Frankly, I don’t think the fishing community could have
asked for very much more from the PMs announcement on Sunday and the detail
that emerged from the respective government departments on Monday.
What we had rather feared was a release from lockdown that
placed a restriction on how far we could travel. But not at all as far as
England is concerned. We can travel as we wish. Fish in a family group. Or
fish with a friend as long as we observe the standard social distancing
protocols. Even one-to-one tuition and guiding is permitted with sensible
precautions followed. Really the only fly in the ointment is the lack of
accommodation be it hotel, self-catering or B&B with little hope of any
relaxation before June at the earliest.
So, as you might imagine we have had a busy few days this
week. Hurrah! But it is good to be back after two months of essentially
twiddling our thumbs as frustratingly many perfect fishing days came and
went with not a fly cast.
My box of April specials – hawthorn, large dark olives, iron
blues and grannom – remains unopened. But the mayfly box? Now that had its
first outing on Wednesday. Happy days, with many more to come, I hope.
For the past few weeks, the meadows have been clothed in
white. The candle flowers high in the branches of horse chestnuts. Swathes
of cow parsley lining the headlands. Delicate dandelion heads recently
turned to white seed, ready to be scattered on the slightest breeze.
And in the past few days we have had the hawthorn snow as
the hedgerows shed white flowers, dusting lane and field. It is all very
beautiful to the eyes. But to the nose? Frankly, an awful stink hangs over
my daily walk across the downland. It smells to me something akin to rotten
flesh. As it turns out I am not far off the mark.
The Common hawthorn is a staple around these parts both as a
tree on the downs, where its prickly branches and rough bark makes it a
survivor from grazing sheep and adapted by man for hedging, regular cutting
creating a dense, prickly barrier to both sheep and cattle.
Those same characteristics make it a popular home for
nesting birds, the flowers, mostly white but sometimes pink, a spring
destination for insects and bees, including that friend of the fisher the
Hawthorn fly so called as it emerges at the end of April at the same time
as the hawthorn blossom.
The hawthorn has all sorts of associations with pagan
fertility rituals; before the Maypole it was the tree around which the
dance took place with the flowers weaved into garlands. Bizarrely, at least
to my mind, modern day perfumiers have created a synthetic versions of the
hawthorn musk describing it as a ‘spicy, almond-like scent’ and you’ll find
it in perfumes from Chanel, YSL, Penhaligon’s and many others.
But for the hawthorn the truth is double edged. The flowers
emit a chemical called trimethylamine, a colourless gas with a strong,
fishy, ammonialike odour which is both at once a sexual stimulant but as
nurses from times past relate, smells a lot like gangrene. This, as it
turns out, attracts a group of insects called carrion beetles, of which
there are 21 species in Britain. Normally they feed on, and lay eggs in,
dead flesh but drawn to the flowers by the rank smell they end up
pollinating the hawthorn as they move from flower to flower in their vain
search of meat.
I’m sure you’ll never look at a hawthorn bush in quite the
same way ever again……..
Film & book
It never ceases to amaze me how far and wide news from the
chalkstream percolates, not to mention the manifold connections we all
My bit on Geoffrey Wellum’s First Light prompted an
email from Fishing Breaks regular Nick Oram who is a self-confessed
Spitfire nut having been not only fortunate to fly the plane but also meet
Geoffrey Wellum on two occasions. Nick asked him about the river
references; it transpires Wellum wasn’t a fly fisherman but clearly carried
his childhood memories into adult life
As to a River in all Seasons I was fortunate to be
contacted by Nick Dunford, son of Geoff Dunford the original filmmaker who
has filled in many of the blanks. His father was a keen amateur photographer
who tried his hand at film in the early 1960’s and enlisted Southern
Television to make the film. The Dunford’s were, and still are, farmers in
the Test valley at Longparish and today have the Vale Farm coarse fishery.
At that time Geoff looked after the river from Vale Farm
right down to Newton Stacey so he had access to the many fisheries on this
prime section of the River Test through the Middleton Estate, Longparish
House and Wherwell Estate. The lady angler was Mrs Dauney who lived in
Longparish House who had trained he dog to retrieve her fish. The fish
rearing took place a bit further downstream with keeper Ernie Mott on the
Leckford (John Lewis) Estate.
However, the film disappeared from view for nearly fifty
years having never been aired by Southern Television. Jack Hargreaves, he
of Out of Town and How! fame, had originally agreed to do the
commentary but changed his mind. Southern Television then bought in Bob
Danvers Walker (pictured) who was best known as the offscreen voice of
Pathé News cinema newsreels during World War II. However, he largely
ignored the specifics of Geoff’s script which left nobody happy.
So it was that the film, shot on professional 16mm
celluloid, lay unwatched in the Dunford home until earlier this year his
grandson found a film processing studio who digitised this unusual format.
At the age of 93 years Geoff Dunford gathered with his family to watch the
film with plans to update it for release. Sadly, Geoff died the following
day so what you see today is exactly as it was left from the 1960’s.
Watch a River in all Seasonshere. You may also read more about Nick Oram's book Spitfire Elizabeth
& The Roaring Boys.
Fishing Cast No. 6
Fishing is back! Well, you know that, but Charles will give
you a bit of background on his involvement as to how it happened as we
discuss, despite the wonderous news, the difficulties ahead.
We share the secret of our first post-lockdown fishing
destination. Ponder casting into the Thames from the roof of the Savoy
Hotel. The hackle trick to tying a good wet fly. And start the debate as to
the best ever fishing film.
Stockbridge still looks a bit sorry for itself with just a
few shops open. The good news is that you are still able to buy sausages
from Robinsons and the makings of a fabulous picnic (and fresh coffee) from
Tide & Thymes.
Sadly, Orvis and Robjents have been shuttered since
mid-March with little prospect of opening until June. So, fishing-wise you
need to arrive prepared. If you need flies check out my Hatch Calendar for the top patterns in May/June and buy them online.
theme this week but as ever, it is all just for fun with the answers at
the bottom of the page.
1)Which profession regularly uses the
words contango and backwardation?
2)What is the name of this British
beetle often found on hawthorn blossom?
3)How did the Fab Four arrive at the
name The Beatles?