At a recent Otters' Tale book talk a member of the audience asked whether I had
found writing it, my second book, difficult. Apparently second books
are the most hard. Being the smartarse I am I replied that I'll tell
you when I have written the third.
Now I've I just
completed my third book (typed THE END on Monday) I slightly rue my
glib reply for the answer is emphatically no - it is the third that is
The new book is a
million miles away from the first two. It is the story of the horse
Frankel who raced 2010-12 and is generally regarded as the greatest
racehorse who has ever lived. How come, you might wonder, did this book
come about? Not much to do with rivers or nature .....
After the success of
the first two the publishers Harper Collins were very kind. You may
write any book you like as long as it is a) non-fiction b) something
you know something about. Well, in a previous life and for the first
decade of my working life I was a bookie. Aside from fishing horse
racing was the thing that had always fascinated me the most. I even did
a stint in a racing stable, too big to be a jockey but fit enough to
wield a pitch fork.
I am still not sure
where the Frankel notion came from but it chimed with Harper Collins
who had published the million-selling Sea Biscuit book back in 2002
which in turn became a film. So, since April I have walked all the
places Frankel ever ran. Visited all the places he ever lived. Met most
of the people who did, or have, a significant place in his life. He is
alive and well living in considerable luxury in Suffolk servicing 180
mares a year at £175,000 a time. Yes, do the maths*.
I must admit it has
in some respects been hard book to write based on fact but also on
memories ten years past with some of the main characters no longer with
us. I've been through definite stages during the writing: excitement to
start with. Hating it for a while. But as it came to an end rather
wishing it would not.
It is all done now
bar some fiddling about so I can come out from my self-imposed mental
exile. Horse (working title) is out in June in time for Royal Ascot but
for now it is back to that monthly column for Trout & Salmon. Welcome
*£31.5 million pa
a joke comes true
of you will remember our grizzled Scottish fishing guide Duncan Weston
who died a couple of years ago.
Despite living 'down
south' for most of his adult life Duncan never lost his thick
Glaswegian accent; plenty of us only understood one word in three of
what he said. But Duncan was a great one for telling jokes which were
worth the mental translation. His favourite went like this:
A ghillie and his
fisherman are sitting on a rock concluding a week of salmon fishing.
The angler is bemoaning his lack of success and the cost of the trip.
"If you take
into account my flight, my hotel, my fishing and your wages," he
says to the ghillie, "that single salmon we caught cost over
£5,000". The ghillie ponders this thought for a moment and
then replies, "Aye, well it is probably a good thing that you
didna' catch two!"
An article in The
Sunday Times this past weekend reminded me of Duncan's joke. It was
salmon tip the scales at £60,000 each. The article
fly-fishing, the so-called pastime of princes, has produced the world's
most expensive fish - salmon costing £60,000 each. The fish were
among 500,000 released from an artificial hatchery to restock the Spey,
one of Scotland's finest salmon rivers and famous in angling circles.
But a study using
genetic fingerprinting techniques, which was conducted by the Spey
Fishery Board, showed that out of more than 800 salmon caught, only two
came from the £120,000 hatchery. Despite objections from
conservationists, however, the Spey board has now announced its
intention to double the hatchery output this year to 1m salmon
On the basis of a
single article it is maybe dangerous to jump to a conclusions as to the
rights and wrongs of the Spey stocking programme but a Finnish study
that was published the same week seems to suggest that it doesn't make
In the years
immediately after the Second World War Finland committed itself to
hydropower but with an eye to the difficulties that might cause to
migratory fish the legislation provided for fish passes. However these
were not effective so fish were reared to compensate for falling
The study by the
University of Eastern Finland has found that the fish stocking practice
is failing to meet the latest legal and scientific requirements. Before
the dams there were 25 rivers used by mating salmon and another 72 that
were home to anadromous brown (sea) trout. Today there are just four
productive salmon rivers and only a small population of wild migratory
brown trout, migratory whitefish and grayling have survived. Professor
Anssi Vainikka who led the study says:
studies have shown that fish farming alters the genetic traits of
farmed fish. As fish adapt to the farm environment, their genetic
traits change and they no longer survive in the wild as well as they
The study has
concluded that fish stocking does not have the potential to permanently
replace the natural reproductive cycles of migratory fish and that the
dams are also impacting on the non-migratory populations who are unable
to move to freely to different parts of their native river system or to
entirely new rivers.
In our little niche
of the chalkstreams, where there is a concerted effort to remove
obstructions along with a salmon parr introduction programme, I'd think
I'd echo all that
BBC are running a new series called River Walks that airs at
7.30pm on Monday evenings. It seems to have been made regionally as
here down in the south we started with the River Itchen whilst in the
north-east it was the River Tees.
