I think, as anglers, we fall into two tribes. There is the wild tribe who eschew all creature comforts. They are strong believers in the Gordon Gekko utterance in the film Wall Street: lunch is for wimps. They fish till they drop and then some more. But for the rest of us, the majority I suspect, fishing is a pleasure not a forced route march.
I, for one, savour a coffee on the riverbank before I’ve ever even thought about tying on a fly. A great lunch in the pub or a lazy picnic is part of the allure of a day on the river. And if there is a cabin, however rudimentary, to store my gear or shelter from the weather, so much the better. As you will know at Fishing Breaks, we have everything from some fairly basic garden sheds to full-service riverside lodges. But for all that I know we are yet to come anywhere close to this one featured in Architectural Digest.
Sol Duc Cabin
Built for a client with a serious fly-fishing habit, Seattle-based architect Olson Kundig has designed the perfect hideaway, the Sol Duc Cabin, located in Washington State, on the west coast of the US. Not only is the cabin beautiful but even the name evokes our sport, Sol Duc when translated from Native Clallan Indian means sparkling water, reflecting the river it overlooks.
Book me a lifetime stay!
Let's enjoy the summer
I have been far too miserable of late; too much of The Smiths and not enough Abba. I know I’ve beaten you all about the head with my gripes and concerns about the bad things happening to our rivers. But enough of that for now.
I am amazed at how, in the midst of the greatest hospitality meltdown within living memory, all manner of amazing new business ventures are popping up in the Test valley: Treehouse camps. Wineries. A luxury hotel. Safari tents. The economic theory of creative destruction seems to be doing well and thriving down our way. Let me tell you about what is happening.
Us locals have long wondered about Amport House just south of Andover, close to the Test tributary of the River Anton. A stately home with gardens by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens was, until closure last year, purportedly the training school for military clerics. Now, I don’t know how many vicars there are in the British armed forces but judging by the size of Amport House it must have been an awful lot. So, the general opinion is that it was some sort of spook school, more John le Carre than Father Brown. Anyway, regardless of its past it has been bought by the team behind Another Place in the Lake District and Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall to create a luxury 50 room hotel, something we desperately need in the area. It is slated to open in 2022.
I have mixed feelings about treehouses which are, apparently, all the rage. When my daughter was 12, we (or mostly me) set about building her dream treehouse one Easter holiday. It was quite the thing. It had a cabin, large veranda, huge plastic pipe as an escape chute, upper viewing deck, rope ladder access and a trap door that closed to prevent any unwanted guests. It even had a clay tile roof for reasons I forget. It became the place for a sleepout summer. However, the one thing you don’t expect of a 75-year-old black alder with the circumference of two pairs of outstretched arms is for it to fall over. Which it did in a storm the following winter.
However, I’m sure you’ll be in no such danger in one of the four Wild Escapes treehouses near The Mayfly Inn 3 miles upstream of Stockbridge on the organic Fullerton Farm also home to the Black Chalk winery where you can sip the local sparkling wine from the treehouse deck overlooking the very vines from which it came. Or if you are more grounded Gambledown Farm has African-style safari tents on a rural working farm. Or if you like some glamping The Meadow in our neighbouring village of Broughton has three hideaways including a Victorian Showman’s Caravan and a converted canal barge afloat on the lake.
If the great outdoors, however luxurious, is not for you I am pleased to say that the Dukes Head, on the Stockbridge to Romsey road, after years of neglect and five year of closure, is being fully refurbished with the addition of 12 much needed bedrooms. No current date for reopening but I assume in the latter half of this year judging by my last drive past.
The Test Valley is a surprising centre of British literature if you know where to look. Agatha Christie based one of her ABC murder mysteries in Andover. H G Wells set a book chapter in Stockbridge’s Grosvenor Hotel. Watership Down is close to the source of the Test. And the Rev. Awdry of Thomas the Tank Engine fame was the son of the Ampfield vicar who fired his passion for trains whilst still a child by building a working model train in the garden of the vicarage. There are many more connections to check out on the Test Valley Literary Trail.
Hero or villain? The stocked fish
Wilding is all the rage. Plenty think that the end of stocking would be a good thing. What better, goes the thinking, than a river entirely populated by wild fish. But is it? How would it be better? Had George Orwell included fish in Animal Farm would the chant have gone up 'wild fins good, stocked fins bad'?
It is a debate that is being increasing had in clubs, societies and the governing bodies of angling. Charles Jardine and I will give you our take on the debate in a Zoom call to which you are invited on Friday January 29th at 11am.
