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Old 23-03-2012, 13:28
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Default Never Go Back By Andy Childs

Never Go Back

By Andy Childs

I was out on my bike with some mates and stumbled across the first stretch of river I fished as a child. Memories came flooding back - I'd spent countless happy days there in the school holidays fishing for roach, perch and later chub and barbel. It was a magical place, a ribbon of clear water cutting through the countryside. There I caught my first barbel on ledgered bread and the memory of that capture is still as vivid today as it was 50 years ago. Anyway, back to the ride with my mates after promising myself a return visit and a bigger dose of nostalgia later in the week.

I returned on a sunny day around a week later with Polaroids and a roving kit. My first impression was just how little the river had changed. The cut where I used to catch the perch was now shallow and silted and the lower stretch choked with onion type rushes but the rest was much as I remembered. The most significant change however was the addition of a new housing estate on the far bank.

Looking between the trees for fish, I spotted a couple of decent chub in the shallows under a willow and a car tyre half hidden in the bank side vegetation. I continued walking upstream peering into the depths for more fish when I saw a Tesco shopping trolley lying on its side like a dead beast on the riverbed. Further along, just off the nearside bank, a collection of scaffold tubes and fittings had been dumped in the river.

Down river, the scene was much the same. Fast food containers lay cheek by jowl with beer cans, food packets and traffic cones. All human life was there defined by rubbish! Quite the worse of it were the small blue plastic bags of dog waste neatly tied up and then abandoned by the owners. At least if the excrement had not been picked up it would have decayed naturally but now, sealed up carefully in its bag, it should be good for the next 50 years!

Hidden in the trees was a pile of rotting chipboard where someone had new wardrobes fitted and decided it would be a great place to dump the old ones along the river bank. Peering into the river, I spotted a child's pink bike with roach drifting in and out of the frame, not to mention a go kart with the back wheels missing skulking in the depths. Under the bridge another collection of beer cans, old carpet and crisp packets were sheltering from the sunlight.

Most of the major southern rivers I've fished run through towns and villages and people pay a premium for river views. Why is the Lea so different from these rivers? This place is a recent development, awarded best village in bloom, but you will see less trash at a landfill site!

Litter defines you as a Community and as an individual. Once rubbish and litter are allowed to accumulate, people cease to care and the mess becomes invisible, part of the landscape.

Crossing over to the new estate side, I walked upstream to the Weir. I'd never seen it from this side, only ever looking up steam from a distance .It was more beautiful than I ever imagined and there strapped to a post was a sign that said "No Fishing by order of the Residents". Quite right, I thought, we wouldn't want anglers here as they'd only mess the place up.

Fishing was allowed on the old bank, the side I mainly fished as a child, but I couldn't bring myself to start without picking up the rubbish in my 'swim'. Off to Tesco (the sunken shopping trolley pointing the way) to buy a roll of heavy duty rubbish sacks.

Half an hour later, I start litter picking when I heard a voice mumble "What you doing bruv?". I glanced up and three young boys dressed in hoodies and tracksuit bottoms stood there. "Picking up litter" I replied. "WHY?" a small boy asked looking at me like I was in some way defective, demented or both. I explained to them about litter and they stared back at me blankly. I tried again, this time in plainer language, and they seemed to get it. "Why don't you guys clear up under the bridge?" I asked. "F*"k off !" one of them replied, all of 13 years old. "Why should we? It aint our rubbish and we aint getting paid to pick it up". More explanations ensued and half an hour later two full bags were loaded in my truck, one being filled by my new mates, the three musketeers. (I like to think of myself as d'Artagnon - it's a fantasy of mine, not to mention my wife!) I think, or perhaps hope, that the three lads felt good about what they had done as they were eager for my approval.

By now it was early afternoon and there were still a couple of chub drifting over the shallow gravel bar under the far bank willow. The first of many maggots were fired over and I sat and watched as they drifted down stream in the current to pick them off. An hour of feeding passed and by now their ranks had swelled to five with one very large fish confidently feeding.

Float gear was out of the question. There was only a small opening in the willow a few feet above the water. A black cap feeder with a short 3lb hook link was attached and as I prepared to cast I realized how tricky the chuck was. My first attempt was heading for the branches. I checked it mid-flight and cursed as it crashed only feet from the willow, spilling its contents. I reloaded and the second cast flew through the gap like an exocet landing noisily above the chub. I fully expected them to scatter but they started picking off the maggots. In the bright sunlight I could see every stone on the river bed and every mouthful of maggots they took.

The bite almost took me by surprise. I was watching them intently when the line tightened over my index finger. A lift of the rod and the fish was on. In the shallow water it took off at speed scattering the others, crashed dived into a weed bed and was gone, all over in a matter of seconds. My thoughts had been all about the feeding and the presentation. A heavier hook link was tied on but they knew the difference. They were mopping up the freebies for fun and ignoring my hook bait. Back to the 3lb and this time I was ready. The feeder bombed across fast and low under the willow fronds landing in pole position. The chub drifted out from cover, one of them lining itself up with the trickle of maggots coming out of the feeder. Closer and closer the fish moved until inches away when I could see the white lips open and shut as it took the grubs. It turned and the rod came alive in my hand as I swept it over, steering the fish away from trouble. Not huge but at 5.5 very welcome.

I started firing maggots again. Had the commotion spooked the others? The answer came after about 15 minutes of feeding as the largest chub out there broke cover and started picking up maggots from the gravel. Another volley of reds flew through the branches and he was joined by two others. I let them drift back, filled up the feeder, which I'd taped up to slow down the maggots escape, and sent it on its way. Once again, they ghosted out of the tangle of roots and made their way to the feeder with the largest fish at the fore. The brakes went on at about a foot from the feeder and oh so slowly the large fish inched forward sipping grubs, almost resting on the riverbed.

My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest as I felt the lightest of bites, just a slight sensation on my fingers, and then my reflexes kicked in. I swept the rod low and the fish followed into clearer, deeper water away from the far bank jungle. It was right in front of me now, a plume of red maggots spewing from its mouth and I could see it was huge. Just as netting entered my head, the clutch sang and the fish turned and dived for cover in some nearside branches. I put on all the pressure I could but it was so strong and disappeared from sight. My heart sank but no sooner was it gone that it reappeared, head down, thumping away in the clearer water. I held on for what seemed an age and finally it slowly broke surface and lay beaten on its side. One pass of the net and the fish lay in its mesh. Rested and weighed the chub went 7.1, my best at the time. A passing cyclist stopped and took a couple of snaps and the great fish was slipped back. One more fish graced my net and as darkness descended I called it a day.

I finished the day with three chub landed, one lost and a PB. The journey home was a strange one, a mixture of exhilaration, sadness and unpleasant smells emanating from the bags in the back of the truck, which I later dumped on the way home at a popular beauty spot...............

Andy Childs
Jan 2012
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