Friday, 7 June 2019

The view of the Wattle Man

The view of the Wattle Man


I went up to see my old friend Trevor the hurdle maker a fortnight ago. He was some weeks late (and still is .....) in completing an order and mobile phones are not exactly his thing. And anyway it's always good to catch up and it's a lonely life being a wattle man.

This is the view from Trevor's office, if that is what you want to call a clump of a few hundred acres of woodland folded into the Hampshire downs just east of Stockbridge. On the sunny mid-May day I visited the last of the bluebells were fading and the surrounding fields vivid yellow. It was as perfect a spring day as you can get. 'Enjoy it while you can,' says Trevor. I know what he means. I've been up here in all seasons, a place that has precisely zero creature comforts. Winter business is conducted in the front seats of Trevor's battered car. But today the weather Gods are smiling on us or at least I thought so until Trevor delivered his verdict in answer to my question as to how things were. 'Terrible,' he said, 'It's this global warming.

Trevor has coppiced these hazel woods for thirty years. It's a seven year rotation from one harvest to the next, each hazel growth largely used for making hurdles. The upright stems are cut from the stools, which are 2-3 centuries old, with a bill hook, a sort of curved hand axe and left for a few weeks or months depending on the time of year to allow the sap to run out, at which point they are split longways in two. The process of making a hurdle (Trevor can produce two or three a day) is done entirely by hand and without the use of any material other than hazel. There are no nails. No wires. Simply twisting and flexing the hazel in manner of construction that is both rigid and pliable. A good hurdle, originally used around southern England for folding sheep in temporary enclosures, will last a decade or more despite being constantly uprooted, moved, abused by the sheep and subjected to the downland weather.

There is a whole raft of terms Trevor recites as he makes the 6ftx3.5ft panel. Uprights sail. Weaving rods. Windings. Jonny spur stabber. Finishing rod. His hands are both hammer and pliers as he weaves and compacts. It is sort of fun to have a go, but I'm not sure I could do it day in, day out.

Today there is little demand from the sheep farmers for hazel hurdles or house builders (think wattle and daub) but Trevor is busier than ever. 6ftx6ft panels make for popular fences. Garden centres have an insatiable demand for decorative panels in all manner of sizes for all manner of uses. So why so gloomy? How could the centuries old tradition of hurdle making be affected by global warming? It is all about growth rates and the pattern of growth.

A centuries old hazel stool 
No longer is the rotation seven years; it is coming down to something closer to five. The reason? The lack of cold winters. In Trevor's first two decades the hazel grew for seven months of the year and was dormant for five, the sap rising and falling with the change of the seasons. But now there is no dormant period. The hazel keeps growing, even if only ever so slightly, all year round. Now you might think that no bad thing. More growth equals the potential for more money. But the problem is that the growth is too fast. The dormancy is an essential part of ensuring strong and pliable hazel stems. In short, there is more of the raw material, but it is not as good.

This upsets Trevor. He knows in his heart his 21st century hurdles won't last as long as those he made in the 20thcentury. It is not his fault. And in truth it won't be the end of the world if his panels last ten years instead of fifteen. But it's an ever so subtle clue that, regardless of the reasons, nature is changing.

The Frankel book: delayed at the start

About this time I was confidently expecting to be shooing the moths from my morning suit in preparation for a whirly gig of PR as my Frankel book was launched in the run up to Royal Ascot. Sadly, it is delayed for a full year.

It was always going to be a tight deadline; to a certain extent writing the book is the easy part. Preparing the 100,000 or so words for publication is a whole different thing. Editing, fact checking, manuscript approval, cover design, proof reading, indexing, typesetting and not to mention getting your allotted time on the William Collins printing presses all play a part. In the end we just ran out of road; not the happiest call I have had this year.

You might ask why we didn't simply push the publication date a month or two later. Well, there were two lines of reasoning. The first was that Royal Ascot is, aside from the Grand National, the best time of year to catch the eye of a public that is interested, but doesn't regularly engage with, horse racing. Likewise, media editors in print, TV and radio, are more receptive to horseracing stories that feed into the Royal meeting vibe. In short, it is too good a PR window to pass up.

As for just later in this year, well summer is somewhat problematic with holidays and such. Push on into the autumn and my book would have been swamped by super Thursday (all books are published on a Thursday, don't ask me why) when the Christmas headline authors, celebrities, chefs and their like, are rolled out to catch the Christmas wave.

