Friday, 26 December 2014

2014 in Photos

Saturday December 27th 2014

2014 in photos

Dear Simon,
The good news is that we are now closer to the start of the new season that we are from the end of the last one. I hope these few photos keep you going until that first chance to cast a line. My thanks for Bo Hermansen and Ken Takata for the great images; the not so good ones are mine.

Two weeks into January and the floods were upon us; I must admit in the past twenty odd years I have seen the rivers this full on two of three occasions, but I have never seen the meadows flood to such an extent and for such an extended period. This was Wallop Brook; the flooded sections that extend at right angles to the river are remnants of the water meadows that fell into decay in the early 1900's. Nobody alive today has ever seen them full like this.

Wallop water meadows

By this point I felt I was a  victim to the 'be careful what you wish for'  syndrome as my desire for every winter to be a wet one went to new levels in every sense of the word. Here is the river gauge on the River Test in Stockbridge. In December 2012 we were in a winter drought; fifteen months on .........

Stockbridge gauge 

On March 5th 1914 the P&O liner Morea edged up the River Thames returning from a winter cruise along the north coast of Africa. On board was Frederic M Halford, sick from pneumonia, but before the ship could dock Halford was dead. The father of dry fly fishing was no more. 

"By what is really a life's work, Halford has raised fly fishing for trout, both as a sport and as a scientific pursuit, to a higher level that it has ever before attained, and by so doing has made fly fishing a better and more absorbing recreation for us all." 
Dr. A. C. Kent, Journal of the Fly Fisher's Club, 1914.

Whilst the government struggled to get a handle on nature Teffont Brook, one of the tiny Wiltshire tributaries that feed the Hampshire Avon, showed the astonishing resilience of the geology of the chalkstreams. If you had to find a living definition of the word pellucid, this translucent water just 100 yards from the spring head says it all.

Teffont Stream March 2014 

There were all sorts of fanciful theories as to how the once-in-a-hundred-year floods who affect the mayfly hatch. As it turned out, not at all. Our ephemeral friends appeared to the day and in great numbers. 


A true bit of history came up for sale in the Fishing Temple on the River Dove in Derbyshire.This is where Charles Cotton and Izaak Walton collaborated, resulting in Cotton's contribution to the second edition of The Compleat Angler.   

Every two years I do an extended photo shoot travelling the chalkstreams to capture 'the shot'. Each time we try to re-create something famous. This is our appreciation of John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds. Dawn shoots are something of a nightmare. We were up at at 3am, waded into position in the pitch dark to be ready a full hour before sunrise. I stood in the same position for 90 minutes feeling every degree of a chalkstream 50F temperature.

Salisbury Cathedral at dawn no. 1 

I know the Himalayan Balsam is a hated invasive species but those pendulous, pink flowers do frame a photo (!) and the balsam musk hanging over the river on warm, still evening is simply divine.

Ilsington River Frome 

Living proof that I do let Diane out of the office sometimes as she hooks a fish on the River Kennet at The Wilderness.

Not often trout make the news pages of a national newspaper but this one did appearing in the Daily Telegraph.


I have been  reading Fifty Years on the Test by river keeper Ernest Pain which was published in the 1930's. For November he advises 'eradicate grayling by all means possible'. Ouch!

This perfect photo of a flowering ranunculus is reminder enough through the gloom of winter that a new season and summer lies ahead.

Here's to a great 2015! 

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director  

Friday, 14 November 2014

Just how smart are fish?

Nether Wallop Mill, Hampshire, England - Friday November 14th 2014 

 I have never signed up to the belief that fish have a three second memory. If that was the case how is it that the trout in my lake start to follow me around each morning once I start feeding them over the winter?
They truly do follow me; whether alerted by my shadow or the vibrations of my footfalls I don't know, but they will porpoise along the bank beside me. A few months of this gets them in trim form for an impressive party trick with the fishing school pupils at the start of each season. As we assemble on the bank for the obligatory 'how to catch a fish' demonstration they swim in from all corners of the lake. It really does give you something of a Jesus complex ..... needless to say they are rarely hard to catch, usually first cast, which does no harm for your fishing kudos.

