Saturday, 27 June 2015

Is intolerance the new black?

Nether Wallop Mill, Stockbridge, Hampshire England.

Have you ever been caught in a Twitterstorm? Well, a few months ago I was and generally I would not recommend it. I know at school they told us sticks and stones might break our bones but words will never hurt us. I thought that was true. Now I am not so sure. This is what happened.

Towards the end of a wintry November day in the office a photo popped into my Inbox. Pike! screamed the header and sure enough the photo revealed a man holding a clearly dead pike. I must admit I didn't think much about it. Regardless of the content (which was not really my thing) this was a great photo so I posted it to Facebook and shut my computer down. 

Before 8am the following morning, Jonny our river keeper, calls me. "Have you seen your Facebook", he asks. He is young and follows such things avidly. "People want to kill you. You must do something." I logged on and it became clear I had to do something. Overnight the Facebook post had, as they say, gone viral but not altogether in a good way. I had, unwittingly, become a hate figure in the pike fishing community.  "Why kill such a beautiful fish?" some people had reasonably asked. In a calmer moment I might have replied to the effect that down to me I might not have done, it wasn't me in the photo, I hadn't been there and I'd said as much in the post.

However, calm I was not because scrolling down the comments they became increasingly obscene, ranging from bile-filled invective to death threats. Around the fiftieth comment which read "I'm going round your house and cut your f*****g head off you c**t", I stopped reading. Do you know how to delete a Facebook post? Well, I didn't but it is amazing how quickly you learn when you have to, so I consigned the whole sorry mess to internet oblivion and tried to forget it.

But in truth I haven't really forgotten it; it nags at me that in the quiet backwater we call fishing there are people so angry that wishing Aids on your family is an acceptable response to something they don't agree with. And I am not talking about the anti-fishing/hunting fraternity. I'm talking about one group of anglers being hateful of another group of anglers. So why do I mention this now? Well, Andrew Flitcroft, in excellent editorial to celebrate the 60th edition of Trout & Salmon reminded me vividly of those few frantic minutes in the early morning of last November.

If you get a chance to read Andrew's piece (July 2015 edition) I highly commend it. Looking back over his fishing life since the early 1970's he ponders on the changes in the game fishing world not least the internet and the introduction of catch and release in the 1990's. In a telling paragraph he says, "Little did we know back then that 20 years on we would be asked to put all our fish (salmon) back and that if we didn't we would be publicly vilified by our peers. We hesitate even to take a photograph of our fish, for fear of it being criticised for how and where we hold it. There can be little doubt that the charm and comradeship of our sport has been tested in recent years. Things move on - of course they do - but while we must embrace change we must not lose sight of why we fish."

I think Andrew is right; there is a degree of intolerance creeping into our sport. To mimic George Orwell from Animal Farm, catch and release good, catch and kill bad. Wild fish good, stocked fish bad. My beliefs right, your beliefs wrong. One of my first ever fishing instructors, David Coppock, always liked to explain the four lives of fishing man. It went something like this:  when you start fishing you want to catch a fish, any fish. Then you want to catch lots of fish before you move to the penultimate stage of your fishing evolution where you want to catch a really big fish. You finally reach the sunlit uplands when you simply want to catch THAT fish.

I am sure most of you reading this will recognise that evolution in you and equally recognise others who are still at the different stages, so who are we to deny them that progression that takes different forms with different people? Your idea of Valhalla might well be the solitude of a little stream, winkling out tiny browns but for others the camaraderie of a stillwater with a few fish to take home is everything they need from fly fishing.

I started this piece with a metaphor, so maybe I'll end it with another. It takes all sorts to make a world and angling is certainly a community that has all sorts. You've met them. You know them. Maybe you are one. We are not all like-minded in the pursuit of our quarry. We have different aims and want different outcomes. We might not approve or even like what others do, but we must not be intolerant. Angling is assailed from many sides, but if we cannot be tolerant with each other what hope is there when the chips are really down?

BBC Countryfile visits Driffield Beck

Driffield Beck in East Yorkshire sometimes styles itself as the Itchen of the North. It is not an idle boast; it is a picture perfect chalkstream often named as the most northerly chalkstream in England and therefore the world.  With my pedant hat on I feel obliged to correct this as the true crown sits on Wintringham Beck some 20 miles to the north. But enough of being a chalkstream anorak.
Driffield Beck

The programme spent some time with Andrew Dixon, farmer and river owner, who has done a great job of restoring his 1.2 mile stretch.  The Beck is really classic chalkstream sight fishing, fast and clear with plenty of wild trout. It's also home to some huge grayling. 

I spent nearly an entire November day chasing a huge specimen that I  am convinced to this day would have come close to the British record. Sadly, for me at least, it is still there unmolested by any fly of mine.

If you fancy a trip to the East Wolds Andrew and his wife Gemma have a lovely farm at Mulberry Whin with B&B and a self catering cottage. 

Day tickets start from £50. More details ....... You can download the programme on BBC iPlayer for the next 28 days.

