Ian Welch reviews Paul Witcher Productions’ ‘Magical Waters’ – A two-DVD film starring the late John Searl
Angling on TV, indeed angling films in general, are very much a subjective thing. A lot of anglers claim to hate hate Robson Green’s ‘Extreme Fishing’ – although the viewing figures suggest that a lot of people keep coming back for more; ‘River Monsters’ is raved over by some and yet others, including this writer, would never watch it. Some love Matt Hayes, whilst others hate him, Wilson’s laugh inspires some and horrifies others, and so it goes...
Not since the groundbreaking ‘A Passion for Angling’ has an angling film, or rather series, generated almost universal acclaim amongst angers. The reason for the success of ‘A Passion’? Many and varied and, in all probability, one of those delightful occasions where the overall sum is greater than that of all of the individual parts: Hugh Miles’ beautifully atmospheric camera work, the chemistry between the protagonists, the locations, the fact that ‘fun’ usually came before ‘fish’, the constant reminders that fishing is indeed sometimes more than just catching fish, the eccentricity, the rivalry, the gentle narration, the contrast between traditional and modern, the fish – oh the fish!
Will there ever be a series of angling films to match ‘A Passion’? Never say never but it’s a big ask and when even Miles tried to capture the magic again, with Martin Bowler, he failed miserably and if Miles couldn’t achieve it, then who could?
Perhaps Paul Witcher could in ‘Magical Waters’?
Cameraman and producer Paul is perhaps best known to most anglers as the maker of truly sublime centre pins, engineering masterpieces of the very highest order and ‘true’ pins too – ones with a single spindle, rather than bearings, but these days he has left his lathe and picked up a camera instead. And, judging by this two-DVD set, the results are reasonably comparible; perhaps not a masterpiece, but certainly beautifully crafted.
‘Magical Waters’ certainly comes from the same ‘mould’ as ‘A Passion’ and if you enjoyed the former the chances are you will enjoy this too but it would not be appropriate to draw too many comparisons; this is a different film and has different aims and Paul explains:
“There is no question that this film was our most ambitious and complex project to date. We covered twelve different species, across coarse, game and saltwater, above and below the surface, on seven of the UK's most beautiful waters. And just in case that wasn't stretching us far enough, we decided to film only in the best light conditions possible for each scene.
But that wasn't enough either. We all felt that UK angling shouldn't just be about the fish that are easy to catch and film, or even the biggest, for that matter. No, we wanted to show some of the rarest and most fickle fish and also, to catch them using techniques that are the most exciting and tricky to demonstrate, let alone to film. That meant, wherever possible, we had to use stalking and sight-fishing methods in clear waters. Obviously, these conditions didn't exist on all the waters we fished, so we set out to supplement our angling with wildlife and scenic photography, using close-ups and rare footage, again wherever possible...
So, after four years filming, we found ourselves making not just an angling and wildlife film, but also a poignant story about the last few casts of a brilliant artist and a truly astonishing angler.”
The ‘brilliant artist’ and ‘astonishing angler’ featuring in the DVDs is the late John Searl and there will be few anglers who are not aware of him, either via his shop in Ringwood or through his exquisite artwork, which has graced the front cover of many an angling book. I was fortunate enough to know him and his advice steered me towards many a decent Hampshire Avon fish over the years – although he could never make me coffee the way I like it...
A lovely man, John had a deep, love and knowledge of his local Hampshire Avon and this comes through magnificently in these films with some truly magical angling resulting in breathtaking chub, barbel and roach coupled with some great sequences chasing mullet and bass in Christchurch Harbour, pursuit of wild carp, big pike and a slightly more amusing and off-beat interlude in the company of Dave Steuart after River Test salmon.
The whole is made tragically poignant by the fact that John did not live to see the finished result but it stands now as a great tribute to his craft as an angler.
Atmospherically filmed in great clarity and with good sound Magical Waters paints a lovely picture of angling and the environment in which we choose to angle. It is a film about ‘why’ we do it rather than ‘how’ we do it and that is very much to its credit.
It’s not ‘A Passion’ and, as I have said, should not really be compared to ‘A Passion’ but, having now watched it through a couple of times, it’s hard not to think of one when you think of the other – there can surely be no better recommendation than that...
DVD 1: 'The First Cast' (Running time 65 minutes)
• Sight fishing for barbel on the Hampshire Avon.
• Float fishing for tench on Surrey’s Frensham Great Pond.
• Floater fishing for genuine wild carp.
• Spinning and float fishing for estuary mullet and bass at Christchurch Harbour.
DVD 2: 'The Last Cast' (Running time 68 minutes)
• Stalking and sight fishing for big chub in clear water.
• The trout and the mayfly.
• Sight fishing for Atlantic salmon with Dave Steuart.
• Spotting and stalking a huge roach.
• An epic battle with a big pike.
• Small river perching.
• The Lady of the Stream – the grayling.
‘Magical Waters’ costs £29.99 and is available to buy HERE