Friday, 20 December 2019

A different kind of Christmas

A different kind of Christmas

Trutta was exhausted; spent in all senses of the word. The winter floods had come early, this her third spawning year. It should, by rights, be becoming easier with each passing season. Surely age, experience and instinctive expectation should count for something? But the efforts and battles of time past take their toll. As Trutta entered her sixth year at the tail of Ash Tree Corner she doubted whether she would be able summon the bodily strength to attain another summer. Not that her life chances lay entirely within her own gift; there is much happenchance to the life of the brown trout.

Every exhausting moment of the past few weeks had expressed the very purpose of her existence. To procreate. To maintain the species. To sow thousands of fertilised eggs that tumble on the current, relying on a sort of riverine pinball to lodge within the loose gravel bed from which, given the caress of clean, clear water the tiny alevins should emerge in a few months.

But the future generation were no longer of any concern to Trutta. She had done her part. And pretty well done it all alone. The males were of little help. It fell to her to find the choicest gravel upon which she thrashed the side of her body time and time again until a shallow indentation appeared. The redd. That would-be nest for her eggs that she had to guard until a suitable suitor paid her court. And plenty came. And plenty were driven away. Until an old cock of her generation sidled by.

For then the two, in the grey light of the ever-shortening days of a fading December, slipstreamed each other passing over, under, behind and ahead in ritualistic contortions. Before ultimately reaching some sort of contented accommodation as they paused side-by-side in preparation for the denouement.

When it came it was quickly over. Half a minute maybe. A minute a most. Two bodies quivering in unison in a common purpose, soon joined by the young bucks who mill and twirl in the downstream melee of eggs and milt eager to randomly add their gene pool to the next generation. But as the water clears and the eggs settle to the riverbed it is just Trutta left, once again thrashing her body on the gravel but this time to fill the redd.

And that is it. Creation has sapped Trutta of her summer reserves. Today she lies between the roots of the ash tree in a pocket of water that barely moves. Which suits her mood. For she will barely move in the months to come. Food is scare. The effort not worth the reward. In her hidey hole, hopefully safe from otters, herons, pike and the attendant dangers of life in the river she will eke out each day from her dwindling body.

In the human world Christmas is a moment of hope; that time when expectation trumps the privations of winter, the lengthening days some evidence that better times lay ahead. But for Trutta hope is not a construct in her life. The worst is still yet to come. The chances of another Mayfly simply an aggregation of dogged determination and a measure of good fortune.

So, let us wish her luck. She deserves another summer in the shade of Ash Tree Corner.

Ash Tree Corner

BBC Sports Personality of the Year

I have to confess I can't bring myself to watch the BBC Sports Personality of the Year these days. It somehow seems overly long and overly contrived but all the hoopla surrounding Ben Stokes' eventual victory reminded me of the year an angler won. Or rather didn't.

Howard Croston with a Tasmainian rainbow
Way back in 1991, long before the days of telephone or internet polls, the BBC Personality was selected by a postal vote. Anyone could write in nominating the man or woman of their choice. How reliable this process was is anyone's guess. You really have to wonder whether track and field athletes with most the wins (18) in the past 66 years have really captured our hearts more often than say footballers (5) or jockeys, snooker players or rugby players (1 apiece).

Back in the early 1990's Bob Nudd was an international angling superstar. He had just won the World Freshwater Angling Championships for the second time and would eventually win it four times. In recognition of this the Angling Times, a newspaper with a bigger readership than the Daily Telegraph, organised a write-in campaign helpfully providing a form for readers to complete and mail. It worked. Bob garnered over 100,000 votes winning the award by a country mile.

But it wasn't to be. For reasons best known to the BBC apparatchiks Bob was disqualified by virtue of his votes being sent in on the form. For the record the decent, but hardly stellar middle-distance runner Liz McColgan won the award with rugby's Will Carling second and soccer player Garry Lineker third.

Hopefully better things are in store for England's Howard Croston who last week became the 39th World Fly Fishing Champion, contested this year in Tasmania. Huge congratulations to both Howard for his individual success and the England team who came eighth.

