Friday, 22 September 2017

It is all about the fish

It is all about the fish

Every time I clear Customs at Gatwick or Heathrow and scurry at speed for the Arrivals Hall I often wonder who is the target market for that last Duty Free concession. Generally they seem to be deserted excepting the bored looking staff whose sole task is to ensure the bottles are correctly aligned, labels to the front. Sometime you'll see some desperate-faced traveller scanning the shelves for that I-really-should-have -thought-of-this-in-a previous- country gift. Good luck with that. But on arriving at Vágar it seems they do sometimes have a purpose.

Now you might expect the airport of the Faroes Islands to be the last redoubt of 1970's concrete utility architecture. Huh, no chance. Even close to midnight the jaded traveller has to be blown away by this tribute to Scandi-chic. Think of a concept Ikea store where only the hippest designers may apply. Even the staff are cheerful. Maybe the building does that to them. The guy at passport control positively beamed as us, though having examined my passport went more delighted still by simply uttering the acronym EU accompanied by a wry smile.  You see the Faroes, though 'a nation within the realm of Denmark', is not part of the European Union.  These are friends we might soon need. After all they have an awful lot of fish, but more on that later.

Heading for the exit, amongst the gleaming aluminium and primary colour furniture, was a Duty Free shop that dwarfed anything London airports have to offer.  The four tills were manned by yet more cheerful people, who smiled and waved, then looked genuinely baffled as we walked on by. But we were the only people to do that. Every single passenger piled into the shop for a frenzy of alcohol and chocolate buying.  Not a single person emerged into the baggage hall without at least two bulging carrier bags. Half cases of wine, monster tubes of Smarties, cases of beer, giant Quality Street tins. You are limited to 3kg of chocolate according to the notices, though I suspect that maybe rather for your own well-being that any economic rationale. But enough of the shopping habits of the  Faroese.

I think my biggest misconception of the Faroes was that it was small; it may only have a population of 48,000, plus 70,000 sheep but you cover a lot of ground across the 18 islands that are either connected by bridges, sea tunnels or ferries, the latter which the people treat as lightly as hop-on/hop-off buses. My hire car, hardly an ancient wreck, had done 288,000 kilometres.  So, be prepared - you will do a lot of driving. Not that it is a hardship. The scenery is stunning and the biggest traffic jam I encountered was a car in front of me at a roundabout. However, they do drive fast. Really fast and that includes the enormous refrigerated container freight lorries, the arteries of the economy.
I was here for the fish, but the real fish that dominate these islands are of the deep sea or farmed variety. The industry accounts for 95% of the economy. Just about every fjord-like inlet has a fishing harbour, a cluster of houses overlooking a solid stone breakwater, the wharf dominated by an industrial-scale fish processing warehouse. Some harbours may be home to just a handful of small trawlers, but there is a graduation in scale working up to the largest which is home to the Russian fleet, each trawler the size of a continental car ferry. All these are linked by that interminable merry-go-round of juggernauts.

Fish, and that means all fish, is food or currency as far as the Faroese are concerned. Catch and release for anything of eatable size is not even a consideration. When I caught my first sea trout the guide commented that it was 'of good eating size'.  And that is the thing here. The population fish an awful lot. As you drive around just about every lake or estuary will have someone holding a rod whatever the time of day, or night in the summer. Salmon, sea trout and brown trout, essentially the only freshwater fish here, are hunted not just for the pleasure of angling but to eat. Nobody minds that as a visitor you let your catch go, but you are regarded as rather odd.

The fishing here is very uncomplicated; a box of familiar wet flies and rods in the 5-7 wt. range.  Tippets are 3lb but everyone insists that the overall length of your leader must be twice the length of your rod when fishing for brown trout in the lakes; you can come down to 15ft (and up to 5lb) for sea trout. And that is pretty well it. Cast as far as you can, stick to water with ripple and keep varying your retrieve. If you see a fish move, cast directly at it. If one misses your fly or you get a tug, got at it again like a demon. Don't dally in one spot to long if it doesn't deliver.  And always be ready for the induced take as you lift off to cast again.

The fact is that the lakes and estuaries are teeming with trout and sea trout. Of the latter on a clear, still day I watched shoal of a least a hundred circling in water no more than three feet deep for an hour, the size ranging from a pound to three pounds. They took no account of anything I cast at them which was a lesson well learnt. In the Faroes the worse the weather, the better the fishing.  If you want to splurge ahead of a trip to these rocky islands spend it all on good waders and a jacket.  It is not cold, but it is wet.

Other than that, I think you might just enjoy it here. 

How to get there:  Where to stay: Fishing guide: Car hire: 


You may recall that we took part in a water vole release programme last summer on the River Meon, which along with many other rivers, has seen a catastrophic decline in the population.  Well, I am happy to report, that after some additional releases, the Meon valley now has a population from source to sea.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark who has coordinated the project on behalf of the South Downs National Park Authority tells me that the releasees at Exton Manor Farm (all 110 of them) settled in, then dispersed as hoped. Better still they have begun breeding and integrating with what was left of the natives.

It will take a few years to know for sure whether the programme will have a lasting effect but voles are a fecund bunch - 4-5 litters will all have an impact. The main killer of voles, other than domestic cats, are mink but they are now absent from the Meon catchment.  Habitat is generally in fine shape; the Meon remains a largely untouched chalkstream. Disease is probably the imponderable due to the lack of research and definitive data.

Let's keep it crossed for our furry pals.

