Back in the depths of last winter I ventured up to Oxford with Garrett, the editor of Fallon’s Angler. He had discovered a lake that had been left un-touched for over twenty years, hidden from the gaze of anglers amongst the rolling hills of an Oxfordshire estate. We shall return in the new season to see it’s summer colours.
Travelling with my camera for Fallon’s Angler has been a real adventure, often a challenge and always an education. Every trip was met with its rewards, this year I will bring two new stories that I’m very keen to share plus a few more that have yet to be un-covered.
I am drawn to the bike’s simple engineering, uncomplicated, it’s silent gears take me from east London along the Lea Navigation and out into the open space of the old flood plains that still line the Navigation. I know the Lea from Broxbourne to its exit into the Thames at Leamouth, it harbours a familiarity that offers me comfort, a place that I have known for thirty years. Certain stretches have been altered, the Bow Back Waters were mainly filled in for the 2012 Olympics but this artery from Hertfordshire flows true to itself since the natural river was made navigable over two hundred and fifty years ago. It is a complex network of old river, navigation, flood relief channels and tributaries, but this is still very much a river that is alive, the constant cruisers have brought a new vibrancy to the place and it has become a playground for modern London, re-vamped pubs, new-builds, joggers, cyclists, canoeists, dog walkers, birdwatchers and young families have contributed to the rivers new found personality. Only twenty years ago I could fish many stretches of the canal for hours and not meet a soul, today things have changed.
When I ride I leave early while the tow path is quiet, as the canal opens up past Ponders End by the King George Reservoirs the wind often intensifies here on Rammey Marsh, the metropolis is on my back as it gets blown to the horizon. At Pike Pool by Enfield Lock I turn right and leave the Cut and take a tributary more akin to a Hampshire chalk stream. It’s late February, the river looks alive, streamer weed still hangs on from last summer in the middle flow, blossom and birdsong is starting to show, despite the cold start spring has come early this year. The river looks very inviting to the angler, today I see two fishermen but they are not the usual aimless lure anglers but float anglers carefully running floats down the inside crease, as I cycle past I hear their conversation, like their fishing it is more focused, their voices clipped, I want to ask how they are getting on, but on this occasion I restrain myself, instead I wish them “good morning” and cycle on. Soon after I leave the river, cross a nature reserve and head to the hills of Epping forest. Lungs burst as I take on Mott Street until I reach the comforting sight of Holy Innocents Church at High Beech and the thickly wooden lanes of heavy oak and beech that meander on a level that leaves the heart a chance to recover.
The temperature is still cold, the sky is cloudless, vapour pours from my lips, I am reminded how important the changing seasons are to me, just seven months ago I was on the Lower Lea, then it was hot, the air was thick with the scent of summer. I was fishing with Tony, we had met at the pub for a quick afternoon pint, I was tempted to have another but Tony was eager to go and fish. I had recently discovered a new swim, it was tricky to get to but once in place we were hidden from any passers by and any annoying questions, the same questions that I refrained from asking the two float anglers. Tucked away in our hide out, the sun battered down all around us but under the tree and next to the flowing water it was cool. I had not fished this swim before I had often seen carp patrolling, moving out from this deep trench into a more familiar swim where I had previously caught carp. I was quietly confident that this was an timeworn route, as familiar to the carp as the trodden paths taken by the old drovers on Hackney Marsh and beyond.
With ours rods out we settled into the swim, as I turned to speak with Tony I saw from the corner of my eye my rod tip bounce down, then again, I struck and felt a heavy weight heading out and into the full flow of the Lea. Ten minutes later I was cradling a carp like a new-born baby, near to twenty pounds in weight. It’s a hard thing to explain, perhaps it’s an feeling only anglers experience, but catching these old creatures somehow warrants a close affiliation to the place, each time I catch one of these carp, my relationship with the Lea becomes more intimate.
