Friday, 15 February 2019

Fifty inch brown trout

Renée Wilson

I am sorry to bring the sad news that Renée Wilson, widow of Dermot Wilson, died last month aged 88 years.

Renee with Fergus at the unveiling of the plaque in July 2018
She was in many respects the unseen hand behind the fly fishing enterprise she and Dermot began here at Nether Wallop Mill. It was, after all, her sharp eye that saw the advert in the property pages of the Daily Telegraph one Saturday when Dermot was away fishing (inevitably!) in Ireland that led to them buying The Mill.

And Renée did indeed have a sharp eye for detail and words. She was in her own right a talented copywriter, having met Dermot when they were both working for the advertising colossus J. Walter Thompson. I saw that first hand when we were writing the text for Dermot's blue plaque - summarising the life of a great man in a handful of words is harder than you might suppose.

I am proud to have known Renée. She was always incredibly supportive but it makes me sad that the final chapter of their story is now closed. She is survived by their only child, Fergus.

Pruning and pumping

The quiet of Wallop Brook has been somewhat disturbed of late; a giant tracked tree cutter and the diesel throb of a massive pump have been the sounds of the week.

Nobody is entirely sure how old the willows that grow along the Brook are. There are plenty of sepia photos dating back to the 19th century that show them. It is said the tree limbs provided the blanks from which the bats of cricketer W G Grace were crafted 130 years ago. But their long life, evidenced by the thick girth of the trunk, is entirely due to the care of man for Salix fragilis has a particular way of living its life.

We tend to call these trees by their more common name of crack willows, so named for the whiplash report when one of the tall branches snaps off and falls to the ground. Left to its own devices all the branches would eventually snap off in similar fashion, clearing the ground around the trunk of competing vegetation from the centre of which a new tree would grow to repeat the whole process every 7-15 years. However, regular pollarding to harvest the wood for all manner of uses changes the nature of how the tree grows.

Today there is not the same demand for willow but to prevent the trees reverting to type we continue by cutting the crown every decade. In the past it was done with ladders and chainsaws a process that would take two men two weeks. But the giant nippers on the end of a hydraulic arm completed the task in less than a day, piling the branches up in neat stacks which, once they have dried, will be chipped for use in the bio-mass boiler of the neighbouring farm.

The purpose of the pump on the other hand is a slightly less illustrious. We have here at The Mill what is known as an 'in-line' lake. That is to say the diverted brook flows in at one end and out the other. In many respects that is wonderful - constantly replenished chalkstream water that keeps a clear, cool lake that the fish love regardless of the season or prevailing weather. However, all rivers, even chalkstreams carry silt, which falls to the bed of the lake as the water passes through. Over a period of many years sections of our lake that began life with a depth of five foot have reduced to one. However, the pump with its six inch pipe and sucking head, which is kinder and more efficient than dredging, has removed the decades of build-up.

Today we are back to some sort of normality; you can actually hear the burble of the brook. The willows look a little shorn but come the spring green shoots will sprout. As for the lake, the trout who found much to like in the swirling disturbance of the pump, are rooting around in the newly exposed gravel bottom.
A fifty inch brown trout
As regular readers of this Newsletter will know I am not a great one for featuring pictures of trophy fish captures but occasionally one comes along that simply cannot be ignored. 

I think you will agree that this Mongolian brown trout, at fifty inches, is worth gawping at. As you ponder it is worth remembering that this is no Mongol native - the original brown trout were stock fish from Europe, possibly even from the UK.

If you'd like to watch the video about fishing in Mongolia click here

New on the River Test

It is not often you have the opportunity to take up the offer of one of the most iconic beats on the River Test but I'm delighted to say it has come my way.

Broadlands House is a famous stately home, the residence of the Mountbatten family where the lawn slopes down to the river. It is no bad view to have and it is where Prince Charles and Lady Diana spent their honeymoon night and the first three days of married life. They were following in the footsteps of his parents who did something similar when the then Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip in 1947.