It is definitely
worth a watch if sometimes a little cack-handed. I stared in amazement
as during the River Dove programme they cut to some stock shots of
...... wait for it ...... mackerel.
However, the guy
from the National Trust explained very clearly and persuasively why
they are removing the eighty or so stone weirs from the Dove that date
back many centuries. Not sure what they will do when beavers appear.
Which all links very
nicely to my own river walk when I'll be hosting a small group to visit
some of the iconic chalkstream venues, see traditional weed cutting in
action, examine what is left of the historic water meadows and take a
look into the secret life of a chalkstream.
We'll meet for
my Life of a
Chalkstream talk over morning coffee before heading
off for a trip around my favourite parts of the River Test. It will be
at the height of June when the valley looks at its most glorious and
we'll end up in a good pub near the river for a late lunch. For more
details and to book click here.
But back to the BBC River
Walks; of the eleven shows three are on chalkstreams: Deben, Itchen
and Stour. The remainder are the Dart, Dove, Exe, Hodder, Lea, Nidd,
Severn and Tees. Watch it on BBC iPlayer
Environment Agency are currently conducting their occasional National
Angling Survey so now is the time to have your say.
may have to pay .....
It is quite the
survey so I'd recommend setting aside 15 minutes and a strong cup of
Judging by the
questions and the leading answers you are invited to tick I am fairly
sure where they are going on this one: it's an effort to prove that
angling is good for mental health and wellbeing. There is also a rather
curious question as to how physically demanding your fishing excursions
However there is bit
of a hidden agenda: once again the government are trying to encourage
support for a fishing licence for sea angling. Last time they tried
this it was shot down in flames by a vigorous press and social media
campaign. If you want to say no there is opportunity enough within the
a new line. The reviews in the angling press were outstanding. You think it
is the answer to your casting woes. With great anticipation you re-spool
your favourite reel. But, however hard you try, your casting goes
backwards. After a couple of hopeless trips you consign said line to the
bin, curse your choice (not to mention the reviewer) before reverting to
the old faithful. Harmony restored.
Now it would have never
occurred to me that my new line was a fake. We all know the counterfeiters
have a field day with luxury goods. But fly lines? Who would bother?
Well, apparently Ian
Bailey and Richard Tramer with the former now in prison for eight months
and latter with the seven months suspended.
It seem that this pair,
based in the West Midlands, were selling fake lines under the brand names
we all know well: Rio, Snowbee, Greys, Hardy and Loop. And it was more than
just a market stall operation. Through eBay accounts Telewatcher, The Line
Man and Hardyclassics Bailey had turnover in excess of £150,000. When the
police raided his home near Chester they confiscated more than 5,000 lines.
All credit has to go to
Chris Hartley of Guide Flyfishing who first alerted North Yorkshire Trading
Standards and Russell Weston of Snowbee who gave evidence at the
Scarborough Magistrates'' Court hearing outlining the damage to the brand
reputation when the fake line did not perform as it should.
books for Christmas
has been a good year for books; you are spoilt for choice when it comes to
buying this Christmas. I've picked out three to hopefully point you in the
Robert Macfarlane and
Jackie Morris have created more of a work of art than a book. Amazing
writing. Beautiful drawings. Every page a visual delight that charts the
words that are vanishing from the language of children. Hamish Hamilton
People often ask me what
is the best reference book for fly fishing; until now I have always said
(and will continue to say) Charles Jardine's Classic Guide to Fly-fishing for Trout.
However, as it is long out of print having been published way back in 1991
virgin copies are often hard to find though I see a few on Amazon as of
today. But The Fly Fisher:
The Essence and Essentials of Fly Fishing comes very close if
written with the US market and a broader readership in mind. Gestalten £40.
With the sub-title The
five fish that made Britain, this is written by my friend Charles
Rangeley-Wilson. I am too hopelessly biased to offer an objective review (I
loved it) so here is Mark Cocker's choice from The Spectator Books of the
"It has been a
fishy year for me and Charles Rangeley-Wilson's terrific Silver Shoals: Five Fish That Made
Britain is among its highlights. The author manages to lay bare
this country's abuse of its astonishing former fish abundance, but without
name-calling or losing his sense of simple wonder at fish as vital, vibrantly
wild inhabitants of our encircling seas and waters."
Just so you know the
fish are carp, cod, eels, salmon and herring. Chatto £18.99
cause a stir
really didn't know that my piece on beavers in the last Newsletter would
create quite such a stir - I have never had such a bulging postbag. It
seems beavers excite passions both sides of the aisle, though I'd say the
consensus was five to one against introduction.
dam on River Otter
I am not going to recite
all the arguments again but I thought you might enjoy a taste of the
comments that were made that very much illustrate the spectrum of opinion.