To join email me or register here. If you have registered for previous debates no need to register again. NB Apologies if you are confused as I wrote Monday 29th January last time; definitely on the Friday!
Yes, yet another bloody lockdown
I think some of us had a quiet chortle when the government announced that fishing was to be permitted during Lockdown 3 on the basis that it was ‘exercise’. But then again, I reckon I walk more on a fishing day than on any other day of the week so maybe it was not as daft as it sounds.
Anyway, hats off to Jamie Cook and his team at the Angling Trust who have secured us this privileged lockdown exception. They clearly have the ear of someone important in the Department of Media, Culture & Sport and put our case well. It is now up to us not to abuse the privilege afforded to us. In a nutshell you may going fishing as long as:
·It is just you alone or with members of your family/support bubble or one other person
·The fishing is local
·You practice social distancing
·You do not fish overnight or stay away from home
Not only is this good news for the remainder of the grayling season but it also gives me confidence that, whatever Covid throws at us, we will be able to plan for the start of the trout season in April, Mayfly and the season beyond that with some measure of certainty.
I’ll keep you posted if anything further develops. You can read the Fishing Breaks Covid-19 policy here and the Angling Trust advice here
This week questions loosely based on topics mentioned in the Newsletter to confound, dismay or delight.
1)Who played Gordon Gekko in Wall Street?
2)In what year was Watership Down published?
3)Which famous war memorial did Edwin Lutyens (pictured) design?
Let me ask you a question. How much is a wild brown trout worth? I suppose, at the most basic level, its value is zero as the cost of its creation, in monetary terms, was zero. Mother Nature doesn’t send us an annual bill. Perhaps she should then maybe we’d treat our planet a bit better.
In strictly aquaculture terms I can tell you that a 12” brown trout is worth about fiver, the cost of a stock fish. However, I think we are entitled to give our little wildie a wider value, taking into account its contribution to the tourist income chain. I haven’t seen a calculation for brown trout in quite some time but a Scottish salmon is often up there in the thousands. So, shall we say for sake of argument, our wildie, now dead by the way, is worth say £100 in relation to the Welsh community through which its natal river ran?
Perhaps we should stop for a moment but way of tribute to the late Bruce Forsyth to mimic his TV game show Play Your Cards Right. Higher! Lower! Which are you shouting? If you are shouting higher, I am with you all the way. In many respects the wild brown trout, the most widely dispersed of our native fish, is priceless. If you are shouting lower, that’s fine but you’ll have to keep shouting for an awfully long time before you reach the value that the judicial system of England and Wales has helpfully set for us. 23p. Yes, that is no typo. Twenty three pence.
On December 11th Welsh farmer Iwan Humphreys pleaded guilty to discharging slurry into the River Dulad near Capel Isaac in July 2019. The result was the death of 2,478 fish, including 746 brown trout, over a 5km stretch of the river with the invertebrate population pretty well wiped out. The District Judge classified this as a Category 1 event, the worst level of environmental harm.
You might not be familiar with slurry but it is essentially the piss and shit from cattle. For farmers, dairy ones in particular, it is a constant headache. A lactating cow produces 30-40 gallons of it every day. That is a lot of ‘slurry‘ which is full of nasties that are fatal to fish and insect life. I don’t know the details of the Humphreys case but I can tell you there is barely a cattle farm in Britain that doesn’t leach some slurry into rivers. Sometimes it is leakage from the storage ponds. Other times runoff from slurry that has been sprayed onto the fields. Farmers are not meant to do this if rain is forecast within the following 24 hours or if the ground is waterlogged. But UK weather forecasts are hardly an exact science ..... and anyway once the constituent elements of the slurry are in the ground, wet or not, a proportion of it will inevitably find its way into the nearest watercourse. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the yellow/brown tell tale trickle entering a river, acting like weed killer as it wipes out river life, leaving behind a gravel bed coated with a furry, soft brown gunge.
But back to the court case. Yes, farmer Humphreys was fined £1,760 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £9,430. But he was, in addition, levied with a Victim Surcharge, a penalty applied in order to provide compensation for the victims of crime. You might think, with over £11,000 already racked up, the Victim Surcharge was going to be pretty substantial. Ten of thousands maybe? I won’t make you play the Forsyth game again for the number, to me at least, denies further attempts at levity. The Victim Surcharge was £176 or 7p for each of the 2,478 fish killed.
