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