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Author Dominic Garnett went on a fly fishing trip in London with magazine editor Garrett Fallon
With contributions from Chris Yates, Tom Fort and a host of other great writers new fishing magazine "Fallon's Angler" looks to spark another golden age of angling writing. I headed to Walthamstow Reservoirs for a days fishing with editor Garrett Fallon.
As far as pike fishing settings go, Walthamstow Reservoirs must be one of the more surprising places I've ever cast a line. The weather is unseasonably warm as the complex comes into view, concrete giving way to a series of large lakes. I'm waiting for Garrett Fallon, the Irish writer and editor whose new fishing magazine is an equally welcome surprise. In an era where one-line tweets and short, commercially driven articles dominate, a title that celebrates the classic spirit of fishing seems a brave step.
"Plenty of people have already told me I'm nuts to start a new fishing magazine," he admits as we tackle up. "The fishing world has changed, but I think there's still an appetite for great stories. It doesn't have to be about the tackle or how big the fish was, there's just something magical about a simple tale in the hands of a great storyteller."
Whether today will produce a memorable story or a blank is anyone's guess as we assemble rods and feed line through rings. I will put my faith in some of my larger pike flies today. Garrett has brought both lures and flies- but I'm already determined to get him casting the latter, as he has yet to taste the thrill of a pike hooked on game tackle.
With the pressure of getting issue one of the new title signed off, Garrett's fishing time has been at a premium. Today is a welcome chance to make amends and, just possibly, to discover his next great angling tale. Unsurprisingly, pike feature in the new edition, some of which we would struggle to beat today. That said, there are some formidable fish in these reservoirs if you can only locate them.
Making our way around Upper and Lower Maynard reservoirs, we're quickly seduced by the snaggy margins. Clarity looks reasonable and anticipation is high as we commence in cast-and-move fashion, searching the water. There are odd pike across all of the waters in the complex but these two reservoirs are said to hold the best chance of action.
With the water holding a little colour I select a bright yellow and black pike fly, although I also fancy Garrett's chances with the added vibration of a jointed plug. It's a game that takes both of us back to earlier fishing and the kind of experiences that stay with an angler for life. Capping his own pike conquests is a twenty-five pounder, landed in nerve-shredding fashion, as he keenly recalls:
"It was on the very first cast that day and it came so quickly that at first I wasn't even sure it was on. The fibreglass rod I was using could have landed a marlin, but when I hooked that fish I realized the drag on the reel was broken. I had to backwind and the fish went crazy, driving me up and down this sandy shoreline. We landed it about thirty five minutes later."
With the fish subdued and weighed came the realization that they had no means to photograph it. "I'd picked up my mate Phil that day when it dawned on me I'd left my camera at home. He suggested we just fish for the craic as we'd probably catch nothing anyway. Even worse, this birdwatcher turned up with a huge camera just after we'd released the fish!"
I try to console him with the fact that the story would be nothing like as colourful without such details and, in any case, the most important pictures are those stamped in an angler's memory. Sometimes you do wonder about the workings of angling fate however, because today we have a top-notch camera but zero interest from the pike so far.
The Next Best thing to Fishing?
To boost our morale after a long morning, we make our way to the Ferry Boat Inn for lunch and a pint. It's also a great place to sit and stare at the Coppermill Stream, which is looks so inviting today but seems deserted save for the odd passing carp. But perhaps when you're not catching, or fishing isn't possible, the telling of fishing tales is the best tonic? This is exactly how "Fallon's Angler" began.
"We were on Lake Athabaska in Canada," Garrett recalls, "hemmed in by a huge storm and not able to do any fishing. There were anglers from all over the world with nothing to do but swap stories. It didn't seem to matter whether these were about tarpon, salmon or gudgeon; you were just captivated by the skill of the storyteller. It was then that I thought about my own plans compared to the current fishing media and it struck me; it's the value of the story we've lost."
Fallon's Angler stands as a truly atypical title in today's fishing media. It is beautifully produced and concentrates on quality, not quantity, with four issues a year planned. But can such a project, which is devoid of sponsored articles and massed adverts, truly thrive and find an audience in today's market?
