Anglers the salvation for rare duck?

Anglers the salvation for rare duck? 
The headlines in The Scotsman and the BBC splashed much the same message: Survival of rare duck in Scotland ‘depends on trout fishing’. I must admit it rather caught my eye, with the article which went on to say:
“Conservationists believe they have identified the cause of a decline in numbers of a rare duck. In the UK, common scoters breed at only a few locations in the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland and lochs in the hills and glens near Inverness.
A key cause is now thought to be rising numbers of trout which eat the ducks’ main food source, freshwater insects.
RSPB Scotland and others have raised concerns the bird could become extinct locally because of poor breeding. The charity suspects declining angling on the lochs has helped boost brown trout populations.
Dr Mark Hancock, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science said: “Of all the lochs we investigated during this work, scoters bred most often at those with the shallowest water and the most large, freshwater invertebrates. It soon became clear that there were more insects where there were fewer brown trout, so it looks like scoters are being limited by a lack of food in places where the fish are eating it all. We’re now using these results to design new ways of helping scoters. For example, in areas of the north Highlands where angling activity has dropped off and fish numbers have increased, more trout angling is potentially one way to boost freshwater insect life.”
Dr Andy Douse of SNH and co-author of the study, said: “Scotland is the only part of the UK to have breeding scoters, many of which nest in legally-protected nature conservation sites.  This study highlights promising management options for restoring populations of this declining species.”

A Scoter duck

The first time I read the article I thought interesting, but after a few re-reads something about it slightly needled me. Firstly, it was the assumption that trout fishing was seen as a form of fish population control, the implicit belief that we killed the fish we catch.  I don’t know about you but most anglers I know prefer catch and release and on the occasions I have fished Scottish lochs, mostly populated with beautiful wild browns, I wouldn’t have done anything else.

Then there was the statement ‘It soon became clear that there were more insects where there were fewer brown trout ….’. Well, I’m sure you know that there have been decades of research into the state of fly life on the chalkstreams and in all that time I have never once seen any fly life decline attributed to the fish population. Invasive species, pollution, climate, water flows to name but four that might be cited, but trout? If anyone ever suggested that the fish be removed from a stretch of river to boost the fly life we’d call the men in white coats.
Then there was that final bit of Orwellian group speak, “This study highlights promising management options for restoring populations of this declining species.” I think from all the above we can see where this particular policy might be heading. Encouraging us to fish is great news, but I suspect they may have other measures in mind and that would be wrong because, despite an eye catching headline, the conclusion is based on flawed logic.
What do Finland, Japan, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, The Netherlands and the United States all have in common? Before you expend too much brain energy on what I suspect is an impossible ask I’ll put you out of your misery – they are the first seven (of 30 anticipated) countries that have confirmed for the 2016 World Fly Fishing Championship.
Colorado River

Spread over seven days starting on September 11 this year’s contest is being held in Vail, Colorado this only being the second time it has been hosted by the USA, the last being way back in 1997.

