Friday, 20 November 2020

The Crown goes fishing




I really do have to do some really dreadful things in the pursuit of bringing you these words; last night I watched The Crown.


I have successfully avoided the first three series despite much household urging but finally I cracked after a letter in Monday’s Daily Telegraph described the portrayal of Prince Charles’ fishing technique in series four as ‘unjustifiable’. I’m not being entirely honest when I say I ‘watched’ the opening episode of the new series; that Netflix fast forward technology is a wonderful thing which bought me to August 27th1979 without too much viewing.


The Crown has made its name through cinematic excellence. Amazing costumes, cast, locations and attention to detail. They clearly set out in the right vein when asking fishing antique experts Thomas Turner to supply the kit appropriate to the era. To that end they provided over 120 items including a Hardy Wye rod paired with a Farlows Dee reel for the Prince Charles scene. As to location you might recognise the Ardverikie Estate in Inverness-shire which was used for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and the new James Bond film due out next year. So far, so good. 



Filming The Crown


The whole fishing thing is set against the backdrop of the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten in Ireland on that August day. We have The Queen stalking in Scotland with Princess Anne. Charles fishing for salmon in Iceland. And most bizarrely, Prince Philip pheasant shooting a full month and a bit ahead of the opening of the season.


I’m guessing that Josh O'Connor, the actor who plays Prince Charles, is no fly fisher so we should not hold what followed against him. The less said (or seen) about his casting the better; but then again, they had given him a 15-foot rod to fish a river that wasn’t much wider than the rod itself. However, the real crime was the manner in which he played the salmon.


Think of Status Quo in their head banging pomp, brandishing guitars at hip level like machine guns and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how Prince Charles played (word used in the loosest sense) an apparent monster salmon that turned out to be something less than average. And then, just to compound the list of piscatorial crimes visited upon our sport by the makers of The Crown, Charles dispatches the fish as if a madman tenderising a particularly tough steak.


Go watch it for yourself – you have been warned!



Rockin' all over reel



How to become a fishing guide


When I look back to the start of Fishing Breaks I do rather wonder how I had the chutzpah to do it. I’m not so much talking about the business end – chucking in a perfectly good career seemed perfectly natural. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs so I was always seen as something of the black sheep of the family by going to university and subsequently wearing a suit, albeit of the chequered variety favoured by bookies. Striking out on my own was greeted by nods of approval, albeit for a scheme they mostly thought harebrained. No, what really terrified me were you, the clients.


In truth, I really had no idea how to guide. I gaily brandished the term ‘fishing guide’, importing the concept from the USA. Nobody here on the chalkstreams, at least to my knowledge, was elevating the image of a whiskey raddled gillie to that of an omniscient fishing guide who would send every client, of whatever competence, home with a day to remember. But that was my plan. Execution? Well, for those of you who suffered at my hands back then, I hoping you’ll charitably say that what I lacked in expertise I made up for in enthusiasm.


Could I get away with the same today? I sort of doubt it. It is a far more competitive world which makes it really hard for anyone trying to get into the guiding business. Which is a shame. There is a career to be had as a guide with, quite literally, a world of opportunities from the wilds of Alaska to the snow melt rivers of New Zealand. I’m not alone in knowing this; all manners of people contact me, be they starting out fresh from college or later in life seeking a career change, asking how do I get into guiding? They run into that eternal job seekers Catch-22; you can’t get experience without experience. But I think I have a solution.


Within the Fishing Breaks team resides a huge reservoir of knowledge; I won’t count up the aggregate decades on the river for fear of making us all seem too old. But it is not all about the fishing. Plenty of us have skills from disparate earlier careers that have made us better and different guides. To my shame I’d never really pinged on this until I was talking to our US agents Sweetwater Travel in Montana who have been running a residential Guide School for many years, training somewhere between 100-150 guides each year. You should do the same, they said. Light bulb moment.


So, I am delighted to announce the inception of the Fishing Breaks Guide School that will give you the experience and a leg up to become a professional fishing guide. It’s going to be an intense six and a half days. We teach you to teach. We teach you to guide. We teach you more importantly, to be a good guide. We’ll tell you where you are doing well. Show you where you can get better. Every day will be on the river culminating in a final day with a paying customer.


