Saturday, 16 December 2017

Women in waders

I am a huge enthusiast of women fly fishing. I met my wife fly fishing and some of the happiest days we spend each summer are when the three of us (my daughter has likewise been inculcated) head for the river.

It must be said, and I know they will admit to this, that there has to be some 'bribe'. If I simply pose the question 'Shall we go fishing' the take up will be poor. So I have become a little cunning, dressing up the day with an incentive of a post-fishing lunch at a good pub. 

For those of you who wish to adopt this strategy I'd advise lunch rather than supper; afternoon departures are inevitably kyboshed by events. In general don't expect to get them back onto the river after lunch and don't delay lunch. My wife once became so infuriated by a particular fish I refused to leave uncaught that she snuck up behind me to lob a rock in the river. I took the point.

All this came to mind when I read an article in the New York Times last week that said women are now the fastest (and only) growing demographic in fly-fishing. My business ears pricked up. I went on to read that in an extract from a recent study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation it was that said women make up about 31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly fish.  In 2016, more than two million women participated in the sport, an increase of about 142,000 from the previous year. The aim of the survey is to promote the fly fishing industry goal of gender balance by 2020 with an equal proportion of men and women participating.

At that point I scratched my head: 31% of fly fishers are women? I found it hard to believe. When we fish the One Fly in Jackson Hole no more than ten of the one hundred and sixty competitors are ever women and of the eighty guides maybe two are women. If I scoured the Fishing Breaks database I think I'd struggle to do any better than one in twenty. In the dim distant past I seemed to recall the UK mix said to be one to twelve. As this story took traction on social media the figure of 24% women for the UK became common currency, quoting an Environment Agency lifestyles survey from 2010. I still wasn't convinced so I dug it out. This was a market research survey that polled 2800 people to discover how often people went fishing, what motivated them to go fishing and what might encourage them to go more often.

The first thing that struck me as odd about the poll was that the respondents were 51% women and 49% men. In a male dominated sport that would certainly skew the data but in itself it didn't seem to explain the discrepancy so I turned to Dr. Bruno Broughton who is the expert in this field. It seems I wasn't alone in spotting the oddity the problem lying not in the answer but the way in which the question was framed. Broughton explains:

"The 2010 survey repeated the phraseology used in previous surveys: "Have You Been Fishing...?" Females who accompanied males but didn't actually use a rod-and-line referred to themselves as anglers because "we" went angling.  In other words, about one in four male anglers went fishing with a female at some stage in the period covered by the survey."

So nearly all those 24% (there are of course some female anglers) considered that they had 'gone fishing' even though they never held the thick end of the rod. It seems that once this discrepancy is factored in the split reflects a 2006 survey that comes back to the rather depressing 5/95% figure.

I guess it is not all bad news. There has to be hope that if a quarter of partners are willing to come along it is surely a short step to actually have them fish themselves and likewise the children as well. Quite how you make that conversion I am not sure but I suspect the most effective strategies will lie at fishery level. Two for ones, family days and those sort of things. Abolishing the rod licence would help. The Environment Agency is already boasting that there has been an increase in participation by children after 12-16 year olds were exempted. It is short step of logic to say that this would apply to all society groups.

In the United States the focus, to quote the NY Times is on, "outreach events to educate women on gear choices, selection and function; plan classes to build skills and confidence on the water; and arrange mentoring opportunities for future female guides, shop employees and industry leaders." All good stuff. Similar things have been happening here so I'm sure with the combined US/UK push we will see women with a higher profile in fly fishing and better served in stores.

But all that said I think that if we really want to move the needle it is probably incumbent on all of us who fly fish today to play our part. I am sure there are plenty of spouses out there who'd be willing to give fly fishing a try given encouragment, though I'll give you a heads up: a fly rod to the uninitiated rarely makes for a romantic Christmas gift! On the other hand to a child or grandchild it is a whole different story - the promise of an adventure with those you love most.


Sincere apologies for the hassles with trying to see CHALK in the first 48 hours of release. I didn't help things by announcing four hours ahead of the official launch (sorry) and then we had techie problems.