So, it is now going to be May 2020 for me. Guess I just better get on with the next book in the meantime .....

Last minute spaces for Father's Day & River Walk with Simon Cooper

I have some last minute slots due to changes of plans:

I have three spaces left for a Father & Child on the afternoon event (2pm-5.30pm) at Nether Wallop Mill. £125. Tuition, tackle and flies provided. Take home two fish!

Join me for a visit to the Leckford Eel Traps, Halford's Oakley Hut at Mottisfont Abbey and the water meadows. Meet at The Peat Spade, Longstock for coffee and an illustrated talk. Return after all the above for lunch at 2.30pm. Three places left. £75 for one. £125 for two.

Fishing Breaks is recruiting

Fishing Breaks has a full-time vacancy based at Nether Wallop Mill in Hampshire.

In broad terms the position will entail working in the office for the majority of the week in a general sales/marketing role liaising with customers, river owners, river keepers and guides. The remaining time will be split between guiding/instructing and assisting our river keeper with weed cutting, restoration projects and general duties, plus holiday cover. The vacancy requires good computer/administrative skills and an excellent telephone manner. A recognised guiding/instruction qualification is a requirement as is a full driving licence.

The work will primarily be Monday-Friday with occasional weekends. Please reply with your CV and a covering letter to vy email to Simon Cooper Applications close 10/June. Interviews will take place w/s 17/June.

PS Diane is not leaving and nor am I retiring. We just need some help!

Feedback Draw winner for May 

Another Mayfly season is drawing to close. In its own way that is rather sad. We spend months in anticipation and then its gone. June is always something of a readjustment but long, dusky evenings should be temptation enough over the summer to come.

Well done to Colin Fairley, who fished on our new beat at Steeple Langford on the River Wylye, the winner of the recently published River Itchen at Martyr Worthy by George Edward Mann which I review in the July edition of Trout & Salmon.

If you wish to buy a copy of George's book, which follows in the footsteps of legendary Itchen keeper Ron Holloway, you may do so direct via his web site at £35.

The Quiz

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of D-Day this week a few related questions. As ever, it is just for fun, with answers at the bottom of the page. One little bit of wartime trivia before you do the mental deep dig.

If you are familiar with Bullington Manor you will know that near the top of Beat 2, just below the white road bridge, there is a pool we call the Tank Trap. 

This was in fact created by tanks travelling from Salisbury Plain to Portsmouth in to join the D-Day convoy. The bridge was too weak and too narrow so they diverted to the right, fording the river, the tracks cutting out the pool which remains today.

1)      Which American General, later a US President, fished the River Test in May 1944?

2)      What does the term D-Day denote?

3)      How many Allied beachheads were established on the Normandy coastline?

Enjoy the weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director

1) General Dwight D. Eisenhower 34th U.S. President.

2) D-Day is a general military term for the day on which an operation or exercise is planned to commence.

3) Five. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.

Friday, 24 May 2019

My Mayfly day


By now thousands of you will have caught thousands of fish on the Mayfly. My personal score stands resolutely at zero. I am yet to cast a Mayfly. For my days around this magical time evolve in a slightly different manner to yours.

I'm up a dawn but not, sadly, to fish. Email is a marvellous thing but it's also a choke chain on my life. Some of you clearly wake up in the middle of the night with the dread question: is my fishing tomorrow? Did I really book it? Where are my maps? Or a myriad of other things that invade our sleep ahead of any trip. And being as we all are (and I am not complaining) you send an email. I truly don't mind. I'd rather answer an email over my first cup of tea of the morning than field a frantic phone call later on.

Then it is off to the river to greet guests and corral the guides. I am a veritable travelling fly shop and mini mart - everything from cool beer to some of the most esoteric mayfly patterns in existence. We all like a bit of novelty. Then it back to the office for yes, more emails and writing. I sacrifice time on the river to bring you this newsletter. And then it is back to the river to collect the empties. Console the unsuccessful. Congratulate the victors.

I like to stay until everyone is gone; the car park finally empty. It is for me one of the greatest pleasures in life to sit on a bench, deserted of human company, to absorb the silence and quiet. Watch the river slide on by. See the occasional dying Mayfly sucked down by a trout who has mastered the art of the effortless take. I never feel inclined to fish though I do err towards that arrogant belief that I would indeed catch every rising fish should I have a rod in hand. But somehow the act of fishing seems unimportant. The fish have suppled their side of the bargain: sport for the day. In the dying light I feel they have earnt the right to feed unimpeded.