But are fish smart? Most people think not, but as an angler who has been outwitted by a trout on more occasions than I care to remember I have always held to the belief that they must have some brainpower. If not, how thick am I? So it came as something of a relief to read the headline in the papers last week 'New research reveals fish are smarter than we thought'.

 Scientists at Bath and Queen Mary Universities have proved that fish have 'parallel visual search'. Apparently that is the ability to pick out one object amongst many whilst ignoring others; a bit like you or me quickly scanning a supermarket shelf for a particular item. It has been assumed for years that fish without the frontal part of the brain in the neocortex were unable do this, instead obliged to examine every item in turn before making a choice.

This confirms, for me at least, much of what I have observed in feeding fish over the years. The activity is rarely random and there are frequently occasions when a particular fish will focus on a particular insect to the exclusion of all others. I'm sure you like me have been in that sort of spot, where a profusion of flies covers the surface but there is only one insect the fish wants to take, and most likely the one you can't identify!

Happily for the egos all of us who have ever been defeated by a feeding fish the co-author of the paper Dr Matthew Parker concludes, 'Fish don't deserve their reputation as the stupid branch of the animal family tree.'

If you wish to read more the paper Parallel Mechanisms for Visual Search in Zebrafish is available on the PLOS ONE academic web site.


The One Fly is back

The River Test One Fly is back for a seventh year on Friday April 24th hosted by kind invitation of Lucy and all the team at The Greyhound on the Test in Stockbridge.

2014 RTOF wining fly
Grant Harrower with his 2014 winning Daddy Long legs
For those of you not familiar One Fly it is both at once a celebration of everything great about the chalkstreams with that little element of competition to kick off a new season.  

It is not always the easiest fishing day you'll ever have; at 10am you pick a fly and that's the one you fish with for the day. Dry or nymph? Traditional or a bit edgy? Chance a light tippet but risk being broken? These are just some of the choices that might give you pause for thought.

But don't worry you are not alone; all competitors are accompanied by a Fishing Guide who acts as guide, scorer and confidante. We meet for a welcome breakfast with beat draw taking place at The Greyhound. Then it's off to the river for six hours of what I'll wager is one of the most intensive and nerve jangling fishing days you will ever have. Will you win? Who knows until the prizes are handed out over tea at in the late afternoon of the last Friday in April.

In case you are wondering all fish are released; we score by length not weight. If you are interested I have spaces for two teams or if you can't make up a team some individuals. The entry fee is £295 including a contribution to a worthy fishing cause. More details ....

Fly Fishing Film Tour 2015


SPECIAL INVITE: Following the success of last year's first ever screening of the Fly Fishing Film Tour all One Fly participants are invited to the second annual show that features six of the best short films from around the globe. Last year's premiere was a huge hit, so register early as numbers are limited. Guests and non One Fly participants welcome at £15. 


Thursday 23rd April. Doors open 6.30pm. Show starts 7pm. The Hatch Room, Grosvenor Hotel, High Street, Stockbridge, SO20 6EU.


Carp on the Fly
Here's a good plan if you are sorting out the family trip for next summer. In my experience any mention of fly fishing goes down badly, with a reaction that involves much sighing, eyes heavenward and comments along the lines of 'can't you forget about your blasted fishing for just two weeks .......' But I'm sure if you innocently mention Portugal nobody will be any the wiser until it is too late.

My only experience of carp on the fly was on a lake within eyeshot and earshot  of the M25. Hardly a rural idyll but I still remember it well. With a Bonio fly (looks like a dog biscuit as the name suggests) and under the tutelage of Bob James I was hardly likely to fail and I didn't.

That day has always stuck in my memory, so when the Jose Rodrigues video popped into my inbox, I suspect you like me will be tempted.

