I am beginning to think the bird kingdom might be in some
sort of avian lockdown centred around The Mill; I have never known anything
like it. From the near constant circling of the Red Kite to the incessant
pursuit chatter of the Kingfishers we seem to be living in some sort of
Take the ducks: as the old music hall joke goes, please do!
Though that said someone seems to have done it in part. We have a permanent
population of discontented adolescents whose sole purpose in life, beyond
bickering with each other, is waiting for fish feeding time. I’m pretty
certain they have some sort of social media alert; the moment I appear two
dozen or more gather from far and wide to the lake. As for the ducklings
they are very much the disappeared. I’d estimate we’ve seen at least a
hundred cute, yellow little fluffy feather balls since the spring,
sometimes in family groups as large as fifteen. But the attrition is
fast: 10, 6, 2 then none. Or any countdown numbers you care to pick. In the
space of a week every paddle is reduced to zero. As to the assassin, I have
And then there were three ....
A similar fate was to befall the pair of Canada Geese. Actually,
these are relatively unusual stayovers, though that is most likely because
we have no swans who have chosen to corral themselves for the past two
years on our downstream neighbour’s ornamental lake. They usually do for
any colonial interlopers; swan/geese wars are always short and vicious and
always have the same outcome. Rather bizarrely these particular geese chose
to nest amongst the young wheat shoots high in the field that looks down on
the Brook; all we could see for some weeks were a pair of heads turning
like periscopes above the corn.
Then one morning Mum and Dad appeared at the lake with three
newly hatched goslings who they inculcated in the ways of water. But for
two of them they might just as well not bothered for the following day there
was just one. What of the other two? Again, I have no definitive
explanation. It seems unlikely it would be a double natural death and geese
are highly protective of their offspring, so no great likelihood of the
patricide exhibited by ducks. My bet is on Mr Fox, but he has been unable
to account for the third who has grown from a grey, downy bundle to a 2/3rdfacsimile of his (or could be her) parents
in short order. Apparently geese, though they don’t reach sexual maturity
until 2 or 3 years of age, reach full adult size faster than any other bird
in the world. Quite what evolutionary quirk has determined this I can’t
imagine as geese seem to be an unlikely candidate for such a global
After the death of our long-time resident heron, shot by
some unknown hand, we went a while without a grey stalker but we now have
two who compete fiercely for the best spot on the lake, barking like dogs
and squawking at each other whilst under the dismissive gaze of the
white egret who has made the uppermost branch of the ash tree on the
island his regular perch. Such is the scale of the competition between the
three I worry less for my fish now as to when there was just the one.
Talking of turf wars, the kingfishers are forever at it. We
have one resident pair but I’m guessing there must be another somewhere
close by because, quite suddenly at random times of day, two Exocets of
blue will jink and weave, one pursuing the other above the water
accompanied by a fierce high-pitched chatter, the noise and sight
disappearing as fast as it appears.
As so it goes on, moorhens. Coots. Red kites. Buzzards.
Crows. Swifts. Swallows. And don’t get me started on wood pigeons who treat
us as the local drinking haunt and shagging palace having gorged on the
peas in the field adjacent to the wheat.
The only birds we really miss out on are our native
songbirds but maybe they have headed elsewhere for a quieter life. I
wouldn’t entirely blame them.
Freedom to fish
Sea angling has always been the most free-wheeling of the
angling disciplines – no cost to the fishing. No licence required. Barely
any regulations to speak of. But this is under threat by virtue of
We all know how endangered fish stocks have become in the
coastal waters around Britain. The reasons? Well, overfishing, pollution
and coastal development. The government recognises this so recently
commissioned the Benyon Review that reported in June recommending the
creation of Highly Protected Marina Areas (HPMA) identifying 46 sites
around England, five of which would be selected for a pilot scheme that
would lead to a blanket ban on all sea fishing, including recreational
You may or may not be surprised to hear that angling had no
seat at the table for this review so we got lumped in with the detrimental
e.g. commercial trawling whilst being excluded from the apparently
beneficial e.g. recreational powerboating or scuba diving.