Eventually the occasional rises peter away to absolutely nothing. A glass flat river. It's done for another Mayfly day. It is time for me to leave. I feel my phone vibrate on silent in my pocket. The final round of the day beckons. Home. Eat. Sleep. Reboot. Tomorrow is another Mayfly day.

Is it a plane? Is it a bird? Well, sort of ....

.... it's a swoose. I never knew such a thing existed, the product of a swan and a goose. However odd the combination this stuffed specimen lived to the goodly age (at least for a hybrid bird) of fourteen years, born in 1910 at Beeston Priory in Norfolk where it lived out its life.
There are a few other swooses documented in more recent times. There was one living close to the estuary of the River Frome that was variously seen between 2004 and 2011. If our stuffed version was more swan than goose; this Dorset one was more goose than swan. More recently one was born at the National Trust West Green House in Hampshire in 2016.

If you would like to buy this rare stuffed exmaple it is in the Summers Place Auction on 11th June. The guide price is £2,000-3,000. 

From odd fowl to odd fish

Here is a weird looking brown trout, in fine condition bar the obvious, that came out of the River Test on the Main beat at Mottisfont Abbey earlier this week.

It is now back swimming around, but we think it may have been caught once before in the One Fly, though that was some years ago. It did, as you might, imagine cause a certain amount of discussion as the One Fly scoring is based on the length of the fish. Now clearly this fish would, under normal circumstances be a quarter longer than it currently is. There was some attempt to argue for a higher score based on what-it-should-have-been, but our rigorous scrutiny committee dismissed the appeal i.e. we just laughed at the notion.

We are undecided as to whether this is a wild or stocked fish, though are generally erring on the side of wild. A disfigured fish of this kind would rarely get through the quality control of any decent fish farmer and if it did it probably would not have survived for so long and in such good condition.

If you do happen to catch Stumpy again do take a photo but do put him (or her) back.

Father's Day weekend

My father had absolutely no interest in fishing, fly or otherwise. But even though he never really understood my fascination, he happily ferried me around the rivers and trout lakes of southern England in the days before I could drive. He always seemed perfectly happy to read the paper or nod off in the car. Maybe he did get that bit of fishing where we are all very capable of filling a day doing very little.

The journey home was inevitably interrupted by frequent stops at wayside inns where we occasionally traded my catch for scampi-in-the-basket. My father had this uncanny knack of becoming the publicans' best friend in the matter of a few sentences. We were treated as regulars despite being miles from home in pubs we hardly ever visited. As you might imagine the remainder of the trip could sometimes be something of an adventure ......

I am not sure my childhood experience is the best template for inculcating your own children to fly fishing, but we do have the chance for fishing with your son or daughter here at Nether Wallop Mill on Saturday 15 June, the day before Father's Day proper.

It is a half day led by one of our patient instructors which aims to teach the essential casting skills, how to tie a fly and all importantly, catch plenty of fish. As the parent you will sit out the first 90 minutes (we serve excellent coffee, have comfortable chairs and Wi-Fi) but after that you'll buddy up with your child to catch fish.

The sessions run 9.30am-1pm or 2pm-5.30pm. There will be up to four father/child (8-16 years) pairs at each session. All tackle and flies provided. You may take home fish if you wish. The cost is £125/pair. For more details and to book click here .....

The Quiz

So, with all the swoose in mind our quiz this week is on hybrids. As ever it is just for fun 
with answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

1)      What is a hinny?

2)      What bee species were crossed to create the Killer Bee?

3)      What two trout species are crossed to create the cutbow?

Enjoy the Whitsun break.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


1)     The reverse of a mule: a cross between a female donkey and a male horse.

2)   The European honeybee and an African bee. A laboratory attempt to create tamer more manageable bees that then escaped into the wild. 

3)     Rainbow and cutthroat trout.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Going to the dark side

Going to the dark side
Dear Simon,
I didn't think that my appearance on Countryfile Diaries could cause anyone any upset but, according to one email, I have apparently crossed a line to take the side of the anti brigade. Heavens, I was only talking about otters ........