If you are looking for a guide to a possible winner, the host nation is always a good bet; over the past 35 years they have been the victors on ten occasions. The Czech Republic is the form team with victory in four of the past six contests. Spain are the current holders having won in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015.
Like in football and rugby the United Kingdom enters on a home nation basis. England have lifted the trophy five times, the last back in 2009 when it was held in Scotland, when the Scots took third place as well. Wales have had two second place finishes, 1995 and 2000. The latter I recall very well as it was held in southern England right in prime Mayfly.  Hardly challenging for the 400 odd best fly fishermen in the world? I think it took the remainder of the season for the River Test trout to recover from the trauma.
If anyone out there has news of the home nations teams do get in touch; we’d like to follow your progress. I have to confess I have never fished Colorado, but from everything I have learnt in Idaho and Wyoming it will, as the locals say, be ‘totally awesome’ but never easy.
More details on the 36th FIPS-Mouche World Fly Fishing Championship web site.
This week three topical botanical puzzlers; you will see all three currently flowering in your garden. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.
1) What is the common name for Galanthus?
2) What is the common name for Narcissus?
3) What is the common name for Sativus?
NEW FOR 2016 – Wild rainbows
Recently I took a trip to Derbyshire to visit Warren Slaney the keeper on the Haddon Hall Estate. If I recall the number rightly Warren told me he and his fellow keeper Jan Hobot have 27 miles of river under their care including fishing on the Wye that has one of Britain’s very few wild rainbow trout populations.
Nobody has a definitive explanation as to why these rainbows have thrived here but nowhere else. It could have just been something as one-off as mutant gene in the original stocked fish. Alternatively it could be that the particular water source from the limestone hills mimics the geology of the American homelands. Whatever freak of nature created this USP it is a pretty compelling unique selling point and I’m glad I made that 3 hour drive north.
The Lathkill. Photo courtesy of Guido Vinck
As many of you will know The Peacock Hotel in the local village Rowsley is part of the Haddon Hall Estate, which sells day tickets on both the River Lathkill and Wye. However, what you may not know is that there is now access through Fishing Breaks to the Dukes Beat on the Wye and the Hall Beat on the Lathkill. This is the private family fishing and only a very few days each season will be made available.
To enjoy them both I recommend back-to-back days. By the way, you can leave your nymph box at home. A strict dry fly only rule was introduced on June 6th 1865.
Details on prices/booking here and there is more on the story of Haddon Hall here.
Have a good weekend.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers: 1) Snowdrop 2) Daffodil 3) Crocus
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Licence to fish

There has been much discussion around the National Fishing Licence now that the administration and enforcement has passed from the Environment Agency to the Angling Trust. It seemed the perfect opportunity for changes, so I for one am delighted that a press release last week heralded innovation for 2017.
Most logically your licence will now run for a year from the date of purchase; in the past all licences ran from 1/April regardless of when bought so it was a positive disincentive for anyone considering buying one later in the year.
The release continues saying that licences are to be ‘free for junior anglers’. They don’t state exactly the age for a junior but I’m assuming from the currently structure (free for under 12’s, reduced rate for 12-16 years) this will mean all under 16’s are free.
If this is correct huge high fives and congratulations to whoever pushed this through. This is a massive shot in the arm for all those who are working hard to promote fishing in communities and schools by removing a licence that was both an administrative and financial barrier to participation.
There is a slight sting in the tail as the news release ends with the announcement that licence fees will be increased in 2017. All that said I don’t think we can begrudge this as it will be the first rise in 7 years. Do take comfort that all the money does goes directly to fishery work, plus a whole lot more that comes our way via grant-in-aid from the government.  If you want to see where the money is spent in your area click on this link; you will see some interesting stuff going on.
My one disappointment is that not possessing a fishing licence will remain a criminal offence. It seems to me a Victorian solution to a problem that is better solved in other ways. Criminalising an innocent pastime is a crime in itself; far better to devise penalties and incentives in the same way that train or parking tickets are collected. I’m minded of something I heard from a local squash club where they had a problem with players wearing black soled shoes which marked the court  despite  numerous notices stating ‘Do Not Wear Black Soled Shoes’. Then someone changed the wording to read ‘Please Check Your Opponent is Not Wearing Black Soled Shoes’. Lo and behold with a combination of nudge and peer group pressure the problem went away.
Let us save the long arm of the law for truly heinous crimes against angling.
For reasons of accident rather than any particular plan I have always seemed to have had more fishing on the River Test than the River Itchen. Nothing wrong in that – they are both great rivers usually spoken of in the same sentence – but I’ve been conscious for a while that I needed some more beats on the river that flows through what was once the capital of England.
East Lodge
Actually the opportunities for finding fishing on the Itchen are less by the simple fact of geography; the Itchen is just twenty miles from source to sea whilst the Test is double that. Add in tributaries, carriers and so on the disparity is greater still. There is probably four times as much river bank in the Test catchment compared to the Itchen.
But such is the strange happenchance of life that for 2016 I am delighted to say that I have fishing on not one, but two more beats on the River Itchen at East Lodge and Shawford Park. The former I have heard a great deal about in recent years as the keen, young keeper there Rob Rees was a flat mate of our own river keeper Jonny Walker. If you are a dry fly aficionado this is the place to head for; there are no nymphs allowed here. How that doyen of the Itchen and inventor of the nymph GEM Skues would have coped, heaven knows.
At Shawford Park the two beats run through the beautiful parkland grounds of Shawford Park House. This is a hidden gem, hardly fished at all in recent years and I suspect the location alone will take your breath away. Here you have a mixture of the main river and a fast carrier, the latter great for wading if you fancy it.
All in all if you fancy a trip to the Itchen you will not be disappointed whichever you choose. More details here.
GEM Skues

Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.

