Caught by the River

Running With The Tide

Danny Adock | 22nd September 2014


Simon Smith; Running With The Tide
Cover illustration by John Richardson.
Medlar Press, 144 pages.

Review by Danny Adcock

Thirty-odd years ago my grandfather would lead me out onto the mud at Shoeburyness in Essex to dig bait and collect soft-shelled ‘peeler’ crabs. We would retreat – contentedly muddy and with buckets hopefully full – before the incoming tide that filled the Thames Estuary and surged on past Southend towards the city. Later we would drive through the gates of the Ministry of Defence base just up the road, my grandfather flashing his pass to the soldiers on guard, and make our way to a former loading pier where I first learnt to sea fish. Later still, tea would hopefully be a fresh-as-you-like poached plaice, peas and mash courtesy of my nan. I suspect a large proportion of anglers of all persuasions learnt to fish courtesy of parents or grandparents and, as they do for me, those memories – being taught your first knot, catching your first fish – are the enduring ones, the ones which give your life meaning, that cement relationships past, present and future.

There isn’t exactly a glut of books about fishing at sea unless you want a how-to example of the genre. Probably the best known of recent years that concentrates on the why and not the how is Chris Yates’s lovely book about lure fishing for bass Out of the Blue, or On Fishing At Sea as later editions have been called. So when Simon Smith’s Running with the Tide dropped on to the doormat I was more than a little intrigued. I sometimes find it difficult to appreciate an autobiography of someone I have not heard of, but the angler in me was hooked from the start. It’s one thing to read about the early life of someone you are a fan of, of whose work you have appreciated over the years, but another to maintain your interest in someone with whom you have no connection with, and no knowledge of. Running With The Tide manages this easily, and particularly so if you’re of the sea fishing persuasion.

Simon Smith began fishing in the sea off the Welsh coast as a child, the spark ignited by his grandfather, as was mine. He describes sea fishing perfectly – the “Stupid o’ clock” starts, the “intermittent rain” and “biting wind.” Many anglers have been labelled with comedian Steven Wright’s quip about the fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot, but sea anglers seem to fit into this category far more aptly than do trout or coarse anglers. As well as detailing his early forays to the shore with his grandfather, when sea fishing’s undertow grabbed him and dragged him into this “New world waiting to be discovered”, Smith also tells of his return to angling after a gap of some years during which time the demands of work and family meant fishing was no longer a priority. The book flutters from childhood to adulthood; between his learning to fish with his grandfather to his first steps back to the beach after his enforced abscence.

Smith has the angling addict’s compulsion to seek out water; every glimpse of it helps feed the habit whether it’s on shopping trips or commutes to work. Just seeing water’s like a fix, the sight of it racing through your veins. I find myself doing exactly the same: every stream, however small, could hold a trout, every lake a tench, every copse across a field could hide the wink of the sun on hidden water.

He uses poetry dexterously. It’s not overblown. The first poem we come across is ‘Sea Glass’, which talks of “laying down our histories,” and it is this poem that reveals the book’s heart – “the denouements of a million days”; the final resolution of this book is fishing. It’s fishing which helps the author face his grandfather’s not wholly unexpected death, though it takes a few weeks for him to get back to the “ebb and flow” of life and it is going fishing again which does this.

Running with the Tide details one man’s love of fishing in the sea. More than that, it shows fishing’s neverending ability to give us meaning, to somehow make us more real; I for one wouldn’t know where my place in the world was if it wasn’t for fishing. Family, friends, career; fishing is the glue that holds them all together, and I sense this in Simon Smith’s writing.

Running With The Tide is out now and available to buy here