The Old River Lee

The Old River Lee is Izaak Walton’s old stomping ground. If you read The Compleat Angler you will know of his chapters that cover the fish he caught from this tiny little stretch of river. It’s a quiet loop on the back of the main river that is full of surprises. I joined Ware Angling Club in 2015 and enjoyed a great first season fishing Old River Lee (Lea).

In 2014 I decided to split my business in two. I wanted to move the team that looked after small to medium size websites out to a separate office. I started to look around for an office nearer my home in Hertford, Hertfordshire. It was no coincidence that the office I finally found was right on the banks of the River Lee. I had lived on or near the Lee for a few years now and knew it quite well.

The river is actually quite patchy. They stopped fishing matches on the Lee many years ago because nobody caught anything! I think even now it’s fair to say that that we do not have as many fish in the Lee navigation as some of our neighbouring rivers. Having said that if you are a big fish man then the Lee has a habit of throwing up some monster fish. If you are a specimen hunter then it has a lot to offer.

chub river lee lea
Above: An 8lb chub caught at Dobbs Weir. The Lee has a habit of throwing up the occasional monster.

river lee lea perch
Above: Big perch are fairly frequently taken from the river near Rye House.

My experience of the old river however, did kind of buck this trend as I caught plenty of fish. Apparently they increased the water levels through this section and now there appeared to be more fish than in previous years. In my first season I have managed to catch rainbow trout, brown trout, chub, bream, perch, carp and pike.

old river lee lea
Above: The Old River Lee just behind Tumbling Bay.

My first session was the opening day of the season – 16th June 2015. I decided to target chub as I had previously caught chub but nothing over about 3lb. I had seen a few bigger than this in the close season and I felt confident that I could catch one. Chub love bread. They cannot resist a large piece of slow sinking flake and that was going to be my approach. I lowered my bread into a deep crease in the river and I was taken completely by surprise when it was grabbed within a minute of being in the water. The river here was quite narrow and my little 9ft, light stalking rod was bent in half – if this was a chub it was a good one! After a few minutes the fish came to the surface and I could see that it was indeed a decent chub. I was covered in mud, nettle stings and scratches but eventually I netted my prize – a nice old lump of chub!

chub fishing old river lee lea
Above: I didn’t have any scales with me but this chub had to be over 4lb.

This commotion had completely spooked the swim and so I wandered up stream. I knew I was only going to be there for an hour or so – I didn’t have time to wait for that swim to calm back down. I found a very shallow stream of river and I started to feed bread into it. Fish started to take the bread off the surface and so my ledger weight was removed and I freelined bread down the run. After just a couple of cast it was grabbed by a trout which leaped clean out the water a number of times during one hell of a fight!


trout fishing old river lee leaAbove: An opening day brown trout. I didn’t even know they were in here! I’d been doing quite a lot of fly fishing on other venues so was pretty chuffed with this.

I was really pleased with that trout but it wasn’t really how I wanted to catch it. The next time I came to the river, about a week or so later, I brought along my little brook rod. It’s a very light weight little rod that’s only about 7ft long. I had floating line and had mounted a Cats Whisker – I wanted to catch these trout on the fly, it only seemed right! Sure enough the fly rod did the business and this time the fight was made even more dramatic by the gear I was using.

trout fishing old river lee lea
Above: A long, streamline rainbow trout taken on my little brook rod and a Cats Whisker.

I returned to the river a number of times through the summer and nearly always managed to winkle out a chub or a trout. I also had a couple of hours over there with a little spinning rod and a tiny meps spinner. This was grabbed by a perch, pike and a trout all within an hours fishing.


bream fishing old river lee leaAbove: Even the bream came out to play – just below Tumbling Weir.

I didn’t fish the river through the autumn as I was mainly carp fishing on the lakes however I knew that it could potentially provide me with some great sport as the cold weather drew in. The carp fishing naturally slows down and the river was a great option to get a bend back in the rod through the winter.

brown trout fishing old river lee leaAbove: A nice sized winter brown trout taken in December 2015.

Chub and trout are both great species to target through the cold months. They can be encouraged to feed in the coldest of conditions.

chub fishing old river lee lea

Above: Yet another good chub. The sport was really good. On these cold days you don’t want to be out for too long and I often caught fish on trips that lasted less than a couple of hours. 


fishing old river leeAbove: Not my best ‘self take’ photo but never mind. 

I enjoyed my time on the Old River and I’ll be back, probably through the winter in 2016. I have vowed to try and catch a few carp from the main river between Tumbling Bay and Hardmead Lock. I’ve frequently seen them cruising up and down the river along this section and next year I’m going to have a crack at them.

If you’ve not fished the Old River then get yourself down here (you will need to join Ware Angling Club of course). Travel light and keep moving – you’ll have a great time and I’m sure you’ll catch plenty of fish.

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