Watch the trailer
I can't pretend I understand how or what went wrong, but it did and your frustrations are understandable. However, all is resolved and thank you for all the glowing reviews that have since arrived at my Inbox. 

So, if you'd like to watch CHALK click this link and follow the instructions to register with FishingTV. If you are still having difficulties do ping me an email. There isn't a problem we haven't been able to resolve yet!

If you'd like to see CHALK 'live' as it were, I am hosting a special screening as part of the One Fly Festival on April 26th & 27th. The Thursday showing is now sold out but tickets are available for the Friday. Book here ......


They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; at the weekend I felt the adage tested me.

I took a trip to Rosebourne, a new style of home store that specialises in local and fresh produce in which one of our neighbours in Nether Wallop has an interest. Maybe two Saturdays out from Christmas wasn't the wisest day of the year for a first foray, but it was good to see the car park full and the store packed.

Wandering around I alighted on the drinks section which has all sorts of unusual brands and a local cider caught my eye. Well, it would. It was called Meon Valley Cider and comes in three varieties. 

The dry has a damsel fly label. The medium dry called and with a brown trout label. And the medium, styled cool as a chalkstream, had an idyllic river scene on the label. 

'Gosh, how lovely.' I thought. And then I did a double take. It was the cover from Life of a Chalkstream, with a few details altered.

I am not sure whether to be enraged or flattered. Watch this space.

PS You will not find the Life of a Chalkstream in hardback in the shops any longer. It sold out the print run. However I do have a stash if you'd like a copy. Buy here ....


Congratulations to Sgt Kev Kelly who was named Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year at the Wildlife Crime Conference last month. His 'beat' is North Yorkshire with 21 wildlife crime officers under his control.  So in that vein, three questions. As ever it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.

1)    When was hunting with hounds banned in England and Wales? A) 1994  B) 1998  C)2004

2)    What is the punishment provided under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for shooting a hawk in England or Wales?

3)    When was bear baiting banned in England? A) 1735  B) 1835  C) 1935

Happy Christmas shopping!

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:

1)    2004
2)    An unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment or both

3)    1835 and then soon after across the Empire.

Friday, 1 December 2017

CHALK is out!

CHALK is out!

The premiere of CHALK in Leicester Square was something to behold. Fishing guides in black tie? Pints of Dorset's finest beer swapped for sloe gin champagne cocktails? Action thrillers of the big screen replaced by a journey through the gentle world of the chalkstreams? Was this really happening?

Well, after years of dreaming it had all come to fruition. A feature film that traces the evolution of fly fishing through the prism of the beautiful English chalkstreams, plus some, it must be said less so. For we didn't just follow the stereotypes. 

Yes, of course there are the thatched cottages of sleepy villages but we took our rods into urban London. Amidst burnt out cars, the smoke still curling to the sky, the resilient brown trout, Britain's most widely dispersed freshwater fish, proves it truly can be caught anywhere. 

This sequence remains my standout part of the film though you'll gasp at the drone shot over the Driffield Beck at Marina Gibson spots, casts and hooks a fish. 

If you would like to watch CHALK it is available anywhere in the world with just a few clicks of a mouse. Here is how you may watch it:

Watch the trailer
CHALK is exclusively available on the FishingTV platform. FishingTV is a streaming/OnDemand service, like Netflix for fishing. It is free to join and there is no monthly fee, rather a pay-per-view system operates. You can join FishingTV here:

You can access FishingTV in one of the following ways:
- Use the website:
- Download the app for smartphone and tablet - Android and iOS versions are available
- Install the FishingTV app on your smartTV - supported on most makes and models including Samsung, Panasonic, Sony and many more.
- Find us on Amazon Fire TV Stick and a range of other Set-Top devices including EE

If you'd like to see CHALK 'live' as it were, I am hosting a special screening as part of the One Fly Festival on April 26th & 27th. The Thursday showing is now sold out but tickets are available for the Friday. Book here ......


