Us fishermen are blessed. We get to spend time in some of the most beautiful places on the planet hanging out with some of the coolest creatures and most awesome people we could ever wish to encounter. We get to bask in the glory of a catch or wallow in the hurt of another one that got away. We get to see life happening at a more primal level than most others could ever imagine and we get to see it happen every time we fish. All this adds up to some of the most incredible adventures imaginable, ones that we might share with our friends or take in alone amongst the serene solitude of the waterside environment.
Until the last few years I had always taken the word “adventure” as meaning something far flung, something glamorous, aspirational and often unattainable. Fishing adventures happen on dvds to cool American kids with beards in Patagonia, Mongolia and the other great wildernesses of our vast and amazing planet. Fishing adventures need long haul flights, perilous travel on horseback across tundra and dangerous animals blocking your route at every turn – right? Well that’s what I thought until I embarked on a few new adventures, the first of which started just south of the M4 near Brentford.
When I moved down to London to work at Farlows Country Store I was concerned about how I was going to get my fishing fix among the sprawling concrete mayhem of England’s venerable old capital. I doubt anybody has ever moved to London specifically for the fishing and if they did then they’re crackers and I imagine it didn’t work out. Faced with the thundering Thames and crime-scene canals I didn’t hold out too much hope but without realising it my first few tentative (and blank) sessions on the Grand Union were the start of a true angling adventure.
My knowledge of LRF style fishing at this point was close to zero, so it was a surprise to find myself stood on a towpath two minutes from my new home with a 5g weighted spinning rod using 6lb braid. I fished hard most evenings in the summer and failed a lot but I was utterly gripped by the technique and the Perch which I could clearly see in the crystal clear water. I worked it out, I caught a few fish and as I got better I started target setting. One by one I achieved all of my aims including catching a 2 lb perch that was in sight of where I lived. I started to explore further. I fished in the middle of the night under motorway bridges, I fished alongside gangs of youths and around sleeping tramps. I went on a new adventure five times a week and barely even realised.
As it turned out there were a whole host of angling adventures to be had in London. Wimbledon Village may not stir images of Sir Edmund Hillary or Bear Grylls but the diminutive River Wandle nearby became a theatre for my angling wins and woes. The Wandle holds a breeding stock of wild brownies, fish so scarce and so precious they should be locked up with the crown jewels. So scarce are they that it took me about two months to find any at all – that’s two months of walking down Wimbledon high street in chest waders, two months of confused looks from passers by, two months of looking for fish but watching nothing happen. Those two months of unrewarded effort flowed freely from my mouth as Pete slipped the net under my first Wandle trout. The first of many as we found the areas they liked.
Three years is a long time. That’s how long it took me to catch a Wandle barbel. I learned many lessons from my barbel fishing adventures, the first being that I’m not very good at catching barbel. Catching one of these elusive and impressive specimens became a real chore, a burden that weighed heavier on me as time wore on. I fished through blazing sun and driving rain, bush bashed through acres of wasteland and smelled like halibut pellets and luncheon meat for longer than I’d like to remember. I finally banked my first Wandle barbel a few weeks before I left London for good. I’ve not fished for them since.
I’ve just started a new adventure here in Derbyshire and it’s only a few minutes from home. A beautiful little river that in places is as wild and untouched as fly fishing could ever be in this country, a river that has given hints as to what might be lurking beneath its gentle surface. My good friend Glen Pointon and I have barely scratched the surface of this magical and mysterious place but the fishing has been spectacular. I know now from experience that success here isn’t going to come easilly but I’m prepared for that now and even though it’s close to home it will still be a great adventure.
I think that’s what the last few years has taught me. Adventure isn’t where I thought it was. Adventure isn’t about huge Russian helicopters or float trips through Kamchatka. A fishing adventure is about taking yourself to a place you haven’t been to before, a journey beyond your own knowledge base and comfort zone. Your own angling adventure could start at home by learning to tie 10″ pike flies or sz24 emerger for Wandle brownies. Have an adventure at your local trout lake by trying to catch the perch you have seen swimming around instead of just hammering another 5 fish limit. Maybe try to fish that wild and overgrown stretch of trout stream you never find time for.
Challenge yourself, challenge your ideals and challenge the way you choose to fish and you might just find you’re a better angler for it. There’s an amazing adventure just round the corner for all of us, we’ve just got to be willing to go out and find it. New, exciting and engaging adventures are right in front of us the whole time no matter where we live or how we fish. Whether you have the bravery to step out of your own comfort zone to go out and be the angling adventurer you want to be is in your hands, it’s that simple.