1) When did George Skues publish Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream that launched the nymph revolution?
2) Which native tree used to be planted outside houses to ward off witches?
3) What is an osteologist?
One of my first ever guides and river keeper, Simon Ward has recently produced a great short film that captures the beauty and wonderment of the Mayfly. 
Mayfly insect
Set to an original soundtrack by Hamish Napier this will transport you to the river in an instant. Look out for the scene in which the adult emerges from the nymph – it shows the amazing effort this requires.
Watch it here…..
Have a good weekend.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers: 1) 1910 2) Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia 3) A collector and student of bones.
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Which is you favourite fish?

Which is your favourite fish? 
Which is your favourite fish? I have to admit I had never given it much thought until the other day when an email from underwater photographer Jack Perks urged me to vote in the UK National Fish poll he has organised.
An unlikely winner?

The purpose is to find the iconic native species that means something to us as a nation and embody Britishness, which makes a simple choice a deal more complicated.

The logistics of even picking the fish as eligible for the poll is not easy. How do you define native? Carp are included on the basis of a 600 year tenure but rainbow trout, a mere 150 year ago arrival are not. Should European eels go in the fresh or sea column?
As Jack points out there are over 400 native species, freshwater and seawater, so he has helpfully narrowed the list down to 20 in both categories.  I confess there is a fish on the freshwater list I had never heard of – the Vendace. Wikipedia tells me it is ‘an edible whitefish found in lakes in northern Europe. In Britain it is now confined to two lakes in the English Lake District.’ My feeling is that Coregonus vandesius will struggle to garner many votes.
Looking around the world for clues for which to pick isn’t helpful. Birds? Well, just about every country has a national bird. But fish? Well not so much – I could only find three nations with a national fish and that is a diverse bunch. Costa Rica has the Manatee, Japan unsurprisingly the Koi carp and South Africa the not-very-attractive Galijoen that looks a bit like sea bream. 
Who knows what we will choose and whether the British people will take a fish to their heart. My only hope is that the poll doesn’t get hijacked by a ‘species’ group – I am sure plenty of you will recall a few years back when something similar happened tying the BBC in all sorts of knots when Bob Nudd topped the voting for Sports Personality of the Year.
If you’d like to vote you have until 26th March when a top ten will be announced with a further round of voting to establish the winner. Me? Well, in the sea category I am going to put my tick beside the mackerel on the basis that it must have been the first fish many of us caught and thus inspired a lifetime of angling. In the river my marketing head tells me Brown Trout, but in my heart the Three Spined Stickleback wins every time with a life story as interesting as any fish that ever lived.
Here is the link to vote.
Mill racing ….

I am writing this on Valentine’s Day with joy in my heart and the sound of rushing water in my ears – the chalkstreams are full.

