ALFIE RUSSELL is renowned for fishing away from the madding crowds, but we managed to twist his arm to give us an insight into one of his previous river exploits.
Over the last couple of years, I have found myself making the most of the river fishing that is close to my North London home. I started off by fishing on the Coppermill Stream, a man-made stream that runs through the Walthamstow Reservoir complex. This was the first taste of river carping that I ever really had. Although I only fished throughout the summer months on there it was more than enough to give me the river bug.
I managed to adapt my style and learn about the river and how differently the fish behaved and, yes, it is different. I was forced to make various changes until I managed to get the results I was after. I caught some lovely carp out of the stream to 25lb, but I thought I would try and take it a step further and go in search of a river thirty the following season.
After seeing some uploaded pictures of a lovely jet-black scaly, wild, river carp from a fellow called Dan, who has since become a great friend, I managed to get some information on a stretch of the River Lea.
We got talking and at first, he wouldn’t give out the location of these fish, but I had a slight idea. I never jumped on his toes because Dan was still really enjoying his fishing on this untapped stretch of river. We had various conversations and he always told me how it was possible to have a red-letter day with multiple catches following a week of prebaiting.
What stunned me is the location too. Bang in the middle of the hustle and bustle, it seemed like he had stumbled across a real hidden sanctuary. He even sent me pictures of carp swimming within feet of him – now that’s awesome!
Before I get carried away, after a few sessions of baiting, Dan and I went to the river in the summer and did our first trip. Even though we didn’t catch it was so lovely and picturesque I didn’t feel like we were in the city at all. He said how he hadn’t seen as many carp there as last year, probably because he had caught them all – ha! We still carried on fishing there for a few trips. I didn’t catch but Dan caught some lovely ones, which I was grateful to witness.
After having a little rethink and walk along the river we finally come across some fish. I made a rat run down to the water’s edge through thick reeds and peered into the edge. As I called Dan down a couple of commons swam past, a ghostie, then a linear – it was game on by the looks of it.
A beautifully secluded bay left the main body of the river and the carp love it in there. However, there was a problem. It was still in the government’s hands whether or not to allow fishing due to the wildlife wetlands surrounding the area.
Nevertheless, we did do a few trips baiting and took the risk because it was too good a finding to ignore. After previous river sessions on the Coppermill the year before, I had total confidence in the new Nash bait the Key. I baited with a few Key boilies soaked in salmon oil and added small halibut pellets. It didn’t take long before the carp were proper on the bait and boy did they like to get their heads down. The light silt-coloured spots had become polished and the fresh gravel underneath was shining in the summer sun. The fish were rolling and bubbling like mad within half-hour of the bait going in, so we headed down there for our first session.
A lovely 25lb common, just one of the hidden gems of the city!
Getting around town with fishing gear has always been a little tricky for me. I’ve always used a bus or the train, but luckily Dan had a moped and a full bike licence, so we were able to navigate our way around town a lot quicker.
Multi rigs and drop-off inlines - Super effective
Armed with one rucksack and four Scope rods, we settled in for the night. Within half an hour we were hearing them jumping. I had a few savage liners that got the heart pumping, then Dan received a take from hell. After a pretty mundane battle, an upper-single common was in the net. It was probably one of the fish we had seen over the last week because there was a number of small commons in the area and regularly visiting the spots. I had two multi rigs out on the spots with washed-out pink citrus pop-ups and a drop-off inline lead.
In the morning I woke up to a single note absolutely melting. I picked up the rod and it felt like a good fishing running straight to the far bank through the weeds. It went on another run and then the hook pulled about 30 yards downstream. I was gutted!
I literally wanted to cry. After all the hard work we’d put in and for me to lose one on a setup I was so confident in, my heart sunk. That morning we found out through the local security that you couldn’t fish the section of river, even though there wasn’t confirmation of what was going to happen with the fishing rights. So that put Dan and I are on the back burner for the summer and we didn’t return to the river for a while.
I managed a small amount of fishing here and there during summer, mainly over my local park in the evenings as I took my dog for a walk. I managed to catch quite a lot of fish off the surface. No big ’uns but some lovely scaly ones nonetheless. After having a really good spring I never really put a campaign into anywhere because fishing with Dan was a sociable, fun journey. No targets just memories; just how I liked it.
I met back up with Dan a few months or so ago and we had another look down the river. He’d done one or two sessions but not had any joy with a new spot. It was quite far down the river from where we were originally fishing and it certainly was a contrast to the wild tranquil river thriving with kingfishers and grass snakes. Instead, it was lined with concrete, a harsh, unforgiving industrial landscape.
