Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I know when you look at the price of the a day on a prime chalkstream it might be fair to assume that someone, somewhere must be coining it, raising a glass to us fly fishing fanatics from the sun-drenched beach of a tax haven far, far away. A bit of me (actually quite a big bit) wishes this was true, but it is not which makes the latest news from the Environment Agency all the more depressing. Here is the story so far.
An endangered species?

Chalkstreams are very much the product of man. That much you well know, the original rivers created many millennia ago as primitive man drained the marshland to provide fertile farmland. Over time the streams have been variously, to use the modern argot, re-purposed: for navigation, irrigation, drinking water, numerous industrial and agricultural needs and more latterly fishing.

Until the early part of the 20th century this was largely a process of evolution, river owners doing whatever suited their requirements until oversight appeared in the form of government bodies such as Drainage Boards and Water Authorities that eventually combined into the National Rivers Authority that in turn became what we have today in the form of the Environment Agency (EA). I would attempt to tell you in a brief sentence the duties of the EA but they straddle a list so diverse it almost blows my mind from licencing passenger carrying boats to radioactive substance regulation for nuclear sites. Rivers are just one tiny bit of this regulatory monolith. Take a look if you dare at the EA services information page on their web site.
How does this impact on the chalkstreams? Well, if I or anybody or any organisation wants to embark on a river conservation project they must seek EA consent in the form of a Flood Defence Application. I know that in itself might sound weird but the EA duty of care (sorry, more jargon) is to prevent flooding as opposed to improving habitat. That is the benchmark by which they will measure the application.
Fair enough you might say, why should you have the right to flood your neighbour? And I would agree though in reality few projects would have the potential to have this effect however badly implemented. So, you dutifully fill in your SR2015 form. That in itself will not be easy; you will require the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and many hours. I am paid to complete them and I find them confusing, designed as they are to cover every eventuality, for every type of river across England and Wales.
But you do it because in the case of most clubs, societies, river trusts, owners, tenants and passionate anglers you love your river. You want to make it better. Better for fishing. Better for trout. Better for all the bugs and creatures. And preserve it for the next generation. And then the EA stick you with a bill and here is the rub. Two years ago it was a nominal £50. No problem. Then in 2016 the charge rose to £240. Ouch we all said, but austere times and all that. Now the EA are proposing to raise the charge to £764, a bill the experts tell me will likely rise to double that for anything other than the simplest of schemes.
If you are wondering what I mean by a ‘scheme’ here are a few helpful examples put together by Jeremy Legge, the incisive Executive Director of the Test & Itchen Association:
  • £446. The proposed cost of an application to carry out activities such as putting up a notice-board, erecting a fishing shelter/hut or creating or improving a riverside track or path.
  • £764. The proposed cost of an application to carry out bank protection work over a distance of less than 100m, construct a footbridge or install a flow defector affecting a distance of less than 200m.
  • £968. The proposed cost of an application to remove silt, sand or other material, to install gravel, or to manage woody debris over a distance of more than 200m.
I suppose in some respects these sums do not sound a great deal but actually in most cases the cost of the application will greatly exceed the cost of the project itself. For the vast majority the cost is just few hundred pounds on materials but hundreds of hours of freely given labour.
For that is the truth about river conservation. Nobody is making fortunes from our rivers so all improvements rely on goodwill and enthusiasm; volunteer effort if you like. And it really is happening out. I have a Google news alert that flags up anything chalkstream and every week new projects pop up that are simply the product of enthusiasts – schools, clubs, associations, wildlife groups – the list goes on and on, who want to preserve our rivers. But put this EA administrative and financial burden in the way and they simply will not happen. Given the choice between spending your hard won money on gravel and chainsaws or lining the pockets of government what would you do?
The simple fact is that the EA is being both greedy and short-sighted. The net result of these proposals will be to discourage conservation work, send other projects underground and in the end the EA will be a financial loser as the applications dry up. Except of course, ironically, for all those grant aided projects which are for the most part funded by government, which makes for nothing more than robbing Peter to pay Paul.
EDITORS NOTE: The deadline to respond to the EA consultation document that contain these proposals is today (26 January). The new charges are due to take effect 1 April. If you would you like to write to or email the Environment Agency with your views I can supply a draft response template which provides the postal and email addresses for your submissions. Or visit the EA web site here
THINGS YOU MAY NOT WANT TO BUY


I confess I am a sucker for any headline that screams The 10 Best new Bits of Gear or some such.  