It is hard to criticise the concept of the HPMAs; the ending
of dredging, drilling, mineral extraction and commercial fishing makes
eminent sense. But recreational angling? Chichester and Langstone harbour,
one of the best locations in the UK for sea bass and mullet on the fly, is
on the list. Does anyone really think the demise of Hampshire’s sea fish
stock can be laid at the door of those who fish for fun?
The ban is clearly arrant nonsense so hopefully the reasoned
response made by the Angling Trust and others to the Environment Secretary
will allow a bit of common sense to prevail as least as far as us anglers
are concerned. That said the Benyon Review has run into a tidal wave of
opposition from the fishing industry. The National Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations said on Wednesday that it “has been driven by
politically well-connected, socially privileged, environmental zealots,
with an agenda that bulldozes aside the fears and legitimate concerns of
those who depend on fishing for their livelihood.” No holding back there
If you want to have your say there is still time as the
decision will not be made until the run up to World Ocean Day on 8thJune 2021 which tells you this is as much
about perception as practicality.
In the news
If you happen to be flicking through back issues of Country
Life in a doctors surgery or some such keep an eye out for the March 29th2020 edition which
features Shawford Park on the River Itchen, one of our most beautiful
Shawford Park, Hampshire
Wherwell Priory was on the cover of the August edition of Trout & Salmon
with a great feature Don Stazicker with photographer Richard Faulks which
really captured the best of the Test.
Trout & Salmon, August 2020
Frankel is out
(well, almost ....)
After a couple of false starts my latest book Frankel:
The Greatest Racehorse of All Time and the Sport That Made Him is
published this coming Thursday, August 6th.
It will be available in all bookshops, via Amazon in Hardcover, Kindle Edition or Audiobook.
For a signed copy visit the Fishing Breaks web site.
I’ll take no credit for finding this clip. It was sent to me
with the simple tag: ‘grayling having sex’. In the field of fish
procreation the expression of one of the participants would be worthy of
winning an Oscar at the annual Adult Video News awards.
Watch it here You'll have to get almost to the end of
the 92 seconds but it is worth seeing Jack Perks doing his stuff in anticipation.
A newsletter topic theme this week but
as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the
1)What is the largest UK native bird
measured by wingspan?
2)What is the smallest UK native bird
measured by weight?
3)Who was the jockey that rode Frankel
in all his races?
It took me years to work out why Jaffa just so loved the
company of anyone fishing around the lake. For the past seventeen years or
so he’d spend each day patiently patrolling the fringes, sitting beside
each angler in turn. I’m pretty sure in his own mind he became a pretty
deft fly fisher; his expression certainly seemed to critique the best and
worst of casting.
As he watched the fishing action his ears were doing
something entirely different, listening out for the tiniest of rustles from
the grassy bank. At which point he’d dismiss all further thoughts of
fishing as he stalked his prey, often as not pouncing headlong into the
undergrowth to emerge victim in mouth. Little shrews were the most common
fatalities; these were consumed in three crunching bites. Head. Body. Tail
end. Those less versed in the ways of felines were often horrified by the
speed, sound and brutality of the operation. Start to stop less than a
minute, Jaffa returning to his previous posture with the addition of some
contented licking of lips, plus alpha male grooming.
In his life he killed a lot. We haven’t seen a rabbit in
years. Grey squirrels give us a wide berth. That said most birds were safe;
the ducks and Jaffa were equally disdainful of each other. He did once capture
a kingfisher, which he brought into The Mill still very much alive. It
escaped his jaws and then proceeded to fly around, chased by Jaffa until it
finally stunned itself flying into a large glass pane. I gathered the
bleeding bird up in a tea towel but as I did my emergency vet bit (very
amateur) it came to and pecked me on the hand. Kingfisher bills are, as you
might expect, sharp. I still have the scar.
Jaffa never really came to terms with the otters; frankly, I
think he was scared witless of them. The best he would do was to perch on a
windowsill staring out into the dark on the night as the eeking echoed
around the lake. But mostly he’d curl up indoors, not venturing outside
until the otters vacated his kingdom at dawn.