"As you say, the
environment has gone from when these animals used to live. The people that
want to release them, often do not and could not own the land that they
want to release them in. Beavers, wolves, lynx and like have no place in
this country any more. I have asked some of the rewilders how compensation
would be paid to landowners for damage caused by the aforementioned
animals. No answer."
"Do not fuss about
Essex! - they are here (Wiltshire), or at least throughout last year a pair
have been resident on the lake at Orchardleigh, 3 miles from Frome and a
very short distance from the headwaters of the Wylye. Nobody knows their
origin but one can only assume that they have come from the established
introductions in the West Country. The Wilts Fishery Association keepers
went down last spring to hear about the implications of the West Country
introductions on the Otter. No surprises, but we can be pretty confident
that they will be with us on the chalk streams before very long. Bank
damage is probably more worrying than tree damage - any Tay ghillie will
"I am told by a
reliable chum that there are two types of European beaver available on the
"restocking" market - one is a placid number, the other a grumpy
type. Apparently, cos no one else wants them, the latter are coming here. I
also hear that the Tay population is now thought to exceed 600, despite
hundreds per annum being killed by farmers etc. My man painted a very
comical tale of ghillies furiously taking dams down, only to return the
next day to find a bigger, stronger one in place, built by the grumpy
"How do the people
responsible for these regulations get things so wrong so often? The words
silk purse and a*******e spring to mind. Earlier this year whilst strolling
the banks of the river Otter I came across an old local walking his dog. He
told me that since the introduction of beavers to this small watercourse
(they've had Otters present for years) he has been berated on several
occasions for having the audacity to walk his dog there because ' it
disturbs the beavers '!"
"For the first time
as a keen reader of your newsletters, I find myself in strong disagreement
with your view - in this instance on beavers. The European beaver was once
an indigenous member of Britain's fauna, as indeed were wolves, bears, lynx
and wild boar. It would be difficult to find suitable space for all of
these species to be reintroduced, but in the case of beavers there are
profound potential benefits in terms of significantly increasing
biodiversity and reducing the likelihood of rivers flooding. I understand
that as a riparian owner and someone who makes a living from the desire
that many of us have to enjoy fishing our lovely rivers, you will have
reservations about the ecological changes that beavers will bring."
I always try to keep an
open mind on these things so I will report further when I take up the kind
invitation from the River Otter Fisheries Association to see what is
happening first hand.
are reading this whilst serving time at Her Majesty's pleasure having been
marched off a beach clutching an undersized sea bass I do apologise. I am
entirely to blame.
In the last Newsletter I
wrote: So now a catch limit of one fish (under 42cm) per angler per day
is in force until the end of the year. That should of course read OVER
42cm. My sincere apologies for the error and thank you to all of you who
took the time to write in.
for the lack of a quiz last time; too exhausted by chasing beavers!
As ever three questions
to test your brilliance, or lack of. Answers at the bottom of the page.
invented the printing press?
Hanff's book featured what number on
Charing Cross Road?
issues that concern us in the countryside, and the solutions or alleviations
that we propose to resolve those issues come back to bite us firmly on the arse
as others, with a different agenda, ride on our coat tails. Take re-wilding for
It is interesting how a
particular word or phrase is able to become the currency of a particular cause
or set of beliefs. For a while sticking eco in front of anything worked a treat
if you wished to burnish the credentials of a person, movement or thing.
Global warming and climate
change are clearly the big two that fall into this category. We have all
experienced it. Dear Customer: To help the fight against global warning we
will no longer be posting you a bank statement.
Now I'm perfectly happy with
that but be honest - it is all about a cost saving that drops straight to the
bottom line but by using the phrase 'global warming' you have taken the moral
high ground. Anyone who, for perfectly valid reasons still wants the paper
version, is suddenly against the proposition. But back to the rivers.
For some time now there are
plenty of us who have felt the best way to protect the chalkstreams for future
generations is to step around progress. Not avoid it. Not oppose it. But craft
a countryside that protects what we have from the downsides of progress and
rolls back the damage that progress has caused. Strangely we haven't had to do
anything radical or invent some fancy new initiatives because by some bizarre
twist of fate the European Union handed us the solution on a plate.