I was asked this question last month by someone who has untold wealth. He told me that he was asked this same question as a child, the questioner assuring him that once he knew the correct answer he'd be able to go through life winning bets at will. 
Here is the question:

What are the most northern, southern, eastern and western U.S. States?

I know my friend made his fortune in more traditional ways, but regardless the answer is a pretty good party trick. Before you go directly to the answer I will put a clue further down the page which might cause you to re-evaluate your answer.


In a way it was rather sad as we removed a last of a bit of rural industrial history from The Parsonage last month.

The concrete structure was part of the massive hatch system that controlled the water meadows in that area we call middle Test, namely the river you see on your right as you drive south from Stockbridge to Romsey. 

If you had been on that road exactly a hundred years ago today you would not have seen the river, or the meadows, but tens of thousands of acres of what would have looked like continuous lake, the fields covered with water as the hatches impounded the river, forcing the flow to spill out over the land.

Drowning, to give the process its proper term, was actually a very skilled art. The water had to flow continuously or it would stagnate, rotting the grassland it was meant to fertilise and protect from frost. So, from December to May the drowners lived out by the river in specially built huts moderating the flows night and day by adjusting the hatches.

The water meadows were first introduced to England by the Earl of Pembroke in the 16th century when he bought over Dutch engineers to his Wiltshire estate, through which flows the Avon, Ebble, Nadder and Wylye. The water meadows soon became a money machine, the early season grazing ideal for sheep which commanded a premium price reaching market earlier and fatter than sheep from other regions.

You can still see the remnants of the Wiltshire system today, the hatches things of great beauty, chiselled as they are from Portland stone. Ours at The Parsonage, ugly reinforced concrete, were of a much later vintage. In fact we think they might have been almost the last water meadow hatches ever built, the folklore being that they were constructed by WW1 prisoners of war.

But their time was past; their purpose redundant, the remains preventing water flowing easily into the carrier. What man gives, man can take away and I think you'll agree that the result is something far more natural looking.


The answer contains the names of just two States.


Colin Burton brings the feedback draw season to a close collecting the Abel TR reel as the first out the hat of all the 2017 replies. Well done to Colin and thank you to everyone who contributed this year. Your feedback, comments and suggestions are truly appreciated offering us invaluable insights that we may otherwise miss.

Next year I am hoping to expand the feedback by (technology permitting) putting the reports on-line, translating them into a star rating system. The tentative plan is that you will rate your experience from 1-5 with comments. You will be able to put your name to the report or remain anonymous. If anyone has advice or past experience of using systems like this, do let me know

If you are grayling fishing please keep the reports coming in; there will be a special draw for you at the end of the season (March 14).

Happy viewing!

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answer:
The answer is Alaska and Hawaii.

Northern is Alaska, southern is Hawaii, eastern is Alaska and western is Alaska. If you note the map, Alaska is clearly the most northern state, and Hawaii, at 20º North, is without doubt the most southern state. Note how much further south it is than Florida. As far as the most western state, note how Alaska's Aleutian Islands stretch right up to the edge of the Western Hemisphere at the 180º line of Longitude, thus the most western state in the country. Alaska is also the answer for eastern, as the Aleutian Islands stretch across the 180º line of Longitude, into the Eastern Hemisphere, and up the edge of the Russian Federation.

If you exclude Alaska and Hawaii, the answers are northern Minnesota, southern Florida, eastern Maine, and western Washington.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Weekend in Wallop

Weekend in Wallop


On the news last week I saw Billy Connolly at Buckingham Palace being transformed into Sir William Connolly. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my memory I felt sure he had some connection to Nether Wallop but it would not come to mind. So, like the hard-chasing investigative reporter I am I turned to Google and sure enough there it was: Weekend in Wallop on YouTube. I would re-write the Wikipedia entry but it says it all:

"Weekend in Wallop is a made-for-television documentary of the First Nether Wallop International Arts Festival. The premise was the creation of a new arts festival to compete with the Edinburgh Festival. It was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1984.