Of course, we’ll have some fun along the way. The Eco Lodge at Ilsington in Dorset has 5 miles of fishing on the River Frome to explore. After school hours you’ll be free to fish, tie flies or simply kick back and do what every fishing guide does best – swap lies with beer in hand beside the fire until darkness falls!


Guide School 2021 will take place in July and September. It is open to all ages and all levels of fly fishing expertise. For more information and to enrol click here .....


PS If you want a masterclass in how NOT to be a guide watch this video from US comedian, and sometime fishing guide, Hank Patterson.


Hank Patterson's 8 Steps To Better Nymph Fishing



We are so on trend


Did you know our sport has, according to The Times Style magazine “joined the ranks of analogue hobbies co-opted by millennials”? I’m hoping this is a good thing. The Times blames BBC2 and (sorry Paul) Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing.


Of course, all good millennials like high end branded kit to go with any newfound hobby. Bentley, with the fishing edition of the Bentayga have provided the suitable transportation so you’ll be pleased to hear that Paris fashion house Herm├Ęs have filled in on the rest.



I must admit I’m a bit confounded by the 8ft 2 inch fly rod made from flax fibre crafted as if it were split cane with the addition of a sycamore handle. Wood handle? At $13,790 I’m sure it comes with a 25-year guarantee. However, I’m more taken with the wicker creel. I know you are probably wavering at the ticket price of $17,420 but when I tell you it also comes with two straps in contrasting colours, meaning the height can be adjusted over the shoulder or as a cross-body option you’ll be pressing that Buy button before the end of this piece.


Finally, whilst I have your attention, I’m sure the fly box (flies included!) will provide the perfect stocking filler to complete a gift range without the benefit of any change from $40K.




Through the keyhole


Which famous fishing writer lived here? This is Wilby Hall near Attlebough in Norfolk, a moated Elizabethan house that was built by an associate of Oliver Cromwell and currently on sale for £2m.



It was, until he died earlier this year at 86 years of age, the home of Michael Russell better known in fishing circles as the writer of the J R Hartley books. If you want to read the obituary of a man with a life well filled then you could do worse than read his from The Telegraph in April. He was clearly bright but fluffed his lines at Oxford, became a professional gambler and racehorse owner before settling down on the banks of the River Nadder, joining a publishing house located in a village familiar to many a Fishing Breaks client, Compton Chamberlayne.


Eventually he set up on his own; Michael Russell Publishing Ltd, with over 500 titles to its name, was still operating at the time of his death. He took, by all accounts, the vicissitudes of running your own business in good part. He delighted in the van driver who returned to base with a full van load of books, protesting that he had been unable to find London. Russell christened him “Pathfinder”: “He’d got to Staines, so he was getting warm.”


He didn’t publish the J R Hartley books; these were the idea of his friend Roddy Bloomfield at Random House. The rest, as they say, is history. The first book sold over 130,000 copies enabling Russell to buy, helped with an inheritance from his father-in-law, Wilby Hall in 1991.



Frankel book talk 30th November


Delighted to say that my Frankel book talk planned for last month is now rescheduled for a week on Monday, November 30th.


I am going to retell the making of the book, sharing with you the private life of Frankel from his time in Ireland to his return to Newmarket  and the remarkable relationship with Henry Cecil.


Please register via the link below no later than 24 hours before the event. We will send you a Zoom login on the morning of the talk which last about an hour starting at 7pm with a Q&A at the end.


Click here to register .....





This week the usual random collection of questions to confound, dismay or delight.


The answers are, as ever, at the bottom of the page.


1)     When was Netflix founded?


2)     Prince Charles celebrated his birthday last week on 14th November. How old is he?


3)     Name any one of the three presenters of the TV show Through the Keyhole.



Have a good weekend.



Best wishes,



Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing





Quiz answers:


1)     1997

2)     72 years old

3)     Loyd Grossman, David Frost or Keith Lemon

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