It was looking grim at the end of November; we were showing few signs of making up for a very dry 2015 but the Gods have smiled. December was wet and January positively bucketed down giving us twice the average long term rainfall. As the monthly Environment  Agency report says, ‘river flows and groundwater levels ranged from normal to exceptionally high status’ in January.
It is good to have it validated but I really take my cue from the mill race that runs under the office here at Nether Wallop Mill. All through the summer and autumn the steel gate that controls the inflow is screwed down tight to preserve what water there is upstream.  As winter goes on I gradually open it up and when I can finally lift it all the way I know we have reached saturation point.  That day came about two weeks ago. The water pummels through without constraint; some weeks I even have to run the mill wheel to let even more past.
Nether Wallop mill wheel & race
Nether Wallop mill wheel & race
This is all good. The aquifer, that giant sponge deep beneath us that feeds the chalkstreams, is now full. We are set for the season ahead.
PS I have tried to capture the noise and power of the flow in this 35 second video. The mill wheel is cast iron, built c. 1865. As you will see it is in need of a repaint – for some reason at one time it was painted white. I suspect I will not be troubling the Oscar committee …..
NEW FOR 2016
You may well be reading this over half term juggling work emails, cursing the cost of Alpine lift passes and wondering who on earth invented the long half term. Surely it was just three days in our day?
I can’t do much about the Pound/Euro exchange rate but if you are looking for a diversion for the summer holidays I’ll point you in the direction of my week long Kids Fish Camp for July.
It has come out of the Saturday school fishing clubs – a chance to learn all about fly fishing here at Nether Wallop Mill. We do all the obvious casting and catching stuff but add in some entomology, fly tying, a trip to a fish farm and culminate the week with a day on the beautiful Bullington Manor beat on the Upper Test.
Our very own Alan Middleton runs the week with great expertise and enthusiasm. It is open to all ages 8-15. No experience required. Tackle provided. More details here ….


Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.
1) St Valentine is the patron saint of what activity?
2) What is odontology?
3) A gam is the collective noun for what species?
I was rootling around at an antiques fair in Stockbridge a couple of weekends ago and came across this photograph in a Hampshire history book. It was immediately recognisable as Itchen Stoke Mill as was the activity, weed cutting, but as Captain Kirk would say, not as we know it.
I thought at first they might be harrowing the river; that was commonly done to encourage spawning but with the photo dated around 1905 and the foliage suggesting this is summer or early autumn the timing would not be right. The current owner, Roger Harrison, cast some light. He tells me this was indeed weed cutting but of a fairly radical sort. The machine is moving a heavy cast iron bar along the river bed, tearing out the weed to create open channels in preparation for the water meadow flooding during the winter. The principle being that by removing the weed the water level would drop allowing the land to be drained more easily as and when required.
The bar didn’t rip out the roots of the ranunculus so it would re-grow the following spring. It is thought that the bar, heavy as it was did, by accident rather than design, create some good, loose spawning gravel as it trundled along the bed as would have the hooves of the shire horses.
If you happen to visit this part of the River Itchen* you will notice the only change is trees; back then the Itchen valley was entirely denuded of trees which I guess was a product of the sheep grazing that dominated the area at that time.
*Stop at The Bush Inn at Ovington and  walk back a hundred yards up the road. There is also a lovely footpath walk alongside the river.
Have a good week wherever you might be.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers: 1) Bee keeping 2) The scientific study of teeth 3) Whales.




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Spear & loathing?

Spear & loathing? 





After my last Twitter storm I hesitate to write anything about pike, but Bill Heavey’s article Spear and Trembling: The Ancient Art of Stabbing Pike Through the Ice in the latest edition of US outdoors magazine Field & Stream makes for fascinating reading. The piece is far too long to reproduce here but you may read it on-line but I’ll give you the brief bones of it.


First, find a frozen lake in Minnesota, USA cutting a hole 3 foot by 2 foot through the 27 inches of ice. Build a tent/igloo over the hole then settle down for hours (it turns into days) peering into the clear water below. In one hand you have a pike spear and in the other a fish decoy which you jiggle on a line. Then you wait until a pike cruises beneath you …. well, you can guess the rest.


It is a great article that speaks on many levels: the hunter rather than fisher, a transatlantic cultural divide and a moral conundrum. Heavey makes the point that this is not fishing but hunting. As fishermen we lob out our fly or bait in the hope that the fish will connect with us. Spear fishing is something altogether different; we are lying in wait ready to connect with the unwitting fish. It is more primeval and harks back to times long ago when the Native American Indians predominately used this method for gathering fish. The writer clearly gets his blood up and he admits as much. On a lesser level I can relate: on the few occasions I have tried noosing pike and  grayling it really gets into your head as something different to fishing.


