Friday, 20 October 2017

A licence to be killed

You probably don't have the press releases from the ATA (Angling Trades Association) set up as a Google alert to your smart phone.  In truth nor do I but I did take a look when they recently published the data for Rod Licence sales.  I know, big yawn. But bear with me as it provides an insightful snap shot of participation into our sport.

So, firstly hats off to Dr. Bruno Broughton at the ATA who has collated the data that takes us back six years to 2010. Now by most of the metrics I can think of we might have expected rod licence sales to have increased in that period, starting as it did soon after the financial meltdown. But not a bit of it.

In 2010/11 1.64m licences were sold. In 2015/16, the last available full season, it was 1.26m. Yes, that is as bad as it looks at first glance, a precipitous drop of 12.6%. Income is down from £25.4m to £22.2m. In case you are wondering these are all the licences sold in England and Wales for all types of fishing - coarse, trout and salmon.

Is there any good news? Well, concessionary licences, the vast majority of which are sold to the over 65's rose from 180,191 to 211,967 in the same period. The participants in our sport are aging disproportionately faster than our general population. No great worry you might think to that as the young are taking up fishing in droves. After all, don't we have many national initiatives to encourage that very thing? Indeed we do, but sadly they don't appear to be working. Junior licence sales fell from 116,116 to 59,024 in the same period. It looks like fishing is being squeezed at both ends of the tube.

What is to be done? Well, we could spend hours debating dozens of well-intended initiatives to get more people holding a rod but to my mind the nub of the problem is the license itself. It is what economists like to call a barrier to entry. This term more commonly applied to business but it equally applies to everyday human behaviour when a requirement for an apparently small administrative burden or insignificant payment acts as a firewall to participation.

If you wonder how true this is just look at the likes of Google or Facebook who have built vast empires on the concept of free. I can even tell you from my own experience of the iFindFishing app how true this is - downloads came in floods when were we were free but slowed to a trickle when we imposed a 99p charge. We discovered two things were happening simultaneously: people both resented paying for something they believed should be free and also didn't want the hassle of making a payment. So they didn't bother.

For the younger generation the fishing license has strayed into this territory. I can't explain in any cogent manner to a savvy twentysomething (believe me I have tried) why he or she needs to buy a license to fish free on the local river but doesn't require a license to cycle on a public road, hike in a national park or canoe down that very same river. Why, they ask, should anglers be taxed for their hobby? It is high time rod licences were abolished.

As far as I can see the only reason not to abolish the licence is the question as to who or how to make up the £22.2m shortfall. Aside from the fact that it is both a gnat bite in UK government annual expenditure of £780bn and a tiny sliver set against the £18.1bn of profits made by the water companies since privatisation asking who will pay is a fair question to ask. So, let's crunch the numbers.

It is a good bet that the administration costs to collect the licence (£22m in 2016) are and I suspect I am being conservative, 15% of income. That brings us down to £19m. There are thousands of prosecutions each year for evaders. Let's say £4m in time spent by enforcement officers, police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts which could be gainfully used elsewhere. So, £15m to find elsewhere or justify being taken from the public coffers.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • It would be popular. There are not many other ways to make 1.2 million (and probably millions more) happy at the stroke of a pen.
  • You don't need a licence in Scotland or for sea fishing anywhere in the British Isles.
  • We spent £25bn on the 2012 Olympics to encourage participation in sport. This would do the same for a fraction of the cost.
  • It is manifestly unfair that anglers have to be in possession of a licence to enjoy a legal hobby when no others who make an equal claim on natural resources (shooters, cyclists, canoeists, walkers, mountain climbers ......) have to buy a licence.
  • Anglers spend £1.2bn annually on their hobby; that is £240m in VAT income alone, aside from any employment benefits. It will only take a small revival in angling for that £15m to be recouped in tax income.
  • Abolishing the licence would cost 25p for each man, woman and child in the UK.

