Angling Notes: Reeling in the years with some help from a monster of rock

Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith’s book Monsters of Rock and Rivers tells a relatable tale

Adrian Smith with a big bonus bream from a tench session of 13lb 6oz

Adrian Smith with a big bonus bream from a tench session of 13lb 6oz

 

Having read Adrian Smith’s fascinating book Monsters of Rock and Rivers, I was bowled over to find his lifelong passion for angling ran side by side with my enjoyment of the sport. Can I say at the outset I’m not into rock music, more so The Beatles, Roy Orbison, etc. but when I came across this superb read, I saw a reflection of myself throughout the 280 pages.

Each of the 18 chapters are cleverly intertwined with Iron Maiden gigs and Adrian seizing the opportunity while on tour to cast a line in the most exotic destinations on the planet.

While I have a few years up on Adrian, this journey through a life of angling started for both of us at the tender age of five or six – short trousers and runny nose. In both cases our dad was central to laying the foundation for what was to follow.

Adrian was born in Hackney, East London in 1957 and grew up in Clapton. His dad Fred, took him fishing to the local Grand Union Canal as soon as he could hold a rod. He fished happily for small perch before ‘poaching’ dads swim for the bigger roach.

The day usually ended up in the local pub (with Adrian left outside). After one or two beers his dad would oblige with a few songs on a borrowed accordion. Adrian’s mother, Kathleen from Co Mayo, also loved music and a dab hand on the violin. Traditional Irish folk music was her real joy.

The seeds for a career in music were undoubtedly sown. However, his introduction into music at around 15 years came by chance. Having sauntered into his older sisters’ room he found one of her records, by Deep Purple. “What’s this? he asked. The album was Machine Head and the song Highway Star with Ian Gillan’s musical scream leading the band into the chugging anthem to his teens. Ahhh! He had found his vocation.

Jam jar, twine and bread

In my case, living in Dublin, most Sundays my dad took me to the nearby Tolka River and Royal Canal, both of which ran side by side. Equipped with jam jar, twine tied around the neck stuffed with bread and lobbed into the mainstream. It was a case of lifting quickly when the minnows entered. Progressing to bamboo rod with rings bound with cellotape, catgut, quill float, I’d sit for hours on the canal bank catching roach, perch and gudgeon. That was it, I was hooked.

Moving to London in my early teens, I lived in Balham and attended the London Nautical College. Every spare moment I was fishing in Clapham and Tooting Common ponds for my favourite fish, the tench, but add in roach, silver bream, perch and the odd chub.

I also had permits for the Long Water at the back of Hampton Court Palace and the Serpentine River in Hyde Park. Magic fishing.

Throughout the book, it’s quite clear Adrian’s favourite species are barbel, chub, tench and carp, although he has the good fortune to include bonefishing in Bahamas, fly fishing for trout, sturgeon in Canada, spinning for pike and bass, to name a few.

Boy, was he prepared to put in the hours when required – 72-hour stints, no problem. Add in pre-baiting a swim for days, even weeks, before descending on the river or lake. In most cases, he was rewarded with monster fish.

He drifted away from fishing in the early 1970s to help form the band Urchin. That particular decade was something of a whirlwind. Work hard, play hard was the motto. By 1980, the band was beginning to flounder.

That same year, while walking along Clapton High Road (penniless), he ‘bumped’ into Maiden’s Dave Murray and Steve Harris. “How’s it going?” they enquired. “We might be needing a guitarist, will you do it?”

“Yes, definitely, I think it would great.” (It begs the question, what if he had enough money for the bus?

A more responsible attitude to life took hold from that point with Iron Maiden and fishing back on the agenda. In 2006 the band released their album ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ and set off on tour completing 47 shows in 21 countries including USA, Canada and Japan.

Adrian Smith on stage with Iron Maiden
Adrian Smith on stage with Iron Maiden

The Thames at Windsor provided his personal best barbel. For two weeks he visited the river on alternate days, baiting up with pellets and crab boilies, but not fishing.

On the night in question, he cast to mid-river and didn’t have to wait long. The rod butt creaked and the fish charged up and downstream until ready for the net. What a prize! The scales read 15lb 8oz.

An absolute brute of a mirror carp from Korda Lake in Buckinghamshire
An absolute brute of a mirror carp from Korda Lake in Buckinghamshire

I, too, was a regular visitor to the Thames at Hampton Court. Setting up camp on the riverbank we’d stay the weekend catching roach, bream and bleak from the nearby River Mole, during daylight.

Night time on the Thames brought the barbel ‘out to play’ in midstream. Ledgering with worm was a safe bet to set the bite alarms off with fish up to 10lb. Great sport!

In 2007, Adrian moved to West Yorkshire with the Colne River nearby. But first, duty called and he was back on the road for 12 shows on the ‘Matter of the Beast’ tour.

Later that year, he tried his local river for chub. Well into the night he drew a cracking fish over the net. The scales read 7lb 14oz. His first thought, was it a British record? Close, but sadly it wasn’t to be. An exceptional fish nevertheless.

Moving through the 18 chapters, the reader is taken on a comprehensive tour encompassing the ‘ins and outs’ of life on the road for this iconic rock band with Adrian, as lead guitarist, managing to find time to escape to the nearest river or lake to fulfil his quest for fishing tranquillity.

The book is a must read for all rock fans and angling enthusiasts. Beautifully written with a steady flow of anecdotes to keep the reader enthralled. Can’t wait for Adrian’s second book!!

Back home in Ireland, I initially took to sea fishing and now I enjoy fly fishing for trout and salmon. I would welcome the opportunity to invite Adrian to Ireland for a few days to sample our fantastic fishing and, perhaps, a visit to his mother’s ancestral roots in Co Mayo.

Bone fishing in the Bahamas
Bone fishing in the Bahamas

Monsters of River and Rock is published by Virgin Books, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA. penguin.co.uk. The book retails at €23 (£20), in hardback

angling@irishtimes.com

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