The cultural thing is more nuanced, but I notice it every time I travel to rural America. Whether we like it or not Americans are far more connected to nature. Hunting, a term that is used to cover every form of lethal pursuit of birds, fish or animals, remains largely a blue-collar pastime which is an ingrained part of everyday life. You really do see deer carcasses draped across pick-up bonnets and shotguns racked in rear windows. I distinctly recall a young, blonde fishing guide telling me she felt stiff and sore as we set out in the drift boat one morning. When asked why, she replied, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that she’d been out most of the night with her husband hunting elk. With a bow and arrow too.


I know pike lovers will be appalled at the slaying of the fish and some others might be discomfited by the manner of the killing, but as Bill Heavey makes clear the fish are for eating. So here’s a moral question: is it better to kill a fish for food or catch and release it for sport?






The winter dance of death continues for my trout in the lake here at Nether Wallop Mill. As you know when we shut up shop for the fishing school at the end of October there are usually seventy to a hundred trout left – mostly rainbows, a few blues plus some wild browns that find their way in from the Wallop Brook.

Whether these fish are lucky to have survived a season, or simply incredibly smart I have no way of telling but if they make it past the finishing line they will have lived a cosseted life, fed daily with fish pellets the only real dangers cormorants, herons, mink and otters. Fortunately we don’t seem to be troubled by cormorants; very occasionally I’ll see one flying high across the sky, the distinctive silhouette that looks like a bird flying back to front is impossible to mistake. Only once, this autumn in fact, has one ever taken a fish.


The cormorant along with his smaller, white egret buddy, patrol the margins every day. The truth is the stocked fish are far too big for either of them. Sometimes greed will get the better of them, but generally the worst outcome for the trout will be a nasty stab wound. The small, wild trout are definitely possible victims but they are too wily, keeping to the deeper water where the cormorant can’t wade – growing up in a small brook will teach you that.


Mink? Well, I wonder if their days are numbered – it has been so long since I last saw one. They have been driven out by that bigger piscivore, the otter. It seems that the resurgence of the native Lutra lutra, who out-competes non-native Mustela lutreola on every level – bigger, faster, stronger  – is gradually putting his smaller cousin out of business.

So, when it comes to raiding my trout larder otters are the kings of the hill but against my expectations (I predicted trout Armageddon by February when writing in December) their presence so far this winter has been muted. Last week we had two days of heavy frost, the perfect conditions for otter spotting. Day one nothing. Day two the evidence was there but I couldn’t tell whether it was one otter or two. I suspect just the one, a few scales and fish eggs the evidence of a single kill.

For now it looks like the trout are holding their own; Mr. (or Mrs.) Otter must be ranging further and farther in search of food. My suspicion is that the year we experienced total wipe out by Christmas was when a family took up residence, so perhaps this time some trout will make it to opening day.


In truth I don’t mind one way or another. As someone once said otters are rare, fish are common.





Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.


1) What is Bear Grylls proper name?


2) What are the surnames of TV presenters Ant & Dec?


3) What is pescatarianism?





I’d suggest that fishing gifts are not the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. However much the latest Abel reel might be close to your heart, it is unlikely to twitch a romantic nerve in your partner. If it does, well you have lucked out!


However, Valentine’s Day is an important day in the chalkstream calendar; as the old river keeper saying goes, the only winter rain that matters is rain that falls before this day. With the next Newsletter scheduled for around 14th February I will bring up up-to-date with the latest water reports but as you might imagine it is looking good.


PS On the off chance you are going to risk a fishing gift I’d highly recommend the new Sage CLICK which I’ll be giving away to our 2017 Feedback winner.




Best wishes,


Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director


Quiz answers: 1) Edward Michael Grylls 2) Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly  3) The practice of following a diet that includes fish or other seafood, but not the flesh of other animals.

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The rat must die




I have been having a problem with a rat which has grown fat on, of all things, trout pellets. He  seems to have a peculiar liking for the pellets which my fish farming friends tell me contain, in descending order of amounts, fishmeal, fish oil, corn product, wheat, soya meal, vitamins, minerals and an amino acid compound. It doesn’t sound that tasty to me but fish and rats apparently disagree.


This hasn’t been my first run in with rodents. A few years ago a family of mice emptied an entire bag (imagine something the size of three sandbags) but ate very few. It sounds odd because it was.