I was staggered when I read the account of the court proceedings three weeks ago. I am still staggered today. Seven pence? What truly is the point of a justice system that values the cost of prosecution 53 times higher than that of the crime itself? Time and time again we see environmental law and regulation (Southern Water twice in a decade) that does little to protect and preserve the very thing it was designed to protect and preserve.
Nero famously fiddled whilst Rome burned. Our current day leaders hum the climate change blues as the rivers turn from pure to poison. Sorry to start your year on a downer.
New for 2021
It is always fun to bring you new stuff for a new year; this time around I have four.
If you are fly tying social media hound you will have surely come across Phillippa Hake one of our youngest and best fly tyers who doubles up her skills as a great fishing guide. As I have often written, we don’t have enough women in our sport so I’m delighted to welcome Phillippa into the Fishing Breaks fold where she will be guiding on her home rivers in west Yorkshire, perfectly placed north of Manchester and to the west of Leeds.
Our river keeper Si Fields (follow him on Instagram) is uber excited about Breach Farm; it is just two minutes walk from his front door 5 miles south of Winchester and he has been eyeing it up for years. So, now he has the wind behind him with a flurry of work to get it ready in time for April. Watch out for the rare Southern Damselfly from June onwards; the Breach Farm water meadows are home to this endangered species rarely seen anywhere else.
I am really looking forward to hosting this in July and September. A chance to bring on a whole new generation of guides in a week long training camp in Dorset. I am currently talking with a benefactor who is offering scholarships for the 2021 intake. Email me for details.
We successfully teamed up with Orvis last year to offer Abbotts Worthy on the River Itchen so I’m delighted to extend the association to include Timsbury 5 on the River Test. I’m sure many of you know it already or if you know The Parsonage you will know it as the beat opposite and downstream which, like The Parsonage, has a carrier.
Breach Farm - River Itchen
Heroes vs. villains
Thank you to all of you who tuned in for the first vlogcsat, live from Nether Wallop Mill, where Charles and I probed the respective merits of Halford in the dry fly corner and Skues in the nymph corner.
It was a little nerve wracking; Zoom technology never quite behaves as you might expect but we had a great gathering, some spot on questions which led to a tremendously enjoyable Q&A at the end. I think it was pretty well honours even at the close. Halford and Skues can rest easy in their graves. You can watch the vlogcast on YouTube or listen on our Buzzsprout feed or via your usual podcast provider – search The Fishing Cast.
One topic that did come up, rather left field in relation to the dry vs. nymph debate, was stocking. What did we think? The answer was a lot; too much for that session so our next topic will be Stock fish: heroes or villains?
If you'd like to register for this debate on Friday 25th January at 11amemail me. If you registered for the December no need to register again. I’ll send everyone log in details 24 hours in advance.
Click on the image to watch the debate on YouTube
Diaries open for 2021
All our diaries are now open for 2021 so fill your boots!
All your old favourities, plus the new ones mentioned above are ready to book, with a great slate of dates including the prime Mayfly weeks. For a handful of beats you might be disappointed by the a limited choice of Mayfly dates. This is not because we gave anyone preferential treatment but because we had to honour the rollover dates from last season.
A few weeks ago it seemed that we were home and free in relation to Covid and the opening of the fly fishing season, with the vaccine and herd immunity on track to be well established by April/May time. The new strain has obviously added another twist to the tale but fingers crossed, with over 4 months still to go before the first Danica hatch, I for one am optimistic.
That said, I’ll be standing by our 2021 Covid pledge that reads:
In the event of the fishing being closed due to UK government Covid-19 restrictions you will be able to rollover the booking without penalty for a new date(s) during the remainder of 2021.
By the way, if you are considering grayling fishing in January or February the guidance remains that you may continue to fish in Tiers 1-4 alone, with your immediate family or with one other person from outside your bubble. If you are in Tier 4 you may only fish in Tier 4 locations.
The publishing business is full of kind people. As least
that is the way I see it. Nobody ever tells you your writing is
diabolically c**p. Nobody ever says no to an idea you might propose. Yes,
they obfuscate. Delay. Say nothing. But they never say no. Ideas just
wither until a new one comes along. And as for sales figures don’t even
ask. Really, don’t ever ask. I’m not joking.
There are two touchstones to gauge the success of a book:
how many your publisher prints for the first edition and how many it actually
sells. The former is a pretty good guide as to how your publisher rates you
and your book; after all printing books costs money and no publishing house
wants a warehouse full of remaindered books as they call the unsolds. But
will anyone tell you how many are being printed? Not a chance. There is
more chance of discovering the secret sauce recipe for Coca Cola.
