different approach. A Mecca for free thinkers, Berlin is still fresh and exciting, where many cities have now fallen to corporations and conservatism, Berlin is an oasis. Even the most staunch New Yorker’s who lived for decades in the finest city in the world have found their beloved town too stiff, the bold ones have left preferring pastrami on rye in Mitte rather than the East Village.

As the 20th Century closed a dear friend of mine Jonni had to make a choice, the outcome was a life in Berlin and although I personally lost a neighbour I gained a city, my visits over the next fifteen years were varied but always loaded like a machine gun with a shot of hedonism punctuated with calm cool and traditional Germanic hospitality. If anyone suited Berlin then Jonni did.

I knew Jonni from an early age, we went to the same secondary modern school, a school that held no real pride, the teachers chain smoked their way through to retirement, a good day would involve not getting smacked in the face, this was a prayer for both teacher and child. With low expectations we all left in different directions like a band of brothers shell-shocked but happy to be alive and free. After failed career moves and some higher education my band of brothers re-grouped in Shoreditch in around 1991, this time we were armed with cameras and paint brushes but most importantly a ton of optimism. The Shoreditch years were hedonistic and my fishing days were left behind in Sussex, in the corner of my studio rested three North Western carp rods with 55’s, no one ever passed comment.

In the haze of Shoreditch (I can’t recall when) Jonni requested that we should do a fishing trip over night, from Shoreditch we transferred to a freshly dug pool somewhere in Essex or Kent where we continued our London ways. I don’t think our angling skills were that honed and with no real focus we caught nothing but  I did remember waking up in the morning only to find that we were surrounded by anglers who still kept a distance from our  chaos of beers cans, wine bottles, a scattering of rods, sleeping bags and roach ends… We only ever fished on that one occasion.

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Soon after I would be visiting Jonni in his new city, we would often walk the parks, have lunch and look around at the lakes that ripple around the outskirts of Brutalism. It was always winter when I visited and the Russian Easterlies made the lakes stark, forbidding, no one fished, the only sign of  life was the occasional lunatic who descended into the slate grey water to take a bone shaking swim.

As I mentioned at the begining, to fish these lakes posed some problems, an exam, the language and the cost. The Berlin rematch has never been organised.  Jonni, I think its time you took that exam, I miss you and we need to fish.

Happy New Year Jonni, Mia and to one and all.

Fallon’s Angler – Through the lens

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Through the Lens has been a regular feature of words and images for Fallon’s Angler since issue 3 that I have had the privilege of producing. Below we have part of the piece I shot last summer for issue 4 in Ireland on the Blackwater. I have just returned from shooting Through the Lens for issue 5 which has been a real pleasure and what I feel to be of significant importance to the heritage of angling and one for the traditionalists. Issue 5 will be out in the middle of Jan but in the meantime here is my last entry from issue 4.

‘An offer from Garrett Fallon found myself flying over to Cork for a few days salmon fishing plus the opportunity to meet and photograph some locals that have deep connections with the Fallon family.  There are many stories here in Ireland about Garrett’s family and the fishing on the Blackwater that lend me to understand why Fallon’s Angler  was created and  now sits in your hand. It is an interesting story and a story that I will leave Garrett to tell in his own time.The stretch of Blackwater has some varied features, the upper end of the beat has high cliffs with some deep runs, while the bottom end is wide and shallow, but the middle section is dominated by an island which can only be accessed by wading or a footbridge which requires a key. Once on the island a short walk leads you to the fishing hut built high on stilts, it clearly shows significant signs of a battering from the Irish weather and the river when in spate, but today it is mild, dry and the wind is light. Entering through the door the atmosphere is still, quiet, the echo’s of the past lie heavy…’

The curator of tackle boxes

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The tackle box to many is a container to hold smaller items of fishing tackle; floats, hooks, weights and so on. But you can tell a lot about an angler by lifting the lid and viewing the contents. The boxes I like have character, a soul, this appeals to me greatly  as an insight into the owner and a period of time in the angling past. Over the years I have acquired tackle boxes that I keep as an archive, a curator that considers each box as a piece of art and historical interest, but most importantly a box that has a personality. Sometimes I will edit a box to create a pleasing aesthetic but all the time I am conserving the integrity of each collection. Tackle is not the only thing found, old permits with scribbles on the reverse of notable captures, newspaper cuttings from the angling press, badges, coins and in one example a lucky charm belonging to a superstitious angler. I must also mention the smell of old tackle boxes, a smell that is hard to define but lingers like that of an old british bike or a waxed jacket, a scent of wood, oils, and old cotton.

I have a acquired these boxes from elderly anglers who have taken their last cast, anglers who can no longer tie a hook and rely purely on their memories, but most of all the boxes I have procured come from anglers I never knew, only through detective work I can paint an image of who they were, when they fished and the style of fishing that they pursued, I can step into their shoes, I have become the curator of tackle boxes!

 

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