Over a period of weeks they transported the pellets from the bag to the other side of the shed, stacking them up behind a bin. It truly must have taken thousands of journeys and they showed astonishing dedication carrying a few pellets in their mouth each time. I can’t imagine how they felt when on finding their cache I shovelled them all back in the bag, storing it in a mice-proof container for good measure. The rat however, was different.


There is a peculiar smell about rats. If you, like me, were bought up on a farm you will instantly recognise it on entering a building. The smell is not gagging unpleasant; a sort of acidic, musty odour of urine that is like nothing else. Rats leave it everywhere – they have no control over their bladder, a trail of their dribbled outpourings left wherever they go. The shed had exactly that smell. A few times I caught sight of a brown furry figure chasing along the edge of the wall, disappearing under the machinery. I took to carrying my air gun but the best effort hit a mower rather than the rat.  Next came Jaffa, our cat, the alleged perpetrator of the duckling massacre. He is a regular killer of moles, voles and rats, so a few hours in the shed each day would surely do the trick. But no. All he did was acquire a similar liking for fish pellets.


So I invoked science, buying rat poison which comes as blue coloured corn. However, given a choice between the trout pellets and the corn, well you can imagine. So I took away all the pellets, but the truth is you never really get rid of them all. Over time the bags will have burst, scattering pellets like so many tiny marbles, rolling into every crevice imaginable. There were enough left to keep Mr. Rat coming back. With each passing day I could only admire his plump frame and shiny coat that is a tribute to the protein formula of Skreeting, the Norwegian company who make the fish pellets.


Finally I think he must have exhausted all the pellets for the blue corn started to disappear from the feeder. Not long now I thought. But no, however much I put out each day the following morning it was gone. He was clearly immune or some sort of super rat.  In the end I lost my patience when he started to chew his way into the poison container itself, shredding the plastic lid. It was time for something more drastic – a Fenn trap. Frankly Fenn traps terrify me. They are a bit like the man traps of old – open jaws that lay flat on the ground until springing shut when the unsuspecting victim steps on a hidden release plate. However many times I watch the You Tube video to remind me how to set it safely I still fear that I will lose my own fingers.


But set it safely I did and, in what I thought was a cunning move, I laid a trail of fish pellets in its path. Success? Not a bit of it. Day after day it was left unsprung, the pellets uneaten. So, I tried the blue corn. Eureka! There was Mr. Rat dead, trapped squarely in the jaws. On close examination he truly was the healthiest, biggest rat I have seen in years. His fur, almost auburn, positively gleamed. If there was a national championship for Rattus norvegicus he would have surely won Best in Show.


Now he has gone, the battle over I feel a little sad and not a little cruel but I comfort myself that for some months, whilst dining like a king, he had the satisfaction of leading me on a merry dance.





Good news surrounding Atlantic salmon in the British Isles is hard to come by but there is a chink of light from the annual fish counter returns on the Rivers Test and Itchen, which report the highest number of returning fish in 25 years.


Since 1990 the Environment Agency have monitored the run from May to December each year and built up an impressive set of data. In 2015 a total of 2,007 salmon were counted through the Test and 903 on the Itchen. That compares to the previous record on the Test set in 2008 of 1,487 and in 2014 on the Itchen at 779. The low points stand at just couple of dozen fish on the Itchen in 1991 and under 400 on the Test in 1997.


Nobody is doing high fives at the news; we really don’t have enough science to draw any firm conclusions but it is encouraging not least because the five year average, which eliminates annual variations, is on an ever upward graph for both rivers. I guess the only bad news for the salmon fishermen amongst you is that of those 2,007 River Test fish 1,250 arrived after the season had closed!


You can read the full report from Dominic Longley at the Environment Agency here.





Here are a few bi-weekly puzzlers to confuse, confound or illuminate. It’s just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.


1) On which continent will you not find the Brown rat?


2) What is the common name for the Alnus tree often found growing along rivers?


3) What is the salmon fishing season on the Rivers Test & Itchen?