From Epping Forest I re-join the canal, it’s still early but people are starting to embrace the day, cat-ice still covers the canal. Once again I think back to that warm July day, I think of the other anglers who have fished the Lea in the past, anglers leaving the east-end and disembarking at Lea Bridge, Ponders End or Enfield, rural outposts from the stink of the city. I picture them lined up along the tow path perched on their creels, puffs of smoke rise as they gaze out and onto the canal and dream. I try to re-capture their thoughts now decades old, buried deep into the silt of the Lea.
As my ride comes to a conclusion I pull off the canal at the scene from a postcard I found in a local market, in the background there is a house now raised to the ground and replaced with a electric power sub station. The rest of the landscape remains familiar, the Lea runs strong, a bloodline from the heart of the city to the wheat fields of Hertfordshire. Written on the postcard it says ‘don’t you think this is a pretty river, it puts me in mind of the Guilford scenery rather than that of a London suburb…’
Last May I flew over to British Columbia to meet Garrett from Fallon’s Angler. After a conversation with his father over twenty years ago he made a promise to himself to fish the Fraser river for sturgeon. Sadly his father never made it but now the challenge was on and the chance to catch a fish the size of a man was a potential reality. My film captures that journey through the Canadian wilderness and eventually connecting to something quite extraordinary.
The more places I visit and the more I fish, I find myself transfixed in a state, a place imagined from the past, people passing through as their lives ebb and flow, then fade as they dissolve into the soil. When I stand with my video camera this sense is enduring as I piece together a narrative. I relish the past, with it I see the present and look into the future, it is apparent my films have taken on this tone over the last year. These films are not sentimental nor nostalgic, The Glass Aisle was an engagement into a poets world. Paul Henry unlocked the souls from the past through the landscape of the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal, the experience was a total immersion, five months on and the Glass Aisle haunts me every day.
I have shot two more films this summer, one was shot in Canada with Garrett from Fallon’s Angler, this is not finished but once again I was surprised on what we discovered in British Columbia, kindred spirits? I still not sure but we witnessed a connection with the flora and fauna at the end of our trip when I caught a sturgeon and landed it on a first nation reservation. There we met a lady who connected us with her spirit world, a world apart from the macho hunting and fishing scene that seems prevalent in modern Canada. The passion of angling had once again blessed us with another soulful experience.
Back in the UK we shot a short film – Solent Hounds – fishing for smoothounds in the Solent. Escaping from London one afternoon just at the start of the hot summer, we fished for several hours with anglers Adam and Ollie. We stayed until dark, what came from the shoreline through our marriage of words and images was once again echoed from the past through the landscape. I thought we were simply shark fishing, instead Garrett and myself found more. There are many angling films out there showing how and where, but I hope these Fallon’s Angler film offer something else? As anglers we have the privilege to stay put, to step away from time, to focus on a spot, transfixed in a meditative state, personally I dream, I honour and remember those lost souls that once walked and now lay as dust beneath my feet, while remembering that I too will one day join them.
Watch Solent Hounds here…
An email arrived from Dexter Petley last Monday, the email began ‘hope the new moon is still working for you. It’s the only time I bother now, especially on these big lakes. I blank for 28 days every month, then get three runs at once on new moons.’
I have not kept an eye on the moon phases for a while, normally they are in my psyche, a glance to the heavens re-align my monthly cycle but recently I’ve been distracted, the hot weather doesn’t help although I love the current heatwave, early mornings are fine, still and cool, but as the temperature rises I loose focus, days are drawn out, they slow and I meander:
A few days after Dexter’s email there was a new moon, an opportune moment to cast a line on my local River Lea for an hour or two before the sun takes too high, I wanted to see if the carp were once again under a spell? On two occasions (once with Dexter) the carp responded freely under such conditions, almost instantly, somehow the moon made carp fishing easy, as if that was possible? It was 9.15am when I arrived by the river, I watched a favourite spot for a while, although I sat in the shade I could feel the heat, this was a summer to remember and I wanted a new moon carp to grace my net just like the previous year and the year before that. Normally I can see cruising carp as they move from deeper, cooler water into the shallows, I was hoping they had their tails high in the water levitated by moonbeams as they sifted through the silt. After thirty minutes, nothing, no carp stirred, the spell had not been cast on these river monsters, I didn’t wet a line. As the heat intensified I decided to take a wander, perhaps they were holding out further down river. The path by the Lea was dabbled in shade and light, the heat was still building, only the river flow and the high branches showed any signs of movement, everything else was still, caught in the spell of high summer, alas the carp were nowhere to be seen.