Magna Carta: the first environment law

800 years on from Magna Carta and proof that things don't change that much; even in 1215 there were worries about over fishing.

Essentially  the English rivers were becoming blocked by the proliferation of fish-weirs. These structures were formed by hammering stakes into the river bed, creating a funnel that would guide the fish into baskets or nets on the ebb and flow of the tide. Not only were they an obstruction to navigation but they were also silting up entire river catchments. Sound familiar?  Add to that a decline in fish stocks through over fishing and the cry went up that something must be done.

And done it was with the inclusion of Clause 33 into the charter which states: All fish-weirs are in future to be entirely removed from the Thames and the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea-coast.

Eight centuries on I don't notice any campaign to re-instate the fish-weirs but Clause 33 is still in play being used by canoeists to assert their right of navigation on all English rivers. To date they have not succeeded.

Newsletter quiz


A trio  of questions to either confound you or confirm your brilliance. Answers as the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!

1) What is the collective noun for moles?

2) What is an oologist?     

3) Daddy Long Legs: spider or scorpion?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) A labour of moles 2) A collector of birds' eggs 3) Daddy long legs is more closely related to the scorpion as it produces no silk, has one pair of eyes and a fused body.  Spiders have a narrow "waist" between their front and rear.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Sea trout fishing the old way

Sea trout fishing the old way
Last week I went to the New Forest to witness something that by rights should not be happening. A way of catching sea trout that dates back centuries that was it not for a quirk of law, the persistence of an individual and the enthusiasm of a community would by now be a footnote in history.

It starts with the Beaulieu River, an unlikely candidate for one of the best sea trout runs along the southern English coast, rising as it does in the heart of the New Forest. If you follow the river down its 8 meandering miles from the source at Lyndhurst to where it becomes tidal 4 miles from the sea it is rarely a big or powerful river. To my
Beaulieu River headwater. Photo Jim Champion.
Headwtermind it always looks a little uninviting for fish, the water and riverbed usually tea colour with the banks close cropped where the Forest ponies, pigs and cattle seek out every last blade of grass. 

But clearly sea trout know something I don't. Maybe it is the loose gravel bed, perfect for spawning, that is a feature of the Forest landscape. Maybe it is the lack of competition - salmon are never seen in the Beaulieu. Maybe it is the fact that the New Forest, at least around the Beaulieu, has changed very little in hundreds of years. Whatever the reasons the fact remains that here is a river that captures the imagination in the same way that sea trout seek it out. 

For the Beaulieu is an unusual river in that it is entirely owned by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. Firstly, it is a rarity for an entire river system to be in a single ownership, but more importantly the bed of all other English and Welsh rivers is owned by the Crown. You might own the land and you might own the fishing rights but you won't own the river bed. That belongs to the Queen. But not so on the Beaulieu and from what I gather it was this quirk of ownership that has allowed the ancient tradition of seine netting to continue to this day on the Montagu Estate.

Seine netting is truly ancient, depicted in Egyptian wall paintings dating back to 3,000BC and the principles have barely changed in five millennia. Take a net of a hundred yards or more shaped a bit like a tennis net, weighted at the bottom and buoyed by floats at the top. Anchor one end close to shore and then row out into the estuary in a big semi circle before returning to shore. Then draw in the net making sure it remains tight to the bed, making a purse of the net that gradually gets smaller and smaller until you have the entire net up on the shore, hopefully full of fish.

On the Beaulieu they have been doing this since medieval times, the net deployed on the chime of high tide to catch eels, sea trout, sea bass and mullet which are, naturally enough, the property of Palace House, the home of Lord Montagu. But some years back the authorities decided that salmon and sea trout netting should cease not just at Beaulieu but along the south coast generally. As you might imagine something of a row ensued as modern protocols and ancient practices butted heads. The result? Well, ancient won the day by virtue of the unique ownership status but only for the Beaulieu. As far as I can ascertain there is no other sea trout netting anywhere on the south coast , plus one set of salmon nets a few miles west at Mudeford.

Beaulieu seine netting no. 4Now, not everyone was entirely happy with this outcome - netting is unpopular for plenty of good reasons as unregulated it does not do much to preserve a species. But somehow what I saw on Friday mitigates all that. 

There is no economic rationale for the netting. Make no mistake it is an indulgence for the Montagu family that believes in preserving ancient traditions. Seine nets cost thousands. The boat, wooden and old, needs constant care. And it takes two men in the boat and twelve men ashore to shoot, pull and clean the net, all employees from the Estate ranging from the game keepers to Paul, one of the decorators. 

As we all gathered just before 1pm, ahead of the 1.20pm high tide Alan, who has been rowing the boat for the past 40 years dampened my expectations - three sea trout were caught in all of 2014. But this didn't seem to deter the enthusiasm of anyone - everyone involved was incredibly excited. A new day, a new tide, new hope. Villagers and tourists milled around watching Alan launch the boat from the jetty with Paul paying out the net by hand and as the first few yards settled in the water, the crowd rushed down the beach to where the catch would be landed. And rush you have to. This whole process is over in a matter of a few minutes. Alan rows with accomplished strength, describing a perfect semi circle to bring the boat back to shore where he hands over the rope and the haul begins.

