Del Harding – The Secret Waters: An Angler’s Invitation to Another Reality
Review by Ben Hall.
Imagine a place where there seems to be a deep lily fringed pond in every other field. A place criss-crossed with streams and small rivers linking the countless ponds and Loughs. Imagine a landscape that’s ridiculously pretty, dotted with villages each containing tiny, ancient pubs where there is always the potential for a quiet Guinness to turn into the greatest night out of your life. This place actually exists, in County Clare in the West of Ireland, and it’s the subject of Del Harding’s second book The Secret Waters.
As a regular visitor to County Clare I have been privy to the secret that is the East Clare Lakelands for over ten years and have fished many of these lakes and rivers. I’ve caught some memorable fish and inevitably lost some that still haunt my thoughts late at night. With the release of Harding’s book, it feels like the secret is finally out.
I first became aware of Del Harding about ten years ago. I saw a tall, elegantly dishevelled man with long grey hair and beard, getting out of an prehistoric car that seemed to be held together with string outside a tackle shop in the East Clare village of Tuamgraney. With this image burned into my mind, he cropped up some months later on one of Matt Hayes’ fishing programmes, unsuccessfully trolling for pike on Lough Derg with ancient gear, accompanied by a seemingly bewildered Hayes. On our next visit my friend and angling co-conspirator Paul Alexander and I started asking local friends if they had heard of this man, they all had, and they all had a colourful story about this eccentric Englishman who turned up forty odd years ago with nothing but a fishing rod, a dog, and an eye for adventure. He never left.
Harding has been exploring and fishing these waters since the 1960’s and this book could loosely be described as a record of County Clare’s tranquil, unfished, sometimes forgotten waters, that you would be forgiven for thinking exist only in fantasy. But it is more than that, it is also a highly personal set of recollections. Sometimes half-remembered, occasionally tall tales, all apparently true, of fishing exploits past and present by a man who has lived his life on his own terms.
Many of the more well known (but usually deserted) waters are individually addressed, there are countless more that can be fished with the permission of the landowner, but it’s obvious that Harding has no intention of giving all of his secrets away. There are chapters on methods and tackle, tactics etc, but as is always the way in this part of Ireland, it is the mystery and mythology of the place that gets the heart racing. Chapters such as ‘Big Ones that Got Away, And Some That Didn’t’, ‘A Chapter of Errors’ and most intriguingly ‘There Were Giants in Those Days’ really tap into the essence of the place, stories of maverick local characters breaking the rules and catching legendary fish to boot. Accounts of their exploits are fascinating and occasionally hilarious, with fish being caught on turnips, baked beans cans and even Wellington boots. Find out the details by reading the book, but it’s more than enough to have you salivating, and booking your flights.
There are no attempts to deny that the fishing is not always easy, but the rewards are like nowhere else on earth, and this book, like the place itself, really gets under your skin.
You should buy the book, but most of all you should go there. However, I’m not sure I should be divulging this because, like Del Harding, I like having it all pretty much to myself.
Further information on the enigmatic Mr Harding and details of how to buy the book can be found here.