"If the writing is good enough, it will find an audience and some success. We're spoilt for choice with ‘how to' articles at present, but there isn't always much between these shorter pieces and books to entertain, so I hope Fallon's Angler can fill a niche. Who knows, we might just discover some new talent along the way- the very type of writers the current scene isn't encouraging."
After an indifferent morning north of the road, we decide to take a look at the other side of the complex and reservoirs one to five. Number two has especially happy memories for me for its huge bream, while I'm also told that numbers of big roach are bouncing back on the number one lake.
Garrett takes the brave step of picking up an eight-weight fly rod to try for pike, something he has never tried before. The first swims we find are quite badly coloured up, probably because of the recent Indian summer, but by taking a good walk we manage to find some more promising looking areas.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is casting a fly in some of the tight swims and it takes a few shots for Garrett to avoid the undergrowth and send his pike fly out into the lake. Why is it that the most tempting swims in pike angling tend to be tight and overgrown I wonder?
Talk of jungle warfare is hardly a laughing matter in the Fallon family, although I can't help but burst out laughing as Garrett tells me his late father Niall was "sort of held hostage" by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. "Sort of" held hostage? It's a beautifully Irish turn of phrase, but Garrett explains: "It was 1979 and he was the first western journalist to visit a Khmer Rouge guerilla camp. He and his photographer, Paddy Whelan, bribed their way in through Thailand. My mother went to collect him from the airport at a prearranged time, but he hadn't got on the plane. After a few frantic phone calls the Irish Times confirmed that they were alright but had been ‘invited' to stay a while longer. I thought the whole thing was incredibly cool, but my mother didn't." The guards were actually quite considerate to his father, at least in the sense that they explained the system of "no go" zones in the camp to avoid having to blow his brains out.
This "sort of" being held hostage helped to put Niall Fallon on the map. He became Deputy Editor of the Irish Times, and as a passionate angler also produced two fishing books including the classic "Fly Fishing for Irish Trout." In the pages of the new Fallon's Angler you can also read his funny and revealing portrait of Irish fishing legend J R Harris, perhaps the rudest man ever to work in a tackle shop.
Fishing is clearly part of the family DNA, and although today's pike are "sort of" playing at silly buggers to catch, our legwork does at last yield some reward as we reach the far corners of the fishery. For a few seconds I wonder what Garrett has spotted as he remains frozen with that expression usually reserved for someone who has spotted a ten pound note and is just checking no one else is about to pick it up.
Cruising the back corner of reservoir number five are some cracking rainbow trout, including one bruiser of four or five pounds. This is the other benefit of Walthamstow Reservoirs; you can easily arrange a trout fishing ticket should Plan A fizzle out.
The main problem we now have is that my box of pike flies are ridiculously big, even for a greedy rainbow trout. But all is not lost. Some days I'm glad that I'm a slightly messy angler with too many pockets. A quick rummage produces two buzzers, a Hare's Ear and two small trout lures. A spool of 8lb fluorocarbon and we're back in business.
We can see fish topping, rising and even leaping as we take aim, but after a biteless day part of me still wonders if anything will work. The answer comes shortly with a savage pull and a fish that charges off but comes adrift. Ten minutes later though, and the next is solidly hooked. It might only be a typical two-pound stockie, but by God does it feel good to battle and land something after so many fruitless casts.
Garrett is soon into one too, a fish that really wrenches his eight-weight round. Our quiet concentration is converted to laughter, the day is saved and we both vow never to slag off the humble rainbow trout again.
After a short but gratifying finale it's time for both of us to hit the road, but as we chew the fat and pack down rods I'm quietly excited about what the future might bring for this fishing-mad Irishman and his new magazine.
Issue one of Fallon's Angler is available now. To order your copy, and get a closer look at the magazine, writers and content, visit: fallonsangler.net
Dominic Garnett is author of "Flyfishing for Coarse Fish". He is also a photographer and licensed fly fishing guide in south west England. His website www.dgfishing.co.uk has more writing, a regular blog and special flies designed for coarse fish. He also runs the competition and website www.flyforcoarse.com
Walthamstow Reservoirs provide a great range of fishing from specimen bream, carp and pike to rainbow trout in London, with fly fishers welcome. For further ticket information, visit: www.thameswater.co.uk/about-us/6253.htm