The Tanyard and House beats are perfect for a small group with plenty of river to spread over, open banks and extensive sections which are ideal for wading. There will be a new fishing hut in time for the start of the season but The Cromwell Arms is just 100 yards walk. It offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus has comfortable bedrooms. Alternatively The Three Tuns (150 yards) is the welcoming pub the locals head to.

The fishing is reserved for the exclusive use of parties of four. The daily rate includes both beats and a fishing guide who will provide tackle, flies and assistance as required. More details and dates here.

St. Valentine
The Quiz

More questions to hopefully entertain and enlighten. As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

1) Which notoriously brutal leader founded the Mongol Empire in the 13th century?

2) Which trees are also known as sallows and osiers?

3) What was the nationality of Saint Valentine?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)     Genghis Khan
2)     Willows
3)     Roman

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Mink. Enemy of the people?

Mink. Enemy of the people?


When I was writing 
Otters' Tale I ended up doing a fair amount of research into mink. They do, after all, share the same life space as otters albeit as blow-ins to our isles dating back to a period between the First and Second World Wars when they arrived to populate fur farms.

Tasmanian tiger
Mink have a reputation for being vicious. I not sure how entirely true this is - I'd rather go head-to-head with a mink than an otter any day of the week. But that aside they are curious and resourceful guys; there was truly never any chance of them remaining within the confines of the farms. Wild populations were soon established and like any good interloper they found their niche in the natural hierarchy. As luck would have it, at least for them, the otter population was in decline so they filled the vacuum. At the time some blamed mink for the disappearance of the otter but as we now know this was caused by organophosphates.

There was a small hope that when fur farming was finally abolished in the UK in the 2000's that mink, without recruitment from farm escapees, would go into terminal decline. However, after over half a century they were firmly established across most of the mainland. Like otters mink have few predators but they seem to be smarter when it comes to roads; traffic is the biggest single killer of otters but I truly don't ever recall seeing roadkill mink. In fact the only threat to mink are otters; when otters move in mink move out. The resurgence of the otters has made life a bit tougher for mink but they remain a pest, efficient predators of water voles, fish, water fowl and just about anything else that moves and makes for a tasty snack. In return they add very little to the natural order of life by the river. They are takers not givers. With all that in mind a proposal has surfaced for the total eradication of mink in the British Isles.

This is, make no mistake, impressively ambitious. The only comparable exercise I can find is the eradication of the Thylacine or the Tasmanian tiger from that island in the late 1800's. The province of Alberta, Canada had managed to eradicate the brown rat with a programme that has run since the 1950's and various islands in New Zealand, the Galapagos, Alaska and Scotland have been similarly (or almost) successful. The Russian and Chinese have attempted to eliminate tigers but simply succeeded in reducing numbers which is much the same story as for the northern European efforts against wolves.

I have to congratulate the group behind MinkFreeGB; they have the idea but they also seem genuinely interested in exploring the pros and cons before firing the starting gun. They pose four very valid questions: Is it feasible? Is it affordable? Is it justifiable? Is it socially acceptable?

The answers to the first two questions sort of run together. One of the great issues with mink eradication is that it is time consuming and labour intensive. Mink traps are 'live', that is to say you bait the trap and capture the mink alive, so the traps must be checked daily. However, there are now smart traps that alert you by text when triggered. Likewise the emergence of eDNA testing quickly tells you if you have mink in your neighbourhood, water analysis revealing their presence anything up to 21 days later. If this sounds all a bit CSI it is simpler than you might suppose. PondNet distributed thousands of kits to volunteers in 2015 for a nationwide survey into the Great Crested Newt. This sort of rigour is required because it is easy to capture the first 95% of the mink in any given area. It is that last 5% that takes the time and effort. There is no doubt that any eradication programme will be expensive, but technology might make it both feasible and affordable.

