While routing through some old hard drives I discovered a folder labelled ‘East London.’ Being distracted by anything rather than my actual task of finding some new work I went through the images recalling the journey I took on a still, misty spring day in 2007. For those who remember this area before the Olympics will recognise the route I took from where the main Olympic stadium now stands, to the old Lesney Matchbox factory, sadly demolished. Although I have nothing against the Olympic park I do look back with fondness for the more industrial and run down feel of the place, the shear lack of people, where I once fished undisturbed.
Today my ride to work took a slight deviation so I could experience a two to three mile section of the Tour de France, that will take place later on this afternoon. Starting from Cambridge and eventually coming down the Lea Bridge Road, the machine that is the Tour de France will cross the Old River Lea, enter the Queen Elizabeth Park and end up on The Mall.
A breakaway group of three large carp were spotted under the A102 road bridge at around 9.20am but so far no riders…
Each year around this time, the 16th June to be precise I get the urge to buy a machete and cross the Hackney plains and down onto the River Lea to clear a few swims from the giant hogweed and stingers. After much deliberation I fear that this plan could result in my body being riddled with holes from the rozzer, the machete plan is put aside for yet another year.
Thankfully this plan is never put into action as another fisher of the Lea cuts out three or four swims in a very discrete manner along a run I like to fish. From the path no one would know you are there, a passer-by would not notice these clearings or the small space created for someone to stand and cast a line. I am also impressed that I have never seen anyone fishing these swims which makes me think I have either a guardian angel watching over me (Izaak?) or more likely this fisher is a night stalker. One of my first ever posts on The Tuesday Swim was called Night Stalker on the Lea Navigation, about a young carp fisher I came across one night on the Lea Navigation, perhaps it is he? Thinking it could be the later, its good to know that someone out there shares the same desires to fish the harder places.
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.
When the snow comes the aesthetic change is quite obvious, where as the acoustic change is more subtle and this brings a stillness to the landscape. My walk today on the marshes was a wonderful duo-tone of colour and was only broken twice, once by the flash of orange from a passing fox and nearing my journey’s end the shrill of two sparrow hawks seeing off a rather brave but very large crow.
Today the 2012 London Olympics open in East London, seven years ago I witnessed one of the first workers entering the site armed with a chain saw. The Bow Back Waters were netted and the residing fish were put in the near by Lea Navigation.
For my previous piece on the lost Bow Back Waters see here.
On the 6th July 2005 a hopeful crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square to hear the winning bid for the 2012 Olympic venue. At 12.49 BST, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic committee announced that London would be the host.
Meanwhile back in the area known as Fish Island and beyond, in the East End, a sleepy forgotten patch of post industrial land lay quiet and untouched, a lone dog walker, jogger, cyclist or on some occasions an angler would pass through this quiet oasis, known as The Bow Back waters.
To explain the Bow Back Waters, where it’s borders start and finish is not easily defined and even after spending a few years wandering the network of flood relief channels, navigable canals and natural brooks, the footprint is ambiguous but I would say looking at a map, north of Three Mills to Old Ford Lock marks this area.
The Bow Back Waters originally called Stratford Marsh goes back to pre-history but in Roman times there was evidence of occupation here especially at the Ford Bridge which crossed the river Lea at low tide and allowed a passage to Colchester.
Throughout the next 2000 years the River Lea’s path has been diverted, blocked and widened. Alfred the Great drained the river at Leamouth to halt the advance of the Danes and prevent an invasion from the River Thames. By the eighteenth century industrialisation was taking place and many wharfs were created to accommodate the import of timber, chalk, stone, coal, and wheat. By 1821, the earliest proper dock named Stratford Dock, later called Meggs Dock was created just up from Bow Bridge but after 1920, the whole site had been filled in and was occupied by factories and workshops that didn’t depend on water access. Now the majority of these factories have been demolished for the new Olympic site.
The images below were taken around 2007…
Carp and bream were often found cruising along this stretch which still exists, up ahead is Old Ford Lock (above).
Shortly after the olympic announcement the Bow Back Waters were electro-netted and the carp, bream along with pike and plenty of silver fish were removed and put into the Lea Navigation, I believe Pudding Mill stream was completely dug out and filled in.
Three months ago I was invited onto the Olympic site and saw the work done on the original River Lea, which had been widened to take industrial barges containing the new steel for the Olympic build. The work was sympathetic but also heavily landscaped, now banks of wild flowers and regimented forests of silver birch will greet the excited sports fans. The Lea of old has lost its real wild and neglected appeal.
From my window the Olympic stadium stands just a quarter of a mile away, now a permanent feature. I am in favour of the Olympics and the Olympic park but I do sometimes miss that quiet hidden corner of East London, spending an hour casting a floating crust for the Channel Relief carp. On occasion I did hook the odd carp but never actually managed to get one on the bank, frustrating and now, never to be repeated.
Whist roaming around the more desperate but interesting end of Brick Lane market, I came across a Chapman 450 rod in fair condition and complete. Measuring 9′ 2″, cane coloured but made of fibreglass, the rod is a mystery, is it a spinning rod? The design is like that of a 550, 500 and 700, detachable handle with a two piece section. I’m a big fan of these rods as they are nice and compact to take on the motorbike and I don’t feel too precious about them. This one I will strip and replace the rings (once I’ve sourced some). If anyone can shine some light on the Chapman 450, I will add it to this post, nothing comes up on the internet.
After attending a pirate’s party with some ‘continuos cruisers’ (canal boat people) a fortnight ago, I decided to leave before the proceedings got too uncomfortable for a ‘drylander’. Smelling of wood smoke and suitably lubricated with Rioja I set off along the Lea navigation just by Springfield Marina. As the sound of 90’s techno and laughter slowly faded the canal took on a ghostly calm, the night was still warm, with a light breeze and the moon was bright, shadows were cast across the water creating patches of inky blackness broken by sparkling ripples.
Not expecting to stay so late I had no lights on my bike, the view up ahead was limited, as I turned a corner a lone figure appeared quite abruptly, there a young man was anticipating a cast. Swinging on his line was a PVA parcel backlit by the moon and packed with boillies, this brother of the angle was risking his safety in search of London canal carp!
As I passed I gave him a comforting look to say that I was not of a dangerous nature. I slowed in respect, gave him a friendly nod and passed on my way. That night, kids were rioting just two miles away in search of 42″ plasmas but this hero stood alone stalking for carp in the dead of night.
The tuesday swim salutes you sir!