From this section of river we actually weren’t a million miles away from the Thames, so potentially the fish could run in and out of both rivers as and when they wanted to. It was also semi-tidal, deep and slow moving. We had already seen a few fish in the area and didn’t even make any baiting trips when we decided to wet a line.
Nash Chod Twister hooks - strong and sharp, just what I needed.
It was a warm autumn evening when we got down there, baking in fact. With the water being generally clear I placed a pink pop-up on a short multi-rig onto a sandy spot close to my inside margin which was surrounded by weed. At around three feet square I was confident it had been fed on, as opposed to being created by waterfowl. Using just one rod each, Dan cast a bottom bait with a bag of pellets into the main channel of the river. Hard and clean, it went down in 10 foot of water. It was a lot deeper than anywhere else we had fished along the river and a possible contender for an autumn spot.
Although unlike traditional autumn weather, we sat back with the rods leant against the railings. We walked down to see if anything had come onto my sandy spot when Dan’s rod absolutely ripped off.
The reel stopped the rod from being pulled in as it flew forward and got caught on the railing, hovering in midair as the fish took line at an alarming rate. Another short scrappy battle rewarded him with a nice mid-double river common. As we netted the fish my rod was away. Another mental battle resulted in another lovely common. What a result. We hadn’t even baited the spot, just rocked up and took a chance, and within an hour we each had a lovely carp in the net. After the shots, I travelled down the bank, over a bridge, then onto the far bank and checked a little spot I had baited with some chops and pellets when we arrived. I was gobsmacked when I saw around seven carp leave the spot and the water cloud up. It looked like there could be another bite to be had and we hadn’t spooked what was in the area. So I rigged up the rod, putting a new hook on the multi-rig, and lowered it into position, followed by a handful of crumbled Key and pellets.
The same group of fish came back through and all dropped down on the spot. There was a couple of good fish too, close to, if not, the 30lb mark. It looked like the smallest of the bunch went down and nailed my hook bait first time. I managed to steer it clear of a big boat and then Dan saved the day and scooped it into the net. What a session, we were both elated. It was pretty obvious that this would be the area to bait for a small autumn campaign, so we baited that very week, every other day.
Although not a river thirty, this 29lb 14oz common speaks volumes about what's lurking in the neglected urban waters.
The margin spots was getting bigger and bigger every time it saw bait. The original margin spot I was fishing went from around three feet square to fifteen feet square; it was absolutely ridiculous.
The next session we were ready, armed with two sacks of bait and my camera fully charged. When we arrived there were already three fish on the near margin spot and within five minutes or so I watched a low twenty ghost carp hang itself. I was already off the mark and it was just getting light. It seemed like the fish moved through all day, so we knew we were in with another chance of a bite or two. Little did we know it was going to be a red-letter day for both of us.
Consistency and dedication brought waves of success.
Within two hours we had the sacks and nets full, with two twenties and four doubles between us. It had kicked off big time. All the effort was starting to pay off. We took some photos and got some epic shots of the few that Dan and I had.
We flicked the rods out for another hour, resulting in a slow, ponderous take on Dan’s left-hand rod. After another eventful fight up and down the river, I netted a lovely upper-twenty mirror.
A short time later I had a very similar take, which as well as getting my heart racing resulted in a cracking upper-twenty common. Neither of us had yet had a thirty from the river but we had seen them. Interestingly enough, they were never seen again, making me think they’re a lot more cautious than the others, and another challenge for me to undertake.
I had a lovely few months fishing with Dan and made a lifelong friend. Next year during the new river season I can see myself fishing on the Thames. I’ve seen too many lovely pictures and read to many incredible stories to not have a go.
After our red-letter day, we decided to leave it and not fish it. Sometimes I think it’s better to not be greedy and to be happy with what you’ve achieved in such a short time. I don’t tend to fish a spot to death and ruin it for myself. When there are enough photos in the album to make you grin like a Cheshire cat I think it’s nice to leave somewhere to settle. You never know, it might just fish that little bit better the next year because they haven’t been pressured over a period of time.
This is something I’ve believed in for a while and I’ve always made the most of my time with prebaiting and a handful of quick-hit sessions. Sometimes anglers can definitely make fishing situations harder for themselves with the pressure they give the fish. I think I’m going to enjoy the rest of winter targeting other species, like perch and barbel, until I can get my own set of wheels next spring.
Name: Alfie Russell
UK PB: 44lb 12oz
Sponsors: Nash Tackle & Fortis Eyewear