Friday, 13 September 2019

Don't swallow the bait

Have you heard about Bait? If you haven't you surely will soon. It is an unlikely film to capture the zeitgeist shot as it is in black and white, on a hand cranked camera with the sound - both dialogue and music - dubbed on afterwards.

Without giving too much away it is the story of a Cornish fishing village where the bait once used to lure fish is now the 'bait' to entice tourists. Most of the town has sold out both in terms of housing and employment but are mostly unhappy vassals to the incomers. There are almost too many good lines to pick from (some too obscene for here) but my absolute favourite is a girl on the bus who announces of one of the Londoners that, "He was so posh I thought he was speaking German."

BAIT Official Trailer - UK Berlinale Forum 2019 Entry
BAIT Official Trailer
You will have almost certainly have guessed by now that the film revolves around the conflict between locals and incomers, which in the case of Bait, ends very badly. As word of the film spreads (it only went on general release 30/August) it will, I am sure, add fuel to the fiery debate as to who has the right to buy where. But this debate will be almost entirely binary in nature: locals good, incomers bad as if we have arrived at this point all of a sudden. But the evolution of the English village is a far more complicated affair. Take Nether Wallop.

My village was largely in a state of stasis in the centuries running up to the 20th; it was not until just prior to the outbreak of WW1 that it began its evolution to how it is today. The local Lord who owned all the land and houses around these parts put his estate up for auction. Some of the larger houses were bought by what you might call the wealthy merchant class (often as unpopular at the Bait incomers), but the vast majority were farmhouses and tied farm cottages. In most cases the ownership simply went from the Lord to the new owners who were previously his farm tenants. The only other property owners in the village were those who provided goods and services to the locals: the miller, the baker, the butcher, the blacksmith and so on. And this was how it would pretty well stay for the next half a century with four social classes in rigid hierarchy: posh house owners, landowners, farm workers who lived in the houses provided by the farmer and the self-employed shop keepers/artisans.

The change to how to we stand today really started in the 1950's as the nature of agriculture changed and transportation links improved. Suddenly people had choices. A brand-new house in Basingstoke with a job in a modern factory or office? It was an easy choice. Villages were hollowed out. What was truly dreadful housing to start with was abandoned to become even worse. In my childhood I recall dozens of dilapidated cottages. My father even bought the one opposite our home as he couldn't bear to see it tumbling down. He did it up but barely broke even on the pittance he resold it for such was the lack of demand. Today it would probably command £400,000.

It might seem hard to believe now but in the 1950's, 1960's, and to a lesser extent the 1970's, there was a flight from the countryside; the rural idyll as depicted in the Saturday supplements simply did not exist. Countless cottages were demolished to make way for practical, and generally ugly, bungalows. Farmers would almost give away the houses that were no longer required for their ever-shrinking work force. But not everyone went. The four local farmers who currently own the bulk of the land around the village are true Wallopians. There are still people who were raised and currently live in the house in which they were born. But this group is tiny in its totality - no more than a couple of dozen of the seven hundred odd residents of Nether Wallop.

And therein lies the problem with the local vs. incomer debate. How do you define a local? Is it residency of twenty, thirty, forty or fifty years? Do you lose your place in the queue if you move away to join the Army or somesuch? Or isn't tenure enough. Do you have to be second or third generation with all your long-gone relatives laid out in the churchyard? And then there is added complication of good work vs. bad work. Tilling the soil is seen as worthy but servicing the needs of visitors or part-time residents is not. Somehow, we seem to have elevated the hard grind of physical labour, which was both dangerous and life shortening, to an epic endeavour. It might seem that way if you didn't have to do it but that flight from the countryside shows what those who had to do it found, when given half a chance, an escape route.

The English village is a dynamic reflection of Britain as a whole. It fluxes. It flows. People come, some stay but most, in time move on. But to pretend that there was ever a golden age of bucolic harmony is a fiction. Enjoy Bait. It is a great film. But like much great cinema is uses the vehicle of human conflict to tell a story which is fundamentally at odds with the way things truly are.

