Let me ask you a question. How much is a wild brown trout worth? I suppose, at the most basic level, its value is zero as the cost of its creation, in monetary terms, was zero. Mother Nature doesn’t send us an annual bill. Perhaps she should then maybe we’d treat our planet a bit better.
In strictly aquaculture terms I can tell you that a 12” brown trout is worth about fiver, the cost of a stock fish. However, I think we are entitled to give our little wildie a wider value, taking into account its contribution to the tourist income chain. I haven’t seen a calculation for brown trout in quite some time but a Scottish salmon is often up there in the thousands. So, shall we say for sake of argument, our wildie, now dead by the way, is worth say £100 in relation to the Welsh community through which its natal river ran?
Perhaps we should stop for a moment but way of tribute to the late Bruce Forsyth to mimic his TV game show Play Your Cards Right. Higher! Lower! Which are you shouting? If you are shouting higher, I am with you all the way. In many respects the wild brown trout, the most widely dispersed of our native fish, is priceless. If you are shouting lower, that’s fine but you’ll have to keep shouting for an awfully long time before you reach the value that the judicial system of England and Wales has helpfully set for us. 23p. Yes, that is no typo. Twenty three pence.
On December 11th Welsh farmer Iwan Humphreys pleaded guilty to discharging slurry into the River Dulad near Capel Isaac in July 2019. The result was the death of 2,478 fish, including 746 brown trout, over a 5km stretch of the river with the invertebrate population pretty well wiped out. The District Judge classified this as a Category 1 event, the worst level of environmental harm.
You might not be familiar with slurry but it is essentially the piss and shit from cattle. For farmers, dairy ones in particular, it is a constant headache. A lactating cow produces 30-40 gallons of it every day. That is a lot of ‘slurry‘ which is full of nasties that are fatal to fish and insect life. I don’t know the details of the Humphreys case but I can tell you there is barely a cattle farm in Britain that doesn’t leach some slurry into rivers. Sometimes it is leakage from the storage ponds. Other times runoff from slurry that has been sprayed onto the fields. Farmers are not meant to do this if rain is forecast within the following 24 hours or if the ground is waterlogged. But UK weather forecasts are hardly an exact science ..... and anyway once the constituent elements of the slurry are in the ground, wet or not, a proportion of it will inevitably find its way into the nearest watercourse. I can’t tell you the number of times I have seen the yellow/brown tell tale trickle entering a river, acting like weed killer as it wipes out river life, leaving behind a gravel bed coated with a furry, soft brown gunge.
But back to the court case. Yes, farmer Humphreys was fined £1,760 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £9,430. But he was, in addition, levied with a Victim Surcharge, a penalty applied in order to provide compensation for the victims of crime. You might think, with over £11,000 already racked up, the Victim Surcharge was going to be pretty substantial. Ten of thousands maybe? I won’t make you play the Forsyth game again for the number, to me at least, denies further attempts at levity. The Victim Surcharge was £176 or 7p for each of the 2,478 fish killed.
I was staggered when I read the account of the court proceedings three weeks ago. I am still staggered today. Seven pence? What truly is the point of a justice system that values the cost of prosecution 53 times higher than that of the crime itself? Time and time again we see environmental law and regulation (Southern Water twice in a decade) that does little to protect and preserve the very thing it was designed to protect and preserve.
Nero famously fiddled whilst Rome burned. Our current day leaders hum the climate change blues as the rivers turn from pure to poison. Sorry to start your year on a downer.
New for 2021
It is always fun to bring you new stuff for a new year; this time around I have four.
If you are fly tying social media hound you will have surely come across Phillippa Hake one of our youngest and best fly tyers who doubles up her skills as a great fishing guide. As I have often written, we don’t have enough women in our sport so I’m delighted to welcome Phillippa into the Fishing Breaks fold where she will be guiding on her home rivers in west Yorkshire, perfectly placed north of Manchester and to the west of Leeds.
Our river keeper Si Fields (follow him on Instagram) is uber excited about Breach Farm; it is just two minutes walk from his front door 5 miles south of Winchester and he has been eyeing it up for years. So, now he has the wind behind him with a flurry of work to get it ready in time for April. Watch out for the rare Southern Damselfly from June onwards; the Breach Farm water meadows are home to this endangered species rarely seen anywhere else.
I am really looking forward to hosting this in July and September. A chance to bring on a whole new generation of guides in a week long training camp in Dorset. I am currently talking with a benefactor who is offering scholarships for the 2021 intake. Email me for details.
We successfully teamed up with Orvis last year to offer Abbotts Worthy on the River Itchen so I’m delighted to extend the association to include Timsbury 5 on the River Test. I’m sure many of you know it already or if you know The Parsonage you will know it as the beat opposite and downstream which, like The Parsonage, has a carrier.
Breach Farm - River Itchen
Heroes vs. villains
Thank you to all of you who tuned in for the first vlogcsat, live from Nether Wallop Mill, where Charles and I probed the respective merits of Halford in the dry fly corner and Skues in the nymph corner.
It was a little nerve wracking; Zoom technology never quite behaves as you might expect but we had a great gathering, some spot on questions which led to a tremendously enjoyable Q&A at the end. I think it was pretty well honours even at the close. Halford and Skues can rest easy in their graves. You can watch the vlogcast on YouTube or listen on our Buzzsprout feed or via your usual podcast provider – search The Fishing Cast.
One topic that did come up, rather left field in relation to the dry vs. nymph debate, was stocking. What did we think? The answer was a lot; too much for that session so our next topic will be Stock fish: heroes or villains?
If you'd like to register for this debate on Friday 25th January at 11amemail me. If you registered for the December no need to register again. I’ll send everyone log in details 24 hours in advance.
Click on the image to watch the debate on YouTube
Diaries open for 2021
All our diaries are now open for 2021 so fill your boots!
All your old favourities, plus the new ones mentioned above are ready to book, with a great slate of dates including the prime Mayfly weeks. For a handful of beats you might be disappointed by the a limited choice of Mayfly dates. This is not because we gave anyone preferential treatment but because we had to honour the rollover dates from last season.
A few weeks ago it seemed that we were home and free in relation to Covid and the opening of the fly fishing season, with the vaccine and herd immunity on track to be well established by April/May time. The new strain has obviously added another twist to the tale but fingers crossed, with over 4 months still to go before the first Danica hatch, I for one am optimistic.
That said, I’ll be standing by our 2021 Covid pledge that reads:
In the event of the fishing being closed due to UK government Covid-19 restrictions you will be able to rollover the booking without penalty for a new date(s) during the remainder of 2021.
By the way, if you are considering grayling fishing in January or February the guidance remains that you may continue to fish in Tiers 1-4 alone, with your immediate family or with one other person from outside your bubble. If you are in Tier 4 you may only fish in Tier 4 locations.