The village of Nether Wallop is located in rural north Hampshire, close to Middle Wallop and Over Wallop. It was used as a location for the BBC Television version of Miss Marple, starring Joan Hickson.

Nether Wallop hosted the festival on a scale far less grand than Edinburgh. The main review show was held in the scout hut with a video feed for the overflow audience in the village pub (the hall looked as if it could only hold about 150 people). Ned Sherrin and Gore Vidal vied in the village shop for the best location to hold their book-signing sessions. Norman Lovett did his turn on the back of a farm vehicle. The festival included a guided walk of the village with Michael Hordern and a quiz hosted by Bamber Gascoigne which pitted village locals against the greatest minds in the world featuring the philosopher A. J. "Freddie" Ayer (the locals won!).

The main review was compered by a local dignitary (Major Billy Jepson Turner) and performers included Rowan Atkinson, Mel Smith and Peter Cook (as two members of a "lesbian" synchronised swimming team), Rik Mayall first as "Kevin Turvey" and then later singing "Trouble" with Jools Holland on piano and John Otway on guitar, Jenny Agutter, Wayne Sleep, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Arthur Smith, John Wells, Roger McGough, Stanley Unwin in a sketch as a school teacher trying to dissuade Bill Wyman from going and playing that Rock and Rollode. It also featured local people doing their "turn". The closing act was Billy Connolly.

Although the festival was a "one off" and was not repeated, all the stars gave their time for free in aid of charity. A seed was sown in Nether Wallop and many of the same performers went on to found the highly successful Comic Relief which has raised millions for charity since."

Being a bit of film bore at present CHALK has taught me the pecking order between Executive Producer, Co-Producer, Producer, Associate Producer and so on. Believe me it is quite the contentious subject worthy of a special edition of Burke's Peerage in itself so I watched through the closing credits. It is surprising what you will learn, not least when the caption:

SCENARIO Vanya Hackel

appeared on screen. Now I know a Vanya Hackel. He is an uber keen fisherman, a Fishing Breaks regular for two decades, was involved with Broadlands and is a regular in Norway. Surely not the same? I phoned the Vanya I knew immediately. "Goodness", he said (actually he said something a bit more expletive), "I haven't thought of that in years". 

It transpires that Vanya, who was living in Timsbury down the road by the Test at the time, was one of the moving forces behind the Weekend in Wallop that was six months in the making. Why Nether Wallop? 

Well, the village will not be flattered to hear that the name sounded sufficiently absurd to match the silliness of the whole concept. The Wikipedia entry is not entirely accurate; not everyone gave their services for free. Michael Horden leveraged a day of fishing on the Wallop Brook. Jenny Agutter, based in Hollywood at the time, was only available because the date coincided with her twice yearly return to England to tend her garden roses. And such a stellar cast? I suspect Vanya is being modest but he attributes this to the address book of producer Richard Curtis (Not The Nine O'clock News, Blackadder, Mr Bean, Four Wedding and A Funeral ....) who knew all the upcoming talent.

Nobody seems exactly sure who had the original idea but it was probably a combination of director and writer Stephen Pile and charity fundraiser Jane Goodall. At that time Stephen was the columnist Atticus of the Sunday Times so provided invaluable publicity whilst Jane was trying to change the ethos of these headline events so all the money raised went directly to the cause. 

So from what Vanya describes as a 'totally mad' idea the event gained a life of its own. Once a few names were on board the festival snowballed. The two hour slot given by Channel 4, still in its infancy itself, gave the First Nether Wallop International Arts Festival yet more momentum. 

As you watch the grainy footage the thing you have to keep in mind was that this was 33 years ago. Many of the participants, if not exactly unknown, were at the outset of stellar careers. Rowan Atkinson is now one of the most recognised faces in the world thanks to Mr Bean. Hugh Lawrie an international star after the US hit House. And so it goes on to the hundreds of millions subsequently raised by Comic Relief.

I do wonder if some of the sketches would pass the censor today, but you can judge for yourself on You Tube here. This is less than half the original broadcast but if you Google/YouTube Weekend in Wallop you will find more. Truly some comic gold.