I don't want to make this an Us vs. Them debate but here are plenty of bodies that receive annual government funding to which we might consider we have a moral equivalence. I am not saying we are more deserving but we have a damn good argument for a share of the cake. Here are a few examples:

Arts Council                     £622 million of government grant annually
UK Sport                          £100 million grant-aid annually
The National Lottery        Raises £1.5 billion each year, 20% of which is earmarked for sport
British Film Institute         £32 million of government grant annually
Canal & River Trust        £53 million a year in government grants plus the income from a £500m property                                                 portfolio endowed on them by the nation. At an 8% return that is another £40 million a                                         year.

I am not sure how the case should be made for the abolition of the fishing licence, but it is high time the discussion was started. Maybe we'll need a martyr or two who go to jail for refusing to pay. Or perhaps we'll have a mass boycott. How about a grand debate with the Defra minister? Or a Twitter campaign #FREEdomtofish. 

Whichever way it evolves it needs to happen before the upcoming generation born post 1990 lose the fishing habit and the rest of us die.


The first of many .....
I am not sure the trout in our lake will entirely see it this way but next week you have a chance to save them from a winter of dodging otters as Kuschta, the heroine of The Otters' Tale, has returned with a new litter of two.

Half term marks our last full teaching week at The Mill (we close 31/October until 30/March) and we still have a pond stuffed with blues, browns, rainbows and tigers. Those that remain, over a hundred at this point, will gradually diminish through the winter months. Three years ago we had a solitary fish left by February; clearly it was some sort of robo-trout. This year was better with a couple of dozen as Kuschta didn't have a litter. This winter around I don't fancy their chances.

For details and dates of Children, Family and Private Tuition options follow this link.


With the last shreds of Hurricane Ophelia heading towards the Arctic, a few weather related questions this week. 

1)      What was the fastest ever recorded wind speed in the British Isles? A) 133mph  B) 153mph  C) 173mph

2)      Who was the Roman storm god?

3)      What is the difference between a hurricane, typhoon and cyclone?
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)      173pm on the Cairngorms, Scotland 20th March 1980. 
2)      Jupiter. Zeus is the Greek equivalent.
3)      Hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon; we just use different names for these storms in different places. In the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific, the term "hurricane" is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a "typhoon" and "cyclones" occur in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Cut! It's a wrap

Producer George Browne brings us news from the editing suite of CHALK The Movie:

It was with almost audible sighs of relief that filmmakers Chris Cooper and Leo Cincolo replaced the lens caps on their cameras, packed away the drone and switched off the radio mics for the last time in the filming of CHALK. After 20 days of shooting, some blissful and others gruellingly hard work, we've finally got everything 'in the can', as they say in the trade.

Marina & Will on the Driffield Beck
Since the last update in July we've been capturing some of the most important elements of the film - taking testimony from experts on the history, ecology and geology of the chalkstreams. 

We've spoken to fly fishing historian Terry Lawton about the importance and impact of the chalkstreams on fly fishing around the world. The director of the Wild Trout Trust, Shaun Leonard, consisely explains the ecology, geology and geography that makes these magical rivers so special. And renowned writer and conservationist Charles Rangeley-Wilson talked to us about the under-appreciated chalkstreams of Norfolk.

We've also been out with Alex Jardine and and Peter McLeod of Aadvark McLeod to discuss the finer points of nymph fishing and visited one of the most northerly chalkstreams - the Driffield Beck - in the company of fly fishing guide Marina Gibson and Frank Mueller, a Kickstarter backer who came all the way from Germany to appear in the film.

When I spoke to Chris and Leo recently they sounded tired, relieved, and excited all at the same time. "We can't thank people enough for their support and the time given up to make this film a success," Chris told me on the phone. "We've met some fantastic people all over the country and each have their own story to tell about what makes these rivers so special. Can't wait to get stuck into the edit!"

As things start to gather pace, we've also seen a first draft of a narrator's script, and it looks like we're all on the same page, so that's a relief! Despite Simon's claims of writer's block, he's made a really promising start and the narrative arc of the film is beginning to take shape, something that will really help with the editing process.

