Hollow pond, a century old 13 acre gravel pit on the borders of Snaresbrook and Leytonstone, north east London holds some great memories for me.
Tearing up and down the hillocks of sand and gravel on my bike with my mates; rounding-up a herd of Epping Forest cattle over the plains adjacent to the pond like a cockney cowboy when I worked as a trainee forester; being chased by a large, half-naked, wild-eyed old man when my dog disturbed him banging one out in the undergrowth; and at the age of fourteen, catching a five pound tench on a balmy August evening as traffic rattled past on the Whipps Cross Road while bikers, skinheads and police mixed affably by a roadside cafe, not twenty yards from my swim.
“I think you’ll find that’s a specimen fish,” said Alan, a mate of my brother in law Steve. Steve mumbled something about me nicking his swim. This was our second evening on the venue and, as the previous one had been fishless, Steve had graciously let me fish the swim he’d been baiting up for himself over the course of the day. “It’s your fault, chided Alan, you put him in that peg!”
“Wish I hadn’t now, moaned Steve, that’s a beast.”
It was indeed a beast. I couldn’t believe it at the time and even now, forty three years later, I still can’t believe it. A five pound tench in 1978 was a very large fish. In 1975, Len Head’s famous Bures Lake brace of 7lb and 8lb fish was considered groundbreaking and unique, so this may offer some perspective.
Obviously, I was completely unaware of this. I was just a young lad who loved fishing and loved tench especially.
It all started when I spotted a group of strange, dark fish loitering in the shallows of Highams Park Lake, Woodford Green, Essex, my go-to water as a boy. I’d climbed an old yew tree, (that’s still there to this day looking much the same), with a view to spot fish. Up until that point all I’d caught from the lake was the obligatory tiny perch that are often the only fish greedy and undiscerning enough to oblige the young, naive angler with his thumpy-feet, too-thick line and too-big hooks. But that changed after I spotted the tench, although I had no idea what they were, I had to look them up in my Ladybird Book of Coarse Fishing.
Those tench set something stirring in me. They were different. Not silver, striped, red-finned or spiky, but olive green and smooth-scaled with endearing, almost friendly teddy-bear eyes. I really had to catch one.
My local library had a surprisingly good section on coarse fishing. I remember turning a nearly-new copy of ‘Float Fishing With Ivan Marks’ into a dog-eared mud-flecked shadow of its former self, the amount of times I borrowed it and took it fishing. But Fred J Taylor came first, he was my way into the world of tench.
I borrowed his famous tome ‘Fishing For Tench’ and never looked back.
So, armed with Fred J’s wise words, an Ivan Mark’s ‘Persuader’ float rod and a loaf I descended upon Highams Park Lake in the vain hope of making contact with my very first tench. It was a sunny Saturday morning in June, just a few days into the new season.
On arrival I was relieved to find no one fishing in the yew tree swim, so I shined up the tree again to see if my quarry was at home. They were there, three beautiful tench shimmering olive in the shallows surrounding a small, overgrown island some fifteen feet from the bank. I nearly fell out of the tree in my excitement, to this day I have a scar on my shin to prove it.
I remember having to sit down for a minute to calm myself. I’d had the tenacity to set up my float rod away from the bank beforehand so all I had to do was bait up with breadflake and cast out, as close to the fish as I dare. For the very first time, I was using the Lift Method, all because of Fred J.
I cocked the small section of peacock quill with a gently turn of the reel handle, threw in two or three pieces of flake around the float, and waited.
It was text book stuff, the bite that eventually came. The quill fluttered slightly, dipped, and then rose majestically to lay flat in one smooth motion. I struck into a fish that dived deep, shook its head violently, but came to the net quickly, a gorgeous roach of just over a pound, still to this day one of the biggest roach I’ve ever caught.
I was well pleased, but it wasn’t a tench.
Without letting the swim rest I cast straight out again after returning the roach and re-baited with a few pieces of flake, hoping that the tench hadn’t taken exception to me extracting one of their red-finned cousins.
I needn’t have worried. Soon, the float was twitching and dancing again and this time, instead of a lift, it sailed-away, disappearing instantly as the rod tip arched round. This time the fight was a good deal more intense. I’d read that tench fight hard but you’ve no idea how that feels until you’re doing battle with one. I was lucky to land that fish, I just held on for dear life and did my best to keep it from diving for the cover of nearby lily pads. In desperation, I made a great lunge at her with the net that could have been disastrous but suddenly there she was, all 2.5lbs of her, laying at my feet, a wonder to behold, the biggest fish I’d seen at that point in my fledgling angling adventures; stocky, scarred, her flanks a glistening deep olive with tiny flecks of green and gold and of course the red teddy bear eyes. I ran most of the mile and a half back home, despite a protruding rod bag and carryall, to announce my achievement to a surprised and faintly amused mum and dad, who never really got fishing themselves but understood why it appealed to me.
I’d weighed both the roach and the tench on an old brass set of Salter scales that had, until the previous day, been hanging up in my grandad’s shed, supporting a bag of onions, so it’s feasible the weights were a bit out, but I don’t let that diminish the sheer joy of my first tench, and let’s face it, she could have weighed more!
My Hollow Pond tench was weighed on state of the art scales that brother in law Steve used for his carp fishing, and witnessed by his mate Alan plus a couple of bikers who had wandered over, curiosity getting the better of them. One of them clapped me on the back in congratulations and I remember the faint whiff of leather and oil as he walked off, a scent that to this day triggers a Proustian moment of recollection that whisks me back to the night of the 14th of August 1978, the night of the 5lb tench.