August 2005 - Fishing the Thames
A few weeks ago I visited the annual Country Land and Business Association Game Fair at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire, an event that reminds anyone who needs reminding, just what business there is in field sports. Such visits can turn out expensive as you pick up bits of equipment you never knew you needed.
Between the shopping you can drool at the stands promoting all the exotic places to go and fish these days. Foreign trips aside, however, the reality for most of us is that much of our fishing will be closer to our own back yards.
My nearest chalk stream is about a good hour away; otherwise there is the canal and a few small rivers. But, for some reason, although it is no more than 20 minutes down the road, I have rarely given much thought to the River Thames. At least this was the case until I had a call from Mark Anderson.
At the Game Fair I had enquired at the Orvis stand about one of their accredited guides who I knew fished for pike on the fly. This turned out to be Mark who, between planning various trips for clients that weekend, asked me over for a "chat and a cast".
A duck was cooking in the oven but I thought it could wait. So I motored over to his home which I could describe either as a small house or as a large fishing hut with a veranda, backing on to the River Thames. Mark was wearing shorts and a vest. Propped against the veranda was an array of rods sporting some of the biggest, woolliest and most garish coloured flies I had ever seen.
You know how sometimes you meet a long lost friend and they want to catch up by showing you photographs and mementoes of all the things they have done in the last 10 years; well that's what its like to meet Mark for the first time. He showed me his sailfish bills, his marlin's eye socket, a pike's head and his box of shucks - the frail remains of mayfly larva.
The enthusiasm of this Zimbabwean-born fishing guide who has made London his home, is catching. "Look how clear that water is,"he said, bending over the river. "Look at the hatches coming off the water. Look at those rises. This river is teeming with life. It's a phenomenal place to fish and it's inside the M25," he said.
The evening was wearing on when we took off in his boat to look at the weir pool below Penton Hook lock at Chertsey , about 15 miles up river from the end of the tidal stretch of the Thames. This is where he likes to fish for pike on the fly. Casting deep in to the bushy banks from an anchored boat is not easy but the flies were doing nicely. Mark had an offer but time was moving on and we had to leave empty-handed.
A fish would have been a bonus. But on a warm summer evening it was enough simply to talk about the river. Mark Anderson, is one of a growing number of anglers who have become passionately interested in habitat and the sustainability of wild fishing stocks.
Too often anglers can become focused on their favourite species, seeing every other fish, bird or mammal as unwelcome predators. Some associations will build hatcheries or buy in supplies that are bred from a different gene pool, while doing little to maintain the balance of nature in and around the river. I want to catch wild fish, not farmed fish.
In too many cases interventions described as conservation are ill-considered interference. This means that grayling are sometimes electro-fished from chalk streams to make way for trout. In those same streams the appearance of a large pike can send fishermen in to a spin for fear that it will eat its way through their trout stocks when in fact it might do much to control the grayling numbers.
"What anglers sometimes forget is that the pike performs an important duty maintaining the health of a fishery by eating all the weak and sick fish," says Mark. "A big pike is also a check on its own numbers because it will prey on all the smaller pike that will otherwise come to populate the river.
"In an African game park no-one culls the lions because they eat gazelles and zebra. Their role in the eco-system is clearly understood. The pike performs a similar role in the river."
By the time I got home the duck had gone. Duckless and fishless I decided the only way to end on a high note this month was to get down to the canal with my pike fly. So I did, the very next day, when the heavens opened and I caught nothing but a cold. I should have gone to the Thames.
Mark Anderson guides anglers in many different kinds of fishing. He can be contacted on 01932 570140 or 07932 567410 or email: [email protected]