After many months I spotted my first carp on the Lea Navigation just a few days back, a single common carp of around twenty pounds. I watched it for a few minutes casually cruising along side the canals near bank.
Yesterday I saw a huge shoal of bream in the same place all around the five pound mark cavorting amongst one another, dancing a spring time jig. How these huge flocks of bream keep themselves so well hidden throughout the year is a ghostly trick, but I must have seen at least fifty or so preparing to spawn.
For now my sights are on the Sussex tench but this weekend is far too windy for my first proper expedition, hopefully the weekend after will be a little more inviting. Yes, after my last post The Syndicate my renewal came through that very same afternoon, so I have promised myself not to just dream but to actually go and fish this great old millpond.
In the meantime I shall meet with friends and talk of fishing instead…
After returning from a walk this afternoon across Leyton Marshes and onto the Lower Lea it is quite apparent how much it has rained in England this winter. Last Friday the Lea was at its highest level I have witnessed in many years, today it was still very high but had dropped about a metre, the marsh was flooded but that is usual for this time of year. The simple truth is global warming has changed the British weather and this is going to affect our rivers especially if our current selection of politicians make the final environmental decisions.
I did promise to myself not to get political here so I will refrain but I will say one thing, our stand-in Flood Minister Eric Pickles is a misinformed fool and I fear that he will cause so much environmental damage to our rivers that it could take a generation before they are rectified, long after Mr Pickles has left his post. ‘Dredging’ is a word that has been thrown about over the last couple of months as the answer to the flooding problems, is it? I’m really not convinced and nor are the true experts out there, dredging seems a nice quick solution and makes the government look like they are doing something, great but I believe it is the wrong action to take?
Now the science bit. I’m no expert but using the River Parrett as an example, if you dredge the whole length the silt would equate to 2-3% in volume of the amount of standing water in the locally affected area, so you would still have 97-98% of the water left. So dredging must be more about flow and not volume? If this is the case then the entire length of the river (37miles) would have to be dredged to avoid bottle necks down stream and the potential flooding of towns like Bridgewater and Dunball. I imagine dredging 37 miles of river would cost millions and be devastating to the landscape. Finally, would this not cause a fast flowing and dangerous relief channel?
As I said at the start, there are dark days ahead for our rivers and their inhabitants which will last long after the current rabble of politicians have gone. It is a very depressing thought and I can’t see dredging is the answer unless someone can explain to me the science rather than simply expressing the frustration.
In the meantime a flooded landscape in its splendour…
Update: Thanks to a certain Mole I came across this and discovered two things, one there appears to be a hydrological community and two, they seem to know what they are talking about, see here
After a crisp cold start this morning I finally managed to get out for a walk in the afternoon with my daughter over the Leyton Marshes. Once on the Lea at the Middlesex Filter Beds I spotted a rare bird, a firecrest skipping from branch to branch just ten feet away on the banks of the river Lea. I’m afraid even the capabilities of the IPhone could not record this tiny bird but dutifully I managed to record the walk. Winter is fast becoming my favourite season.
After the gale force winds earlier this morning, the Lower Lea took on the colour and pace that resembled the middle stretches of Wye in January. I was quite surprised to find that by the afternoon most of the fallen trees had been moved off the main paths around the Hackney Marshes, some of these trees were quite sizeable. This efficiency from Hackney council is akin to my own dear father who at the age of 82 was repairing his own fallen fence as the tail of the storm was still passing by at eleven o’clock this morning!
Along the Lea a few fallen trees were exposed and shattered, a recent reminder of their sudden and violent demise, while giants still stand alone on the Marsh undeterred by the passing storm.
Modern life moves more quickly each day, the development of technology over the last ten years has proved this fact quite clearly, the process of change has gone into over-drive. For many, the antidote to this constant change is to look back at the past, to find something familiar and reliable that one can trust. This phenomenon of holding onto the past is reflected in this country by the current abundance of preservation societies and conversation groups that spend their time securing the past for the future. Even the youth are in on the act wearing Edwardian style jackets with dressed moustaches and cropped tidy hair, somehow the past seems to be a comfortable place to be for many of us.
Recently I came across a postcard from 1910 of my local pub, the Hope and Anchor that sits on the Lea Navigation between Upper Clapton and Springfield Park, I was pleasantly surprised to see that little had changed in over 100 years apart from the housing estate at the back, the frontage still remains pretty much the same.
Today the Hope and Anchor is an ‘honest’ pub resisting any change, where young and old drinkers frequent the pub along with a healthy canal boat community. The boat people are more live-in rather than the old working community of a hundred years ago, either way they are quite a colourful bunch where drinking seems to go on pretty much all day, everyday at a good steady rate. Beer is served in glasses with handles, there are real ales and larger’s available and water bowls are provided outside for the dogs. My hope is that this pub stays as it is for another 100 years with its open views across Leyton Marshes and along the Lea Navigation. I heard a story that someone caught 20 2-3lb barbel on this stretch just a month or two back, perhaps the fishing is returning back to its former quality, one can hope.