Field & Stream the US magazine are masters at this. I am the very personification of the click bait they seek and today, once again they got me: New Gear For The Warm-Water Fly Addict.
Well, I’m not really into large-mouthed bass, but hey it’s all fly fishing so I had to look. Oh dear. I do wonder who a) invents these things b) puts them into production c) markets them in an absolute belief of success.
O’Pros Clip Rod Holder

O’Pros Dragon Fly Belt Clip Rod Holder

I am still at a loss to understand why I (or anyone) might want this. But on the plus side it is available in three colours. $25.
Loon Rouge Quick Draw Forceps
Now, I like the look of these. A much better use for $25.
Vedavoo Sling Pack

Vedavoo Tightlines Sling Fishing Pack

Anglers are rarely the last word in sartorial elegance, but have some pride. $150.
Smith Creek Rod Rack
Only an amateur would buy this. Pro guides rely on bits of old fly line strung washing-line style. $130.
Smith Creek Rod Rack
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SIMMS Shirt

SIMMS SolarFlex Armor Shirt

The marketing guff promises ‘a built-in hood …. giving you the option to look like a ninja and cover your entire face and head from the sun’s harmful rays.’
A bit optimistic for the British summer but I like it nonetheless even at $130.
Total Redneck Manual
I told you I was click bait. I saw this as a pop-up as I read the Field & Stream piece and went to Amazon. At £22.50 it is now on its way. I did try to precis the book blurb but really you need to read the entirety:
“Do you keep a few favourite squirrel recipes committed to memory? Know by heart the way to the best deer stand on Grandpa’s 20-acre farm? Have an old tractor rusting in the back field, because you just might need the parts one day?You’re not alone. So do the authors of The Total Redneck Manual.
Whether you’re winching your truck out of a mud hole, packing in a good dip, or teaching your bird dog to fetch a beer from the mini-fridge, there’s something in this country-fried cultural document for you.
This is a loving celebration of an all-American cultural icon, but it’s also a hands-on working book that can help anyone better enjoy the great outdoors. In true Field & Stream fashion, it’s packed with 200+ tips on essential outdoor

skills, from picking the right hunting dog and sighting in a rifle, to fixing just about anything with duct tape and paracord (thin nylon rope), to frying up catfish just like grandma used to make. You’ll also learn to open a beer bottle with just about anything, spit on a campfire with deadly accuracy, and kit out the truck of your dreams … with spray paint.
So, kick off your boots, crack open a cold one, take a seat on the porch, and learn from the best.”
NEWSLETTER GOES AUDIO
 
My publisher tells me talking books are now the thing. Goodbye Kindle hello Audible.
I have to tell you creating a podcast is no easy task. You have to buy a strange looking microphone, download some audio software, record the thing, then upload it to the internet via some other software, this time for a podcast. The one I use goes by the marvellous name of Buzzsprout.
Well, it is done. If you’d like to listen rather then read here is the link.
 
QUIZ

 
Three questions which are as ever just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.
 
1)    What is the origin of the word ‘podcast’?
2)    When does the salmon fishing season on the River Test open?
3)   Who recently advertised for an ‘access officer’?
Have a good weekend.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers:
1)    A portmanteau of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’.
2)    January 17th.
 
3)   British Canoeing for a role that will include expanding the network of rivers and waterways accessible to paddlers.
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My World Cup bet on England

Every four years an unstoppable juggernaut comes down the road that cuts a swathe through the hospitality industry. For some it is a boon but for most it is a ‘what can you do?’ moment as wedding receptions empty, horse races go unwatched and restaurant waiters stare across seas of empty tables.
My preferred World cup venue

If you are thinking this might be the Olympics you’d be mistaken; strangely August 2012 over the London Games was one of our busiest summer months ever.

No, it is the World Cup that arrives this year in June, keeping us busy until July. As you will know it is not actually arriving on our shores, Russia has that particular honour, but frankly if we assume the usual avalanche of media coverage, it might just as well do.
So, if you need some preparation time to get in the beers. Or equally raid the attic to find your tin hat to don to avoid the whole damn thing here are the critical dates for the diary: Monday June 18, Sunday June 24 and Thursday June 28 when England play their first round matches. As for the final, well I guess, as optimists all we better put it in the diary just in case. It is Sunday July 15.
And I give you this promise in case you are conflicted between fishing and football. If you book for World Cup Final day before the competition starts and England subsequently reaches the final I will either give you your money back or a free day to take before the season ends. As they say in the Paddy Power adverts – get on!
ROYAL WEDDING DÉJÀ  

VU


It is good to be back this year with the One Fly Festival after the break we took in 2017 with the Iron Man Challenge, a special screening on CHALK and of course, the One Fly itself all lined up for 2018.
Better things to do than fish?