Warm sunshine, tranquil lakes, Mediterranean food all just a hundred miles south of Lisbon. I can't vouch for Jose's operation having not visited, but he makes a compelling case.

To view the clip click here or visit the Carp on the Fly Adventure Facebook page.

October feedback draw winner 

Well done to Len Armstrong, the final Life of a Chalkstreamwinner for 2014 who fished Mottisfont Abbey on almost the last day of the season in what Len described as 'relentless rain'.

I am promised the Abel hemostats are on their way to me, so as soon as they arrive we'll have the end of season draw.

If you would like to receive my bi-weekly Newsletter please subscribe here


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How precious is time?

How precious is time? 
'You should sue', said someone in an email last week pointing me in the direction of an advert for a country park in the Cotswolds who had re-worked my "Time is precious. Use it fishing" slogan to read "Time is precious. Use it wisely". Naturally I have a copyright lawyer on speed dial ..........
Time is precious 
I must admit I did at first feel sorely tempted for a whole variety of reasons. To start with it did seem a bit of a cheek to take my strap line and re-work it without much attempt to disguise the original idea - the venue even features fishing. Punishing them for that might be satisfying. Then of course if we really got into it in court the ensuing publicity, win or lose, might be worth any financial risk. And add to that the opportunity for some mega-buck payout to recompense me for a heinous copyright violation. Well, case closed really.

As I pondered the many other possible advantages to resorting to the law (actually there are not any) I began to feel a tad guilty. Was "Time is precious. Use it fishing" really an original idea of mine? The truth is it wasn't. I stole it from someone else, so here is my confession.

Years ago I was in the United States driving up The Strip in Las Vegas where I spied this billboard that featured a typical Vegas blonde. You can imagine the type but the other more distracting thing about her was the massive diamond ring she wore. And the strap line? Time is precious. Buy her diamonds. It was a short leap of imagination to apply the thought to fishing, well for me at least.

I am not sure if absolution will come my way for telling the truth but  as Benjamin Disraeli said, "Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time". And as for calling a lawyer, I guess I have now probably blown my chances. Anyway time is certainly too precious for petty vendettas.

Hungerford Literary Festival - Sunday October 19th

I'll be talking about Life of a Chalkstream at the Hungerford Literary Festival on Sunday along with Nicola Chester who knows everything there is to know about otters. 

 Organised by the very excellent Hungerford Bookshop and with a  host of authors far more famous that me, I'll be on at at a very civilised time of 2pm at The Bear Hotel.

If you are into cycling I am followed by Sky Sports Ned Boulting talking about On the Road Bike which asks why we have become a nation of obsessive cyclists.

Tickets and more details direct from the organisers, Hungerford Literary Festival.

September feedback draw

Abel hemostatSpooky was again the feedback word of the month. Small flies were the most successful and the biggest fish I heard of (10lbs at Mottisfont Abbey) fell to a size 20 Adams.

Well done this month to Nemanja Pasalic who fished at Broadlands and collects a signed copy of Life of a Chalkstream

For everyone else the end of season draw for the three Abel Hemostats gets ever closer.

Hatch of the Month
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Pink Czech nymph
If I had to pick a single fly to fish through the winter it would be a toss up between the ubiquitous Pheasant Tail Nymph and the nutritious shrimp.

Shrimps, especially during winter, are one of the staples in the diet of both trout and grayling. It doesn't take much to work out why. If you get a chance to run your hand through the weed or kick sample some gravel compare the shrimps to the nymphs - in fish food terms it is the difference between a T-bone steak and a cocktail sausage.

Both the fish, but more particularly grayling, will go to great lengths to find shrimps, Trout will flap sideways along the river bed, almost as if creating a redd to find them. Grayling are more scientific, pushing their snouts under the gravel. If you see grayling tailing up, with little puffs of silt emerging from around their heads it is time to tie on a shrimp. Personally I like bright pink and orange patterns as they are easy to track as you tumble them along the river bed.

