Caught by the River

Four Seasons on the Hampshire Avon

7th July 2009


a DVD. Reviewed by Jon Berry.

Back in the loon-panted abyss of the ‘seventies, Frank Zappa briefly jammed onstage with John Lennon and his new wife. They played the unwieldy instrumental called King Kong, amid some hysterical off-stage screaming and tantrums about performance royalties and monitor levels from the aforementioned wife. Allegedly.

From that evening onwards, those twelve minutes of guitar noodling were no longer called King Kong. The acerbic composer re-christened them ‘A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono’.

When the DVD arrived, and I saw the words ‘Four Seasons on the Hampshire Avon’, I thought of Frank and John and Yoko. For all its beauty, history and pure ranunculus-strewn glides, the southernmost Avon is a difficult river from which to catch a fish. For anyone like me – short on piscatorial talent and shorter still on patience – four seasons could seem like a lifetime.

Fortunately, four seasons, in this instance, assumes the Vivaldi definition rather than that set out by the Mundella Act, and takes us through from spring to winter over the course of one year. Before I viewed it, I was pleased to discover that the film is a Paul Witcher Production. Britain’s greatest centre pin reel maker has, it transpires, entered the world of independent film-making. The cover featured kind words from Chris Yates, and a silhouetted angler against a gorgeous golden sun.

It looked promising. Even Vic agreed to watch it with me.

The four seasons in the title are given a chapter each, and anglers won’t be surprised by the contents – in Spring, it’s trout and salmon, barn owls and water voles. Summer sees more trout and a big barbel, Autumn is all chub and russet leaves, and Winter features big roach and a tremendous pike. Each is written and narrated by Jason Inskip, and the commentary is understated and sympathetic. The anglers are Peter Baker, Peter Orchard, Peter Williamson, John Slader and John Searl – the latter eliciting a comment from Vic as he tussled with a pike – ‘hey, that’s the guy who runs that shop in Ringwood. The one who wanted a grand for a net’.

He did too – albeit a Walker-built carp net of impeccable heritage. I stuck with my old Efgeeco, with its bent handle and gaffer tape.

The anglers do a good job of catching fish and demonstrating the techniques used, though this is more about the river and the wildlife than a nuts-and-bolts guide to techniques. Much of the camera work in excellent, and the Avon looks glorious throughout. Pedants will make inevitable comparisons to A Passion for Angling, and there is some clunky editing and drop-outs in sound which Hugh Miles would have confined to the floor of the editing suite. But, this is a small independent production by anglers driven by their love of a river and – I suspect – without the financial wherewithal to aspire to Miles’ sublime excellence. Shortcomings notwithstanding, this still triumphs over the satellite television portrayal of angling – there’s no off-the-peg metal guitar, no product placement, no lip-ripping machismo. Four Seasons on the Hampshire Avon comes closer than most to showing the quiet, resplendent beauty of the river, and will give joy to many. For that it should be applauded.

Available from Paul Witcher Productions.