Towards the end of last year myself and Kev Parr had to produce a film for issue 18 of Fallon’s Angler. The two previous films we had worked on (one about winter fishing at Aldermaston on the Kennet, the other catching tench on the Sussex Levels) showed that Kev could clearly deliver both informative and engaged narration. So on this occasion I suggested he once again narrated over the film after I had completed the edit. “Keep it poetic” I said, but aside from that it was left to his own devices. A few days later Kev emailed me an mp3 file, I clicked play on the laptop, sat back and listened. Kev had recreated the day in words, words that would have been far from my own reach, subtle, sensitive and certainly brought back the feeling that I had that day on the River Test. So here is the result – a day on the river catching dace, roach and a lovely big perch, caught from the gloaming.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t worry fashionistas of Hackney Wick and Dalston, the eighties mullet has yet to return, (for now) you may stick to your acid tones and cool electro beats but only the brave will dress the mullet once more.
My mullet were lurking in the tidal stretch of the Lea by the sanctuary of two discarded water tanks not found on a whim but more likely a regular journey, summer after summer, sifting through the silt for a easy feed? Notably hard to catch, these stubborn thick lipped variety were positively zip lipped when it came to my free offerings. Do I have the patience to try and fool one of these or shall I stick to the carp? I’m unsure but to witness these mullet as I have done now for the last few days has been a privilege.
Last summer I spent the day with author and angler, Dexter Petley, searching out river Lea carp. After many emails sent back and forth from his base camp in Normandy, Dexter finally made it to London while promoting his new book – Love, Madness, Fishing after a thirty year absence. It turned out to be a memorable day (Dexter writes about it in Fallons Angler issue 9) success came in the shape of a large Lea common. I was happy that it was Dexter that caught the near twenty, he only had one chance while I could return anytime, I felt it was the only outcome. What stood out that day was Dexter’s boyish excitement and confidence in catching a carp, gifted by the fact we had a new moon, perhaps his whispy grey hair and talk of moon phases captured me, spellbound in some form of carp wizardry? It was a great day, the new moon cast its spell and I became a moon child.
Almost one year on and the river season has commenced, I have been keeping a close eye on the river but the carp have disappeared, perhaps the dry spring sent the carp to deeper more oxygenated waters? On opening day I met with friends Garrett and Tony for a traditional 16th and despite many bream feeding on our groundbait our carp baits only spooked the twitchy bream, the carp were merely ghosts.
So last Saturday we entered a new lunar phase, I woke feeling half-hearted about getting up but the celestial pull took me to the river at a respectable 8.00 am, if the carp were enchanted then hopefully they were still under a spell. I arrived at a usual spot and looked into the river, below were three large carp, boisterous in their swagger as they pushed their way around the swim searching for food, it was the first carp I had seen in a while, their tails in the air, the moon had switched them on, they danced on moonbeams. River carping is not easy but sometimes it all drops into place, it did last year with Dexter and today it looked hopeful. I lowered a bait just one foot from the bank, I felt the line and watched the rod tip, thirty seconds passed and then wham, like a sledgehammer hitting the rod, the tip pulled down as the carp headed downstream, for five knee trembling minutes I fought the carp and finally landed a common, probably just under the twenty pound mark, just like Dexter’s common from last year. The wizardry of carp fishing strikes again!
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.
It goes like this…got woken up; “daddy can I go and see nana?” “yes, go on then” I mumble. I go downstairs, boil kettle, find cup, clatter, spoon, rattle coffee packet, pour…flick through newspaper, celebrities, celebrities, celebrities, war, fear, sport; put paper down, slurp. Find car keys, phone, charger lead, bait, rod and bag. Car door clunks, press ‘engine on’, radio 4 starts up, Saturday morning live, more people banter on, “I’m this, I did that,” more views, more pop culture. Satnav kicks in, “turn left”, “go straight ahead”, light flashes, diesel low, refuel, more bleeps, find wallet, enter kiosk, banging house FM, choose shite sandwich, more bleeps, pay, go. Satnav pillow talk kicks in again, M42, turn off, road narrows, see church in distance, my bearings found, satnav off, radio off, window down, turn corner, river flows, coloured but fining down, pull up, switch off engine, open door, step out, calm, peace, just me, no one, stillness, an antidote…perhaps this is why I go fishing?
Last summer I went small river chubing on the River Mease and wrote about it here, it was hot, the stingers were high but the chub were obliging. Six months on, and spring still a few weeks away I have returned, I wanted to see the river in it winter dress, and hopefully seek out a greedy winter chub.
The trees were magnificent, bare open branches silhouetted on a battleship sky, on the horizon – a hint of blue, the water is coloured but not chocolate, days before the river had flooded the fields but now the river was once again contained. After trotting a float for a while I set up my 10′ avon with a quiver and walked the river dropping a swimfeeder into some deep holes. I am still unfamiliar with the river Mease but eventually after an hour a chub came to the net.