I consider myself to have been lucky with my two books Life of a Chalkstream and The Otters' Tale because they have made it to print at a time when nature writing has never been more popular. Shops like Waterstones dedicate prominent sections to a category that a decade or two ago would have been a single, dusty shelf as publishers vie to sign the best talent and put their considerable marketing heft behind each new title.

I must admit I was slightly unaware of this phenomenon until nominated for the Wainwright Prize earlier this year and all the subsequent hullabaloo that came with reaching the final short list. As Land Lines, a major new research project, says, "The diversity and influence of nature writing has never been so great" and they are asking people across the UK to help find the nation's favourite book that captures our special relationship with the natural world. Which nature book is a real favourite? Or maybe inspired a life-long love of wildlife?

Stretching from Gilbert White's seminal The Natural History of Selborne back in 1789 to Helen Macdonald's soaring and award-winning H is for Hawk in 2014, this pioneering project will look at how nature writing in this country has changed over the last 200 years, and what it might say about the world today and our connection with nature. Land Lines is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and is being undertaken by the Universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex.

Everyone can take part in the national survey by nominating their favourite UK work on nature - along with up to 100 words about why they have chosen it. Entry must be in by 30 November, after which an expert panel will take these suggestions and compile a shortlist of 10 popular books. Then in January, an online vote will decide the nation's favourite piece of nature writing.

If you'd like to nominate your favourite book visit the Land Lines web site here.


The past few days have been busy as the final touches are put to CHALK. Actually I am not being 100% honest with you. A better word would be frenetic. With the premiere just a few days away directors Leo Cinicolo and Chris Cooper disappeared into the recording studio on Wednesday with actor James Murray to lay the voiceover onto the film.

Now if you think this smacks of being a bit all last minute you'd be right in one sense, but wrong in another. It has been planned this way for months. It seems to me the film and TV business thrives on the buzz of running up to the wire. For me, where a book has a leisurely nine month gestation, the flurry of emails as one script re-write follows another was something of a shock. But it is worth all the pain, effort and struggle - Leo and Chris have created an amazing film.

If you'd like to attend the premiere of CHALK, our much talked about documentary about the chalkstreams of England, we've kept just one pair of tickets back to offer as a prize to one lucky person. 

You'll get to come along on Thursday 23rd November 2017 to the pre-screening drinks in Leicester Square and then be among the first 104 people in the world to see the film. The whole cast and crew will be there, including the likes of Marina Gibson, Alex Jardine, Pete McLeod, Steve Cullen and Glen Pointon, plus a few selected guests from the world of fly fishing.

Please note that the event begins at 6pm on Thursday 23rd November in Leicester Square, London. Please make sure that you are able to attend. The dress code for the event is Black Tie. It is a premiere after all!

Be quick: the completion closes at noon today Friday November 17th.  If you don't win we have two screenings planned as part of the River Test One Fly Festival. Click here for details.

Swans are not always the anglers' friend, seemingly having an unerring instinct to swim right over the top of the only feeding fish you have found in the entire river. They are, of course, haughtily dismissive of your shouts and waving arms.

So, it should really be of no particular surprise that this particular swan at Dunbridge has found an easy source of food, stretching up to rattle illicit batches of fish pellets from the feeder. You have got to give him credit. 

Now our river keeper Simon Fields has what Baldrick of Blackadder fame would call a 'cunning plan' to foil the pellet thief.

We will see. It may well be a very long winter.


A very random selection this week and again no theme other than the topics of this Newsletter.

1) Who wrote the book on which the 1992 film A River Runs Through It starring Brad Pitt and directed by Robert Redford, was based?

2) Young swans are known by two names. Cygnets is one. What is the other?

3) What typically are the constituent elements of a fish pellet?

It is just for fun, with the answers at the bottom of the page.

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:
1) Norman Maclean
2) Swanlings
3) Fishmeal, vegetable proteins and binding agents such as wheat or soya