Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 in Photos

By my reckoning we only have, give or take the whims of Mother Nature, 137 days before the Mayfly hatch starts. I think it is too much to describe that as the defining moment in any particular season, but it never fails to excite me.

I suspect we all have our own particular moments that are hard-wired into our memory for all sorts of reason - a particular fish, a memorable half hour or just simply the cadence of the day. Fishing is a great way of suspending reality and we make our memories around that. 

But for all that the arrival of the Mayfly will always be a milestone in my calendar. A marker that shows nature has gone full circle and that, at least in the confines of a chalkstream valley, all is well with the world. Anyway enough musings of what is to come. 

Here is my look back at 2015 in photos, with one video. I hope it is enough solace so you may keep the faith until the first cast of the season.

Paul Colley, a professional underwater photographer, embarked on his trout project in Stockbridge with his special waterproof rig set up on the High Street stream. At first the ducks were a  menace but when this photo went viral he learnt to love them. 

Probably my last excuse to use this photo of Jon Hall, river keeper, on the Broadlands Estate with this monster 34lb female pike caught on a fly.

When age overtakes you our guide and ace fly tyer Alan Middleton shows off the best device for the mastery of  size 22 patterns.

Alan tying at BFF

My good friend from Denmark Bo Hermansen visits the chalkstreams every year putting us locals to shame with his skill and expertise - few trout or grayling are safe when he prowls the riverbank. He is a pretty mean photographer as well, here capturing the menace of the Hawthorn fly eyes.
Bo Hermansen hawthorn fly

Once a year I take a little detour up the Avon valley north of Amesbury to visit the spot where Frank Sawyer's ashes were scattered over the River Avon. He has been my greatest influence and this year I discovered he designed the lake here at Nether Wallop dug in 1968 (see December photo). As he would have said, 'no wonder it works so darned well'.

June 24th saw the 150th anniversary of the birth of Harry Plunket Greene an Irish baritone who was the Pavorotti of his day. An accomplished fly fishermen, his book Where The Bright Waters Meet, is as a good read today as it was when published in 1924, telling of his blissful seasons fishing at the confluence of the River Test and Bourne.


A photo shoot with a kind friend on the River Meon at the almost exact spot I caught my first ever trout some four decades or more ago.

It looks the perfect bucolic way of life but believe you me weed cutting (pictured here at the River Test on the Middleton Estate) is both skillful and back breaking.
Weed cutting at Middleton

If you ever wondered what a river keeper does at lunchtime, well wonder no more. Jonny Walker, who looks after Bullington Manor, Dunbridge and Nether Wallop Mill, plucked this monster trout out of Wallop Brook here at Nether Wallop Mill. Got to be six pounds or more .

A new generation, the pupils of Princes Mead School in Winchester, get the fly fishing bug not to mention a  few fish here at Nether Wallop Mill.

I said to my guides let us celebrate the end of the season with a day together. Choose what you like: drinking, food, gambling ..... it's on me. Yes, you've guessed it they chose fishing. This is the story of our day in a three minute video. My thanks to Matt Dunkinson for doing a great job behind the camera and Wherwell Priory for letting us loose on trout who thought they were safe for another year. In truth they mostly were!

This is my screensaver for now - pictorial proof that the depths of winter will pass and summer will return.

All the best for 2016.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

The great survival race

The great survival race is on - in the red corner seventy to one hundred trout and in the blue corner otters.

Here at Nether Wallop Mill the teaching lake is stuffed with fish April to October; you could almost walk across the lake on their backs there are so many. They are mostly rainbows but there are a few blues plus some browns that sneak in from the river for an easy life.  Each morning now the season is over I feed them with a scoop of fish pellets; the moment they see my shadow with Pavlovian response they leap and pivot. In early November the lake positively boiled. Today the recipients are fewer.  The response less muted and every few days I see the reason - fish corpses.

Otters are ever present in the Wallops valley, but it is only when winter starts to bite that the lake becomes a living larder. They don't visit every night; I'd say maybe one in every three.  In the darkness I can hear them, sometimes two, other times three as they hunt. It is a noisy process, not least because they announce their arrival with high pitched chirrups between themselves. It is almost as if they are genuinely excited to be here. I suspect they have good reason for that.

Stealth does not appear to be essential to the otter hunting lexicon. They flop into the water with a resounding splash.   Once in the lake they swim with practised ease. If I shine a torch it is simple to track their progress back and forth across the surface as the eyes shine back at me and I'll just about be able to make out the flat domed head. At first sight of the beam of light they will turn their head in my direction. No panic, just idle curiosity and thenceforth they go about the business of fish hunting regardless of me.

