Friday, 14 December 2018

Third book blues

Third book blues

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 hardest.

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 back fish.

*£31.5 million pa

When a joke comes true

Many 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 headlined: Spey salmon tip the scales at £60,000 each. The article reads:

"Scottish 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 eggs."

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 much sense.

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 numbers.

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:

"New genetic 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 used to."

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

Rivers Walks

The 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.

Leckford Eel Traps
Leckford Eel Traps
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  

Have your say

The Environment Agency are currently conducting their occasional National Angling Survey so now is the time to have your say.

You may have to pay .....
It is quite the survey so I'd recommend setting aside 15 minutes and a strong cup of tea.

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 might be!

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 survey.

Here is the link if you wish to participate. 

The Quiz

A few Christmas themed questions to close out the year and seasonal joke to share. 

Why are the sales of advent calendars on the slide? Because their days are numbered. As Basil Brush would say, boom boom!

As ever three questions to test your brilliance. Answers at the bottom of the page.

1)  When did it last snow in the UK on Christmas Day?

2)  When, and by whom, were Christmas Crackers invented?

3) Who sung and when was the first public performance of the song White Christmas written by Irving Berlin?

As this will be the last full Newsletter of the year (2018 in photos next time) to you all, thank you for all your support and have a truly wonderful holiday break.

Happy Christmas!
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

1)  2010
2)  By confectioner Tom Smith in London in 1847 as promotional packaging for his bonbon sweets.
3)  Bing Crosby on the radio on Christmas Day 1941.

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