Come publication day, you’ll really have no idea as to the
prospects for your book. But that is fine as you might assume, in this age
of real time point-of-sale technology there will be a weekly, or at worst
monthly, update on sales from publishing HQ. Not a bit of it. There is
nothing by way of data and any direct enquiries will be met with gnomic
utterances that are both incomprehensible yet seemingly upbeat. It
sometimes feels a bit like the old mushroom farming adage: keep them in the
dark and feed them manure.
I have no idea why publishers are so secretive. After all,
the truth will out by way of the twice-yearly Royalty Statement that states
each print run, analyses sales and tells you how much you are being paid in
the minutest detail. However, this statement is what economists like to
call a lagging statistic – the writer will not see the data, or the money,
for a book sold in July until March of the following year.
So, who can tell you, the well shaded author, what is going
on out there in book land in the interim? Step forward, Jeff Bezos. Amazon,
once loathed by publishers and writers, is not just the Covid lifeline but
the source of instant sales data for every author for every book ever published
that is on sale via Amazon. That is something like 8 million publications
by the way, so pretty well anything that has ever had a spine and cover in
the history of man.
If you are wondering where this data might be found having
never seen it you are considerably lucky. Only us poor writing saps
obsessively observe the smallest movements up and down the charts which I’d
estimate are updated every 6 hours or so. Of course, you don’t just have
the global chart. You have three charts picked out for your particular
niche by the Amazon algorithm. These are great for the ego as you have the
potential for a orange No.1 Best Seller badge though sometimes the award is
baffling. As I write this I am considerably annoyed that I have been denied
another No.1 badge for Frankel in the Horse/Jockey Biographies
section due to the inclusion of Rugby’s Greatest Matches and Golf’s
Strangest Rounds respectively at number one and two. Great books I am
sure, but anything to do with horses? Nah.
And when you’ve finished reading the sales runes and charts
courtesy of Jeff there are always the reviews over which to agonise. Now,
these are more important than just ego. Good reviews are like crack cocaine
to the Amazon recommendation algorithm; the higher your review rating the
higher it shoves your book up the ‘you might like to buy’ totem. The
ratings run from 1-star to 5-stars. Books with a perfect five are
essentially impossible, books solely reviewed by the author’s Mum, agent
and best friend. As with all things Amazon the calculation of your
overall star rating is opaque; it is far from a simple average. I confess
to not being completely obsessive so I haven’t read all 52 reviews for Frankel
which is, for the most part, hovering between an impressive (though I say
it myself) 4.8/4.9 out of 5. However, one day in November the rating
plunged to somewhere around 3 as a single 1-star review was posted. A nasty
dent to the aforementioned ego so I braced myself to read the algorithm
sapping four-word review.
‘These lights don’t work’, it said. Err? What? I was full of
injustice. Now Amazon is famous for its Kremlin like impenetrability when
it comes to righting wrongs. There is clearly nobody to call. No obvious
way for me to remove the review. So, I did what any slighted author would
do: I dialled into Mr Google who took me to the review appeal section on
some obscure outpost of Amazon. Actually, once you got there it was all
very simple until the question as to why I was complaining about the
review. None of the tick boxes offered ticked the box so eventually, more
in frustration than hope, I ticked abusive. Well, I rationalised, I
felt abused, if only a little. I resigned myself to life as a 3-star
But all hail what was almost certainly another Bezos
algorithm, as within 24 hours the 1-star review had vanished. Frankly I was
dumbfounded. I really never expected it to disappear. But it had and I was
back to 4.9. Rejoice, as a certain woman once said. Victory is sweet, so
now emboldened I’m pondering on whether to appeal the 3-star review that
complained that the book was delivered by Whistl instead of Royal Mail. Or
maybe I should just relax.
Call me a fool
Even from an early age I have been keen to share what little
information I know. Regularly working with my Uncle Derek on his farm as a
child I often imparted knowledge to him I considered essential to life in
general to which he would always reply, “You can learn something new every
day, even from a fool”. I never felt insulted at the time, but maybe on
Anyway, I would not call the BBC Radio 4 play ReincarNathan
foolish. A bit silly perhaps but fun as Nathan, who didn't really nail life
the first time round, is reincarnated as a mayfly. It is actually a rather
good potted life history of the mayfly, from which I learnt, which I never
knew, that mayflies have five eyes.
