A short film about specimen angler Bob Hornegold who has spent a lifetime fishing the Lea system, a river close to me, a complicated river that has been changed by man for thousands of years. Today the river still shines with some remarkable fishing available just fifteen miles from central London.
Having 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.
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.
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…
I believe the term ‘song of the paddle’ orginated from an american writer/artist called Bill Mason who wrote and produced a film of the same name in the post hippy era of the mid seventies, where he explores the ‘wilds’ with his family in two open canoes. In his film he states “the wilderness was only invented by the white men, for the native americans it was always know as home, now modern society has put a distance between man and his creator.” To take up the paddle or to cast a line must surely be part of the re-connection that drives anglers and canoeist to venture out? So while paddle and rod cross swords in this country over their fight for rights to our rivers, it must be both parties that should tread carefully as we have no rights, if we are lucky we have the opportunity to experience, and then we leave, the ‘wilderness’ should not be plundered, nor exploited and certainly not owned.
Click here to view.
A few years ago I bought a Canadian canoe, an ex-army friend borrowed it almost immediately and took it on some adventures, from source to sea along the Thames, and the following year the length of the Wye on the Welsh/English border. I was happy that the canoe was getting used but I was envious when his tales were re-told. One story that struck a chord was the night-time paddles (mainly to avoid the boat traffic during the day) on the Thames, to be afloat on the river at night and experience the very first light while drifting with the flow must have been magical, no other soul, just the song of the paddle.
I eventually reclaimed the canoe from a frozen shipyard one January morning out on an estuary in Essex, but to be honest it was nearing the end, damp had got to it, boards were delaminating. So this year I have started to build a new plywood Canadian canoe, twelve feet in length, that should carry two adults and some gear. In the summer I want set out and paddle the length of the River Lea from it’s source in Hertfordshire to Leamouth where it enters the Thames. Like Bill Mason I want this journey to be a connection and not just a recreation, exploring your place, your home and what comes around the corner is a journey that only ends, when it ends.
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.
After a few weeks away in both the French and English Riviera I find myself back in London with a twelve-year-old to keep entertained for a few days after the devastating news that his laptop has fallen foul of a hardware failure. Next week I have a two-week stretch looking after my two-year old daughter, a much more daunting task, this week I thought a digital free two days with my stepson could manifest itself as a mini boy’s own adventure.
In my basement along with a collection of fishing tackle, pots of paint and various tools is a canoe suspended from the rafters that has for the last two years hung dormant, today seemed the right day to get her out (I think one speaks of a boat in a female context?) and take her down the River Lea. This particular canoe has taken me into the drink on a few occasions, she seems to sense a nervous pilot just like a horse. The canoe twitches from side to side until the rower relaxes or the nervousness results in a dunking! Once settled though, a serene calm takes over and the river is experienced from a completely new perspective. To sit low down in the water is really quite interesting for an angler who normally spends so much time looking at the river as it passes by, in a canoe you become an integral part of the rivers ebb and flow. The Lea was looking splendid though, the water was clear and fairly high for the height of summer, the banks over-grown and looking quite wild. Not much fishing goes on here, well perhaps a little bit?
By lunchtime the clouds were gathering and a darkness came over the river that suggested it was time to set off for home.
Once home I thought it was time to put on a ‘proper’ film!
For our second day we were to go in search of The Lost Pond in Epping Forest, travel light and catch ourselves a mid-summer crucian. The Lost Pond or Blackweir as it is also know is set in the forest away from any road which involves a short walk, this I like, it keeps the lazy anglers away. After passing by Baldwins pond and walking through ancient woodland which was just starting to turn to gold, The Lost Pond appears in a small clearing, surrounded mainly in reeds broken by six gravel banked swims.
With us both fishing, our first three casts resulted in three tiny golden crucians and then nothing, not a nibble! We only stayed for about an hour and a half, trying every swim but nothing would bite, one or two missed chances but not a fish, very strange. Then on my last cast a slight movement to the float resulted in what looked like a rudd/crucian hybrid, in its imperfections it was a perfect end to a two-day, non-digital, 3D adventure.
Of all of the months in the year, August is probably my least favourite month to fish. By August the rivers are low and I’m in a perpetual state of apathy, my mind is wandering towards September and October. With summer stalking for carp pretty much over (even the carp seem to get lazy in August?) I spend more time just watching. Yesterday the Old River Lea in Hackney looked at its finest with gin clear water running through the sun dappled trees and above I could hear a bird of prey, most likely a kestrel.
It makes me wonder that a small silver fish stocking programme would really make this river complete again and encourage the Lea fishermen of old back to some familiar haunts and show their grandchildren how to fish. With next to no tidal variation on this stretch, platforms could be built on the harder to reach swims while low banked runs like the stretch below would be the perfect place to nurture a new passion for angling. With the nearby Middlesex Filter Beds now flooded, this whole area is really becoming an interesting area for conservation and the natural world.
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…
A river on a summers evening is a magical place, and tonight I was on the Lea in search of a lone dark one. By the time I had hooked a carp it was almost nightfall and when I managed to finally scoop the carp into a fully extended landing net, darkness was all around me. My swim (one of the secret swims) was so small that no space was free to take any decent photos as I disentangled the rod, the net, the line and the hook from one another. The carp was a lovely dark old fish of around fifteen pounds that was quickly released back into the inky blackness.
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.