Dorian's destruction

I pricked up my ears when news of Hurricane Dorian's route across the Bahamas was first mooted. For the most part hurricanes are the storms that we fear most but expect least; metrology is an inexact science in the face of one of Mother Nature's most destructive forces. The predicted path of the storm would only have to deviate by ten or twenty miles to entirely miss these relatively small and generally sparsely populated islands.

East End Lodge before Dorian
I have travelled many times to Grand Bahama. It is my favourite bone fishing destination. It is not a poor country by international standards. Wealth, measured by GDP is $31,000/head - ours in the UK is not that much further ahead at $39,000. But as you leave the thriving commercial centre of Freeport it doesn't feel that rich. The highway is well paved, but it's just single carriageway and is the only road heading east. Early on during the one hour drive there are plenty of good houses, the more recent built on stilts four foot above the ground. But the further you go the fewer the good ones become. The settlements, such as they are, are mostly collections of shacks, each surrounded by abandoned cars and boats.

Occasionally something comes upon you by surprise. The crossing of the azure blue sea canal dug north to south across the island in the 1970's in the belief that a huge marina and waterside development would follow. All that remains today are the weed strewn building plots and the decaying street layout. Or the giant oil storage silos, each of the dozen as large as St Pauls Cathedral with the dome lopped off, in the midst of a coconut tree clearing with the hugest of the huge supertankers moored at the end of a long jetty offloading their oil to supply the Caribbean via smaller ships.

East End Lodge after Dorian
My driver told me this facility had recently changed hands for $600m; this was in 2014. I had no idea whether that was true; it seemed a lot for a few tanks in the middle of nowhere. I also wondered as to his veracity when I asked as to the explanation of the tide mark at chest height that was on every tree I saw for miles and miles. "Hurricane," he said "we all got flooded." It seemed incredible that so much land could be engulfed by so much sea. And then return to something near normality. But I now know it to be true.

I'm sorry to report for those of you who know East End Lodge on the far eastern tip of Grand Bahama that it has been all but destroyed. The photo at the top, taken in happier times, is of the owners Robert on the left and Cecil in the middle (this is a joint US/Bahamian venture) in front of the main lodge. It is now razed to the ground. What is left of it is the pile of damage just in front and to the right of the green building in the after photo.. The white sticks in the water are what are left of the quay. The roofless building the rod and gear room. It seems that by some small mercy that one of the accommodation bungalows has survived but precious little else. You can watch the short fly by video, with more photos, from which the above frame was taken here. Click through to the fourth photo which will start  to play as a video. East End Lodge comes into view at the five second mark..

My heart goes out to them all at East End Lodge. Not only is the business shattered for now but their homes as well. Nearly everyone who works or has some association at the Lodge - and there are many - live in McLeans Town a few hundred yards away. The town fared no better. It is horrible. The photo below is stark in the truth. I wish them all well and promise to be on the first plane out when they reopen their doors as I know they will.
McLeans Town last week

That was August
Though we yinged and yanged between extreme heat and extreme downpours August turned out just fine. I am not exactly sure where we are in the overall rainfall for 2019 but I'm guessing we will end up in the somewhere around 8-10% below average.

The effect on the chalkstreams very much depends on where you are on each system. The top headwaters are very thin, the middle sections on the low side without it being critical but with astonishing clarity. The lower beats have rarely had such a fabulous year.

Well done to Peter Collins who fished at Upper Clatford on the River Anton; he comes out of the metaphoric hat first to collect a snood for the August feedback draw.

The Quiz

As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 
1)      What is the highest and lowest number of hurricanes in the North Atlantic in a year during the past two decades?

2)      The Rugby World Cup starts later this month in Japan. How many Rugby World Cups have there been and who has won the most?