Back in the day when ‘snatching’ or ‘dragging’ for salmon on the Lea was forbidden from the last day of February to the start of November, the Horse and Groom Fishery was one of the best fishing stations to join, if one was to angle. Mr Teale, the landlord of the Horse and Groom charged the sum of ten shillings and sixpence for the annual subscription or a shilling for the day. At that time the Lea was quite remote for anglers to visit, so taking a stage-coach via Clapton or Walthamstow and disembarking at the Lea Bridge was the main option to get to the river. Crystal clear water would flow over shallow gravel runs perfect for monster barbel to congregate, while views could be enjoyed across the Hackney and Walthamstow marshes and beyond toward Epping Forest. These were good times for the River Lea, before any urbanisation had set in from the near by encroaching villages. Thereafter the river slowly became polluted by domestic and small industrial waste. By the late nineteenth century the Lea was heavily polluted and fish stocks decimated. Thankfully now the river is recovering especially after a big clean up operation for the Olympics in 2012 which has stopped any sewage entering the Lea Navigation at Tottenham and getting washed down into the natural river at Lea Bridge. The marshes still exist today although reduced in size and drained of its water so that locals can enjoy the open space for football, cricket, or the various nature reserves that are dotted around this area. The natural Lea still has a personality that can be recognised from a book written over 150 years ago, the ‘Anglers Guide to the Horse & Groom’, although the abundance of fish species have diminished.
Since June 16th I’ve not been out fishing due to all sorts of things getting in the way, but I have managed to spend some time observing the Lower Lea, my disguise is my daughters pram and a pair of Polaroids, laden below the perambulator are some free bait offerings and a catapult just in case I come across some feeding carp. The Lea around Hackney doesn’t really get fished that much although I have seen a few regulars all fishing for a different quarry. It is now mid July and we are having a proper heatwave, the river is running clear and the fish are probably only biting at dawn and dusk or in the night.
You may ask why am I pointing out these anglers to you on a fairly average stretch of river? Well, the Lower Lea is not an easy place to fish, with past pollution outbreaks and now a dominant presence of the cormorant, the poor old fish population has suffered but there are plenty of above average fish still in the Lower Lea, I know because I have seen them and on the odd occasion caught them. To be a Lower Lea angler you have to be resourceful, banks are over grown and the fish are hiding below the over hanging branches and under-cut banks from the ever-present cormorant. Getting to a swim can be quite demanding although now in mid July long dry trodden grass reveals the routes taken by anglers to the rivers edge. Once a swim is cleared of the Giant Hogweed and the burning blisters subdued, a session on the river can commence, as I said the Lower Lea angler is no ordinary piscator, he has to take his fishing just a little further.
A frequent visitor is the quintessential rover searching for perch and pike, armed with a rucksack, short spinning rod and a few soft and hard lures, he does quite well, I’ve seen some photos of his catches, including a huge perch of 3lbs plus. I’ve seen him walking a good stretch of the river and canal covering a good few miles each time while I dart between glides on a mountain bike, a simple approach but with results.
The specimen hunter…
This chap reeks of the Jim Gibbinson era with his camouflage jacket, aviator Polaroids and shoulder length hair, he starts fishing at around midnight, no bivvie for him just a thick jumper and the shelter of a overhanging bush. I came across this guy one morning tucked away oblivious to many a dog walker as he sat in wait for one of the huge carp that cruise by in the streamer weed. He told me of monster bream he had caught that night, up to 10 lbs! I’m used to listening to anglers tales of monsters but this guy sounded ok to me, his approach and knowledge of the river seemed pretty sound and his captures matched with my own observations of where the big carp and bream lie.
On the better dressed side of angling I came across an angler sporting a pair of waders and a red beard in search of chub or possibly an elusive London brownie. After climbing down the side of a broken wall he was seen wading out into the head of a weir casting up into some faster flowing water. I told him of some chub further down and he soon departed and disappeared through the tall grass. A spirited challenge I thought as I moved on pushing the pram.
The Lower Lea has a fascination, quite different from the Walton days and the three hundred years of industrial abuse it has endured afterwards, now I feel that this short stretch of river has reclaimed a sense of being natural again, wild and left to its own. Dog walkers, joggers and pram pushers all pass by, oblivious to the nature and the anglers that lurk, all hidden away.
Being quite a indecisive character at times, choosing a venue for the start of the river season can be difficult, but I did have my heart set on some river fishing. On Saturday I made my way over to a small stream I have been looking at only to find some lads in the middle of a boillie fight as they set up camp for midnight, this put a dampener on my plans for the sixteen.
On Saturday evening I was still very much undecided and feeling a little grumpy about my prospects for the following morning, plus I have seen the bream, carp and barbel all spawning over the last few days so I was not feeling too optimistic about the fishing. Then I thought, stay local, get up early and just enjoy the start of the new season, so the Lower Lea was my target, travelling light on my bike , try some trotting along with fish spotting and keep my expectations low.
I awoke at 4.55 am naturally, I very rarely need an alarm clock when going fishing, my inbuilt alarm does the job and very rarely lets me down. By 5.30am I was on the river after taking a short diversion via the canal just incase a feeding carp was in view, they weren’t so I headed straight on to the river.
Surprisingly my first choice swim was already taken as was the second but I soon found a nice over-grown swim with a good long trot of water, the sun was rising just in front of me and I was happy just being.
With little expectation I was not surprised that I caught nothing, but early morning on the river is a tonic that I needed and while enjoying the sights of heron and kingfisher I planned some trips over the forth-coming summer.