Do you live close to a stream or minor river? Do you ever look at it? If it’s only what you might call a town trickle, have you ever consulted an O.S map and been to explore that blue capillary where it ventures away from the traffic and out into the fields? If not (and please excuse the accusatory tone here) why not? If you’re pretty certain that the water you see flowing over the bike frames and supermarket trolleys is unpolluted there’s no reason to assume a lack of fish life up or downstream of your rather insalubrious viewpoint, and to do so might be to pass up the chance of some fabulous fishing.

As we know, fish and fishing thrive on neglect. Find a stretch of untouched water that’s substantial enough to hold fish life and there’s an excellent chance that it will. Follow it along. Stop where it turns then study the deeper water on the outside of the bend and flick a few grains of corn into the dark water…watch them drift down and you might see one or two suddenly disappear on the drop or change course – FISH! Don’t assume that the water’s insignificance will determine the size of any fish present because even the most modest trickle is capable of harbouring some pretty mean specimens – chub and roach in particular.

I found one such stream a while ago in Essex and, yes, I initially wrote it off as a relatively lifeless waterway fit only for insect life and the odd moorhen; but I gave it a bash one afternoon when I had nothing better to do.  Armed with my favourite Avon rod and an old Mitchell Prince loaded with 6lb line I ventured out into the field and found the widest and most likely section – perhaps 9 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Bait was bread-flake, and this was fished on a light link-leger and size 8 hook.  I was on the field side of a barbed wire fence and I cast from this position feeling sure of little or no action. How wrong I was! Within minutes the rod-tip flickered then took on a determined curve; I struck and disbelievingly found myself latched into something rather heavy! Wrenching the rod as it rocketed downstream I was forced to give the fish both line and a plea for mercy: if nothing else I wanted to see what the hell lived in this little river! My 10ft cane Avon continued to take a pounding but the line held until I could slacken-off a little and insinuate myself under the barbed wire to net my very worthy opponent – a chub! On the scales that fish went 4lb 8oz! I clearly recall saying out loud “What, exactly, are you doing a few miles from Basildon??” I went on to winkle-out two carp of 5 and 7+lbs and a half pound vegetarian perch – all from this lowly, unprepossessing  little Essex stream. The real icing on the cake this memorable day was the realization that nobody else knew of this place (and nobody would know of this place!)

For 10 years I had the river to myself. The more I explored, the more I found: bends over 10 feet deep, gravel runs, a forested stretch where carp to double figures could be seen cruising beneath chestnut-laden overhangs; there were elderberry bushes, giant hogweed, Japanese balsam, hawthorn and even bamboo strongholds to be found close to the crumbling red-brick bridge. In that decade of secretive, undisturbed fishing I kept the company of voles and kingfishers, weasels, a stoat and a great many chub to 5lb 4oz. I had roach to 2lb 7oz no less, pike to 11lb which would seize my struggling chub, carp to 9lbs and a few more perch of modest weight. Like all good things though, it came to an end. The stupid woman who’d moved into the big, expensive house by the old mill decided to shore-up her brook-side garden and, of course, the easiest way to do this was by emptying the river! That’s right. The stupid, thoughtless woman took it upon herself to open up the sluice-gate and pour the entire waterway into the sea. Water per se returned eventually and the miracle that is Mother Nature threw in a few little fish for good measure; but the rot had set in to reduce a once thriving little river to an overgrown ditch.

Not very far from the scene of this crime is the Essex Blackwater, yet another of this country’s rivers to have its glorious past overtaken by the effects of abstraction, pollution and, well…time. It was one Sunday morning around 20 years ago (really quite recently!) that I fired-up the renovated Moggy 1000 and drove off to discover what lay behind the fine blue Ordnance Survey line running from Coggeshall to the sea at Maldon, Essex.  I headed for a bridge – a humpty-backed one as it turned out – and parked immediately on the north side. I’d never before set eyes on the rural Blackwater, only the tidal estuary up to ‘Watersmeet’ at Langford, so it was with a blend of pending disappointment and excitement that I left my car and walked to the brow of the bridge.

Looking downstream I was nothing less than delighted to have a good flow of substantial width fill my eyes; it was quite beautiful and, bringing my sight closer to the shallow water beneath my nose, I saw a fish… quite a big fish… an enormous roach…five or six enormous roach!! I swore out loud and craned my neck out and down to get a better look at these monsters. Yes, they were roach and no mistake; furthermore, each and every one of them would have nudged or broken the national record which at that time stood at 3lb 14oz. This was in the month of May so pursuing these prizes was out of the question, but come June 20th or thereabouts I was back at the bridge with my tackle and a loaf of fresh crusty bread.

The fish were nowhere to be seen but I side-cast my bait from upstream of the bridge to where I’d seen their bellies scraping the shallows just a few weeks before. I caught a 2lb chub, and then another, then all went quiet. I kept an eagle eye on the rod-tip until way after sun-down but no further sign of life was to be seen on my short stretch of river for the rest of that season. I sometimes ask myself – albeit very fleetingly – if I really had seen those record roach, but I surely had. Do such monsters still inhabit the Essex Blackwater, I wonder. A careless fork-lift driver miles upstream near Kelvedon punctured a drum of chemical a decade ago and caused the deaths of a great many fish in that locality. Whether or not the curse affected the river further down I do not know but the occasional good ‘un still comes out of the privately owned weir pool at Langford, 5 miles downstream by the Steam Museum.

Now this represents a classic example of how a humble piece of water can astound even the optimistic. The pool is not at all large (we’re in Essex, remember) and it is deep on one side only, so the size and variety of fish produced by this foamy little backwater is nothing less than miraculous: salmon? Yes! The club secretary once had his pike lure snatched by a low-double Rex that led him a frantic dance around the pool before coming to the net. Carp? A fellow member won our winter match with one carp that registered 17lbs on the official scales after revealing its self to be somewhat…flamboyant! The captor had lifted it for a photo and we’d all gasped to see long, surreal, whiskery fins reminiscent of Japanese plate and fabric designs, but in every other respect it looked like a standard common carp – a bizarre specimen indeed! There’s a barbel in there too -one barbel! I caught it at 4lb 2oz during a pre-membership ‘guesting’ session less than an hour before my inevitable ejection from this jealously-guarded piece of Paradise.

    I spoke with the bailiff as I packed up but said nothing of my capture. “Are there barbel in here?” I asked in apparent innocence.

    “There’s actually one” he told me, “and it weighs 4lb 2oz”! How I managed to deny myself the satisfaction of confirming his statement I’ll never know because at thirteen feet in depth and twice the size of a tennis court the pool isn’t so intimate as to hold no mysteries; my barbel was still a rare capture and unknown to most members.

You ignore or write-off those brooks and back-streams at your expense, and as I write there could still be untold numbers of stonking specimens just waiting to be lured from thousands of insignificant, unexplored ribbons of cartographer’s blue. As Fishing Magicians we can share this advice and tell of our results…just don’t shout about it.


Cliff Hatton


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