Click here for my Hatch Calendar with the full October advice.  

Half term fishing
Nether Wallop Mill
Feeding time at Nether Wallop Mill
Half term sneaks in under the wire to cover the last week of our season here at Nether Wallop Mill, where we close up shop on October 31st.

As with last year I have spectacularly misjudged how many fish to put in so once again we have a huge stock we'll happily let you take away. It would be nice to think that the fish will overwinter but the truth is that the lake will soon become the plat du jour for every otter and heron in the vicinity. Here is the video of these trutta piranhas at feeding time.

I won't make myself a hostage to fortune by saying you can't fail, but I'd be truly amazed if you did. The options for Family Days, Father & Son  trips and Private Tuition are all listed here.


Chalkstream news for October
October is the month of greatest change on the chalkstreams; the trees will lose their leaves and the rivers will start to fill with the autumn rains. In the rivers grayling become our fish of choice as the trout lose interest, beginning to pair up slowly turning from brown to vivid red. 

Sunrise: 7.07am 
Sunset: 6.42pm
Average temperature: 8-14C
Days of rain: 13 (+0.25mm)

Weed cutting: After mid-October there are no restrictions on when and where weed may be cut; likewise bank repairs and restoration projects will be happening. 

Closing dates: The trout season closes by law on October 31st but by tradition all beats are closed by October 15th. Grayling are governed by the coarse fishing regulations so may continue right through to March 14. These are the grayling rivers we cover are:

River Avon        October 14 - March 14
River Coln         October 1 - March 14
Driffield Beck     October 1- February 28
River Lambourn October 14 - December 31
River Test & tributaries   October 15 - March 14 

Have a good week.


Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Are moose dangerous?

Are moose dangerous?
Nether Wallop Mill, Hampshire, England Wednesday September 24th 2014
Quite frankly I had no idea, but the answer apparently is yes. They are rated Canada's most dangerous animal and in continental North America kill more people each year than grizzly bears.  As for the one I met I thought it looked quite cute, which is the wrong thing to think. Google 'Are moose dangerous?' and you will find an article entitled '15 cute animals that will kill you'.

JHOF 2014
My guide Brian (foreground) with moose (background)

So on the second day of the One Fly we were out of the boat hiking up a side stream when I found myself separated from the guide and the other angler as I moved upstream towards the most perfect pool. On the opposite bank, looking fairly benign was a massive moose with a huge rack, drinking from the pool. Getting into the river I began to wade up slowly to get the best shot at the pool, at which point the moose spotted me, pawing the stones and emitting this guttural cough cum barking sound.

Having spent years dodging cattle that do much the same, only to back off when confronted I must admit I thought nothing of it and blithely got ready to fish until behind me both the guide and my companion angler (keeping a safe distance) started hissing in my direction, gesticulating that I get out of the river mighty fast. 'Really', I shouted in disbelief. 'Really' they whispered, gesticulating yet more. Reluctantly I edged my way back and we continued upstream giving the moose a mighty wide berth.

Why do I tell you this? Well, naturally I want you to know how intrepid I am but actually it is more of a whinge. When we got back to the pool an hour later, Mr Moose had vanished and having caught three fish of moderate size further upstream, I deferred to my companion who proceeded to haul out four big scoring fish. My guide Brian, who I am sure you will agree from the photo looks every bit as scary as the moose, said I'd been 'a real gentlemen'. I, on the other hand, I wish I'd taken my chances with the moose.

I should not complain really; at 20th out of 171 anglers it was one of my best finishes ever in the One Fly and the Fishing Breaks team was 14th of 40 teams. But as with any angler it was a case of what might have been......... 

Another dry fly victory

We have rules for our One Fly here on the River Test; dry fly or nymph, the latter being strictly of the chalkstream imitative type. Lures are banned. In the US version of the competition, streamers, what you and I would call lures, are permitted in addition to both nymph and dry.

JHOF fly box
These are the dries; now imagine the streamers ......

