When people ask what was my first memorable fishing experience it has to be when I was taken to the River Chess near Chenies Village with may parents back in the mid 60’s.My parents bought a flat in Shire Lane in Chorleywood, a small town serviced by the Metropolitan Line. Here I grew up on the Bucks/Herts border as a young boy. I spent most of my time playing on the tree-lined embankment that divided Shire Lane and a service road that gave access to the larger house further up the hill. There was also some waste ground in between some houses known as ‘The Shack’. Here we would play on what was the foundation of a former house or outbuildings.
During the long summer holidays I would play with friend on Chorleywood Common, a large expanse of land that sat at the top of an incline from the station and covered an area that ran from Chorleywood itself to the border of Sarratt. The terrain was a mix of heathland covered in heather, gorse, bracken, thickets of silver birch and the rest was made up of beech or oak. In the centre of the common was a golf course and on Saturdays I would sell golf balls I found back to golfers as they made their way from the Sportsman pub across a gravel car park to the first tee.
Towards the end of June one year I remember being taken in my parents Triumph Vitesse convertible down a winding road that was barely wide enough for a car and the only way the road was accessible for two vehicles was by intermittent passing places otherwise the art of reversing a car several yards sorted those who were skilled drivers and those who weren’t.
The River Chess is a Chiltern chalk stream that starts in Chesham and makes its way though pastor and meadows with wood thickets here and there. It has been the location used for Charles Rangeley-Wilsons’, The Accidental Angler and the TV drama, Goodnight Mr Tom.
The road we drove down was situated at the top of a hill in Chenies Village, from the road it looks just like a farm track and now is gated. At the end of the long road that made its way down the hillside , the road became nothing more than a track that passes through a ford. There is a small wooden bridge that crosses the river for when it is in full spate. And if a pedestrian the only passage across the river unless you want to get wet feet.
With water so gin clear you could see the bottom and on occasions you could see crayfish and caddis. The margins were full of Watercress and Purple Loosestrife, in the middle you would get clumps of Ranunculus or Water Crowfoot, here wily brown trout would take refuge, only leaving their position to snatch at fresh water shrimps, larvae and drowned olives.
I remember white flowers on the water and in the margins bright yellow buttercup like flowers stood proud. The river flowed quickly, in those days it was in better condition than it is today, although I am aware that the River Chess Association are working hard to restore parts of the river. It has suffered greatly from extraction. In one places where there was once a deep pool, this is now full of silt and fallen branches and the water less deep. Also the river has been widened in places, altering the rate of flow.
It was from behind a clump of Ranunculus that I saw a beautiful 9ins brown trout, its spotted flanks marked with black, brown and orange with a golden olive under-belly. I had clearly spooked it as it then charged under the wooden bridge and upstream. I was armed with a small tiddler net, it was made of green mesh with a cane handle and had a metal coat hanger frame supporting the net.
I lay in wait for a while as I hoped it would return to the place I first saw it. I could see it in the shallows of the ford darting from one side to the other taking flies trapped in the surface film, but for sure it wasn’t going to come back whilst I was mid-stream so I decided to climb back on the bridge and watch the swallows darting across the river taking flies off the surface of the water.
By chance I spotted the trout easing itself back momentarily taking refuge under the bridge. With a sudden turn in the water it shot past downstream. Here was my chance to net a fish, I had to be quick, I knew that if I made the fish run it would have to run down the channel of weed and if I had my net in the right place I had a good chance of getting it. As it transpired the fish ran but straight under the bridge, however it didn’t come out the other side. Then I noticed the fine tail fin waving from side to side, it started to drift back with the current that was being forced through the uprights of the bridge. With the net in place and my heart racing I waited, and waited, until the fish drifted close enough for me to scoop it up. There in my net was a River Chess brown trout, its mouth gasping for air, its eye bright and glistening in the evening sun and it glass like flank so full of colour with a rainbow shimmer.
I have never forgotten that moment for that was the start of my interest in the river and in fishing.