Theo Pike - Trout in Dirty Places

Merlin Unwin Books £20
ISBN 978-1-906122-42-3

You don’t read anything like this book very often – in fact, the only other volume I can recall that deals with the same subject is the excellent City Fishing, and that is an anthology. So if you want to read about something really different, buy a copy.

Theo Pike is the Chairman of the Wandle Trust and a dedicated environmentalist who has played a significant role in rescuing one of London’s most famous rivers from the ditch it had become to the clear-water fishery it once was. The Wandle is a good model for fate of Britain’s urban rivers: in Halford’s day, although it was already in decline, you couldn’t afford to fish there; but by the 1940s, it was a sewer and nobody could care less about what went down it, provided it didn’t overflow its concrete banks. Today, you can catch trout in it, as you can in many of the 50 rivers that feature in this book, thanks to the efforts of the anglers and conservationists who are profiled in its 250 odd pages.

The stories of the rivers are different, but united by the same theme – lack of care and the deeply ingrained inability of people to take personal responsibility for their surroundings. One of the unwelcome side-effects of the Welfare State is that too many people assume that someone else is going to clear up and that the countryside is a kind of giant litter bin which they have a right to explore, but no responsibility towards keeping tidy. This book shows how nature manages to fit itself into the tiny spaces left between industrial, agricultural, domestic and personal pollution and the surprising adaptability of salmonids to the total lack of care we have so frequently demonstrated towards them. It can’t be right that people prefer living amidst piles of litter and shit to clear waters and ranunculus, but that you ask that of the smackhead shooting up under the bridge and well, welcome to the 21st century. They never said that progress was going to be pretty, and as for your personal freedom, well forget it, brother, especially if it overlaps someone else’s need to throw away their take-away wrapper.

Trout in Wild Places tells a dirty story in the most astonishingly uplifting way. Each chapter begins with a sorry tale of decline and ends with a story of recovery, the most amazing bit (to my mind anyway) being the section on seasons, permits and fishing tips given for rivers many of which, only a few decades ago, would have started an enthusiastic chemical reaction with your waders. The photography veers from the picturesque to the tawdry, the selection of rivers is extremely broad – one interesting omission is the Tyne – and the only criticism I have is that I wouldn’t have printed the index in grey, because it plays old Harry with my eyesight, but then again, what the hell, this is a great book and for every copy sold, a donation will be made to the Wild Trout Trust and to the Grayling Society.

So buy it, and wonder. Great book.

Review 25th May 2012