The ponds of Epping are quite familiar to me, many of which I have fished over the years but after being taken to Warren pond last week I had forgotten how atmospheric these waters are. Some are well known and others are quite insignificant, so to honour them equally I have decided to document them over the next year. Here we have Warren pond in the first two images and lastly The Lost pond or Blackweir as it is officially called. Personally I like the name Lost pond because it sits in the forest unconnected to any path or track.
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.
Each year I have a dilemma around March-April when the renewal letter slips through the letterbox. My Sussex syndicate membership is due and I have to ask myself the question, is it worth it? On average I make it down twice a year, which makes each visit quite a luxury plus petrol and it all adds up to an expensive day out. But this year my membership renewal has not arrived, reason unknown. I have asked a friend and member if his renewal has arrived and it seems that he too is in the situation. Hopefully this is an administration problem and all is well with the syndicate.
With the possibility that the syndicate has run into problems and my access to this water could be lost has made me realise that my membership is very important even if I am unable to get down to Sussex as often as I would like. Knowing that I can jump in the car and be by the water within ninety minutes is a tonic. The mill pond is a good size and was dug about three hundred years ago. Below the lilly covered surface is a good head of tench, some large old carp, pike of all sizes plus huge shoals of roach and rudd, in a way it is perfect although sometimes it can be really quite difficult to fish, often it sleeps much to my frustration, but on occasions it has given up some wonderful catches. So now I wait in hope that my membership renewal arrives so that I can continue to fish there and not not just dream of such a place.
In London on my wall hangs a postcard from 1931 which shows the mill pond, little has changed, perhaps the same carp are still alive from when that photograph was taken? An eighty three year old carp, well it’s possible?
Looking back it seems we all experienced the local pond in some form or other, whether it was a village pond or a lake in a park. In hindsight to those of a certain age I think the illustrations in Ladybird books had a lot to do with such halcyon memories, launching wooden toy yachts or fishing for fry with a net, but for me I remember quite vividly trying to catch the goldfish from Lindfield Pond in Sussex until a prim old lady from the local parish and resident of the private road that ran along side the pond, would come over and tick me off then send me packing.
These ponds seem to have certain features, an island and a willow tree, a few mallards, possibly a pair of swans and occasionally an unwanted pet terrapin would break the surface for air. In the winter the pond would seem quiet, almost lifeless but as spring warmed, frog spawn would appear in the shallows, while water boatmen would skit about on the surface film. The spring would also bring fry darting about in the margins, while roach, rudd, orfe and goldfish (often discarded pets) would swim in shoals in the deeper water. As a boy these signs of life were potential targets, armed with the most basic of equipment and a worm or a blob of bread, this is where many boys dreams began, hunting for fish and larger monsters of the deep. Chris Yates In ‘Casting at the Sun’ writes of his first encounter with the local village pond in Burgh Heath, Surrey and his attempt to capture a golden carp with his ‘boys’ fishing kit. These experiences seem to be the spark for so many life-long anglers.
Two years ago we moved to a new area (although not completely alien to me) Lower Clapton in North East London where just up from our house is a small pond. Lower Clapton Pond was dug in the 1600’s during the reign of James I, originally a watering hole for livestock and then later a reservoir for the supply of water to the local area. In 1898 the ponds were saved from being filled in and re-landscaped by the local Hackney Vestry with gravel paths, a footbridge, miniature islands, trees and a small fence. In the 1970’s the ponds were re-modelled again but then fell into the hands of drug addicts, alcoholics and other unsavoury characters, Lower Clapton Pond was a bit of a no go area. Then in 2002 the Clapton Pond Neighbourhood Action Group was set up and once again the ponds became a safe haven for locals to enjoy after another re-design.
And now, in 2014 I peer down and see goldfish, orfe, a lone terrapin and more surprisingly under the weeping willow a single large carp of around eights pounds! How these one off loners get into such ponds is a mystery to me but a good one to ponder over, no pun intended!
I awoke Sunday morning to find a frost for the first time on the grass in the rear garden, the cars out the front of the house were frozen in a white cloak. It was 7.30 am and still dark so if I left fairly promptly I could be fishing in Epping forest by 8.30am. I only had three mackerel tails for bait in the freezer but I was eager to get out so I headed for Wake Valley Pond with my meagre bait supply. This Epping Pond is a water I have never fished but walked past many times before thinking it looked ‘fishey’.
In the end I was the only one there, no dog walkers, cylists or fishermen, it was a blissful cold and quiet morning and I was alone. Sometimes when the scene is this tranquil catching is not that high on the agenda so after an hour I left to look at some of the other Epping forest ponds. I drove around to Goldings but that pond was frozen over and clogged with weed so I headed home content but not before dropping in to look at Hollow Ponds which in hindsight was a mistake. The lake looked lifeless with its banks worn bare from the many visiting feet, not a place I shall try for a pike. Saying that, something suggested to me that lurking in this lake could be a forgotten soul, a lost thirty perhaps?