3)      Which came first - the Men's or Women's Cricket World Cup?
Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      2 in 2013 and 15 in 2005. The average is 7 a year.
2)      8 since 1987 and New Zealand 3 times.
3)      Women's 1973 vs. 1975

Friday, 30 August 2019

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

I have never been a great fan of poetry. I recall getting into considerable trouble with my English tutor for, when asked to critique a poem, I went on a diatribe as to the wastefulness of this apparent literary art. Most poems where, I maintained, a pretty collection of soaring faux rhetoric that invited the reader to seek meaning when there was indeed none. A sort of intellectual practical joke.

John Keats. August 1819.
Many years on from my lecture hall tantrum I still don't feel the love for poetry. When I come across verse in whatever context (what are those Nationwide TV adverts about?) I glaze over to allow my mind to go a different place. But I guess I'm mellowing just a little. If someone chooses to read Alfred Tennyson's poem The Brook at my funeral, "For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever." I'll prick up my ears. I'll also make an exception for To Autumn for it has a particular connection to the chalkstreams.

John Keats, along with Wordsworth, Byron, Blake and Shakespeare is regularly cited in the top five English poets of all time. I'd hazard that his opening line "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" is as often quoted (and without being reviled) as Wordsworth's "I wandered lonely as a cloud". And very shortly it will be the two hundredth anniversary of his poem that charts the three different aspects of the season: its fruitfulness, its labour and its ultimate decline, that he penned on 19th September 1819 after walking beside the River Itchen.

Keats was a troubled man; he would be dead eighteen months after writing To Autumn aged just twenty-six. Overtaken by both health and financial difficulties this was to be the last poem he would write. The day he walked was a Sunday. It is commonly assumed that he drew his inspiration from his regular route along the water meadows south of Winchester, across what would be regarded as Winchester Cathedral and College land today. However, more recent research suggests that day he walked upstream from the cathedral, turning away from the river to take in the view from St Giles Hill above the city.

If you try to retrace his steps, you might be disappointed. The stubble of his corn fields on the hill are long replaced by suburbia. The Itchen is largely hidden from view, buildings standing on the banks where Keats' sallows (willow trees) once grew. That said not all historical context is lost. The bridge over which he crossed to make his way up St Giles Hill, and the ancient Winchester City Mill at its base, remain largely unchanged.

So, if you do try to take the walk to celebrate the anniversary - I certainly will - you'll probably pause on the bridge to watch the churning, turbulent river below as it is spat from the confines of the mill race. But for all the melancholic beauty of Keats' words it will probably be those of Tennyson that come to mind, "For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever."

Bridge with Winchester City Mill behind

Sex. But not as we know it.

Here in the UK we are trying to preserve the integrity of our native wild trout population by stocking only triploid trout; that is to say infertile fish. Not everyone likes this approach, the result of an edict passed down by the Environment Agency and with the backing of law, about eight years ago. Some feel that triploids, as opposed to the fully fertile diploids that we used to stock, adapt less well to life in the wild, have lower survival rates and are less inclined to rise.   

We are not alone in one fish population having the potential to elbow out another. In the western states of the USA brook trout, originally introduced from the eastern states, are outcompeting the native cutthroat to become the dominant species to the detriment of both the habitat and fishing. Eliminating, or even reducing their numbers by netting, chemical or other human intervention has proved ineffective so since the turn of the century Idaho Fish and Game biologists have turned to genetic manipulation for a solution. Here is how it works:

"Every trout, just like humans, has genetic markers that determine their sex, either XY (male) or XX (female) and according to a study released by the American Fisheries Society, the males can be feminized by exposing them to oestrogen. And by breeding these "feminized" males, a YY male trout can be produced. These YY trout are then introduced into the wild. But this is where it gets interesting when the YY males spawn with an XX female, 100% of their offspring will be almost 100% XY males. The idea is this, that over time as these fish continue to spawn, eventually the entire population will be male and then die out."

It is still early days but experiments suggest that these wonderfully named 'Trojan brookies' could eradicate an unwanted brook trout population in a decade. Which begs the question, could this work for brown trout in the UK? If, assuming they didn't have the same behavioural problems attributed to triploids, we stocked Trojan browns instead then we'd be still be able to preserve the genetic integrity of our native population who would happily continue to breed with each other.