It is slightly ironical that neither the brown nor rainbow trout caught in the competition are indigenous to Australasia. Brown trout were first introduced to the continent on 4 May 1864 when 2,700 live brown trout ova, which had been packed in ice since leaving England, were hatched into the Plenty river near Hobart, Tasmania. If memory serves me correctly the eggs were reared on the River Itchen at Brambridge, a few miles downstream of Winchester, at the place Fishing Breaks regulars will know now as Qing Ya Xi.

A true case of fishing coming home.


Paul Volcker

Fly fishing attracts all sorts, having an impact on our lives in all sorts of ways. Ex US Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker who died last week aged 92, was one such person.

Paul Volcker 1927-2019
He was the man, who when appointed to the role by President Carter in 1979, was tasked with taming inflation. In this he abandoned Keynesian principles preferring the writings of the economist Friedrich Hayek (a favourite of Margaret Thatcher) as his guide to use monetary policy as his weapon of choice. It was painful, hard and unpopular on both sides of the Atlantic. He didn't say it as a British minister saved him the trouble - the recession was a price worth paying.

A fly fisher since childhood Volcker used rivers as his retreat from his work. As an influential Treasury official he had a hand in persuading President Nixon to suspend the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 by closing the "gold window," meaning the United States would no longer guarantee the value of the dollar. When offered the post as chairman of the New York Reserve three years later (the job he held before the Fed but at twice the salary) he took a fishing vacation to ponder, famously calling in from a roadside payphone to accept.

And when asked much later in life, what of your failures, he said to the New York Times, "The greatest strategic error of my adult life was to take my wife to Maine on our honeymoon on a fly-fishing trip," he said, referring to his first marriage. Volcker was a passionate Atlantic salmon fisher, in his retirement becoming an influential member of the Atlantic Salmon Trust.

For his second marriage they honeymooned in the Virgin Islands.

Christmas tree branchChristmas opening & 2020 bookings

We are not going to be closed for long over Christmas and the New Year. Kris and I will be beside the phone on Monday (23/Dec), we'll be closed 24-26/Dec, open on the Friday (27/Dec) and then back to normal hours apart from New Year's Day when we will be closed.

If you need a last-minute voucher, we'll certainly be able to get something in the post today and at worst we can still email you a version to print out at home.

As for 2020 bookings all the diaries go live on Monday for online bookings. I'll send you a quick update on Monday with an update of what's new and what's hot.


No theme this week other than tangentially the Newsletter topics. As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      When did England last record a white Christmas?

2)      In which country did the term 'dollar' originate?

3)      When was the first King's Christmas Message broadcast and who wrote it?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)     2010 according to the Met Office, though 2015 technically could be classified as such with snow falling at 10% of weather stations but none settled on the ground.
2)      From a coin minted in Joachimsthal, Bohemia in 1519. Joachimsthal is now in the Czech Republic.
3)      In 1932 by George V it having been written by Rudyard Kipling

Friday, 6 December 2019

Earthly bounty

Earthly bounty

We've been back at our lake pumping again here at Nether Wallop Mill, picking up where we left off in February when our rather ancient pump c. 1960 vintage died. This time we have a state-of-the-art version that purrs rather than deafens, using as much fuel in a week as the old one did in a day.

Kris (l) & Simon (r) preparing for a day of pumping
Pumping is a pretty laborious process. Firstly, the piping is incredibly heavy and difficult to move around. The discharge pipe is not too bad, a bit like an overly large fire hose. But the suction pipes are stiff, moulded heavy rubber with unruly attachment clamps that have a tendency to bite fingers. These you have to manoeuvre around the lake, hence the floating platform. In your dreams you might hope to simply dump the pipe in the lake, leaving it sucking away for as long as it takes.

In reality, the syphon head only has an effective range of a few inches, so it has to be constantly moved amongst the silt that has amassed at the bottom of the lake, churning it up to create an output the consistency of thin gravy. Of course, it is not just silt in the 2-3-foot thick layer. Decades of woody debris regularly conspire to block the head which has to be lifted clear of the water to be cleared by hand. This is inevitably accompanied by much shaking of heads and sucking of teeth by both Simon and Kris who have suffered torrential rain and sub-zero temperatures during the course of the past ten days.

Aside from the sheer labour involved the other great difficulty with silt pumping a lake is what to do with the tens of thousands of gallons of dirty water produced each day without causing upset to your neighbours. In our case we create a lagoon with a bund of straw bales in what was, a century ago, the water meadows. By slowing the pace of the water as it makes its way towards the Wallop Brook the silt settles amongst the raggedy grassland, the bales acting as the final filter.