The Fly Fishing Film Tour rolls into town for the third year as part of the River Test One Fly Festival in April. As ever you will be treated to six adrenaline pumping action films from around the globe, plus the public debut of Matt Dunkinson’s Guides Day.


You will be able to enjoy a pre-film drink in the Hatch Bar of the Grosvenor Hotel in Stockbridge before the lights dim and the camera rolls at 7.30pm on April 21st. During the interval we will have prizes and giveaways.


Book your ticket on-line or call 01264 781988.



See you on the river in 2016.



Best wishes,


Simon Cooper

Founder & Managing Director


Quiz answers: 1) Antarctica  2) Alder  3) 17th January-2nd October

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2015 in Photos

By my reckoning we only have, give or take the whims of Mother Nature, 137 days before the Mayfly hatch starts. I think it is too much to describe that as the defining moment in any particular season, but it never fails to excite me.
I suspect we all have our own particular moments that are hard-wired into our memory for all sorts of reason – a particular fish, a memorable half hour or just simply the cadence of the day. Fishing is a great way of suspending reality and we make our memories around that.
But for all that the arrival of the Mayfly will always be a milestone in my calendar. A marker that shows nature has gone full circle and that, at least in the confines of a chalkstream valley, all is well with the world. Anyway enough musings of what is to come.
Here is my look back at 2015 in photos, with one video. I hope it is enough solace so you may keep the faith until the first cast of the season.
Paul Colley, a professional underwater photographer, embarked on his trout project in Stockbridge with his special waterproof rig set up on the High Street stream. At first the ducks were a  menace but when this photo went viral he learnt to love them.
Probably my last excuse to use this photo of Jon Hall, river keeper, on the Broadlands Estate with this monster 34lb female pike caught on a fly.

When age overtakes you our guide and ace fly tyer Alan Middleton shows off the best device for the mastery of  size 22 patterns.
Alan tying at BFF
My good friend from Denmark Bo Hermansen visits the chalkstreams every year putting us locals to shame with his skill and expertise – few trout or grayling are safe when he prowls the riverbank. He is a pretty mean photographer as well, here capturing the menace of the Hawthorn fly eyes.
Bo Hermansen hawthorn fly
Once a year I take a little detour up the Avon valley north of Amesbury to visit the spot where Frank Sawyer’s ashes were scattered over the River Avon. He has been my greatest influence and this year I discovered he designed the lake here at Nether Wallop dug in 1968 (see December photo). As he would have said, ‘no wonder it works so darned well’.
June 24th saw the 150th anniversary of the birth of Harry Plunket Greene an Irish baritone who was the Pavorotti of his day. An accomplished fly fishermen, his book Where The Bright Waters Meet, is as a good read today as it was when published in 1924, telling of his blissful seasons fishing at the confluence of the River Test and Bourne.
A photo shoot with a kind friend on the River Meon at the almost exact spot I caught my first ever trout some four decades or more ago.
It looks the perfect bucolic way of life but believe you me weed cutting (pictured here at the River Test on the Middleton Estate) is both skillful and back breaking.
Weed cutting at Middleton
If you ever wondered what a river keeper does at lunchtime, well wonder no more. Jonny Walker, who looks after Bullington Manor, Dunbridge and Nether Wallop Mill, plucked this monster trout out of Wallop Brook here at Nether Wallop Mill. Got to be six pounds or more .

A new generation, the pupils of Princes Mead School in Winchester, get the fly fishing bug not to mention a  few fish here at Nether Wallop Mill.


I said to my guides let us celebrate the end of the season with a day together. Choose what you like: drinking, food, gambling ….. it’s on me. Yes, you’ve guessed it they chose fishing. This is the story of our day in a three minute video. My thanks to Matt Dunkinson for doing a great job behind the camera and Wherwell Priory for letting us loose on trout who thought they were safe for another year. In truth they mostly were!
This is my screensaver for now – pictorial proof that the depths of winter will pass and summer will return.
All the best for 2016.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director
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The great survival race