This year marks the tenth year since the inception of the One Fly but actually only the eighth year of competition as we bowed to the inevitable when the Royal Wedding of William and Kate was announced for the same day as the One Fly in 2012.

I must admit I rather had my heart in my mouth when the Megan/Harry news broke. Surely they were not going to do it to us again? But fortunately for us they simply chose a Saturday in the midst of the Mayfly. Watch the wedding on TV or go fishing? I think that is what iPlayer was invented for.
So, safe in the knowledge that April 26th/27th is free from Windsor goings on, fly tyers get ready. The Iron Man Challenge is back supported by Orvis. The chance to show your skills to win a great prize – last time it was a Helios rod. There is, of course, a catch. Not only are you given just 15 minutes, but the materials are chosen for you. After that it is up to you. Well, that is not entirely true. As the clock reaches midpoint we pause for the mystery material which has to be included in your final tying. At the World Fly Fishing Fair version of this event a couple of years ago they gave out flip flops. Surely we would not be that cruel?
Knowing all that I hope you are still up for the challenge. We have a few places left (15 people compete) so to register email me. The event takes place at 6pm on Thursday April 26th at the Orvis store in Stockbridge. More details here. Everyone welcome. Entry is free. Beers are on tap plus some special in-store deals. The One Fly competition is full but we do have tickets left for the CHALK screening on Friday evening. Book here.
ENOUGH RAIN FOR YOU?
 
Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for rain. From November to March I positively beam on those days when the rain lashes the windows. Met Office yellow weather warnings warm my heart. I am almost tempted to make any five day forecast that shows continuous black clouds spouting heavy rain drops a screen saver. Friends who curse the weather I delight in, invariably say something loaded with sarcasm along the lines of ‘enough rain for you?’ I rarely answer no.
I refuse to feel guilty. You can have your three seasons, spring, summer and autumn whichever way you want them. I will roll with the punches. But winter is for rain and snow. The chalkstreams demand it. The price you pay for the most perfect rivers on the planet is precipitation. The drops that fall today into the turf high on the chalk downs will be the water that flows before you in six months time. You cannot have one without the other.
So, as you might have gathered I have rather enjoyed the past few weeks which wrapped up a see saw rain year, for this time last year the chalkstreams were looking down a gun barrel. July-December 2016 had been exceptionally dry. That is fine we thought, the New Year would bring wet relief. But it didn’t. By the time we reached June 2017 southern England as a whole had experienced the driest 12 months since the early 1990’s, with some areas as bad as 1976. Fortunately the rivers held up. We had a good store of water in the aquifers after a succession of wet years, but it was worrying nonetheless. A dry summer would bring all sorts of problems. And then just as we were despairing the wet summer came returning the river flows to normal with 2017 as a whole almost statistically perfect at 99% of Long Term Average (LTA) rainfall.
To put that figure in some sort of perspective the LTA for southern England in December was 132% and in East Anglia an eye-watering (and watering everything else for that matter) 165%. If you’d like to see all the Met Office 2017 weather summaries for UK and all the regions click here.
LIFE OF A CHALKSTREAM RETURNS TO A SOURCE
I am going to be making a visit to next month to Cheriton, which is the Hampshire village that is the source of the River Itchen to give a Life of a Chalkstream talk in aid of the rather splendid St Michael’s village church.
Not your usual sermon
.

Being the adjacent village to where I spent my teenage years it will be something of a shock to be in the pulpit having spent more than my fair share of time in the pews for services, marriages and more recently funerals. I can’t pretend the River Evitt in the book was modelled on the Itchen but I guess subliminally bits of it must have crept it.

The price will be £12 for the talk that takes place on Saturday February 10th. Canapés and a complimentary glass of wine are included with the talk commencing at 7.00pm.
Tickets on sale by sending a stamped self-addressed envelope with your cheque (payable to Cheriton PCC) to: Penny Scott, Burnt Platt, Cheriton, Hampshire SO24 0PY. Enquiries to Penny Scott on 01962 771 263, and see www.cheritontalks.com All proceeds to St Michael’s Church Cheriton.
 
QUIZ

 
Three questions broadly based on the topics this week. As ever it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.
 