At the beginning of May this year I spent two days in the company of poet Paul Henry to film the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal above Crickhowell in Powy where he wrote The Glass Aisle. The Glass Aisle is a long form poem and collection of songs written with Brian Briggs of Stornoway. The canal is rich with a industrial and social past, the workhouse, the kilns, and the canal is the stage for the Glass Aisle, haunted by voices that echo throughout this diverse landscape including the character John Moonlight, angler, Crickhowell. This film is a mesmerising journey, seeking ghosts from those who once lived and worked along the tow path. The Glass Aisle is available here
The Pull of the River begins with the completion of Matt Gaw’s canoe by his travelling companion, James. It is named ‘Pipe’, a nod to Roger Deakin and his recording Cigarette on the Waveney, a journey by canoe. It is the Waveney where Matt and James begin their year-long adventure. The narrative is rich as they meander through each chapter, using historical references, folklore and first-hand observations to form a bountiful account of each river.
The canoe is like no other means of transport: it is silent, unobtrusive, and it offers the passenger time and space to observe and contemplate. Matt Gaw understands this. His canoe drifts silently into a scene, it passes through, the song of the paddle is slight, and the contemplative world is easily reached.
Roger Deakin’s voice echoes throughout the book, especially during the eastern adventures; his words drift in at opportune moments, offering snippets of poetry and advice. Gaw writes on Cigarette on the Waveney:
I listened again and again, soaking up his words, as well as the moments where he lets the river talk. Some of the most evocative parts of the recording are simply the sound of water under the canoe, chuckling drip of dipped paddles as Deakin eased himself into a hidden, more contemplative world.
The Pull of the River is a journey into the soul. The power of the water is a constant flex on the spirit – be it a storm brewing off the shore of Loch Ness or a riffle on the River Lark, there is fear and there is calm. On the final leg of the Stour, marooned on a salt marsh due to a strong tide, the pair are fearful. The only escape route will take them across mudflats, their other option being to return to the turbulent water of the estuary. They regain their composure and take the later option, and not only survive, but start to flourish in this watery world.
In the chapter ‘Alone on the Water’ Matt Gaw observes the re-wilding of the river Otter. This time he paddles solo, and the experience is wholly different. He seeks out the newly introduced beaver, and one evening is rewarded with a sighting.
Little by little, the author is synchronised with the river and the world around it. The river and the canoeist through osmosis are kindred.
Before the final chapter, where Gaw tackles the wilds of Scotland and Loch Ness, he takes a contemplative trip to his childhood river the Colne. It’s a telling tale – a river his father knew well – but The Pull of the River does not dwell on looking back. At heart, it is a book which encourages its readers to live in the present: to contemplate, to explore, to be lost, to lose control and to regain it again.
The Pull of the River is out now and available here, priced £14.99.
Nick Fallowfield-Cooper is a photographer, picture editor for Fallon’s Angler, and keen canoeist.
On Wednesday my bag referred to as my ‘chub’ bag was finally laid to rest for a few months. It offers everything that I like about my angling, it’s lightweight, compact, keeps me mobile and it can only fit the bare essentials, my angling is lean, my approach is simple. On my last trip of the season I took to the River Wandle (for the very first time) with friends Garrett and Tony. The technique was thus;- rolling a worm down some fast runs with aid of two swan shot and a no 1 next to the hook to keep the bait down. The result? Well Garrett sums up the trip perfectly in his own words here.