Offering excellent coarse and fly fishing right in the capital, Walthamstow Reservoirs made the perfect venue for a recent summer meeting of star anglers and key Angling Trust staff. Dominic Garnett was on hand to report on an enjoyable session with some lively characters from fishing and politics.
Of all the unlikely fishing spots in London, Walthamstow Reservoirs have to go down as among the very best. It’s a setting that takes you aback on arrival, for one thing. There beyond the capital’s suburban chaos is a huge carpet of green and blue on the map; a place where your senses are invaded by a police helicopter one minute, the squawk of a parakeet the next. Squint at the swaying rushes and egrets and you could be in Norfolk; look up, however, and the cranes and tower blocks remind you that this is indeed the Big Smoke.
Every year, the Angling Trust and Thames Water invite a number of specialist anglers and fishing MPs to Walthamstow to promote the great sport on offer in the heart of London. The event is organised by Will Barnard, who is Thames Waters’ Angling Development Manager, and Martin Salter, who most of us know well as the fishing mad Angling Trust campaigner and ex-MP. When Martin isn’t back in London to head for Westminster, he’s a big fan of the fishing Walthamstow Reservoirs. Needless to say, this annual reunion is always a great chance to catch up and catch a few fish.
This time round, we have some other special guests with us as well. Current North Cornwall MP Scott Mann is after big carp, while I’m out to pick his brains for an Angling Times interview. Meanwhile, we also have talented all-rounders Phil Taylor and Nate Green with us, while just a few pegs along our own Campaigns Officer James Champkin is getting set to do a feature for Mark Parker and Dynamite Baits. Alas, this is the angling world in a nutshell- it’s a happy, incestuous little world in spite of the disparate parts of the country we all come from- and on this occasions we have anglers from Cornwall to Lincolnshire.
A catch-up in the capital
With not only massive bream and quality carp but quality fly fishing on site, the biggest headache I tend to have when fishing here in Walthamstow is deciding what to go for. Last visit, I had never caught a double figure bream in my life. 24 hours later, I’d had three!
The Angling Trust’s James Champkin and Martin Salter are at the same game, albeit with James on reservoir 2. I can tell immediately because of the big buckets of bait and specialist rigs. So are Nate Green and Phil Taylor, while Will Barnard will join us in the evening for a crack at a specimen eel; there’s always one nutter isn’t there?
I decide to set up on Reservoir 1, mainly because I have such happy memories of the bream fishing. It’s also bouncing back as a carp venue, however. Following the fish kill of a few years ago, Thames Water have restocked with plenty of fit new carp, and it is these that arrive first. In fact, Phil Taylor and myself both get some searing runs. Not the huge bream we’re after, but I’m not complaining because they’re beautiful fish and they fight bloody hard on bream tackle.
Escape from Parliament
The other guest I’m expecting in our party is none other than fellow West Country boy Scott Mann. As MP for North Cornwall, he is a key person in the All-Party Parliamentary Angling Group, initially set up in 2005 by our own Martin Salter. I’m guessing he’s probably enjoying a rare few hours off, away from the turbulent current atmosphere in Westminster.
I’m about to ask him how he’s getting on, but sudden massive bend in his rod answers this ice-breaker for me! I clearly bought him good luck as it looks a hefty fish, but both of us do a double take when it finally hits the unhooking mat: it’s massive!
Our MP cannot stop grinning when the scales read 37lbs 7oz, a new PB. “What can I say?” he laughs “It’s absolutely mad. I’m over the moon- I’m not even sure I’ll be able to sleep tonight.” You could call it an opportunist catch, with our MP casting a single chod-rigged pop up after seeing a good fish roll; but then, you could also call it an opportunist session, full stop, with the hours he works. “I’ve only managed to carp fish three times in the last year, so it’s quite difficult” he says. “I feel like I’ve made up for lost time on this trip though!”
Here for a brief overnighter, Scott is on a high after that spectacular carp and it’s a great time to chat away to him for an Angling Times interview, which you’ll see in the not too distant. A down to earth ex-postman, Scott is very much an all-rounder who loves lure or fly fishing as much as carp. Indeed, it’s reassuring to find such a keen angler willing to bring his passion to parliament- and he has been working on issues from clean water to giving recreational angling a stronger voice in fisheries policy.
