Members Article

Fishing Trip on the Thames September 1940


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Map showing the main places mentioned in this article

Tuesday September 3rd 1940 – HambledonMore holidays, despite the war Ted got a week’s leave, so I had a second week and we went camping at Middle Culham Farm, near Henley where we have had weekends in the past. We left London to the tune of air raid sirens and the ‘all clear’ sounded when we were in Maidenhead. For the rest of the week we heard only one warning (lasting a quarter of an hour and one ‘all clear’) the first siren was drowned in the noise of our primuses cooking breakfast. In London we had been having up to five warning a day and one all night, so it was a great relief to get away. Down here they hardly knew there was a war on. We listened to the planes going over at night but knowing they were on their way elsewhere takes away much of their terror and we soon got used to them.

We went down on Monday afternoon and by Tuesday mid-day had no thoughts of war – it very quickly faded once out of the environment of London, with its newspaper placards at every street corner and air raid news every few hours.

We hired a fishing punt for the remainder of the week from Aston ferryman for 18 shillings and pushed off upstream.
Copyright Petworth and Bognor Angling Club

Aston Ferry – you can still take the ferry across the river here, however I don’t think the ferryman still hires out boats and certainly not for 90p!

We had a can full of minnows and as it was a bright sunny day thought it would be a good one for perch, but we were disillusioned. We tried all the likely spots including Hambledon weir but could not find one until late afternoon – then discovered most of the minnows were dead or gone out of the keep net. I got four perch on the four minnows remaining, then as we had no worms we packed up and went back for supper, which had to be done before blackout time. Coming back afterwards we fished off the rush bed by Culham Court and first cast Ted said “I had a bite”, “so have I” I replied, then began pulling up a roach through the 12 feet of water, as it neared the top something large and white swirled up and seized the roach – a pike of about 2½lbs, which took it down and ran around for a few moments before letting it go, rather mangled. As the roach was 7”and the hook a no. 14 perhaps it was as well!
Copyright Westminster & MOTCO 2000

Culham Court June 1, 1793 J. Farrington R.A. delt J.C. Stadler sculpt. (Published) by J & J Boydell, Shakespeare Gally. Pall Mall & (No. 90)Cheapside (London)

As we expected, this put paid to roach although we had one or two odd ones, it was too late to move elsewhere.Wednesday September 4th 1940 – Culham (Magpie Island)

Next morning the valley was filled with mist and though we started early we failed to get a bite. When the sun got up the water was calm and the day hot. Ted got a couple of good roach when we fished at the top of the island and I had one. We then caught some small fry and began to fish for perch round the island, getting a few but all were small. Ted also tried for chub under the trees and had a few bites but no fish. During the afternoon I hooked a small pike – about 1lb on a minnow and landed him hooked in the side of the mouth.
Copyright Petworth and Bognor Angling Club

Magpie Island to the left with Culham Court in the background

Towards evening I dug some worms on the island and when we at the bottom end said to Ted “Now I’ll show you”. First cast I had a bite, second a 9 inch perch! Ted said “It’s an accident” and certainly it was the only one. Later Ted began using cheese cubes and we had some terrific bites, but found them very difficult to hook. We managed to get some roach up to 10½ inches and one or two nice dace of about 8 inches before dark. In all it had been a fairly good day for interest and variety if not size and quantity. Counting pope, minnows and bleak we had eight kinds of fish.

Thursday September 5th 1940 – Culham

Today we tried the top of the island again, still without success and after breakfast went upstream a little way. This was no better and we tried various swims down the backwater, only getting odd perch here and there. The weather remained hot and calm – ideal for camping if not the actual catching of fish. In the evening we tried the bottom of the backwater again, but the opposite side and this time we had some hemp seed bought in Henley and elderberries. This was a decided improvement and we had plenty of bites from dace, finding them, however, very difficult to hook. Those we had went up to 8 inches and gave good sport.

Friday 6th September 1940 – Culham

Began early at the same spot as last evening, but no fish about except bleak. Next tried the opposite bank where we had the catch two evening ago, but also a blank. We then moved across into the main stream, towpath side, I fished along the edge of the weeds and after half an hour Ted got bites on hemp and elderberries; for half an hour we had some excitement, Ted getting an 11 inch roach and a 10 inch dace, as well as smaller ones. Mine were not so large but I broke three hooks and Ted one, through striking too hard at the very sharp bites.

The weather had changes – a breeze had sprung up at last and it was cooler. As during my previous week, this brought the fish on the feed, but it was near the end of the holiday!

Later we tried downstream towards Medmenham for perch and found a number in one swim by some rushes – many a fair size, up to 9 inches. We then moored alongside a bed of rushes in the middle of the river where there was a clear swim five feet deep. We began getting bites on worms and I had a roach about 7½ inches but to our disgust we starting catching small pope, of which we had a dozen or more. It was the first time that we had found a ‘pope swim’, they even took hemp seed.

We spent the evening at the foot of the island again, but could not get a bite.

Saturday September 7th 1940 – Culham (Magpie backwater)

Morning fishing again unsuccessful except for one or two small ones and bleak. It was too windy in the main stream and too quiet in the backwater! Or perhaps it was for some other reason that they would not bite.

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An aerial view showing Culham Court and Magpie Island

Ted went off to Reading after lunch to meet a friend, so I took the punt down the backwater after perch. I had one or two small ones, then cast to the opposite bank under the bushes. The float bobbed and I thought that it might be a chub, but another cast brought a small perch. After a few more swims around the punt I cast an elderberry under the bushes on the off chance and as it hit the water under it went and I was fast into something big. It rushed up and down and then I brought it to the top where I could see a fine chub. The problem was to land it. The net was at the other end of the punt and I was afraid of bringing the fish too near in case it got round the mooring rope. However by letting it out a bit, still keeping a tight line I managed to grab the net and eventually to land the fish. It was the first good chub I’ve ever had and weighed 2 lb 6 oz. After a rest I cast again, and caught another of about 1½ lb, but that was the lot, as I had to get back and meet Ted. It was very windy up by Culham Court, as well as cold. We fished well out in the stream and had a few bites, but it was not a fishy evening.

Sunday September 8th 1940 – CulhamFor our last morning we tried various swims, but decided that early morning fishing was greatly over-rated. We thought we’d see if the chub were still in the swim and moored in midstream. I floated down with an elderberry, but had no bites, then Ted tried with cheese and had a knock, so we both used it. Then Ted hooked one and lost it. My float followed on, it went under at the same spot – no mistake about this one, it was another chub of about 1½ lbs. Unfortunately we had to clean up and pack up so regretfully left. Anyhow, we now knew where chub lie and what they will take.

The boatman told us when we got back that London had had a big air raid with 400 killed and 1400 wounded. We thought it was a rumour, but found it true – it was the start of what the newspapers called ‘The Battle of London’ (trying to anticipate the history books).
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A Heinkel bomber over London photographed on 7th September 1940

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London docks from the river 7th September 1940

It occurred to me afterwards that the bombs must have been dropping as I was eagerly fishing for chub in blissful ignorance. Goodness knows whether we shall fish anymore. The farmer told us they are leaving on September 30th and camping will not be allowed on the ground in future – the landlord taking the opportunity to withdraw permission. Not exactly setting an example to those who are fighting for a free and better world.

Text reproduced from the diaries of Reginald Addison by kind permission of Ted and Joan Addison.