For The Mill was Jaffa’s kingdom. He has been part of the
weft and weave of life here since almost the very day I arrived. He’d join
me each morning as I went around clearing the sluices, adjusting the
hatches and feeding the fish, his reward two or three fish pellets. He absolutely
loved fish pellets. As he did the water from the Wallop Brook water; he’d
hang from the bank to drink, his little pink tongue lapping it up. When we
had the office in the house, he’d sleep between two monitors and above the
gentle up draught of the server for warmth. I think he knew every word of
my books as I muttered and typed away, the two of us together but alone to
For the most part Jaffa liked having people around, though
he took an incomprehensible dislike to some from time to time, I’m sorry to
say greeting those who unwisely got too close, mostly men, with a bite or
scratch. Generally, however he’d saunter out to join new arrivals with
peaceful thoughts, unhurriedly watching the day unfold. Because, as I
finally worked out, we were his hunting enablers. The presence of people
discombobulated the rodent population; as they broke for cover, disturbed
by us humans, Jaffa pounced.
It was a never fail symbiosis of which he never tired.
Until, at least, just recently. Age caught up with Jaffa. A degenerating
spine condition limiting his forays until the sad day when he could barely
walk any longer. That day was Monday, when beside the Brook he had made his
own for nearly two decades, we had him peacefully put to sleep in the warmth
of the morning sun.
I’m going to miss you, buddy.
More city otters
Hot on the heels of the Salisbury window shopper this photo
comes my way from ex-pat Evan Landy who lives in Singapore. He is currently
writing a book about smooth-coated otters that range across the Indian
subcontinent and Southeast Asia.
They are not so different in size to our native otters, but
they do have a very different lifestyle living, as they do, in
intergenerational family groups of up to a dozen. Evan takes up the story:
“The smooth-coated otters (Lutrogale perspicillata)
of Singapore are famous for having adapted to city life in one of the most
densely populated countries on earth. Around one hundred otters and five
and a half million people share this small island, which is around the same
size as Anglesey (with a population of seventy thousand people). Outside of
the city there are a few remnant patches of mangroves and this family (two
adults, two sub-adults and two pups) have made themselves at home in this
They patrol around 10km of coastline each week and so one
has to rely on an element of luck, as well as getting to know their habits,
to find them. As there are around fifty thousand people for
every otter in Singapore, it is unsurprising to find otters
outnumbered by the fishing community. For the most part, anglers and otters
live side by side peacefully enough but the otters do seem to be very aware
of the difference between those who fish and those who do not. Whilst they
allowed Evan a close approach on this occasion, their behaviour changed as
soon as a fisherman appeared. They became instantly alert and soon slipped back
into the water and moved on. Some fishermen will deter the presence of
otters through making loud noises and occasionally throwing objects into
the water to frighten them, but the vast majority just reel in their line
and wait for them to pass.
It is fascinating to witness how they have adapted to live
in one of the world's busiest cities. Lastly, they are proving to be a
valuable flagship species for local wildlife as they were named the 51st
icon of Singapore in 2016 after a vote run by one of the national
Don't bother to
match the hatch
I can’t believe that it was just four months ago that I was
driving beside Idaho’s famous Silver Creek, just a week ahead of the UK
lockdown. Both it, and the world, looked a lot different back then.
Today the snow has gone but the famous Idaho Brown drake
hatch made its annual appearance bang on time. It is the Midwest equivalent
of our Mayfly though I’m told it is slightly frustrating for the angler.
There is no pause to the hatching Ephemera simulans who rocket from
the water to take flight; none of this gentle bobbing on the surface to dry
your wings like our danica.
Many an angler has spent many an hour flogging away with a
surface imitation for zero reward. The trick is to either nymph whilst the
hatch is on or wait for the spinner fall. Watch the (very) brief video here
Silver Creek, Idaho
Photo of the week
This photo popped up on Twitter. A 25lb Koi carp caught of a
Hares Ear Booby on Grafham Water. There was bit of a debate as to whether
it should have been released - it was. The official word from the Institute
of Fisheries Management was:
It is illegal to release ornamental fish into the wild but
obviously very difficult to police. Carp and variants are not classed as
Invasive Non-Native Species so there is no requirement to maintain and
remove. Not great from a biosecurity point of view, but it is a bit late
once they're in the water.
A newsletter topic theme this week but
as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the
1)What food crop is Idaho most famous
2)In what year did Singapore cease to be
a British colony?
3)Today should have been the second day of which
international sporting event in Kent?