The Guardian's 1986 'Points of view' advert
The Guardian's 1986 'Points of view' advert
The writer branded Countryfile as 'ludicrous'; I'll spare you some of the other things he said but I do actually understand at least some of his less extreme sentiments about the programme. It can be I'll agree saccharine sweet, a confected urban view of the rural landscape. But is that so bad? It is after all one of the BBC's most watched TV shows with an audience not just here but overseas. A Montanan fishing guide in my office earlier this week had even seen it in the USA. The British countryside is fast becoming a brand. Do we embrace that or do we fight it?

Years ago, The Guardian newspaper ran a marketing campaign that had the strap line 'Points of view'. In the most memorable of the adverts you saw two images. In the first a middle aged man walking along a pavement beneath some scaffolding was clearly terrified as a running skinhead bore down upon him. The inference was clear. Robbery. But in the second image, shot from the reverse angle, bags of cement were falling from a scaffolding above. The skinhead was trying to save the man. What you see or read is all about perspective.

The fact is that the way we see the countryside from our sporting perspective, be we shooters, fishers or hunters, is very different to those whose involvement is as ramblers, hikers, bird watchers, bikers or any of the many other myriad of ways in which the countryside is enjoyed. Most of us don't own large chunks of land so we can't really claim ownership to say that the right to pursue our pastime trumps that of all others. Ultimately use of the countryside is a collaborative thing whether our view of it is from a car window or a riverbank.

We shouldn't fight Countryfile. We should embrace it. It's a show that encourages people to love the British countryside. These are the people who we will need to rally to our support in the years to come as pollution, urbanisation and the other manifest dangers to rivers and wildlife loom ever larger.

No longer turning Japanese

You know I have often bragged about my favourite toy, the Toyota Hi Lux. Well, the love affair is over. Mercedes Benz have lured me across the aisle with their first ever pickup truck. 
I must confess there was some logic in my decision, though you might caveat that by saying there is little logic to buying any car. The latest iteration of the Hi Lux lacks power and is 50% more expensive that the equivalent model in 2010.

The Benz on the other hand has borrowed much from the USA truck market - high suspension, grunty engine, tweaked exhaust pipes and generally all-round bigger than its European competitors. Which is somewhat ironic as currently the Germans don't have any plans to release it in the USA.

Anyway, it is rather fun to drive and the number on the roads are still so few that us owners exchange smug waves of recognition. However, I'm still to work out the purpose of the little glass panel in the back window, not much larger than an A4 sheet of paper, that slides open at the flip of a switch.

Steeple Langford - River Wylye

It has been a bit of a last-minute rush but I am delighted to welcome into the Fishing Breaks fold a lovely section of the River Wylye at Steeple Langford that lies upstream of Salisbury and south of the A303.

For those of you with long memories you might recall this as part of the Steeple Langford Fishery run by Paul Knight (now at Salmon & Trout Conservation) which had two large trout lakes in addition to the river. Things have changed a bit since then with the ownership now in the hands of the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. Known as the Langford Lakes Nature Reserve the lakes are now fished by a coarse syndicate but the lakes primary purpose is as a breeding and resting ground for wild fowl; it is something of a bird watchers paradise with paths, hides and viewing platforms.

As for the river, which is separate and private from the rest of the reserve,  it has undergone a radical change as the Trust have their own river restoration team who undertake contract work so the half mile section has become something of a test ground for many innovative techniques that are now commonplace.

Make no mistake this is a beat that is managed to be as natural as possible without erring on the side of jungle warfare. In broad terms you can divide the fishing into two sections: above and below the weir pool. The lower section is shallower, faster and more gravelly. The upper slower and deeper.  This is an all wading beat; there are few opportunities for bank fishing and all the fish are wild. There is no stocking so as a consequence this is all catch and release.

For more details and booking click here. The river opens today.

April feedback winner

New season, new monthly draw for the feedback forms that many of you so kindly return.

You do have the rather fine Hardy Marquis reel to look forward to at the season-end draw but month-by-month I am going to be rather random. This time around the very good book by Jon Day I reviewed last month.

Well done to Mark Gomm who came out of the April hat, unusually for a draw winner a Nether Wallop Mill private tuition guest. 

Mark: the book is in tonight's post.