The silt, which slightly resembles an arid, cracked desert lake as it spreads out, has provided a veritable smorgasbord for the local population. At night the otters trail across in search of amphibians and bull heads; I even saw fox prints but quite what he was after I have no idea. Probably just following in the footsteps of the otters. They have become quite competitive of late with the fox stealing a trout off one of the otters a few nights ago. By day it is bird city; egrets, herons and kingfishers all digging into the feast in their various different ways.

All I have to do now is persuade Mr. Mole to relocate from my lawn and we'll all be happy.


I do sometimes wonder what manufacturers think motivates us fly fishers. Now, I covet fly fishing reels as much as anyone. They are the bling of fishing. 

I have some absurd specimens that I have bought regardless of cost and utility. They might be useless for the intended purpose, but we don't love them any the less.

But I do truly struggle to understand the latest $1,355 offering from Abel. The AC/DC reel. 

I have criss-crossed the CV of this hard rock/heavy metal band but have yet to find any reference to any of the assorted members, alive or dead, showing any interest in fly fishing.

However, with 200 million album sales to their name I guess they have a massive following and I may well have to eat my words when each of the 300 limited edition becomes a collector's item.


Google alerts

I have a Google news alert that trawls the internet for news items of interest flagged by the various key words I have chosen; it is something of a mixed blessing.

Clearly, I have the obvious ones such as chalkstream and fly fishing. At the risk of appearing a narcissist I have Simon Cooper which occasionally leads me to learn stuff about myself I never knew. 

It is also, annoyingly, the name of a court reporter for the Press Association so I know a great deal about the activities of petty criminals across the breadth of Britain. Not to mention the troubles of holiday operator On The Beach who's CEO is a Simon Cooper. However, it is The Otter's Tale that generally brings up the weirdest stuff.

Surprisingly, book titles are not, in most circumstances, copyrightable. This turned out to be a great help when we found out, just a few weeks ahead of my publication, that Gavin Maxwell had published a children's book of the same name. Soon after my Otters' Tale was followed by another, this time a sex novel about a guy called Otter. And then not long after a Christian publication. However, it seems the title remains a deep seam for up popped last week another Otter's Tale, this time in TV advert format by the luxury handbag maker Loewe.

It hasn't exactly received many plaudits; it has a low approval rating of 1 compared to 5 for the latest John Lewis Christmas ad but I'll leave you to be the judge as it is, to say the very least, a little weird. I have no idea what they are on about. Watch it here ........

More mayfly mystery explained

Most years during the height of the mayfly hatch I will come across the strange sight of Danica dancing above a tarmac road, pointlessly fulfilling their appointed destiny by diving down to lay eggs on the road surface.

Mayfly on the Tisza River in Hungary
I have often wondered why assuming, mistakenly as it turns out, the wet or shiny surface in some way resembled a river surface.

However, a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence to date into light pollution as a driver into the rapid decline of insect populations has provided an unlikely explanation. Some insects use the polarisation of light to locate the water they need to breed and as Brett Seymoure, a behavioural ecologist at Washington University in St Louis and senior author of the review explains, "Mayflies live for only one day, so they come out and look for polarised light. They find it - but from asphalt - lay their eggs there, and they all die. That's a good way to knock out an entire population in 24 hours."

On the topic on mayflies, David Attenborough's latest series Seven Worlds One Planet featured a monstrous hatch of mayfly on the Tisza River in Hungary. These seem to be larger and thicker in body than our own, almost more moth than mayfly. The hatch is also faster and more furious than our own, the males just living for three hours the mass mating (up to seven males to one female) taking place in the surface of the river. The spent males are left to die as the females migrate upstream for three miles to ensure that as the eggs (and presumably nymphs) drift downstream over the next three years they will hatch in the self-same place they were born.

You can see the five-minute section on BBC iPlayer. It is episode five of the seven-part series.


No theme this week other than tangentially the Newsletter topics and the small matter of next Thursday. As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)     What is the name of the biggest selling record album of all time?

2)      What is Boris Johnson's full name?

