The only way is essex
Though a county renowned for its so-called reality TV stars, there is still great sport to be enjoyed deep in the heart of rural Essex, says Matt Kidd. Especially when armed with a fly rod.
A common debate amongst fishermen is what to do if you hook two fish at once. Do you take a careful approach and net the closest first and attempt to hand-line the second? Or would you be bold and plunge the net in after the biggest of the two?
Factor into the equation ultra-fine 5lb tippet on a 4wt rod and you have a totally different scenario on your hands – think tug-of-war with parcel string. Odds now sway firmly in the fishes’ favour.
I was presented with this exact dilemma on my first fishery profile assignment for Fieldsports in September last year. I had set off towards the capital hours before dawn in anticipation of a great day’s fishing at Essex Fly Fishers’ Club near Chelmsford. But the weather gods had not been kind and my boat partner, 74-year-old local fishing legend Colin Chandler, and I hadn’t had a pull all morning despite our best efforts. Bright sunshine, cloudless skies and hardly a breath of wind. There’s nothing worse.
Desperate to catch fish, we both opted for lighter tackle, so a double-up (in fishing lingo) was the last thing we wanted. In nearly all circumstances, one or both fish are lost as they swim in opposite directions. With jittering knees and clammy hands a-play, I chose to net the closest fish first and risk losing the second.
I managed to get the first fish scooped into the net before the second took a dive and snapped the dropper. By fluke, it had not broken the main line and was landed shortly after. Rather luckily.
“Thank heavens for that,” Colin said, relieved. “I was getting doubtful as to whether we were gonna catch anything at all. Wotcher get ’em on – any of the flies I gave you?” I had, actually. When I arrived in the morning, Colin had handed me a box full of flies he had tied the night before. On the top dropper was a beautiful palmered partridge feather Hare’s Ear. The second, tied on the middle dropper, was a bushier variation using badger hackle whipped with golden silk. Similar patterns were clearly visible secured in Colin’s cap.
“Brilliant! Now that you’ve caught, I can start fishing properly,” he joked. This I was excited to witness as Colin had caught his limit (five fish) in an hour and a half the day before. Not to mention that he is a capped International, having taken part in two World Championships, six Internationals and seven National finals – the last one in 2015 at the age of 73!
The remainder of the drift proved little better. Just three perch to the boat and not a sniff of a trout. Colin dipped the oars into the water. “Let’s head back up top and have a short drift before lunch. See if we can’t pull a few out.”
After 15 minutes of Colin insisting that as the guest I wasn’t allowed to row despite my age, the wind had picked up a little and puffy clouds had started to form overhead. Things were looking promising. As we drifted out of the shallows over deeper water, we were into fish simultaneously. A short battle later and the score tallied three to one.
All around us fish were gulping fly-life off the surface. Covering them with our flies was exhilarating and productive as rarely did they not take after bow-waving after them; one of the greatest sights in trout fishing.
We must have hooked seven decent fish in 20 minutes, with three staying on long enough to be netted. The best tipped the scales at 3lb.
The conditions were perfect, but it was time for lunch at the local pub and a catch-up with Stephen Turff, the club’s delightful chairman who had organised my visit for me.
“I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself so far, as we have made a number of improvements recently for the club’s 50th anniversary year,” explained Stephen between bites of a hearty chicken, bacon and avocado ‘Huffer’ (a giant sandwich). The members-only club has introduced two new boats and refurbished those that needed it. The casting platform has been re-boarded and some hard-to-reach areas have been cleared to ease access for bank fishermen. “Many of the members have been here since day one but are sadly getting on a bit. A couple have unfortunately passed away in recent years, too. We have 61 members at present and I think encouraging a bit of new blood would be good for the club. I reckon we could facilitate about 100, max.”
So why have the members stayed here for so long? “We offer affordable fishing with a plan that all members appreciate. Each member is allowed 24 day tickets, (four of which can be used as guest tickets). The number isn’t massive so people use them sparingly throughout the year, meaning it never gets too crowded. We stock with rainbows once before the season, then regularly throughout.This means fish size varies and there is always plenty to catch.”
“We also have another lake next door that is slightly bigger and full of browns and rainbows, too. That is my favourite,” adds Colin. “It’s much wilder and you must drift and cover fresh water if you want any chance of catching anything. Hardly anyone fishes it. I’d liken it to a small Irish lough.”
After lunch, Stephen bade us farewell and headed north for a weekend’s salmon fishing on the Tweed, followed by a couple of days’ grouse shooting – his other passion. By this time, storm clouds had formed and a ripple had blown onto the lake. Colin rushed us into the boat, anxious to get started. We had time for three drifts, and boy did the fishing come into its own. We hooked fish after fish, this time on either a stripped Black Taddy on the point or Red Snatcher on either dropper. A number got away, but that added to the thrill.
Our afternoon session went so fast – an hour and a half felt like five minutes. We finished up with about a dozen between us, and I had my allocated four fish to take for the pot, the rest returned to fight another day.
Although I still don’t feel I have mastered the art of landing two fish at once, I certainly learned a trick or two from Colin., as well as a number of patterns to copy. It might be a few hours from home, but I will definitely be taking up a membership.