Caught by the River

The Hackney Optimist

Luke Turner | 9th November 2010

by Luke Turner.
Part Two.

My first, fruitless session of fishing on the Lea Navigation had been rather dispiriting. But a week or so later, a grey day’s walk along the canal reignited my enthusiasm as I saw an enormous V trailing behind a raised dark spot in the water. By this time believing the Lea Navigation to be barren, I assumed it was one of our many Hackney rats enjoying a swim (around these parts, a high-powered air rifle might supply more sport than a rod and a line). But as the vee came closer a second swirl became visible behind it, and then the conning tower opened into the enormous, questing mouth of a very big carp that even had the temerity to swim over to my bank, take a few gulps at the surface film that I had failed to fill with bread crust, before vanishing. Filled with joy at the knowledge that there was life in these waters after all, I vowed to return the very next weekend.

I had found the slight bend and shallowing of the canal had created what looked like a tempting area of lily pads, a few of which even vibrated enticingly. There wasn’t much space to sit – on the towpath of the Lea Navigation fishermen are a minority against the constant tings of cyclist bells, and the sweaty pound of joggers’ feet. I cast, I waited. And then – and now I am quite sure this was nothing more than my mind biting on hope, I thought I saw my float disappear. And I struck, hard – too hard – and my line, float, shot, hook and all came flying out of the water and landed directly behind me… right in the path of a lumbering pile of well intentioned sportswear trying to undo years of well executed unhealthy lifestyle. There was a loud crack, the rod handle flew out of my hands and I turned around to see the jogger shake his white trainer out of my line, and continue plodding up the path.

I should have been furious at the wreckage of what had been my first ever fishing rod lying splintered in the grass in front of me, but instead I watched him moving up towards Lea Bridge Road, and comforted by the fact that he was no faster than that carp had been. I pushed the remains of my first fishing rod into the bin next to the Princess of Wales, surely once the place where fishermen would have a surreptitious pint before heading home on the afternoon train.

Determined not to let 18 stone of Hackney resident spoil my rekindled enthusiasm for fishing, I borrowed a spare rod off my dad. While that carp’s tendency for proud swims down the valley of cormorant death might have been foolhardy (I’ve seen no sign of him since), I think I might well be back to the waters of Hackney. Because on the other side of what was Hackney’s sewage works is the Old Lea. I discovered it on a post-rod-break walk, hopping over a low concrete wall, to crash through brambles to a steep and slippery bank above a river that flows fast and (relatively) clear through banks that, if you squint and imagine that the floodwater has pushed more interesting things than plastic bags of every colour into the branches over overhanging trees, could be A Spot. The Old Lea curves, just as it did on the old maps on my wall, and the river suddenly slows into a deep pool that would pique the interest of any angler, even without the presence of dead and crusty worms, fragments of line, and large bottles of White Lightning discarded about the bank. Pioneers have broken this unexplored land, and this season, I will follow them.

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