Who is laughing now?
For a while the COVID-19 news felt a lot like the Foot & Mouth epidemic of 2001 (was it really that long ago ....); a gathering crisis that might, with a bit of luck, prove our worst fears unfounded. But Boris Johnson's announcement on Monday night, incidentally one of the most watched pieces of television in British history, dismantled that optimistically construction edifice.
We'd gone from jokingly talking fishing up as the best form of self-isolation on Monday morning to hitting the phones on Tuesday to work out how best to pick our way through a landscape where fishing, if not explicitly banned, was the furthest thing from people's minds.
Spot 4+ fish.....
As the saying goes, when people make plans, God laughs - I was so excited for the opening day. The winter rains have been amazing for the chalkstreams. When I returned from my Hemingway pilgrimage the first thing I did, jaded and jet-lagged, was walk the rivers; I do miss them on extended trips away. True, the banks are, and will remain for a while yet, a bit sploshy but the streams are full to brimming. Crystal clear with gravel so bright it burnt my eyes on that sunny morning.
Now March is usually the month the rivers promise much but show little in the way of fish who hide away. But this time, after an exceptionally warm winter in which I recall no more frosts than I could count on the fingers of both hands, and daily hatches of tiny midges that are so voluminous you almost choke, the air and water was alive. The river was teeming with fish on the fin. Ready for action.
It is a bitter enough pill to swallow in the close season. But to know that involuntarily the close season might continue for a while yet ..... well, I suspect the fish are laughing along with God.
The newly crowned Commonwealth Casting Champion
Now, as you well know Charles Jardine and I meet one a month here at Nether Wallop Mill to record The Fishing Cast. This week our plans have gone a little awry .......
Naturally, we can't meet and even if we lived within walking distance huddling around our single microphone would hardly conform to the government 2 metre rule. So, in a huge tribute to our technological nous we came up with one of Baldrick's cunning plans. Charles recorded his bit on his iPhone and emailed me the file.
My boasting is, in truth, a little over the top. Splicing his and my recordings together proved too difficult so we have in effect two podcasts:
We bring you all the latest COVID-19 news from the fishing world. My new book. Charles' trip to New Zealand. And guess who is the new Commonwealth Casting Champion?
When river meets canal
I'm sure plenty of you have come across the Itchen Navigation, the disused canal that runs besides the River Itchen from just below Winchester for just over 10 miles until is joins the sea in Southampton.
It is something of an oddity where the river and canal are concurrent, the two sometimes only separated by the width of the towpath with the canal often many feet higher than the river. Some of it is fished but for the most part the public footpath along the towpath makes this impractical so it is largely free fishing amongst paddling ducks and well-fed swans.
The canal was built in the 1600's, the culmination of centuries of use for the River Itchen itself. The stone for Winchester Cathedral, built shortly after the Norman conquest, came from France and was, in all probability, barged up from the sea. There is also evidence that Roman sheep fleece traders took barges all the way to Alresford, close to the source of the Itchen, some 15 miles upstream of Winchester.
Like all canals the Itchen Navigation met its nemesis in the late 18th century when the railways arrived though at least it didn't meet the ignominious fate of its River Test equivalent that was filled in so the railway could be built upon its buried bones.
Today much of the canal structure remains intact, something truly remarkable when you consider that it is nearly 250 years since the last barge ran with very little upkeep since then. Some of the locks have been removed to improve the Navigation for fish, one such being Allbrook Lock, the tiers the perfect salmon ladder.
And if you look carefully on the left, you'll see a pipe for eels and a walkway for otters.
Our Covid-19 policy
I'm trying to make things right for everyone as the COVID restrictions bite. Somehow, I need to balance the interests of you the angler, the river owners and all those who rely on fishing for an income.
You'll find the latest details on the Fishing Breaks web site. Essentially, I'll give you three options: come fishing after 1/May as usual assuming there no draconian restrictions. Postpone your date to later in the season, with a credit to use next year if your replacement day costs more than your original day. Or rollover to 2021.
As with all policies it is something of a compromise and it won't suit everyone. But I hope you agree it is as fair as the circumstances permit. In the end a lot of people are going to be doing two years of work for one year of income, but we take comfort in the kindness of our clients in that half a pie is better than no pie at all.
A COVID pick-me-up
A client from California emailed me on Monday. How were we all? Things are, it seems, not a great deal better over on the west coast. Should he book a trip for July? He needs his chalkstream fix. Honest answer - let us wait and see.
But it wasn't all bad news. Here's a photograph from his 2019 trip. He is, by the way, a professional photographer but that in no way diminishes the magnificence of the shot. And a reminder of how utterly amazing a day on the river will be.
Sorry no quiz this week; ran out of time.
Have a good weekend.
Simon Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org
Founder & Managing Director