The Quiz

This is the time of year for baby birds, so a test of knowledge of who grows into what. As ever, it is just for fun with answers of the page.
Answer no. 4
What is the adult equivalent for each of these baby birds?
1)     Squab

2)      Poult

3)      Eyas

4)      Cheeper

5)      Gosling

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director

1)      Pigeon  2)      Chicken  3)      Falcon  4)      Grouse (photo) or partridge  5)      Goose

Friday, 26 April 2019

My unlikely love affair

My unlikely love affair

We are first up for the new series of the BBC Countryfile Spring Diaries, the show going out at 9.15am on Monday 29 April on BBC One. You know the story but you might like the BBC's take on the show:

"Paul Martin (the presenter who interviews me) is discovering that our back gardens can be a convenient snack stop for cheeky creatures who are always on the lookout for a free meal. Otter numbers in particular are on the rise in the UK, and Paul has been meeting a man whose battle to save his fish stocks turned into an unlikely love affair."

The show will be available shortly after broadcast on BBC iPlayer

A Twitch Upon The Thread

Over my fishing lifetime I have come across plenty of fishing anthologies but I can't recall one that captured my imagination quite as much as Jon Day's 
A Twitch Upon The Thread.

The difference with Day's book lies in his chosen subtitle - Writers on Fishing. He has scoured the library of King's College London where he teaches English for not just great fishing literature but that written by our greatest writers. Who would have known George Orwell, who I always assumed to be a dour sort of fellow, defined his childhood through fishing? That John Donne took against fly fishers, for little good reason as far as I can tell, in his 1633 poem The Bait calling us 'curious traitors'. That Charles Dickens wrote of sturgeon in the River Thames.

If you ever sought a paragraph to define why we fish, then the words Izaak Walton quotes in The Compleat Angler from his friend and fishing companion Sir Henry Wotton still resonate four and a half centuries later,

"An imployment for his idle time, which was then not idly spent: for angling was after tedious Study, a rest to his mind, a chearer of his spirits, a diverter of sadness, a calmer of unquiet thoughts, a moderator of passions, a procurer of contentedness: and that it begat habits of peace and patience in those that profess'd and practis'd it. Indeed, my friend, you will find angling to be like the vertue of Humility, which has a calmness of spirit, and a world of other blessings attending upon it."

However, before we all get carried away with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside Lord Byron was less impressed by The Compleat Angler, railing against the cruelties of angling saying of us all, "No angler can be a good man."

Ranging across five centuries its hard not to be impressed by Jon Day's deft collection which was published last week by Notting Hill Editions and is available through Amazon at £14.99.

PS In case you think A Twitch Upon The Thread sounds familar it is indeed the name of Book II in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited which in turn takes the quote from a G K Chesterton Father Brown story. It is a fair old bit of literary upcycling.

No more trouble at t' mill

The River Test at Whitchurch Fulling Mill is one of my longest standing beats; the connection goes back nearly twenty years through three different owners, though it is only the most recent who have any interest in fly fishing.

Richard and Lucy are passionate about the river and it shows; all sorts of improvements are completed, in progress or planned. Over the winter a combined team from the Wild Trout Trust and fishery students from Sparsholt College did great work on the wading section above the mill. The canopy was trimmed back, bank repaired and the felled trees used to create deflectors. Since then Mark Burns the river keeper has planted more than fifty heads of ranunculus weed.

For those of you who have fished Fulling Mill in the past you might recall the footpath than ran along part of the beat. Most of the time the intrusion was limited to walkers enquiring as to whether you had caught anything (I perfected about 20 various answers to alleviate the tedium) but on a sunny day dogs, children and bread thrown to the ducks could be a nuisance. However, the new fencing and a cunningly designed splash for dogs, duck feeding and even children (!) seems to have done the trick for trouble free fishing in the future.

The season opens at Whitchurch Fulling Mill on 1/May. More details here .....

New places for 2019

As you know I always like to find something or somewhere new for each season and 2019 is no exception. Here's a brief summary:

Ideal for groups of 2-4 Rods on a combination of the Tanyard and House beats, the former being great if you like to wade.

In addition to the carrier ticket we are now offering the lake tickets online, which includes the recently added Catch & Release lake. You can combine river and lake tickets to switch at will during the day.

Located downstream of Upavon Farm and upstream of Avon Springs this is right in the heart on Frank Sawyer country.

The Quiz

Castle Howard the setting for Brideshead Revisited starring (l-r) Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick and Jeremy Irons.
More questions to hopefully entertain and enlighten. As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

1) The Greek messenger Philippides was running from Marathon to where, establishing the legend responsible for the marathon road race?

2)      In what year was the ITV series Brideshead Revisited first broadcast?

3)      What does a podiatrist study?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


1)      Athens
2)      1981
3)      Disorders of the foot, ankle and lower extremity