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.
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…
The first signs of a heatwave hit England on Sunday and I was in the West Midlands seeking to winkle out a chub from the river Mease, a tiny meandering river that can be fished on a Birmingham Anglers Association day ticket. The Mease flows past the village of Netherseal that sits in classic open english countryside just half an hours drive from Central Birmingham.
I fancied a break from my current search for large river Lea carp, the Lea sadly contains very few chub in it’s lower reaches and I felt that I needed to be re-introduced since my last chance meeting on the Kennet last winter. My approach of trotting with a heavy chubber float, keeping the bread flake low in the water took me on a good mile long walk along its meandering course, the water was low and I saw no sign of a chub despite my stealthy approach of keeping low, pushing back the stingers and opening up small gaps in the undergrowth to expose tiny swims. With no luck I started to turn back and fish the swims that I had previously baited with bread and maggots, finally I saw a chub dart up and take a maggot, despite the sun getting hotter and brighter I knew there was a chance of a fish.
The BAA do a great job in providing access over the barbed wire fences that follow the meanders of the river Mease but once over the fence you are right up to your neck in stingers, luckily stinging nettles push over quite easily and with a little care you can form an opening by placing your net and fishing bag down to create relatively pain-free platform. I was now fishing the stick float on a slow drop using a button shirt shot pattern, I continued to trickle in the maggots and soon started to observe the chub darting out unable to contain their hunger for an easy meal. On my second cast I was into a chub of around the 3/4 pound, then another and another, each one getting a little larger.
Surrounded by stinging nettles and the temperatures increasing the whole experience was becoming quite intense, flies were becoming more persistent as they buzzed around my face, sweat dripped from my brow, there was no place to retreat unless I got back up the bank and over the barbed wire fence, this would have broken my cover and spooked the chub, so I stayed low and continued to fish. For the next hour I caught ten to fifteen chub, the largest no more than a pound and a half, but on a light line and stick float this was fun fishing that reminded me of my summer holidays as a lad fishing on the Sussex Ouse. Finally I dropped a chub amongst the stingers, I had no option but to bury my hand into a clump of nettles and quickly pick it up, the pain was bearable, I was after all fishing and very little could deter me, but as the heat rose further and the flies grew in numbers I finally called it a day.
After my recent trip to the enchanting River Blackwater in Co Cork, I came across this film, written and directed by Richard Gorodecky which struck a chord and reminded me of my similar experiences, especially of those in ‘our’ fishing hut. Fishing huts are always heavy with atmosphere, the river a constant sound that permeates through the walls leaving the angler with a itch that there is more fishing to be done. For issue 4 of Fallon’s Angler I have captured the fishing hut in our regular ‘Through the Lens’ series, but until its publication watch this short trailer and take in the atmosphere…
After my last post I was feeling a little sombre, fishing trips deemed to be put on the back burner for a while, but as it turns out the last fortnight has been blessed with a couple of fruitful and quite diverse experiences.
An editorial meeting for issue four of Fallon’s Angler took place in south London which ended with an impromptu visit to the Ravensbourne with a single rod and a few left- over maggots. Sharing a rod, myself and Garett the editor of Fallon’s we managed to winkle out some chub, rudd, roach, perch and gudgeon, larger chub were visible in the clear shallow water but they eluded us this time. As dusk fell we retreated to the safety of a couple of pints and discussed the final touches to issue four. For those who take the periodical it won’t be long now, and those who don’t shame on you. Personally I think Fallon’s is getting better and better, we are finding our feet with the look and editorial content becoming much stronger. Issue four sees new contributors such as John Andrews and Luke Jennings and there are some exciting names coming up for the future from some angling legends.
With some final amendments to issue four I required to get some extra images especially of our regular contributor Steve Roberts who is the River guide and face behind Rivers Days, stationed at Pangbourne on the Thames. With the Ashes in the bag we had a relaxed day drifting in his punt with an opportunity to catch some perch and pike, and to get some shots. By the time I had turned up (by train) ordered lunch and a couple of pints it was mid afternoon but there was no rush, the temperature was high and we were soon afloat on the Thames with a cool breeze to make it comfortable. While Steve fished I got in the Thames in my waders and started to get some shots. I stood on a old part of an island know as the cliff, “why the cliff Steve?” I said, “well if you step over another yard or so the waters drops off into eighteen feet of water!”
A day on the Thames with Steve is a whole experience, the secret places that you visit, the fishing, the lunch, conversation and hopefully a fish or two. Our afternoon was a lazy one and I had a few perch but as the afternoon faded Steve offered to take me to a private stretch of water on the Kennet where the chance of a barbel was possible. As the light faded we turned up on the lawn of a private house and running along the side of the garden was the river Kennet, it was warm and the air quite still, there was a sniff of barbel in the air.
At the start of the year I bought an early Allcocks Wizard and it has sat in my basement, dormant awaiting a christening. I had heard a lot about the versatility of these rods and I was keen to catch a barbel on it and see if it was capable of handling such a fish in a fast flowing river. As the light faded I was lucky enough to do just that and soon had a nice Kennet barbel in the net of around 7lbs. The rod was exceptional and does have a wonderful sensitive top with a solid backbone, now my rod of choice! By ten I was heading back from Newbury on the train to Paddington, the contrast from an hour previously could not have been greater, people heading from Reading to London for a night out while I with my fishing bag and rod set off for home.
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.
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…