Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends
Fish and Fishers of the Lake Disrict by Keith Harwood. Medlar. £20.
Perhaps the Lake District's most famous angler was Jeremy Fisher. The original Jeremy may well have been one of the frogs the young Beatrix Potter kept as a pet. When she first thought of the story she had Jeremy leaping on the banks of the Tay in Scotland, but when the story was published in 1906, Jeremy Fisher was sailing on his lily pad on the waters of Moss Eccles Tarn above Near Sawrey.
Twenty years later, when Beatrix Potter was Mrs Heelis, she wrote of an evening fishing - she rowed and her husband fished: "The fish were 'taking short', running at the fly without getting hooked, but we caught plenty."
Of course, there were many others who have fished the tarns, lakes and streams of the Lake District. Keith Harwood has spent a life fishing the waters and contemplating the beauty of the Lake District. He has trolled for pike in Windermere, caught salmon in the Derwent, worm-fished for perch in Thirlmere and cast for "the wily brown trout in Easedale'. And he has shared the pleasure which others have taken in fishing the Lakes over the centuries.
Wordsworth found the rod and line "true symbols of Hope's foolishness". Dorothy Wordsworth records how, on Thursday, 29th May, 1800, at Mr Gell's, "We fished upon the lake and amongst us caught 13 bass. . . . Left the water at near 9 o'clock, very cold."
Wordsworth's one-time friend, the superbly athletic John Wilson, was passionate about the outdoor life of the fells. He organised a week's sojourn at Wastdale Head for a party of thirty-two, including ten servants. Wordsworth and Thomas de Quincey were there and they must have shared the pleasures and excitement of angling: "The limber rod that shook its trembling length".
John Davy, the younger brother of the great chemist, Sir Humphrey, retired to live in Ambleside. He became a keen fisherman and wrote of days spent fishing in Borrowdale and on Haweswater. On the River Irt, flowing down to Ravenglass, he described how hods were placed above the stream to provide a shaded area for the fish. "Ha, I see the landlord is going to the garden with a lister, the three-pronged spear in his hand. . . . he strikes, and with effect! behold the prize, 'a mort' (a sea trout) of at least three pounds, - a fresh run fish and in excellent condition."
Another writer of children's books, Arthur Ransome, was a fisherman who would stop at nothing to gain his prize. On one occasion, he and his friend had to break the ice at the edge of the Eden at Appleby and "dip their rods to prevent the fine lines freezing solidly to the rings." After all that, they succeeded in catching a basket of grayling. He wrote one of the great fishing books, "Rod and Line", invented the Elver Fly, and devised a way of trolling for charr when sailing, because a hernia prevented him from rowing.
Keith Harwood loves the Lakes and he loves fishing. And there have been many who have shared his passions. Men like the unfortunate Charles Gough, found dead with his faithful dog at the foot of Striding Edge. Men like Richard Clapham, the great sportsman of Fell, Beck and Tarn and John Watson who wrote the classic account of the Lake District Fisheries. Men like Tom Davison, angler and railwayman, and Hugh Falkus, one-time pilot, mink-farmer, writer, film-maker, television producer, casting instructor and angler. He lived in Eskdale and his book on Sea Trout Fishing is one of the finest of all angling books.
There can be no greater pleasure than sitting in a boat on Derwentwater surrounded by the hills on a summer's day waiting for the fish to bite. The frozen Eden in winter is a little less attractive.