I'd like to go back to my MkII Cortina days next to Kingston Bridge It is so difficult to think of a favourite peg, an all-time very, very best swim, one that I’d run to with all my tackle.
To make it slightly easier, I will discount all foreign places, sticking only to England as I’ve not coarse-fished elsewhere in the UK regularly enough to consider crossing Offa’s Dyke or Hadrian’s Wall to choose.
As my all-time favourite style of angling involves a stick float, that narrows the field even more. However, I am going to cheat slightly as although My Favourite Peg is still there, it has changed from when it was really the best swim ever, at least for me.
I am choosing The Wilderness on the Kingston to Hampton Court section of the River Thames, named after an area in Home Park, situated behind the towpath.
The specific swim, or peg if you must, is opposite a set of long steps on Queen’s Embankment.
When it was the best place ever to fish, there was no more than 6ft of water and, being on the outside of a long bend, it flowed away from the bank ever so slightly, helping that stick float go down as if on rails. It faces east, so the prevailing wind was invariably off my back, or slightly downstream - perfect stick wind.
I used to catch roach and dace there - in fact apart from a few bleak I don’t ever remember catching anything else, except a rainbow trout on one bizarre opening day of the season ¬ but the river had changed by then and, although still a brilliant spot to fish, it was no longer what it had been.
Because of the devastating Molesey floods in 1968, the river was dredged in 1977/8, doubling the depth and halving the flow. It’s not as if the Thames was to blame for the deluge: the Mole and Wey carried the water down from the Surrey hills.
That has been sorted by digging channels, making new watercourses and bringing old lakes into the equation - making the first flush of the summer bring a covering of duckweed into the Thames that can stay for weeks if it’s only a local storm responsible.
I have just closed my eyes and gone back to the days when I parked my MkII Cortina next to Kingston Bridge - now taken over by residential boat parking only - and marched under the conker trees, past the slipway and on to The Wilderness, carrying my basket and two rods in a roll-up rod bag.
Out would come the ABU MkVI and Mitchell Match, on would go a Watson’s of Nottingham stick float and, using two pints of hemp I’d cooked myself, and two pints of casters turned from the previous week’s maggots, I’d work the float down the swim, waiting for it to dip slightly as either a 4oz-6oz dace or a ‘goer’ roach of over 8ins - and they were usually at least 10ins in The Wilderness.
By the end of my session, usually on my Thursday off work, I’d have 20 to 25 quality roach and as many dace, weighing about 18lb, in the bottom of my old, knotted keepnet, and feel on top of the world. It might have been a bit flash, but I fancied myself to win every match I fished in those days, when the Thames flowed. I didn’t, but it didn’t stop me dreaming, like I’ve just day-dreamed about my favourite swim.