How did this fact ever pass me by? It is even true? Well,
yes and no. Mayflies do indeed have multiple eyes but seven not five
consisting of simple, compound and turbinate eyes. The simple eyes discern
light, compound eyes which are essentially a cluster of simple eyes discern
images but the unique adaptation of mayflies are the turbinate eyes on
raised stalks on top of its head.
It is thought the development of these eyes is correlated to
the mayflies habit of aerial mating. The male approaches the female from
below and with the eyes pointed vertically upwards he is able to spot the
Last time I wrote that Oliver Kite and Frank Sawyer were
both buried at Netheravon Church. In this I am completely wrong!
A kindly correspondent from the Avon valley has put me
“Just to let you know, Ollie Kite's grave is in Fittleton Churchyard,
Frank Sawyer's ashes were scattered at Corfe End Lakes just upstream of
Netheravon in Fittleton. There is a real irony here, that no one has ever
noticed. In life they lived opposite each other in Netheravon High Street.
In death, they reside directly opposite each other, with the Avon between
them. There for all eternity.”
If you are in need of a jaunt for the holidays you could do
worse than visit both villages and churches. Netheravon is probably the
more impressive church of the two with the Avon running along the edge of
the graveyard with the bench on the bank of the river marking the spot
where Sawyer died. If you fancy the house that overlooks all this it is on
sale for £2.3m with Strutt & Parker.
On your way from Netheravon to Fittleton you will pass
through Haxton where Sawyer spent his retirement years and where there is
(another!) bench to his memory, this one erected by his wife on what they
call Haxton Pound, a small triangle of grass at the intersection of the
roads. Fittleton is lovely and you’ll find Kite’s gravestone easily enough
though the inscription beneath his name is hard to read.
Fittleton Church with Kite's gravestone in
That was 2020
We were lucky. My three words to sum up 2020 in relation to
the fishing business. The group in which we sit, hospitality and leisure,
has, quite obviously, been eviscerated but recreational angling, against
all the odds has not only survived, but often thrived as we were released
early from the first lockdown and completely avoided the second. Fishing
soon became the socially distanced, socially acceptable thing to do.
Heavens, even a leader in The Times newspaper back in August
trumpeted our virtues.
Of course, you and I have known that forever, but it is
still good to be validated. However, I will temper my comments by
acknowledging that my colleagues in Wales, Scotland and the self-employed
guides have had it a great deal harder. In Wales travel restrictions
effectively closed down fishing until the summer and in Scotland the lack
of visitors has been crippling.
However, in England with more people within an easy day trip
distance of the rivers, we’ve often been booked to capacity as people
rediscovered the delights of not only fishing but simply being in the
countryside. I was amazed at how many people arriving at The Mill simply
sat down to suck in the air after months confined to tiny flats and urban
lockdown. Kids. Dogs. Parents even. They all went bonkers in
delight. It is a salutary reminder of how lucky I am to live where I
When the ink is dry on the financial accounts of 2020, I
suspect this will turn out to be a fairly average year, the figures in the
round hiding huge oscillations. For the truth is that in losing all advance
sales in March and real sales in April (the former was negative and the
latter was zero) the rest of the year was about playing catch up with one
arm tied behind our back with no overseas visitors, a good portion of you
shielding, no places to stay in the UK until July and no corporate clients.
But I’m not complaining as it could so easily been a total
wipe out of a year. So, thank you to all of you for standing by us in
those darkest days of March and returning to the rivers with such full
force the moment lockdown ended.
I have never been a fan of rollercoaster rides and this
particular one has gone on for too long. Hopefully the vaccine will allow
us to step off sometime soon and if the timings turn out as predicted,
we’ll be free to fish where we want, with whoever we want in time for the
first flutter of Mayfly wings. That’s my toast for the New Year.
We will be closed December 24th-28thinclusive.
Otherwise, we will be open as usual 9am-5pm, barring Bank Holidays.
However, feel free to email, book online or redeem gift vouchers online anytime.
There are plenty of grayling options most days, though all
beats are closed December 24/25/26.
The final quiz of the year which is, as ever, here to
entertain or confound as you wish. Answers at the bottom of the page. Good
1)When was Amazon founded?
2)What was the print run for the first edition of J K
Rowling’s first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?
3)"Russian Mountains", specially constructed hills
of ice were the forerunner of which fairground attraction?
So it just remains
for me, and all of us here at Fishing Breaks, to wish you a Happy Christmas
and successful 2021.