Monday, 30 January 2017

How not to pack

I am feeling both smug and faintly ashamed at my latest effort at packing. Here is the layout for my current bone fishing trip. Pretty compact I'm sure you'll agree and as you read this I should be gliding across azure blue flats with our trusty guide Walter barking casting orders with all the very best of intentions.

'Ten o'clock. Twenty yards. Wait. Wait, Waaaaait. Strip, Strip. STRIPPPPP!' You get the idea.

He is a hard taskmaster and we are his not-always-competent acolytes.  I don't mind being shouted at. I'll never do enough saltwater fly fishing to get really good and let's be honest those local eyes mean the difference between ten fish and one on any given day. So I take it on the chin when he chides me for my mistakes, for despite the thousands of fish he must guide to hand each season, he still seems to get more joy from my success than I do. And that is quite a thing, not to mention being the mark of a good guide.

What, you must be wondering, is all the shame about? Well, it is my chalkstream packing. Now you might think after all these years I'd have honed it down to the essentials. Not a bit of it. I have this cavernous Orvis bag of the wheeled variety that would bankrupt me in excess luggage fees should I ever fly Ryanair.

Rods? There are about six of various configurations though five rarely see water. Reels? The same. Flies? Actually I am pretty blameless here having eliminated all but twenty or thirty patterns, plus the seasonal Mayfly box. However, I do rather fail in that I will carry at any one time three or four dozen of each, plus a variety of sizes. I think I have every Parachute Adams hook size from 12-26. In truth at the smaller end of the scale it is more about fishing guide bragging rights as I can barely see the miniscule ones to tie them on.

Spools of tippet material proliferate; I don't bother with tapered leaders - too expensive. Lotions and potions in the form of Gunk, Gink and sunscreen are confined to leak proof baggies. Lots of Fishing Breaks baseball caps. Well, they make for good marketing giveaways. Numerous pairs of sunglasses. Tubes of plastic for gutted fish. Two gutting knives; someone will always lose one in the river. Even a cigarette lighter. I haven't smoked in three decades but I soon learnt as a guide that a client with a cigarette but no way of lighting it makes for a very long day on the river. It once even got me a book contract, but that is another story.

I think ultimately the problem with my chalkstream packing is that I'm trying to cater for every eventuality. My family in particular have this astonishing ability of arriving at the river with absolutely nothing and feeling no shame about it.  I have become the repository of everything you might ever want on a river. It is a burden in more ways than one.


At my local squash club we were having all sorts of problems with players wearing black soled shoes which leave unsightly scuff marks on the blonde wood floor that are tough to remove. Every squash player should know this but plenty forget or ignore the requirement to only wear suitable footwear despite prominently displayed notices exhorting compliance.  

Then someone, I guess a disciple of nudge theory, had a bright idea. Let's replace the current notices with ones that read: PLEASE CHECK YOUR OPPONENT IS WEARING NON-MARKING SHOES BEFORE STARTING PLAY. Voila, problem solved.

This small victory came to mind as I read the 2015-16 Annual Fisheries Reports from the Environment Agency. I highly commend these 16 reports, though you might be pleased to hear you need not read them all. Each one represents a particular region of England and Wales so you'll easily find those relevant to you.  However, what really did disappoint me was that fact that the opening pages of each report from every region focus on rod licence checks and prosecutions, with a bit too much Soviet-style glee for my liking.

Now this is clearly a directive that has come from on high. I don't suppose for one minute that of all the really great stuff the local EA people get excited about the rod licence checks are high on the list. But clearly their Whitehall masters think differently.  And that is a shame. Go to the later pages in the regional reports to read some really wonderful stuff that is doing a great deal to revive wild fish populations of all sorts, covering not just the big name migratory fish but also sometimes passed over species such as roach.

The EA really should be loved; they deserve it for much of the work they do but waving the Big Brother enforcement stick is a PR own goal. Aside from the fact that nobody reading these reports is likely to be a licence evader, it is telling the story of the bad when the good should be shouted from the roof tops. Sure, mention the prosecutions if you must (only 65 in the Solent and South Downs region during the past twelve months) but relegate them to the back pages. In fact, let us go one step further to save that effort by removing fishing licence evasion from the list of criminal offences.

This brings me back to my squash story where peer group pressure became a silent, but potent weapon. The simple fact that your opponent might be monitoring your shoes was enough to ensure compliance. Nobody ever does check or ask, but that is the beauty of it.

So, let us simply make it obligatory for all anglers to display their licence somewhere where it can be seen whilst fishing. Or maybe create a pin to be worn with pride in hat or lapel. For if shorn of the need to be the angling policemen the EA can become the good guys where people buy a licence because they know it is the right thing to do.

I for one, when we have a justice system that is straining every sinew, feel increasing uncomfortable that the criminal code is being used for a transgression that at the very worst requires a fixed penalty. We are wasting the valuable time of our volunteer bailiffs, thousands of police hours and millions of pounds in court cases. There is a better way. It just takes a bold vision and some faith in human nature.

Oh, I forgot about the conkers, which is a nugget of a story that demonstrates how random and unexpected fish kill incidents can be. On the Rother in Sussex a report came in of dead brown trout. All the usual poison suspects were investigated, leaving the EA officers scratching their heads until the piscicide (new word to me) Saponin was discovered. But where had this unusual substance come from?

Eventually the source was located to a giant horse chestnut tree that had shed its conkers on to the road below. Passing cars had in turn crushed the fruit, releasing the toxin which was in turn washed into the river after a sudden downpour. It is a story worthy of Agatha Christie but apparently North American tribes were fishing in a similar manner many centuries ago.


The new cabin is taking shape .......


Three random teasers to test your brain. It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page
1)      Beside The Gambia what is the one other country in the world with a name that starts with The ......  ?

2)    Haynes Manuals are more commonly associated with cars, but who recently wrote the Haynes Guide to Fly Fishing?

3)      What three fish comprise a Florida Grand Slam?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1)   The Bahamas   2) Mark Bowler, editor of Fly Fishing & Fly Tying. [Review in next Newsletter]  3) Permit, tarpon and bonefish.

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