Caught by the River

Magical Waters

24th November 2013

Magical Waters show reel 1 from Paul Witcher on Vimeo.

Magical Waters DVD
120 mins, Paul Witcher Productions

Review by Jon Berry.

Paul Witcher’s first angling film told the story of a year on the Hampshire Avon. I reviewed it for this site, back in the summer of 2009, and – notwithstanding some minor gripes – declared it a success. In the intervening years, Witcher has filmed and produced Magical Waters, working alongside writer Jason Inskip. It follows the exploits of the late John Searl, who Witcher fished with, and filmed, in the final years of his life.

Many of us knew John, through his shop in Ringwood or his exquisite wildlife paintings. I doubt there’s an angling reader out there who won’t find a Searl cover painting among their book collection. And, inevitably, his recent death gives poignancy and melancholy to a film which is otherwise joyous.

The two-disc set takes us to various waters, all beautiful in their own way, from the banks of the Hampshire Avon to secluded wild carp ponds, Dave Steaurt’s back-garden stretch of the Test to an estuary full of mullet. Fish are captured, atmosphere too in abundance, and the rather obvious southern bias of the project is forgotten, at least by me, as the quality of Witcher’s work takes over.

It’s fair to say he’s come a long way since Four Seasons, and every aspect of Magical Waters trumps its predecessor. The clunky editing has gone, the clarity is first class and – mercifully – there are no drop outs in sound this time when the monster is hooked. Anglers will find their own favourite sequences here, but for me the barbel and chub scenes stand out; Searl was an accomplished catcher of both, and is in his element by the brooding Avon. It was a river he understood, deeply and intrinsically, and we experience a master at work. By contrast, the sequence in pursuit of a Test salmon belongs in an Ealing comedy, or perhaps the Fast Show. But I did enjoy it.

The cover blurb tells us that Magical Waters is ‘a next-generation angling film’. After 120 minutes, I was still unclear what this meant. Magical Waters sits comfortably alongside 1993’s A Passion for Angling, rather than the faux-metal guitars of Matt Hayes or the shirtless hysteria of Robson Green. Furthermore, at the risk of being impolite, the anglers who join Searl on his adventures belong, to a man, to the generation that remembers Green Shield Stamps and beef dripping. That’s not a criticism – I remember them too – but I can only conclude that the ‘next generation’ description applies to the quality of the equipment and production values. And I’ll happily vouch for those.

Makers of angling films operate in a tough market. There’s more than enough fishing on Youtube to satisfy those who want to know how to do it, and every tackle shop in the land has promotional/instructional DVDs sitting, free to the gullible, on its counter. But Magical Waters will succeed because, like the best of its kind, it tells us why, rather than how. And that makes it a fitting a tribute to a great angler and artist, too.

Magical Waters is on sale in the Caught by the River shop, price £29.99