Friday, 31 July 2020

Welcome to my bird world

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 fowl sanctuary.


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 no idea.



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 2/3rd facsimile 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 distinction.


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 unintended consequences.



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 angling.


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 8th June 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 29th 2020 edition which features Shawford Park on the River Itchen, one of our most beautiful fishing locations. 



Shawford Park, Hampshire


More recently 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.




Grayling having sex


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 page.


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?



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     White-tailed sea eagle at 2.5m

2)     Goldcrest at 6g

3)     Tom Queally

Friday, 17 July 2020

Jaffa the Cat



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 our thoughts.


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 rich ecosystem.


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 newspapers.”




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 page.


1)     What food crop is Idaho most famous for?


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?



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,




Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director




1)     Potatoes

2)     1946

3)     The 149th Open Golf Championship at Royal St George’s