Video of the Week

Salmon Fishing In Sweden -
Salmon Fishing In Sweden " Silver Shadow " 
Here's a good Atlantic salmon fishing film from the Catch Me Fly Fish crew.

They head for the Swedish rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea to prove, contrary to most films that make it look easy, how tough it can sometimes be.

To watch it click here.

The Quiz

As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      Which famous angler and author is buried in Winchester Cathedral?

2)      Who led the force that invaded the city of Troy hidden in the Trojan Horse?

3)      When did Winchester cease to be the capital of the Kingdom of England?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Izaak Walton
2)      Odysseus
3)      1066

Saturday, 17 August 2019

On Spitfire Hill

On Spitfire Hill

Last night I walked on Spitfire Hill in the evening cool as the sun executed its final descent. It seems this summer, despite the recent rains, seems to go on forever, the extended heat perfect fodder for the BBQ lifestyle marketeers. Staycationers laugh, as well they might, in the face of airport meltdowns.

Chattis Hill airfield now known as Spitfire Hill
Spitfire Hill, despite its name, is not what most people would regard as a hill. It is gently sloping grassland, what we more commonly call around these parts downs when we are not pretending they are hills. The Spitfire bit, as you might imagine, has something to do with the British fighter plane - two stories exist as to why, one I know to be true and the other I would like to be true.

The first, which is based on fact, is that this bit of land was used during WWII as a storage airfield, the newly built Spitfires flown here from the bomb vulnerable Southampton factory before being dispersed to their battle squadrons. The other is that three years prior to the outbreak of war a group of Air Ministry officials gathered on this vantage point to watch an aerial demonstration of the as-yet-unnamed Merlin engine powered prototype. Their mission on that morning was to decide whether to put the aircraft into production or not. Had the decision gone the other way I'm certain I would not be writing this today.

As I walk eighty plus years on from that time all evidence of that past is long gone but the sound of aircraft still fills the air. Away in the distance trainee Apache helicopter pilots are circling a current airfield in the gathering gloom at the Middle Wallop Army Flying School. I guess these must be the rawest of new recruits for they don't venture beyond the boundary fence to endanger the lives of us local citizenry as they yaw, dip and track sideways in quite alarming fashion. You'd think the intrusion would be annoying, but the creature-like nature of the Apaches and the very randomness of their flight is endlessly fascinating to watch. As are the swallows.

They are, in must be said, considerably more nimble than the Apaches as they skate no more than a foot above the downland turf, their trajectory perfectly mimicking the contours of the land in a constant search for insects. They are a bit like trout; they know what they like. And when they like it, they will feed for hours on one particular bug to the exclusion of all others, homing in with an ocular vision that is more akin to the raptors than birds of a more normal type. The bumble bees who work the grassland with equal diligence are buffeted in the wake of the swallows, who for reasons that I guess are obvious, rarely eat them.

The activity of the swallows, their southern departure less than a month away, is a reminder that more of the summer is past than ahead. As is the dust thrown up by the combine harvesters, that is so dense and all-pervading that the last rays of sunshine are seen through a dirty filter as the teams work almost around the clock to capture the last and best of the summer weather. Full grain stores are the harbinger of autumn.

I see all this from the highest point of Spitfire Hill; the walk home is all slight downhill. The neighbourhood hare ambles off long before I get near but the young badger continues to scratch in the turf as I get closer than I have any right to do. I have discovered over the years of this walk that if I continue straight at them without altering my pace or posture they simply don't notice me. Sometimes I'll get almost within touching distance, standing immobile until, eventually, I'm noticed and off he or she heads towards the hawthorn scrub with that rolling gait badgers pretend is a run.

It is nearly dark by the time I get close to home. A grain wagon thunders by, the tractor driver giving me a cheerful wave from his air-conditioned cab, the orange hazard light on the roof apparently strobing to the beat of his music. I return the wave such is the nature of our rural etiquette. An apparently insignificant act that seems to bind us in some common purpose that is probably more imagined than real. But it is enough to make you feel good about not just about yourself but the world in which you live.

