Friday, 15 May 2020

Fishing is back


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 latest availability click here.

The white of May

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 follow ups

It never ceases to amaze me how far and wide news from the chalkstream percolates, not to mention the manifold connections we all have.

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 Seasons here. 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.

Listen to Fishing is back here.

Buy flies online

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.

No particular 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?

Have a good weekend. Hope you are going fishing!

Best wishes,

Founder & Managing Director

1)     Stockbroking. A situation in which the spot or cash price of a commodity is higher than the forward price with contango being the reverse.
2)     Thick legged flower beetle. Only the male has the thickened ‘thighs’ that give the beetle its name; it uses them to impress females.
3)     As a jokey tribute to Buddy Holly and the Crickets and/or Lennon reversing the French term les beat to create a new word.

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