Thursday, 23 February 2017

A Dermot Wilson legacy

 Nether Wallop Mill, Hampshire, England

Over the years we have dragged many varied and different items from our rivers. To date none of our 'finds' have been of any value, mostly resulting an unwanted visit to the local tip. This latest crop, modelled by river keeper Jonny Walker, is not a lot different. If you are thinking 'they look sort of familiar' you'd be right should your mind be turning along the lines of a cemetery.

Jonny with gravestonesIt transpires that my predecessor at Nether Wallop Mill, the great Dermot Wilson, had an eye for saving a few bob. Back in the 1970's the Norman churchyard that flanks The Mill was finally running out of room, so, in an effort to free up more burial plots the gravestones themselves were moved, whilst all the stone surrounds and fancy pieces were deemed rubble. Parsimonious Dermot leapt in with his wheelbarrow, using the debris to rebuild the mill pool bank.

Actually for years I never knew we were treading on messages that read in loving memory .... will be sorely missed .... a loving wife and so on. But the floods on 2014 exposed this cache so since then it has been both an eyesore and nuisance. And as churchyard marble doesn't make it into the Wild Trust Handbook as recommended bank material, it was time for it all to go.

I can only add, if you are up there Dermot looking down on us today, that I hope you suffered as much putting the stones in as we did getting them out! 

St Andrews, Nether Wallop



I took my old friend John Bailey down for a day on the River Frome at Ilsington earlier this month. He announced, as if this was the easiest challenge in the world, that he was in search of lifetime personal best grayling. This struck me as a tall order as he has probably fished in more counties than anyone alive and has over fifty books to his name. As they said in Wayne's World, 'I am not worthy'.

That said I did have one thing on my side: John lives in deepest Norfolk, a veritable desert as far as grayling are concerned, where none have been spotted for twenty years or more. In Dorset however, grayling positively thrive and for one slightly odd reason.

Now grayling are not natural denizens of the chalkstreams. They have all been stocked at one time or another; the River Test in the early 19th century and the Itchen much later in the 20th. It was the Victorians who introduced them to the River Frome, bringing the brood stock from the Derbyshire Dove, recent DNA testing conclusively proving the link.

Arriving from the relatively food-sparse Dales to the insect-rich Frome soon turned these northern arrivals into what we would now probably term super-grayling. They positively thrived, though not everyone liked the outcome. As you probably know Thymallus thymallus occupies an odd dual niche in the fishing classification as a 'game' fish in that it shares many of the characteristics of salmon and trout, including that distinctive adipose fin. On the other hand it is 'coarse' in its breeding habits, spawning in March, months after its game companions and prefers to live in a shoal.

In most other respects it is a game fish. Spawning takes place in the same gravelly river bed. The fry eat the same miniature aquatic invertebrates. As adults they primarily feed on shrimp, caddis larvae and mayfly nymphs. It is true that grayling eat trout eggs, but trout equally repay the favour. In terms of age trout have a slight edge on grayling. For the latter five is a ripe old age, whereas it is more like eight for the former.

It is hard to say when the grayling honeymoon ended, but it is well documented that in the post-war era they were a chalkstream fish that was both persecuted and derided. Shaun Leonard, in his excellent biography of this fish in Chalkstreams recounts how thousands were netted and electro-fished each autumn to be simply consigned to death in the lime pit. I have a feeling that this was a practice that was largely confined to the more managed Hampshire and Wiltshire rivers, so maybe this is why today, if you want to catch a record grayling, the Frome is the place to head for.

John of course knows this and I suspect the offer of a day at our Ilsington beat on the River Frome, which has twice produced the British record (4b 4oz in case you ask), was more than temptation could stand. As it turned out no record came our way, but John achieved his personal best (I will take whatever credit due ....) and we had between us five fish that would have easily tipped the 3lb mark on the scales.


You might not know Andy Buckley by name but if you went into Farlows of Pall Mall anytime between 2012 and 2015 you'd surely recognise him from behind the counter.

Andy left Farlows to spend a while at a saltwater lodge in the Indian Ocean but I'm delighted to say he is back in his native Derbyshire where he is guiding on a very private and all wild stretch of the River Dove which has some monster browns and grayling.

Now I could spend many paragraphs extolling the virtues of both Andy and the fishing, but frankly I am not going to bother. This video (click on left photo) says it all. You will love it. 

When you are done click here to see more details of his River Dove guided trips.


I must admit in recent years I have rather mocked those people you see on the beach spending hours trying to create the perfect selfie. Well, I will mock no longer.

Last week our Buff-style snoods arrived, so who better to model them (shouts of derision I know) but me? I'm certainly not coming back in a later life as a supermodel, though I'm sure you'll agree I do make a rather fetching bank robber.

You will see the Guides in these during the coming season and there will be a chance to win one of your own should you complete a Feedback Form after your trip.


Three random teasers to test your brain. It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page
1)      What game should be correctly known as sphairistike?

2)      From a character in which novel does Starbucks take its name?

3)    You will find many villages near rivers with a name that includes the word combe. What does combe mean?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Tennis    2) Moby-Dick or The Whale by Herman Melville   3) Valley

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