Fly on the road

You've heard of mobile banks. Post offices. Libraries. Surgeries. Well, now the Montana fly shop Fins & Feathers based in Bozeman, the fly fishing capital of mid-West America, have gone one step further with an on-the-road fly store.

Like many a good idea it has come about by accident; the guys at Fins & Feathers knew they needed a new outpost to supplement their shop of 18 years but could not decide between a variety of locations. So, in the absence of an overwhelming vote for one particular place, the Flyfish Truck was born.

It is more than just a fully loaded fly shop because it is also kitted out to be a window on the world of fly fishing. A beacon in car parks, shopping malls, festivals and apparently random events to bring newcomers into our great sport by showing that fly fishing is both damn good fun and really not very difficult to learn.

A brief look at their roadshow calendar for August and September shows how wide and diverse they intend to take the message: music festivals. Car shows. Brew-ins. Universities. Shopping malls. Fishing lodges. All with free casting clinics, advice and of course, the chance for locals to stock up on the latest gear.

Notes from a fly fisher's life
Yet More Sweet Days is the latest book from the leading South African fly fishing writer Tom Sutcliffe charting his pursuit of trout around the globe. 

Naturally his home country features greatly, but there are chapters amongst others on Iceland, two chapters on the chalkstreams and one on my favourite topics of all, fishing trucks, plus another on the flies of Ollie Kite.

Tom's book is out now in paperback from Amazon at £9.03.

Special Offers

My August special offers are still running. Here they are:

HALF PRICE (£87.50 instead of £175) for selected weekdays during August.

SAVE £40 Book a Rod on the carrier (£55) and receive a ticket for the catch & release lake (value £40) for free. The photo is of a happy Sam Macleod who took advantage of the offer.

2 FOR 1 Book two rods for the price of one (so £47.50 each) during the remainder of August.

Save £100 (was £450 now £350) on two days and one night at The Parsonage for up to four people. Call or email for dates/booking August 24th-31st.

The Quiz

As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      Which year (excluding this one!) recorded the wettest August in the UK?

2)   How many Spitfires were produced and how many survive to this day?

3)      Who designed the Spitfire warplane?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1) 1912
2) Over 22,000. 179 survive.
3) Reginald J. Mitchell

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Blue water thinking

Blue water thinking
Often people look a little glassy-eyed when you mention fishing; "I don't have the patience." they say. At that point you'll try to explain that fishing, fly fishing in particular, isn't about inactivity.

In fact, you'll say there is more to it than simply catching fish. Frankly, they won't believe you. Or think you to be deluded. And if you get a bit evangelical about it all, emphasising the holistic, they will do everything in their power to escape your conversational clutches in the shortest time possible. "But it's true." you will wail at the departing back of your erstwhile buddy.

Holism was termed by the South African statesman, military leader, and philosopher Jan Smuts in the 1920s. The idea that systems and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not just as a collection of parts. Or put another way the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. For me that is true of fishing. If it was just about catching fish I would not bother. Nor would I suspect would you. 

Every survey that asks anglers why they fish puts 'catching fish' well down the list of reasons for pursuing our pastime. Getting away from it all. The allure of water. Spending time with friends. Enjoying the outdoors. Being close to nature. These, and others, all rate higher. Ultimately a day spent fishing, whatever the outcome, makes us feel better about life and about ourselves. It uplifts our souls. Nourishes our belief in life itself. But have you ever asked yourself why? Well, Professor Michael Depledge at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) in Plymouth has and the reason is, at least in part, the concept of blue space.

The concept of green space is well known: show a sample group a series of photos in which the amount of greenery increases then their stress levels decrease. In the latest iteration of this test by Depledge he introduced water ranging from ponds to full blown coastline: stress levels were reduced yet further. To test the theory in everyday life Depledge and the ECEHH team delved into self-reported health data from Natural England based on postcodes to see if health varied according to proximity to water. It does, with Depledge concluding, ".... we (ECEHH) found that the closer you live to the English coast the healthier you are. There was some evidence that other aquatic environments helped too."