It is all about the chalk
Finally, we're really pleased to announce that as well as donating a day of fishing to the Kickstarter campaign, actor Jim Murray has kindly agreed to be the 'voice of Chalk' and narrate the film. You may recognise Jim from his appearances in Coronation Street, in which he played Sandy Hunter in the late 90s, or from various roles in TV dramas over the years, including BBC crime series New Tricks, Cutting It, Death in Paradise, Midsomer Murders and more recently Suspects and the Netflix series Medici: Masters of Florence. Jim's not only a keen chalkstream angler, but has a voice whose deep English tones, to my ear at least, provide a fine foil for the high-pitched rippling of a trout stream.

Now that the filming process is complete it will soon be time to start sending rough edits to those Kickstarter backers who signed up to be a part of the editing process, so watch this space.

So, we've rounded the final bend and are entering the home straight - just a couple of months till we cross the finishing line! Thanks to all our guest anglers, hosts, experts and anyone who has helped us to get this far - your support means everything. It is an oft-used phrase, but without you, none of this would be possible and there would be no film!
Peter McLeod at 'work' for the camera

The film will be available on from Friday 24th November. FishingTV is available as an app for Smartphone, tablet, SmartTV, Amazon FireTV, and online. The pay-per-view platform is free to join and there's no monthly fee. You can join the FishingTV platform today by going to and you'll get 10 'tokens' (worth about £3) to explore their huge library of fishing content, which covers everything fly related and much more. 

Alternatively I will be hosting a special showing at part of the One Fly Festival in Stockbridge at 7.30pm on Friday April 27th 2018. Tickets available on-line as of now.


I think it is fair to say that September was a tough month; not so much to do with the rivers which are in fine fettle after a wet July and August but rather finicky fish.

On some days the Guides (and the anglers) were close to despair as the fish lined up but ignored every offering however cunning the ploy or deft the presentation. Then to confound us all you would have a purple patch or particular day when the fish would lock in on a particular hatch or pattern and the living was easy. All very perplexing.

Anyway, our feedback winner for September as Philip Fleming who fished The Parsonage and has a Fishing Breaks snood on the way. For everyone else it is back in the hat for the Abel reel at the end of October. Good luck!


I always like it when someone comes up with a different take on artistry in the fly fishing arena and the current London exhibition by Garry Pereira hits exactly that spot.

Garry, a landscape artist, has come upon the novel idea of using old fly boxes as both the canvas and frame for his oils.  Explaining how this curious new source of inspiration came about he relates that last year he came across a massive collection of flies in an antique shop and subsequently "tracked down some old fly fishing boxes that I saw immediately as being a frame. Within the painted images inside I am trying to match the detail of the flies, and pick up on the colours."

He says (pictured left on location) he endeavours to capture the spirit of the 'earth around him' in distant lonely places that fly anglers will know well and appreciate, from the Highlands of Scotland to Snowdonia. Norfolk remains his favourite county, for its vast skies, wide expanses of coastline, meadows, woodlands, and crashing waves.

The exhibition Stand and Stare runs until 2nd November 2017 at the Osborne Studio Gallery, 2 Motcomb Street, Belgravia, London, SW1X 8JU. Free admission.

For the Darning of Father McKenzie 100x80cm Oil on Canvas


Earlier in the week I dropped in to see my old friend at Farlows Travel Roddy Hall in his Pall Mall lair. There was a serious reason for the meeting as we will be sharing a stand at the London Fly Fishing Fair in the spring: dates for your diary March 23rd/24th. 

However, we both clearly had too much time on our hands as the conversation turned into a bit of a bragging contest as to who had been fishing where in the past twelve months. Now the truth is I was on a bit of a hiding to nothing especially when Roddy announced, in that laconic way that is very much him, that he was particularly proud of his year as he has caught an Atlantic salmon in three countries: Iceland, Russia and the UK. 

Which got us to thinking: is there anyone out there who has performed a similar feat in four, five or more countries in the past twelve months?


Since we are talking about Atlantic salmon three questions on Salmo salar this week.

1)      How many species of Atlantic and Pacific salmon are there in total?

2)      What does salmon mean?

3)    Of the different species which a) lives longest b) grows largest? 

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)  11. Three Salmo and eight Oncorhynchus
2)  To leap

3)  a) Atlantic salmon 13 years  b) Chinook salmon 135lbs