The great survival race is on – in the red corner seventy to one hundred trout and in the blue corner otters.
Here at Nether Wallop Mill the teaching lake is stuffed with fish April to October; you could almost walk across the lake on their backs there are so many. They are mostly rainbows but there are a few blues plus some browns that sneak in from the river for an easy life.  Each morning now the season is over I feed them with a scoop of fish pellets; the moment they see my shadow with Pavlovian response they leap and pivot. In early November the lake positively boiled. Today the recipients are fewer.  The response less muted and every few days I see the reason – fish corpses.
Otters are ever present in the Wallops valley, but it is only when winter starts to bite that the lake becomes a living larder. They don’t visit every night; I’d say maybe one in every three.  In the darkness I can hear them, sometimes two, other times three as they hunt. It is a noisy process, not least because they announce their arrival with high pitched chirrups between themselves. It is almost as if they are genuinely excited to be here. I suspect they have good reason for that.
Stealth does not appear to be essential to the otter hunting lexicon. They flop into the water with a resounding splash.   Once in the lake they swim with practised ease. If I shine a torch it is simple to track their progress back and forth across the surface as the eyes shine back at me and I’ll just about be able to make out the flat domed head. At first sight of the beam of light they will turn their head in my direction. No panic, just idle curiosity and thenceforth they go about the business of fish hunting regardless of me.
By this point I shudder to think what panic is occurring in the trout community. The otters dive and surface with increasing rapidity. Otters are naturally buoyant so they put huge effort into diving, arching their backs and half leaping out of the water before plunging beneath. It is clearly a fairly hit or miss affair, with more hits than misses until each comes up with a fish clamped in the jaws. They eat with unrestrained savagery. On a still night you can hear the tearing of flesh from fifty yards. The head and the top half of the body is the favoured feast, eating out the innards to leave the skin, back end and tail like a discarded sock.
This morning the count was two dead on the bank, which brings us up to about ten in the past week. By Christmas the population will have halved with the end game sometime in February. In this particular survival race my money is on the otters.
Bad news about Arthur
Nature is a cruel mistress; Arthur having briefly tasted love last month is now close to death. It’s nothing as romantic as a broken heart but rather the inevitable rivalry of swans.
Having reclaimed his home, Arthur was back enjoying the bachelor life until two swans dropped in from the skies. Arthur is nothing if not pragmatic so he beat a retreat from the lake to the mill pond.
However it was far from being a safe place. The pair followed him up the brook until they cornered him, the male asserting territorial rights in the brutal way that swans do. Left for dead in a backwater a neighbour found Arthur, called the swan sanctuary and they took him away.
The sanctuary is nursing him but the outlook is fairly bleak At best he will recover and end out his days in the sanctuary, a return to the river being deemed too high risk. Personally I’d like to see him back. I miss him already.
Sneaky Sharks, Cunning Crocs and Testy Trout
Paul Colley has risked his life underwater, photographing sharks and crocodiles which led to him picking up a British Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 award.
But such is the bizarre nature of life it was none of those projects that hit the headlines for him but rather a side stream of the River Test in our very own Stockbridge.  Staking out the stream for up to 12 hours a day Paul has captured some amazing underwater shots of both trout and grayling, not to mention that unequal contest between duck and trout in the race for bread which I suspect many of you have witnessed in the past.
Paul’s talk ‘Sneaky Sharks, Cunning Crocs and Testy Trout’ takes place at Stockbridge Town Hall on Friday December 11th at 7pm. Tickets are £4 from If you can’t make it do take a look at hisweb site.
The usual random selection of questions to confound and amaze. Answers at the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!
1)   What is the smallest city in the UK by population?
2)   Karl Marx is buried in Highgate Cemetary. Where is Friedrich Engels, co-author of the Communist Manifesto buried?
3)   Who lives in a drey (or dray)?
Alan Middleton tying in Chichester
If you are heading into Chichester on Thursday for the Christmas shopping evening drop by the Orvis store on South Street.
Our very own Alan Middleton will be on hand  in the store offering advice and giving one of his unsurpassed fly tying demonstrations. 5-7pm.
Alan tying at BFF
1)   St David’s, Pembroke, Wales 2) His ashes were scattered off Beachy Head 3) A squirrel.


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