“I absolutely love my fishing,” he says, and he sees the recreational sector as key to local economies, such as his constituency in Cornwall, in a post-Brexit world. “When you think how many anglers there are in the country, having a voice in Parliament is vital” he says.
Good times & good timing
Catching up with the other anglers in our group, hopes are high for some bigger bream, as well as carp. The one person I always like to spy on from Angling Trust staff, though, is James Champkin. A very keen specimen angler, he always has a trick or two up his sleeve. He’s also the perfect illustration of what the Trust’s staff are all about; real world anglers and not just people in offices.
In typical style, he’s been here a while already and has already bagged a couple of low double figure bream before I’m even set up! How does he keep doing it? The one conspicuous bit of his bream rig, for me, is the permanent presence of double fake corn. Nothing subtle, but two really bright, flavoured pieces of artificial bait that stand out like a sore thumb. I must admit, I am an angler with limited confidence in plastic baits- but his recent catches suggest I might need a rethink. “The fake corn is just so reliable!” he tells me. “It’s not only tough and durable, but is really obvious to the fish- and I’d even say it fishes better than the real thing.”
The return of London’s runs water
Another angler going the bream route is Martin Salter, who always makes good company on the bank. He might be slowing down his workload a little these days, but is never short of a quick wit and an opinion or three. Regardless of which side of the political fence you stand on, he has put an immense shift in for fishing, hence I’m glad to hear he’s not about to retire completely. “I hit 65 not so long ago, and so I didn’t want to work flat out any more,” he says. “We’ve come an awfully long way in 10 years and I want that to continue- so don’t worry, you won’t get rid of me that easily!”
As well as keeping in touch with political contacts to keep the pressure on at Westminster, he’s also excited by some new developments at the Trust. “I’m really pleased that we got funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to appoint a full time Head of Campaigns, for starters” he tells me. “Stuart Singleton-White, who has taken my old role, has great experience from his time at WWF and has been a brilliant appointment. I’ll still be in the picture, though, and will now be leading on policy for the Angling Trust, working closely with senior management and making sure that anglers’ voices are represented in the corridors of power.“
This is perhaps both the benefit and the pitfall of working on something you love; retirement is virtually impossible! You can’t really imagine Martin not heavily involved in fishing, though, and he also provides a short but entertaining piece for our mini interview series. Well, I say this, but fish, trains and passing aircraft make it a bit tricky to get this in the can for a while. Once again, my timing is impeccable and just as we are chatting one of the rods screams off as Martin latches into something solid. Again, no bream, but a carp of over 20lbs is very welcome! It is solid, dumpy and fights really dirty; and for legal reasons, I’m probably wise not to tell you which political figure Martin compares it to! However, you can hear Martin spilling the beans about lots of other topics in that quickfire interview I surprised him with- where you can discover, among other things, his favourite UK fishing venues, his likes and dislikes in angling, and how many rods he’s broken in his life:
More quickfire interviews to come this summer, too, with Phil Taylor and James Champkin up shortly. These are great fun- and every angler so far has provided genuine surprises and some fantastic anecdotes.
As I make my way back to my own swim, I can’t help but laugh about my crazy timing. I have often had a weird knack of bringing good luck to other anglers in my career. It’s a nice habit to have in what I write, because when anyone has caught a good fish they tend to relax and be in the best spirits. But will fate cut me some slack too on this trip?
I manage half a dozen carp in the end, typically in the 6-8lb stamp, also losing what feels like a solid bream. Again, no complaints, because these fish fight like crazy on my bream set up and it bodes really well for the future of Walthamstow Reservoirs. As Will Barnard will tell you, these fish are liable to pack on weight fast, and with some existing giants to spice things up this has to be among the best carp and specimen fisheries in London. And I haven’t even mentioned the excellent fly fishing, roach stocks or winter pike!
Click here for more information on fishing at Walthamstow Reservoirs.
All in all, it has been an excellent trip, not to mention a great chance to catch up with some of the Trust’s loyal staff and supporters. In my first year and a bit, I have met so many great people and initiatives, I wouldn’t know where to start trying to sum up all the good things going on in 2019, our 10th Anniversary. Who knows what further gains we can make for fishing, if we can only keep growing and get more anglers onside?