So, there you have it. Throw away the drugs. Cancel the psychiatrist. Fishing, with its proximity to blue space, is the secret to emotional and physical wellbeing. Though it must be added that it is not all good news if water happens to be your unwanted neighbour. Jenny Roe, lecturer in the School of the Built Environment at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, points out there is a downside: the psychological trauma of living in a flood risk zone. Speaking as one who leapt out of bed in the dead of night last week to open sluices when the thunderstorms arrived, I can sympathise .......

Wall of pain

What is this photo all about? A montage by a lure fishing obsessive? Some weird art gallery installation? The trophy board at a fishing club? Let me give you a clue: it hangs on the wall of an upstate New York hospital.

The wall of pain
For the past twenty plus years Gary Nye, a physician assistant in the emergency room at the Adirondack Medical Centre has been removing fishing lures from every part of the body you can imagine (yes, even that one ....) the relieved patients donating their lure to the wall of pain.

What is Nye's technique for removal? Well, with the benefit of anaesthetic he doesn't generally have to resort to snipping the barb or pushing the hook all the way through. He simply grasps the hook with a suture holding device "And then", he says, "with a little twist and flip of the wrist, the hook comes right out."

I think this simply proves barbless is good for both fish and fishers.

Kayaker vs. Angler

The world is an increasingly crowded place. As anglers we see that up close and personal. The riverine idyll becomes harder to find with each passing year as we are not the only ones drawn to the beauty of water.
Part 3: Kayaker x Angler | Finding Common Ground
Kayaker x Angler 

Walkers. Paddlers. Swimmers. Boaters. Hunters. Canoeists. Dogs. It is a long list of competing desires and opinions seeking different things from the same resource. And it is not always pretty. One man's pleasure is another man's hell.

In a series of films sponsored by Colorado, USA brewer Fat Tire filmmakers attempt to square this a particular circle bringing together a kayaker and angler who share a common interest: the river. Visit the Fat Tire You Tube page here for the trailer and the three films: Climber vs. Hunter, Wheeler vs. Biker and Kayaker vs. Angler.

How did you spend the hottest day ever?

I don't know about you but as the mercury crept towards the British record 101.7F (38.7C) at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens last Thursday (25 July) I headed fishing. Admittedly I didn't get to the river until gone 4pm and then spent the time chatting in the relative cool of the wonderfully colonial hut at The Wilderness on the River Kennet.

I think we managed to lever ourselves out of the chairs at somewhere near six as the heat ebbed out of the day, though still in the high 20's that was more relative than actual. I, like my friend, was determined to winkle out a rising fish - it was too hot for speculative casting and sitting on a bench under the shade of a tree waiting for a rise felt plenty industrious enough.

Soon after eight we reconvened beside the cool box. We both had done what we came to do so as the sedges danced above the river and the occasional fish slurped, we shot the breeze until the darkness drove us home sometime after ten. It was the most perfect way to end the hottest day ever.

Talking about heat well done to Adam Jenns who braved a nearly equally hot day to attend the Chalkstream Course at Bullington Manor. Adam, a Fishing Breaks snood, the most perfect protection from sun and wind, is in the post today.

News from Wiltshire

I'm sure the keeper said 6x tippet .....
If you'd like a slightly different view from the chalkstreams I'd highly recommend the occasional e-Newsletter from my friend Bob Wellard at the Wiltshire Fisheries Association.

It covers all sorts of news, views and letters with invites to events and workshops. Click on this link to read the Summer 2019 edition and scroll all the way down to the bottom update your preferences if you'd like to receive Bob's mailing on a regular basis. 

You don't have to be a WFA member but new members are very welcome!

The Quiz

Utterly random this week. As ever, it is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      How many, and what are, the primary colours.

2)   Joe Klein's 1996 book Primary Colors was about 
     which eventual US president?

3)      Which town is the capital of Wiltshire?
If you are reading this on some far away beach, happy holidays.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1) Three. Red, blue and yellow.
2) Bill Clinton
3) Trowbridge