Friday, 24 April 2020

When Jimmy came to town

I sometimes wonder why fishing in Britain doesn't get more of a fair shake in the PR stakes when it comes to the sports and pastimes on our nation. You have to ask, is that down to us?

President Obama with a very excitable Dan Vermillion of Sweetwater Travel (US tour agents for Fishing Breaks) in Montana 2009
Last week we saw the hunters and fishers of the state of Michigan taking to the streets for the right to bear rods and arms. Now, you might well think in the current climate their passion is misdirected, but you can't argue with the passion. Maybe it speaks to a wider belief in the great outdoors that goes deeper in the US than it does in Britain which applies as much, it seems, to our leaders as us.

Believe or not in the post-war era more US Presidents have fished on the River Test than British Prime Ministers: George Bush Snr, Jimmy Carter and Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower was truly passionate about fly fishing; in his time as President he logged over forty fishing trips (mostly to Colorado) and taught Richard Nixon to fly cast, all in between 800 rounds of golf, a number only bettered by Barack Obama who took up fly fishing whilst in the White House.

Fishing attire 1929 style
And the British list? Well, it is hard enough to find much evidence of any fishing let alone chalkstream fishing of recent incumbents. Of Boris Johnson I can find nothing. On Theresa May, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major, Jim Callaghan, Ted Heath and Harold Wilson I have drawn a similar blank. I did read somewhere that Margaret Thatcher had one less-than-successful foray. David Cameron married as he is into the Astor family who own a good beat on the Spey, I would guess has had a flick or two.

In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1964 to find a Prime Minster photographed with rod in hand with Sir Alec Douglas-Hume who ended the continuous run of Downing Street anglers of Harold Macmillan (keen on shooting and golf as well), Anthony Eden, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. It was the last of these who was the most accomplished. Chamberlain is probably best remembered for his much derided 'peace in our time' photo op but a recent biography titled Neville Chamberlain: Angler, Birdwatcher, Farmer, Prime Minister offers a different side to him.

I was surprised to discover Churchill as a regular, but probably not passionate, fly fisher. He fished as a guest of hotelier Charles Ritz on the Normandy chalkstreams, caught a 188lb marlin off the Californian coast conducting the 30-minute fight from a boat dressed in a three-piece suit, bow tie and smoking a cigar. In 1943 when he travelled to address the US Congress, he and Roosevelt snuck off to the secret Presidential retreat in Maryland to fish. He wrote of the day,

Menu signed by Jimmy Carter during his stay in Hampshire in 1999
"On Sunday the President wanted to fish in a stream which flowed through lovely woods. He was placed with great care by the side of a pool and sought to entice the nimble and wily fish. I tried for some time myself at other spots. No fish were caught, but he seemed to enjoy it very much, and was in great spirits for the rest of the day."

The naval aide tasked with looking after the pair reported that they had no problem with mosquitoes thanks to Churchill's cigar habit.

All sports need not just champions but championing to catch the public eye. The magic fairy dust of fame. Football has it in spades. Tennis, cricket, rugby, motor racing and horse racing all get their annual place in the sun. But fishing? The 3+ million of us who wander the banks seem untroubled by the lack of attention. 

Maybe that is to our credit?

Snoods to the rescue?

Today should be One Fly Day. For obvious reasons it isn't. And for equally obvious reasons you'll know why I have a cupboard full of branded One Fly Festival giveaways. Hats. Shirts. Snoods. Snoods? Thought: maybe there is a PPE (bet none of us knew what that stood for a month ago?) opportunity here? A full-face Covid-19 mask that actually looks cool. As Del Boy would have said, we'll all be millionaires by Christmas, Rodney. But perhaps not.

Face masks, according to the US authorities, should be made from tightly woven cotton that blocks the transmission of particles when you breathe or cough. Snoods, on the other hand, are mostly made from more loosely woven man-made materials as they are designed primarily for sun protection and ease of breathing.

If you want to know whether your snood can double as a face mask hold it up to a bright light. The New York Times advises, "If light passes really easily through the fibres and you can almost see the fibres, it's not a good fabric."

Sadly, it seems most, if not all, fishing snoods will fail this test.

The Educated Trout vs. The Educated Angler

From our respective offices either side of the Hamphire/Wiltshire divide Charles and I recorded Episode 5 of The Fishing Cast yesterday, courtesy of Zoom.

We discuss the top 10 angling books of all time (bit of disagreement there), answer a question on the best knots for tapered leaders and go back in time to review the BBC World About Us programme The Educated Trout.

You can listen via your usual podcast provider or these links:

Happy listening!

PS Please nominate your favourite fishing film, our topic next time. Email us  your selection(s). 

Poison ivy

Trees by rivers can sometimes be very annoying. They grow for decades, even centuries, until they choose to fall over at both unexpected and inconvenient moments.

Typical is this tree on Beat 3 at Bullington Manor. It is an ash, probably 75 years old, that came down over the weekend. Why, you have to ask? There was no storm. No special event. It is not even in full leaf, a common enough time in the life of a tree to fall down. But fall it did. So, amongst the many spring tasks of a river keeper this is one to add to the list.

I posted the photo on social media - I know exciting stuff - which prompted a French follower to ask (all power to Google translate) why we hadn't stripped the tree of ivy. Aside from the fact that we have hundreds of acres of woodland making such a task impractical it did prompt me to do a bit of research on ivy.

It seems ivy generally doesn't kill trees, but it does tend to target weak or dying trees which sort of marries with my general observations over the years. Top tip if you want to kill ivy: spray the leaves with vinegar. However, it does have plenty of upsides for the local community. Butterflies harvest the nectar in autumn. Birds eat the berries in winter. And small rodents use the dense foliage as a safe and dry place to live. 

Is it poisonous? Well, not to them and only mildly for us. As for ivy on buildings English Heritage conducted a three-year study which, surprisingly, concluded there are many benefits but few detriments. Ivy cover acts both as an insulator and protector from the elements; building walls with ivy were 16% warmer in winter and 36% cooler in summer. That said, ivy roots will exacerbate any existing damage or weaknesses of the structures on which it grows.

An emerging mayfly

What is missing from this scene? As the photo was taken on a spring evening over the Easter weekend it must be people. And perhaps an angler or two.

This is, of course, The Mayfly Inn at Chilbolton just upstream of Stockbridge. Usually every picnic table is jammed, the fish lining up beside the garden wall for a steady stream of crisps. If I fished this beat, I'd be sure to tie up some Kettle Chip deceivers.

It is a glorious spot and a pub that has recently been refurbished under the new owner, Fuller's Inns. They have done a grand job but only reopened a week ahead of the Covid closedown but definitely one to put on the list when fishing resumes.

The private dining room at The Mayfly Inn

My kinda gardening

I confess: I don't like gardening. I hear some people bewailing the continuing closure of garden centres but I cannot empathsise.

I feel the pain of the growers who have had to turn millions of blooms into compost, but truly garden centres are my most hated retail experience. And the actual act of gardening comes a pretty close second.

However, since I think trimming the weed in the back-garden stream here at The Mill probably comes under 'non-essential' travel for our river keeper I took up the scythe. Looks like I haven't forgotten how to do it. 

Pretty spiffy if I don't say so myself.


I am indebted to Fishing Breaks regular John Werrett who gave me these questions in return for using some of mine in his village quiz. So, no particular theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at the bottom of the page.

1)    What is a Dorset Naga?

2)   What did Newcastle chemist William Owen invent in 1927 for those who were sick with common illnesses?

3)    What is the only country with a coastline on both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director


1)      A Chilli (formerly the world's hottest)
2)      Lucozade
3)      Saudi Arabia

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