I spent the summer of 1983 trying to learn to fish…properly, mainly on my own and mainly for chub, my apprenticeship for gudgeon had passed. There was a favourite deep run on the Sussex Ouse just a few hundred yards from the Ardingly road which I named chub corner and this was where most of my success came from. I spent a lot of time there with my Walkman listening to one song in particular on a loop just like teenagers do! Afterwards I would lie on the river bank and take in the summer sun, even then I knew these were cherished times.
On my return to school that september one of my science classes was shared with a guy called Mark who always brought a copy of Anglers Mail in on a Wednesday and due to the old style science lab benches (the ones with the gas taps that you could simply switch on at anytime and gas out the whole class) we could secretly read each copy on our laps, undetected by our teacher.
At that time Anglers Mail were running a series of extracts from Pete Mohans’ ‘Cypry the Carp’. We were transfixed each week as the story unfolded of Andy and Cypry the Carp but what also captured my attention was the ‘make your own tackle’ features that were so popular back in those days and in september pike tackle came into the spotlight. Spoons made from, well… spoons! Toby style bars made from spoon and fork handles and slider floats made from broom handles carefully carved out. Pike fishing seemed another world away and new precautions needed to be taken in the pursuit, wire traces, pike gags and forceps all needed consideration.
With talk of pike in the back of the science lab, my friend Mark told me tales of large pike caught in the Horstead Keynes lakes and he had witnessed a few captures as he lived right next to one of the lakes with his mother and brother in a small cottage. Horstead Keynes was only about four miles away but these lakes sounded out-of-bounds to me, still my fascination with large pike was growing.
At that time I was a member of Haywards Heath and District Angling Society and another story was relayed to me about more monster pike encounters and this time it was on a water I could fish in Slaugham, a HHDAS water. A large pike was hooked by two lads fishing dead baits, it had them all over the lake and finally it shot under the platform where the two young intrepid piscators were standing. Hesitantly one of them hand-lined the pike from under the platform not realising how close his hand was to the wire trace until the shock of seeing such a large toothed mouth caused the pike to be dropped, resulting in the line parting. A return visit had to be organised and this time I was going to be properly prepared.
It was a saturday morning, crisp and bright, I had already purchased a PDQ wire snap tackle trace, bound multi-stranded wire with red cotton whipping over the twisted knots. The trace carefully coiled in a tracing paper bag, I could only afford one trace so it had to last. Also I had purchased a Vortex sliding pike float (carving a broom handle was a lot harder than made out in the Anglers Mail article) along with various swivels beads and swan shot. The rod was my trusty old Marco fibreglass carp rod with extra whipping over the joint where a split had started to show, the reel was a Mitchell 300s.
Standing outside the fishmongers by the roundabout in Haywards Heath I purchased a few joeys and some sprats which were a cheaper option. I was now a hunter using fish to catch bigger fish, maggots were for boys…I set off in trepidation!
The journey to Slaugham lake was a good forty minutes bike ride so I set off, now prepared like ‘proper’ fishermen do, off to do battle with rod and landing net tied to the crossbar and a faint whiff of sea fish following behind. On arrival the lake was calm, the trees bare and the air cold. My choice of swim was one of the platforms that protruded from the large reed bed that surrounded a good forty percent of the whole lake, the rest of the lake was un-fishable as the banks were covered in fallen trees that even the most cunning of stalkers could not penetrate. Once on the wooden platform I tackled up, carefully tying on my wire trace and setting the sliding float so that it ‘cocked’ nicely in the flat calm water. I couldn’t remember from my Observer Book of Coarse Fishing whether the dead bait was to settle on the bottom or dangle in the mid-water? A few adjustments over the morning covered both options but the float never moved. By the afternoon I had covered a large corner of the lake and then remembered the illustrations in one of my books back home of a pike snapping at roach near some reeds, so I cast as close as I would dare, fearing that I could loose the wire trace and that would then be curtains for the day.
After only moments the float bobbed, then slowly towed away, just a foot or two but then stopped. Mixed emotions of excitement, fear and disappointment all came at once but I reeled in, kept calm and replaced the now tired looking joey with a fresh tail and re-cast. Again the float carried off and this time I struck, instantly there was a swirl that broke the stillness of the day and I was in a true tussle, like nothing I had experienced before. After a short while the pike was under control and I netted a pike of around six pounds. My next thought was how to un-hook the pike, I had forceps and a ‘humane’ gag but this was an operation all new to me. So straddling the fish I managed to get the gag in place and thankfully with shaking hands, managed to get the trebles out. I leant down and returned the pike using the landing net, I then stood up on the platform and thought, that was a ‘proper’ fish, was I a proper fisherman? Well time would tell but I certainly cycled home feeling a foot taller!