Thanks to everyone who sent in answers to the Double Delphi quiz. The Q&A was:

1)      In which country is the Oracle of Delphi (photo)? Greece
2)      What does the word delphic mean? Obscure, Enigmatic or Ambiguous
3)      On which Caribbean island is Delphi Lodge? Abaco Island

Well done to Sebastian Aymes who has a signed copy of Peter Mantle's book in the post to him today

No prizes this week just three questions loosely based on the Newsletter topics.

1)      How many miles is it from London Stansted to Vágar? 558, 758 or 958 miles.

2)      The origin of the word juggernaut is jagannath. From which country does the word originate?

3)      In a famous comic novel (and film) Urk, one of the central characters, spends a great deal of time talking to water voles on the farm. What was the novel by Stella Gibbons?

It is just for fun, with the answers at the bottom of the page.

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:
1)  758 miles  
2) India, after a God who allowed his worshippers to be crushed beneath his carriage by way of sacrifice.

3) Cold Comfort Farm.

Friday, 8 September 2017

A busman's holiday

By rights I should be writing this today from a log cabin in Idaho. The imminent dawn heralds the last day of practice before the One Fly contest starts. Jetlag has gone. The kinks in the body created by eighteen hours in three decreasingly smaller planes are straightened out. The mountain air smells chill fresh. The early autumn mists swirl close to the ground in the valley below. But I'm not there.

For a variety of family reasons I made the decision to forgo the 2017 Jackson Hole One Fly soon after the last cast of last year's competition. Reasons that seemed so pressing and important 12 months ago are either less so now or completely redundant, overtaken by events. Essentially I had a hole in my calendar, so what better way to fill it than with a fishing trip. But where?

North America was out; I simply could not go there having said that I would not. I only had a week so that cut out the far distant options. Argentina's Jurassic Lake will have to wait for another time. The warm, saltwater stuff is already in the diary for January and February. Russia is all but over and Europe didn't hold much appeal. I turned to the northern Atlantic.

Iceland I adore. But again? Probably not. Ah, Greenland that enormous blob on the map that is rarely mentioned excepting as the only country to have actually left the European Union. 1985 in case you ask. The Arctic char fishing looked amazing, as did the scenery. I started to research how to get there. You fly into the capital, Nuuk. Well, who could resist such name? Now information on the fishing, especially fly, is sparse so I turned to the only person who might have been there, ace all round angler and my grayling protagonist, John Bailey. As it turned out John had been many times. "My dear boy", he said (this phrase is a Bailey precursor to bad news), "you will absolutely hate it." Not Greenland then.

As my eye drifted over the atlas the Faroe Isles caught my eye. I had not a clue, though it sounded oddly familiar. I think it may be a regular on the shipping forecast. Google, the ever complicit partner for any fishing trip, offered one link It might not look much but believe you me I have rarely come across such a compelling web site. I was decided. The tickets are booked. The Fishing Guide is primed. I have three days to pursue salmon, sea trout and brown trout in estuary and lake. There aren't really any rivers; the islands are too small for them to be significant.

So, we will see. I have absolutely no idea what this will be like. The summer high is a chilly 11C. The guide book advises to bring a woolly hat 'even in summer'. But I'm excited and I didn't call John Bailey - I couldn't bear to have another bubble burst.

Watch this space.


If you took the staycation to heart you didn't much care for July with twice our normal rain. Had you expected respite in August you were out of luck at one and a half times the norm. But look on the bright side - the chalkstreams are in fine fettle for September. 

Well done to Andrew Cooper (no relation) who fished Qing Ya Xi in August which wins him the Fishing Breaks snood from the Feedback Draw. You are now all in the hat for the Abel reel at the end of October.


I spent most of my late teenage summers on the west coast of Ireland at about the time Peter Mantle had jacked in a perfectly good lawyering career to create his vision of the perfect fishing destination, the feted Delphi Lodge in Galway.

Now I was far too impoverished to stay at Peter's grand establishment, but I could afford the occasional day ticket. I do recall an impressive array of Mercedes cars in the drive and the continental types who seemed to be Peter's bread and butter. They favoured the full British tweed outfit; as the Queen would say, they look more English than us.  I never quite understood that look for holiday attire, though to be fair they equally failed to understand my penchant for scruffy Levis and collar-frayed shirts.

I am not sure Peter altogether approved of me either. I recall him shouting at me in the teeth of a howling gale as, with the river in flood and on the rise, I walked out into the middle on one of the stone jetties in my waders, even though it was a three feet under water. With hindsight I suspect he was just trying to save my life but at the time I thought him plain grumpy.

Four decades on it is no small irony that both Peter and I, who have ploughed our own professional fishing furrows, have ended up as neighbours in Nether Wallop.

On a personal level I am delighted to say that I have become a 'Double Delphi' having now stayed in both his Irish and Bahamanian lodges. Each is an amazing place, a tribute as much to Peter's determination as his vision. 

Because I can tell you for an absolute certainty that 'living the dream' is a hard trick to pull off.  Let his book show you how it is done.

Double Delphi is published by Wallop Books at £33 and available on-line


Peter Mantle has generously donated a signed copy of his book, so it is not just for fun this week. 

1)      In which country is the Oracle of Delphi (photo)?

2)      What does the word delphic mean?

3)      On which Caribbean island is Delphi Lodge?
Answer by replying to this email no later than a week today. First out the hat receives the book.


I am indebted to Justin Turner, the owner of Qing Ya Xi on the River Itchen, which has had a hugely successful first season, for sending me this photograph.

The man holding the fish is John Sturgis, one of the regular contingent from the Army & Navy Association who fish Mondays. That is no great news in itself but I do wonder if at 96 years of age John might just be our most elderly angler?

Certainly doesn't stop him catching fish!

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director