Caught by the River

Richardson in Zanderland

John Richardson | 20th August 2012

A big Caught by the River welcome back to John Richardson. Sir, you have been missed.

I’m outside of Peter Carter’s shop in Outwell and ‘fresh fenland eels’ are now in.

Peter is the last surviving traditional Fenland Eel fisherman and he is gifted with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the fens, fen fishing, wildlife, fen lore and history which he is happy to share with anyone who is truly interested. His shop, workshop, storeroom is an Aladdin’s cave of wonder, treasure and history. Take the grandchildren in there and let them view crayfish and mitten crabs swimming around tanks; look at the the stuffed birds and most interesting of all, a bucket of eels, and wait for the unstoppable tide of questions to start.

In this ‘Dickensian’ wonderland Peter makes traditional willow eel traps and pike traps from the osiers he grows on his plots of land near the drains. Back in the workshop fishing baskets are repaired, Seagull outboards serviced and one motor stands marked ‘not for sale’ because it’s in use by Peter every week. Nets of all shapes and sizes are made and repaired: purse nets, basketball nets, rabbit nets, landing nets, indeed, if you have a net problem Peter should be able to solve it for you, no problem.

An old coracle leans nonchalantly against an old punt gun and next to that are a multitude of rods, reels and fishing tackle for sale as well as books on fishing, nature and country sports and pursuits. Do you need your hedges laying? Peter can be booked for that too. Hanging above all of this charming, organized chaotic but working filing system are stuffed birds and animals gazing sightlessly and impassively down on the proceedings. To complete the picture, a scuffling sound approaches from the back room and Peter’s deaf Jack Russell comes through to check all is well, sees that it is, and returns to his bed to sleep. We had a Jack Russell like that too, well, we did until a few weeks ago.

The eels that Peter catches are caught in traps he makes himself from local willow and transported in a punt of his own design and making to his chosen eel fishing grounds. Peter’s knowledge of the eel, it’s natural history and it’s environment is colossal and he is a highly respected expert on the subject. At the moment some of the fishing grounds and drains are now covered in a strange red brown blanket weed so down in the depths it must be like night-time for the eels and fish, even in the bright light of day

Peter has appeared in Country File, Escape to the Country and other television programmes as well as being a guest speaker at a variety of functions, but none of these cameo appearances have done full justice to his knowledge of his work and his beloved Fenland. So, as I have mentioned on my Two Terriers blog, if you ever find yourself driving alongside the Well Creek which connects the Nene to the Great Ouse via Upwell and Outwell, pop into his shop and see him and spend some talking to him. Invest a little money in some traditional hand-made traps, which are works of art in their own right, and some time in gathering extra knowledge from Peter and an hour will slip by without you even noticing.

If Peter’s emporium is shut just go and catch some Rudd in the Welle Creek, you never know, you might just catch an eel.

Click here to read John’s previous letters from Zanderland.