3)      What was Google's original name?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)   Counting methodology is disputed so if you said Thriller (Michael Jackson) or Greatest Hits 1971-75 (Eagles) take a point. AC/DC Back in Black in somewhere in the top ten.
2)      Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson

3)      BackRub

Friday, 22 November 2019

The truth about flooding

The truth about flooding

We seem to be getting into a strange mindset about our climate, the passage of time muddling how we recall decades past. Apparently, there was a time when Mother Nature strictly obeyed the Gregorian calendar allotting sun, shine, rain, snow and wind to precise months each year, the famous British obsession with the weather simply being a reflection of the uniformity of our weather patterns. Not.

A drier than average summer? A wetter than average autumn? As the French would say, merde! If you care to Google the history of freak weather events in Britain you'll see they are far from being 'freakish'; there is something that caused death and destruction at least every ten years going back as long as records exist. 

I have a book on my shelf that charts the history of Hampshire (hardly a county you'd classify as cyclone alley) weather since photography began; you'll find snowdrifts in June and flooded streets in August. All of a sudden as we enter the third decade of the twenty first century, we seem to be surprised about this. But we shouldn't.

Humanity has long gravitated towards the areas most likely to flood; the convenience of living beside a river trumping the risks associated with living beside a river. The masses be they in cities, towns or villages huddled along the banks because they essentially had to. But in modern Britain we have no such need but still we do it. In the past twenty years 250,000 homes have been built in flood risk areas. Of those 68,000 are in zones where flooding is anticipated at least once in every 100 years and of those 23,000 are in areas expected to flood every 30 years.

And so, we have to deal with a problem of our own making, rivers becoming the unwitting victims of the urbanisation of the river catchments, those very regions that Mother Nature designed to collect rainfall over a natural drainage area. The D word comes around again. Dredging. But it is hardly a solution, in most cases the volumetric equivalent of forcing the output of a fire hose into a garden hose. For dredging has rarely ever been about the instant solution to flash floods but rather the management of agricultural land that works over a cycle of weeks at best but more generally months.

As Kevin Costner famously says in the epic sporting film Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come. Sadly, that has turned out to be true.

Salmon statistics

One of our guides, a keen salmon fisher, sent me a copy of the catch return you are required to submit to the Environment Agency. He did it not to boast of his fishing prowess but rather to highlight the 2018 statistics the EA list in the top right-hand corner of the form. It makes for depressing reading:

  • 31,655 licences sold                        10% decrease on 2017
  • 106,085 days fished                        34% decrease on 2017
  • 7,778 salmon caught                       43% decrease on 2017
  • 13,661 sea trout caught                   38% decrease on 2017

88% of salmon and 85% of sea trout were released. It is hard to put any good spin on any of this data other than to say that we are optimists all: that is one salmon for every fortnight of fishing!

Fancy a record grayling?

February is traditionally themonth the big grayling come out to play, no doubt in anticipation of the impending spawning season. Earlier this year this old adage proved to be more than true when one of John Bailey's party at the Ilsington on the River Frome set the new British record.

Simon Ellis (l), John Bailey (r) and 'the fish'
Can lightening strike twice? Well, yes and no as another new record this coming February would in fact be the fourth time a British record has been captured at Ilsington. You can, of course but a day ticket any time, but with John Bailey at your side, one of the most accomplished anglers of our generation, I think it is fair to say your chances multiply dramatically.

Join John on either February 21st or 22nd. More details here .....

32 fishing days to Christmas

For the dedicated, the-just-starting-out or simply the occasional dabbler there's a gift voucher out there that might just make the perfect Christmas gift.

The ultimate in just-go-fishing that can be diced and sliced to be used any time over the next two years, though don't expect it to remain unused for that long!

Choose a day on the River Test or sign up for the Chalkstream Course

Courses and private tuition here at Nether Wallop Mill

Fishing should not just be for Dad! Family Days, Kids Camp and much more.

Join me for my summer River Walk to the famous landmarks on the River Test.

Order vouchers online, by email or phone. Vouchers are mailed the same day, in a discreet envelope and are valid for 2 years.


Fishing Breaks went sea fishing out of Weymouth Harbour on Tuesday - well, what else would we do for our Christmas party?!

With that theme a few saltwater related questions this week. As ever the quiz is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. 

1)      Xiphias gladius is the Latin name for which fish?

2)      Which fish is known as the Poor man's lobster?

3)      The name of which fish comes from the old French word for spinning top?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Swordfish
2)      Monkfish

3)      Turbot