The haul has to be fast and smooth, with two guys in the water at either end to hold the net as close to the bottom as possible as quite naturally the fish don't like the confines of the net, especially as the purse gets smaller and will do their best to escape. All this is going on whilst the dozen others on land strain tug-of-war-like with the weight of the wet netting. The net comes in so fast that it is hard to tell whether there are any fish but a few cries and pointed fingers suggest something might be caught as the net is bundled up onto the shore. As the folds are peeled back a mullet is revealed and then, to the utter delight of absolutely all of us, not just one but two sea trout. Photos, measurements, tags, excited laughter and congratulations rang around the shore. The collective joy of such a disparate group of people was wonderful to behold - nobody quite knew the words for sea trout in either Japanese or German but I think they got the general idea.

Beaulieu seine netting no. 3
If the guys move fast there is time to shoot the net a second time before the high tide ebbs. With two fish under their belt they needed little urging, the net soon cleaned and refolded back onto the boat. The second shoot was a little further up the estuary, the process exactly the same but this time the heighted expectations were dashed as the net came up empty. 'That', Alan told me, 'is a bit more normal.' So as the man from the Palace arrived to take the sea trout for Lord Montagu's supper, I left pondering on the rights and wrongs. Yes, two trout had died in what some might regard as an 'unsporting' manner but many more will pass through unscathed in the days, weeks and months ahead. Set against that is the preservation a wonderful piece of rural pageantry the like of which you will never see anywhere else. I think it is a fair exchange.

The Beaulieu Estate welcome visitors to watch this traditional method of fishing, which can be viewed from Factory Meadow and the Timbrells, opposite Palace House on the following Fridays: 19/June 1.30pm. 3/July 12.20pm. 17/July 12.20pm. Don't be late or you will miss it! Google map link

Paul - Sea trout (with EA tags) - Estate team - Alan


River Itchen Kanara for sale

Kanara on the River Itchen has been a Rod Box beat for as long as I can remember, so I suspect over the years many of you have fished this beat that is below Winchester. Well now, if you want to splash out a bit more than the price of a day ticket it can be yours for £375,000.

The sale is being handled by George Burnand in the Winchester office of Strutt & Parker. A keen fishermen himself George says of the fishing, 'It is a combination of a quick flowing stream with deeper slower sections towards the bottom of the beat and is largely a wading stretch of water. It is stocked, has a wild trout population and is noted for winter grayling.'

If you Google map Kiln Lane, Otterbourne you will locate the double bank fishing that runs downstream for 640 yards from the bridge. George Burnand may be contacted on 01962 869999

Father's Day

It's Father's Day coming up next weekend (June 20/21) and though I don't think I would exactly endorse the use of the 'fly' in the photo you can't knock the sentiment. If you want to celebrate with some fishing here are some fun ideas.

Half Day Taster 
Send Dad along to Nether Wallop Mill to cement his hunter gatherer credentials with a few fish for the family BBQ. 2-5.30pm. £125. Three places left.To book call 01264 781988 or go on-line.

Fish for FREE with Dad
I have picked out some beats where one child (under 16 please!) may fish with Dad for free. In most cases all the family are welcome to come along.

Dunbridge (River Dun) £229 Saturday

Wrackleford (River Frome) £166 Saturday/Sunday

Fisherton de la Mere (River Wylye) £127 Sunday

*Donnington Grove (River Lambourn) £113 Sunday

*Exton Manor Farm (River Meon) £75 Saturday

*Upavon Farm (River Avon) £70 Saturday

Prices are for one adult and a child. A second rod is available on all the beats except Exton. To book call 01264 781988 or go on-line. If you just want to send Dad off on his own there are other choices. For a full list click on this link.

May feedback draw winner

Firstly, my apologies to anyone still awaiting a reply to a feedback you have sent in recently. I have something of a backlog which I am dutifully working my away through.  The weed cut gives me a slight respite in the action, so I'll be through them all shortly.

 This year the monthly winner has a choice: a signed copy of Life of a Chalkstream in paperback or a Union fly box. I will not be offended if you choose the latter. The end of season draw is for a wonderful Hardy Cascapedia reel.

Well done to Andrew Mackean who wins in May having fished the Half Water on the River Test at Middleton. Andrew, let me know whether you would like the book or box.


A trio  of questions to either confound you or confirm your brilliance. Answers as the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!

1) What is the current British sea trout record?

2) When is the longest day in the northern hemisphere?     

3) What is the common name for ranunculus?

 Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) 28lb 5oz caught in 1992 at Calshot Spit, River Test 2) Sunday June 21 with the Summer Solstice at 5.39pm 3) Water crowfoot, a member of the buttercup family