It’s funny how life has a habit of drawing you back to your childhood. A few weeks ago I was required to make a journey to Rickmansworth located in the Three Rivers District that crosses the borders of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. As a child I grew up in Chorleywood a leafy village on the Metropolitan Line with a huge common, silver birch woods, a cricket pitch where afternoon tea would be served and over the top of the hill the River Chess that ran through the start of the Chiltern Hills. It’s path would flow from Chesham along a twisting road and through fields and meadow land of Latimer, Chenies on to Sarratt and onwards to Rickmansworth.
I remember as a young lad being taken to Chenies Village were we found a narrow winding track that lead down to the cress beds where this Chiltern chalk stream flowed with crystal clear water under a small wooden footbridge that ran beside a ford, this location was used to film ‘The Dirty Dozen’.
As the sun started to drop in the sky, casting long shadows I remember seeing a small brown trout swim from under the footbridge then dart back under and take up station next to a large flowing clump of weed. I watched it for a while, my heart started to pump with adrenalin, then slowly lowered my mesh net mounted on a 5ft bamboo stick under the fish and with lightning speed scooped up a beautiful spotted brown trout, what a prize it was, I just couldn’t stop grinning.
Sadly this twisting road to the river now as no access for vehicles, its boundary now guarded by a five bar wooden gate. On my fleeting visit I didn’t have a chance to see if access under foot could be gained but I do remember my parents driving their white Triumph Vitesse down this single track lane where the only turning point was the recess of a gate into an adjoining field. What I did recall was the peppery note in the air and the sweet smell of sweat from the cows in the dying heat of the day.
A few years on we had moved from Chorleywood to Amersham, where we lived next door to Quill Hall Farm, owned by the Sear’s and who the elders became surrogate parents, they had three boys and I became a fourth as I took up residence in their kitchen most evenings and all weekend. Richard the eldest son has two loves, Petra his horse and Gilly his lurcher. He was tall with a muscular frame, a glint in his eye and a optomistic outlook on life. Micheal his brother was away studying metallurgy and Tim the youngest was at my school and a keen Watford supporter. There was much I learnt about their country ways, from managing stock, ploughing fields, catching rabbits and shooting. On reflection I had a privileged life at this age.
It was Richard who nurtured my interest in field sports, he taught me to shoot, snare rabbits, pluck game and told me where the best trout would hold up in the deeper pools of the Chess.
I recall getting up early one morning with the birds in full gusto with their dawn chorus. Dressed I sneaked out of the house with my old Milbro rod, Interepid reel and a Hardcork float and a small abu spinner which I had managed to inbed into my thumb then snag the triple hook in my jacket pocket, where the only way to get it out was to cut the lining in order to release the barbs.
After a good 20 min walk across the fields, into the wood and across the main road I found a small turn in a tributary of the Chess and got myself into position by a fallen alder. I looked carefully into the water, as most of the time the trout would hide under the flowing ranunculus. As the morning mist started to lift I saw a rise up steam, then right in front of me a sizeable fish swam effortlessly with powerful flicks of its tail, it moved just out of reach, under the opposite bank and beneath a trailing blackberry bush. Clearly a regular position for just above it was the remains of someones cast, hook, three shot and a small Avon.
It took some stealth but I eventually got into a position to cast in front of the dark mass in the water. The worm ran parallel to the fish as on first cast it ran too low bumping off the gravel bed and rolling over small clumps of weed. I drew the line back and had a second go but to my horror I’d hooked a large bramble leaf, a quick twitch and the hook came free but to only hook into the stem of this thorny guardian of the banks. This time a much harder tug was required but this only imbedded the hook further and now I had this long tendril of bramble rising clear out of the water as I lifted the rod. Having put the rod down, released the bail arm I pulled the line in with my hands and a good hard tug released the cast. With all this commotion my quarry had long gone.
Resigned to that fact that I was going to draw a blank I headed upstream to the junction of Blackwell Hall Lane where the stream run under the road via concrete pipe. I’d seen people fishing just in front of the pipe allowing the cast just to enter the dark hole to be rewarded with hard fighting brown trout, but never larger than about 8ins.
It was still early, the Beesons who owned Ivy House Farm were up and about, their sheepdog looked on with its snout under the bottom rail of the gate and front paws flat on the ground and rear end up in the air like a hot rod.
I cast the float about a yard or so up from the opening, the worm drifted back into the hole but the only tension in the line was from the volume of water pulling the float through the narrow tunnel under the road. After a couple of attempts I reeled in and headed back towards the back of what is now Bois Mill, to where I had seen the larger fish. I believed the fish in this part of the river had come from the Latimer Park Farm, whether they were escapees from the trout farm or had been natural fish that had avoided the likes of me who knows, but they were good sport.
With the sun higher in the sky I realised it was time to head back, after a few casts I was just about to reel in when I noticed a trout break the surface. I cast right to the sport but spooked the fish which had turned and headed towards me with speed. It stopped about a couple of yards to my right and started to make its way upstream. My worm was on its way back towards the fish, momentarily the worm passed the head of the fish and then all hell broke loose. The fish had connected with the hook, took off at speed and then left the water only to wrap my cast round a fallen branch. Now I was really stuck, the branch was well out of reach, the fish had taken the worm and had taken up refuge under the fallen branch vigorously shaking its head but the hook wasn’t coming out.
I gave the fish some line in order not to have it break off, at this stage I’d managed to get parallel to the mess I’d created and reached out to the branch. With a grip around the branch and no fish to be seen I thought he’d worked free, what the fish had done was move its way back under the branch and now to my right. I managed to pull the line off the branch and now we were back in business. With several hard runs the fish came to the bank, its beautiful olive green back, pink belly and dark spots glistened in the morning light, it took on a blue hue from the sky above.
In hindsight I should have put him back but as a young boy full of jubilation I despatched it and slipped this trophy into my bag and headed home.
Three little fish came my way these being in the form of Pico Perch lures, in fact they came with a Heddon, another Pico Perch and a South Bend lure. A fine little shoal to add to the collection.
On a day where I took a trip down memory lane in the evening I took a trip by the six ale houses on either bank of the Thames, which included London’s smallest bar at The Dove, all to celebrate a friends birthday where pints of Rebellion, Porter, Fuller’s Pride and Blue Anchor were consumed.