Younger readers will
probably not recall the agricultural excesses of what was back then the
European Economic Community of the 1980's. It seemed like every week we were
assailed by some new glut of products as farmers were paid to produce food
nobody wanted to buy. Nobody excepting the EEC who bought and stockpiled
millions of tons and gallons (sorry litres). We had wine lakes. Butter
mountains. Potatoes. Wheat. Olives. The list went on and on. So the solution
was a new policy: set aside. Farmers were paid to produce nothing. In the
topsy-turvy world of European economics it was cheaper to pay a farmer to do
nothing than do something so suddenly 10% of agricultural land was taken out of
And what happens if you let nature
take over? It goes wild but in a good way. Suddenly there were hundreds of
thousands of acres free of the plough. Free of chemicals. Free for creatures,
animals and insects to thrive. Which they did. Saving the countryside was
simply as uncomplicated as doing nothing. On the chalkstreams the penny
dropped: the less we interfered the better. We needed to bend to the will of
nature rather than bend nature to our will. Wild was good. But somehow,
somewhere wild has become re-wilding, creating in an Animal Farm-like turn of
events. A whole new concept of its own, as if wild in itself was not good
enough. Now, not only do we have to return things to the wild but we have
to return them to a wildness that exists only in the imagination of a body or
group who have a particular cause to espouse.
I have absolutely no idea
why the re-wilders have taken beavers to their hearts, using the cover of
're-wilding' to promote a species that has been extinct from the British Isles
for at least six hundred years and probably longer in all but the remotest part
of the nation. But they have the ear of government. The recent press release
from Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs extols the introduction of a pair Eurasian Beavers to Essex
in a project that will see this 'keystone species' who, if you believe what is
written in the text, save the county from the effects of global warming by
juxtaposing the life of a beaver in the huge expanses of Canada with life in a
4 hectare compound in East Anglia.
It really is ecological
madness. In a time when squeezing any money from any government body for even
the most basic of environmental project is all but impossible I simply dread to
think how much time and effort is being wasted in this pointless project. It involves,
if you care to know: the Anglian Eastern Regional Flood and Coastal Committee,
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environment Agency East
Anglia, Essex County Council, Essex & Suffolk Rivers Trust, Essex Wildlife
Trust and Natural England.
The time when beavers were
key is long past. They disappeared for a reason - the landscape they require,
for right or wrong, has disappeared. It will not be coming back any time soon.
Nor should the beavers
I was very
sorry to hear that John Wilson died earlier in the week; he was really an
unlikely fishing celebrity. Did you know he started his professional life as a
John was born in Enfield,
London, where he fished on several local waters including the River Lea. When
hair proved to not be his thing he joined the Merchant Navy, then tried his
hand as a printer before opening his own fishing tackle shop in Norwich in 1971.
I recall it well, tucked
down the tiny Bridwell Alley, when I was a student at the University of East
He was a prolific author
with over twenty books to his credit but his big break came in 1986 when the
first of the Go Fishing
series was commissioned by Anglia Television. Today angling shows are
two-a-penny but John's genius was to have a hit TV series on terrestrial
television when angling was desperately unfashionable and politically
incorrect. Quite how he secured his prime time slot year after year on Channel
4 I will never know but he kept the angling flame alive with his sheer
enthusiasm for our sport.
It is a while since I last
saw the programmes but if I recall it wasn't overly technical. Just a guy going
fishing sharing his passion for the sport - all the different aspects of it -
as it grew to cover locations all over the world. He, as he would admit, wasn't
the most elegant fly caster, but he was a regular on the chalkstreams with a
particular penchant for the Indian restaurant on Stockbridge High Street. The
last show was broadcast in 2009, the same year John was awarded an MBE.
John, voted as 'The Greatest
Angler of All Time' by readers of the Angling Times in 2004, died on 13th
November of a stroke in Thailand,
where he had lived since 2013. He was 75.
back on your menu
for those of you who like to catch a sea bass for your tea: you are no longer
an enemy of the people.
The history behind this was
a botched, if worthy, attempt by the EU Council to arrest a dramatic decline in
sea bass stocks when they banned all recreational fishing for the species last
year. This came out of the blue for most of us, resulting in some considerable
head scratching when it transpired that the commercial sea bass boats were left
unaffected by the ban even though they take 25 fish for every 1 caught
It did seem incredible that
we were being banned from catching a publicly-owned fish for personal
consumption from public beaches but such is the power of the EU Common
However, it was soon proved
that recreational anglers took 85% fewer fish than the data supporting the ban
So now a catch limit of one
fish (under 42cm) per angler per day is in force until the end of the year. But
watch this space as the rules for 2019, Brexit or no Brexit, are yet to be set.
Photo of the week
Gorgeous morning on the River Coln with
my friend and French agent Jean-Pierre. Two grayling, one on the dry and one on
a tiny nymph plus two accidental browns.