I have fished a streamer on a couple of occasions and it is not an experience I would recommend. Quite frankly it is just damn hard graft. The streamers are big and heavy. You know the sort of thing. A fly that will give you a nasty thwack on the back of the head if you drop the back cast. You truly do have to rip the streamers through the water to imitate a fleeing small fish, scudding through the water as fast as its little fins will carry it. If you have ever watched those fishing shows where the angler jerks a jig back on short spinning rod you will be getting the general idea.

Try doing it for eight solid hours and every bit of you will ache. The first time I used one was when the river was blown out by a landslip, the colour of mushroom soup. I laboured all day without a single take. The second time my boat mate and fellow competitor was a pro guide who was an ace streamer fisherman, who gave me no choice. The problem is that if one of you fishes a streamer, so must the other. Put a streamer in the water and it kills dead the dry fly option and negates effective nymphing; don't forget I'm in a boat 15 feet long and we cast in unison landing our flies just a few feet apart. Effective it was, but mostly for him. Actually it was more than a little depressing as he out fished me five fish to one every hour of the day.

But streamer fishing is effective and therefore popular. It brings out those big fish who love to eat small fish. As the guide screams "Hit that hog!" as some fish looms up fast from the deep you have to strike as if every cutthroat trout was the re-incarnation of orca. For a gentle chalkstream soul like myself this is the culture shocks of all culture shocks, but hey, it is all part of the adventure.

I am not going criticise the use of streamers in the Jackson Hole One Fly; it is just another way of fly fishing in Western USA and was on the scene long before I came along. However the Team Skwala took it into their collective heads to only fish a dry fly this year, defying the sceptics to win the competition outright. I don't know whether they did it as a tribute to Frederick Halford, but in the centenary year that marks his death, I am sure the founding father of modern day dry fly fishing would be rightly proud.

PS For the record I fished a Pheasant Tail Nymph on day one (All hail Frank Sawyer) and a Black Cricket on day two. Full results, more details about the competition and the Jackson Hole Foundation click here.

Whitchurch Fulling Mill for sale

Three time winner of the River Test One Fly Whitchurch Fulling Mill has just come up for sale boasting a beautifully restored 8 bedroom mill, 21 acres and perhaps most importantly extensive fishing on the River Rest.

 Whitchurch Fulling Mill

For those of you who have fished here anytime over the past twelve years you will know this is in every sense of the word classic chalkstream fishing; gin clear, fast flowing, lovely rafts of ranunculus and ideal for sight fishing, especially if you like to wade. It is one of those beats where the wild trout thrive, as do the grayling, So with that three way mixture of the wild, stocked and grayling there is usually always something on the feed.

But there has to be a but; Whitchurch lies close to the A34 so there is the noise from the busy main road to contend with. For more details visit the Strutt & Parker web site.

Alistair Robjent and Kirsty tie the knot

There was quite a gathering of us Hampshire fly fishing types on Saturday when Alistair Robjent and his long-time partner Kirsty married in the church at Wherwell with the reception on the banks of the River Test.

Robjents shop front 

As you might imagine this was a  much fishing themed wedding: a mayfly on the front of the order of service. A wedding cake adorned with salmon flies. Many inappropriate references to Alistair's 'catch'. The tables named after famous trout and salmon rivers. And to cap it all Alistair broke off from the photos to grab a rod and catch a trout on, yes you have guessed it, a Robjents Daddy.

Sadly I didn't film the best man's oratory, a peach of a speech themed around the four rules to shopping in Robjents. I precis: 1) Keep your diary free, preferably for a full day if you intend to engage Alistair in conversation 2) Do not mention a certain fishing emporium opposite 3) Don't ask why Robjents don't stock Hunter boots 4) Never, never, never enquire as to the origins on the Robjents Daddy.

Joking aside it was a lovely day and I'm sure you will join me in wishing them both many years of happiness.

Hope you are having a good week.

Best wishes,

Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director