Mink capturing a fish
My gut feeling that the weakest part of the MinkFreeGB argument revolves around the justifiable question, what harm do mink really do? Yes, they do kill things, water voles in particular, but they are not solely responsible for the precipitous decline in the water vole population since the 1980's; habitat loss, urban sprawl and pollution are important factors. Would removing mink see a nationwide recovery of Ratty? This needs to be proved beyond question, as do any of the other negatives attributed to mink in relation to native wildlife.

Finally, would a mink cull be socially acceptable? It is easy to assume yes, but with the continuing furore surrounding badgers nothing is certain. In my view I'm pretty sure the theory of common good will win out with most who consider this issue - a few should die for many to survive. However, there are plenty of animal absolutists who take a very different view: all animals have a right to life regardless of the harm they may or may not do. It is going to take some deft PR.

Maybe we'll have to take a leaf out of the RSPB playbook who have won the case for eradicating mice from Gough Island, one of the most isolated places on the planet out in the South Atlantic 1,750 miles from the nearest mainland, a breeding colony for many rare seabirds including the Tristan albatross. Here the non-native mice predate on the chick populations, eating through the body wall near the rump of the bird while they are still alive. It can take up to four days for the chicks to die. The time delay video makes for unpleasant viewing as a 30 gram mouse slowly eats to death a 1 kilogram albatross.

If you would like to register your view on mink eradication use this link to complete the short survey or email

Not so good old Yellow Pages

Last week Yellow Pages celebrated, if that is the correct word, the final distribution of their directory to homes in Brighton. After 53 years it is all over.

Naturally enough this was reason enough to resurrect the J.R. Hartley television advert that ran in in 1983. I groaned. It was a phenomenally successful campaign, an ad that is regularly featured in the top ten adverts of all time. In the unlikely event that you haven't seen it the pitch goes something like this; an elderly man spends a fruitless day visiting bookshops seeking a copy of Fly Fishing by J. R. Hartley. Back at home he slumps exhausted in his armchair where his daughter presents him with a phone and a copy of Yellow Pages. Soon he has located a copy of the book and when asked for his name so it may be kept for him he replies, "My name? Oh, yes, it's J. R. Hartley."

Such was the impact of the advert many assumed the fictional J.R. Hartley really existed and the actor Norman Lumsden became something of a fishing celebrity despite having never held a rod. However, that was not the end of it. In 1991 author Michael Russell wrote and published Fly Fishing: Memories of Angling Days under the pen-name of J.R. Hartley. It was a best seller, racking up sales of 187,000 that Christmas alone. There was then a sequel which did equally well and just to round off Hartley's sporting credentials Golfing by J. Hartley was published. Such was the power of this unlikely brand that when Lumsden died in 2001 at 95 years of age Yellow Pages ran the advert again.

J.R. Hartley - Classic Yellow Pages advert
J.R. Hartley - Classic Yellow Pages advert
Why did I groan? Well, to update Henry II's beseeching cry "Will no one rid me of this turbulent advert!" It is fun. And it is an immaculately crafted 52 seconds of film work. But the elderly, tweed clad Hartley did little to update the image of fly fishing. In fact, as does much of the best marketing, it drew on stereotypes to make a point and reinforced the mistaken perception of our sport. Hopefully now we can lay both the image and the advert to rest for ever.

If you really must watch it again here is the link.

Coarse season consultation

If you are not overwhelmed by the number of consultations coming your way here is the official link for the Environment Agency survey which I wrote about in the previous Newsletter.

I would not embark on the survey without a strong glass of something at your side; it is a survey compiled by bureaucrats with academics in mind. It is full of what I believe lawyers call leading questions. But such is the way of a world where we have to jump through the hoops of others in the hope that our voices will be heard.

The Quiz

More questions to hopefully entertain and enlighten. Two bonus questions this week! As ever it is just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.

  1. What is the name and purpose of the implement pictured?
  2. How many mink are required to make a full length coat?
  3. Who wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
  4. In golf how many under par for a single hole is an albatross?
  5. And a condor?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


  1. A cleave which is used for capturing eels.
  2. Around 60
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  4. 3 shots
  5. 4 shots. The last recorded condor was in 2007 over a 510 yard par 5 in Australia.