By this point I shudder to think what panic is occurring in the trout community. The otters dive and surface with increasing rapidity. Otters are naturally buoyant so they put huge effort into diving, arching their backs and half leaping out of the water before plunging beneath. It is clearly a fairly hit or miss affair, with more hits than misses until each comes up with a fish clamped in the jaws. They eat with unrestrained savagery. On a still night you can hear the tearing of flesh from fifty yards. The head and the top half of the body is the favoured feast, eating out the innards to leave the skin, back end and tail like a discarded sock.

This morning the count was two dead on the bank, which brings us up to about ten in the past week. By Christmas the population will have halved with the end game sometime in February. In this particular survival race my money is on the otters.

Bad news about Arthur

Nature is a cruel mistress; Arthur having briefly tasted love last month is now close to death. It's nothing as romantic as a broken heart but rather the inevitable rivalry of swans.

Having reclaimed his home, Arthur was back enjoying the bachelor life until two swans dropped in from the skies. Arthur is nothing if not pragmatic so he beat a retreat from the lake to the mill pond.

However it was far from being a safe place. The pair followed him up the brook until they cornered him, the male asserting territorial rights in the brutal way that swans do. Left for dead in a backwater a neighbour found Arthur, called the swan sanctuary and they took him away.

The sanctuary is nursing him but the outlook is fairly bleak At best he will recover and end out his days in the sanctuary, a return to the river being deemed too high risk. Personally I'd like to see him back. I miss him already.

Sneaky Sharks, Cunning Crocs and Testy Trout

Paul Colley has risked his life underwater, photographing sharks and crocodiles which led to him picking up a British Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 award.

But such is the bizarre nature of life it was none of those projects that hit the headlines for him but rather a side stream of the River Test in our very own Stockbridge.  Staking out the stream for up to 12 hours a day Paul has captured some amazing underwater shots of both trout and grayling, not to mention that unequal contest between duck and trout in the race for bread which I suspect many of you have witnessed in the past.

Paul's talk 'Sneaky Sharks, Cunning Crocs and Testy Trout' takes place at Stockbridge Town Hall on Friday December 11th at 7pm. Tickets are £4 from If you can't make it do take a look at his web site


The usual random selection of questions to confound and amaze. Answers at the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!

1)   What is the smallest city in the UK by population?

2)   Karl Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetary. Where is Friedrich Engels, co-author of the Communist Manifesto buried?

3)   Who lives in a drey (or dray)?

Alan Middleton tying in Chichester

If you are heading into Chichester on Thursday for the Christmas shopping evening drop by the Orvis store on South Street. 

Our very own Alan Middleton will be on hand  in the store offering advice and giving one of his unsurpassed fly tying demonstrations. 5-7pm. 

Alan tying at BFF

1)   St David's, Pembroke, Wales 2) His ashes were scattered off Beachy Head 3) A squirrel.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A fly fisher calling Santa

Dear Santa,

I know I have denied your existence in the past but please forgive my letter; I require help.

My family claim I am difficult to buy for; apparently they believe I have everything I need or at best I am failing to express preferences on which we can all agree. It is a sorry state of affairs but I am hoping to enlist your expertise as some sort of celestial interlocutor.

In truth my loved ones do not understand my fishing. They dismiss it as a 'hobby'.  Attempts at explanation are met with incomprehension, ridicule or indifference. Often all three. That said they rarely complain at my absence, so maybe deep down they respect the wanderings of a piscator. Or maybe they just like me out of the house.

Regardless, fishing is a passion that can only be fuelled by fishing itself. Past conquests and memories can only sustain one so far.

Just fishing!
Point them in the direction of the 'Your Choice' voucher. That way I get to choose where and when I go fishing.

Converting the unbelievers
Heaven forbid that someone in the family might one day share my passion. Let me take them to a place where the fishing is easy and the tuition falls to another ........ Link .....

Future proofing my dotage
I have this idea that my children will take me fishing in my twilight years. Maybe the Summer Fish Camp will sow the seed? Link .....

Anyway Santa, it has been good to talk. I have no idea whether you are an ice fishing enthusiast. If you are I'm sure the elves show the same disregard for your pastime, so maybe you understand my predicament on a visceral level.

All the best for the holiday season; I guess you will enjoy the New Year more than most.

Yours in hope,

A Fly Fisher

PS Normal Newsletter service will be resumed next week.

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