1)    Who was the Greek god of storm?
2)    Who has won the football World Cup most times?
3)    What odds are England currently to win the World Cup?
Have a good weekend.
Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers:
1)    Zeus
2)    Brazil. Five times.
3)    16/1. PS. I have hedged out some of the risk! Well, at that price it seemed to good to miss.
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New arrivals for 2018

New arrivals for 2018
It is always exciting to have new beats as you never quite know how they will turn out; over the years I have had unexpected hits and head scratching duds. Rivers can sometimes be as confounding as the fish that swim in them.
At the Craven Fishery on the River Kennet it is good to be working with Josh Purton who spent many summers weed cutting with us and is now installed as the river keeper. Josh is one of a new breed of keepers coming through who are in their 20’s, with fishery management degrees from Sparsholt College. Along with our own Simon Fields this cohort, including Michael Taplin at Wherwell Priory and Rob Rees at East Lodge, seem to have a good way of blending progressive thinking with traditional practices. You will see plenty of this at Craven.
Craven Fishery
Many of you will be familiar with Kanara on the River Itchen, which is probably one of the longest established day ticket chalkstream fisheries, dating way back to the 1960’s when it was under the care of ‘Scrappy’ Hay of the Rod Box in Winchester.
If you like wading this is definitely one to consider. There are one or two sections that are fishable from the bank – river keeper Keith Purse, who also runs John O’Gaunt lakes, has done a great job clearing back the trees over the past two winters, but you really do need to get your feet wet.
The bottom half is deep; think in terms of up to your waist with a couple of pools you will have to crab around. At the mid-point there is a huge hatch pool where you can really let rip and then upper half is shallower, more knee depth. In terms of fish this is both stocked and wild, plus you will regularly see salmon and sea trout.
With the addition of these two this brings our roster for this season to 35 fisheries on sixteen rivers across seven counties. I think I am going to have a fair bit of walking to do in preparation to the start of the new season!
DIARIES NOW OPEN
On Christmas Eve we logged our 10,000th on-line booking. I must admit this landmark rather crept up on me over the busy run up to the holidays as I had meant to offer some reward to whoever made the click. However, all I can now say is thank you to Julian Woolgar for notching up this small landmark in Fishing Breaks history.
The diaries are now live for the 2018 season, so to search for dates and book on-line just click away. That said I know that plenty of you, for a whole multiplicity of good reasons, prefer email or phone and that is just fine with us.
We will be back in the office as of Tuesday (2/January) and I will reply to any emails prior to that.
All the diaries, bar one or two, are live including much sought after Mayfly dates.
We open April 1st for private tuition, Foundation Courses and the Half Day Tasters
I have set aside dates for both Father & Son and Family Days over the Easter holidays and half terms.
Back for a third year over the summer holidays. Five days of fishing for 8-15 year olds. July 16-20.
This is now a highlight in the calendar; two days on the river with a night under canvas. In broad terms June 11-25, July 16-26 and August 20-30 to march with the River Test weed cuts. July 1- August 31 on the Allen, Avon and Frome.
I have held back a couple of choice Mayfly dates and Nether Wallop Mill is an increasingly popular choice for a fish fest.
 
Captain Webb holds forth
Captain Quinn holds forth
BEST VIDEO OF 2017
 
I must admit this video from Captain Quinn (who I assume is Canadian) makes me blush because, as a fishing guide, I am guilty of uttering nearly all of these phrases, nearly all of the time.
Click here to watch 4 minutes of fun.
 
 
 

BEST JOKE OF 2017
 
An algorithm walks into a bar.
‘What are you having?’ asks the barman.
Surveying the other drinkers the algorithm answers,
‘What are they drinking?’


 
 
 
 
 
QUIZ
As the winter solstice is already a week past I think we can now consider the start of a new season a better prospect that memories of the old. So, three questions with thoughts of warmer times. As ever it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.

1) What time will sunset be exactly six months from today?
2)    What date was the hottest day of 2017?
3)    What is civil twilight?

All the best for 2018.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director
Quiz answers:
1)    9.25pm BST in Nether Wallop. It will be 4.06pm today.
2)    June 21st at 34.5C/94.1F. The hottest since June 1976 and marked five consecutive days over 90F.
3)    This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished.
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Women in waders

I am a huge enthusiast of women fly fishing. I met my wife fly fishing and some of the happiest days we spend each summer are when the three of us (my daughter has likewise been inculcated) head for the river.

 

It must be said, and I know they will admit to this, that there has to be some ‘bribe’. If I simply pose the question ‘Shall we go fishing’ the take up will be poor. So I have become a little cunning, dressing up the day with an incentive of a post-fishing lunch at a good pub.

 

For those of you who wish to adopt this strategy I’d advise lunch rather than supper; afternoon departures are inevitably kyboshed by events. In general don’t expect to get them back onto the river after lunch and don’t delay lunch. My wife once became so infuriated by a particular fish I refused to leave uncaught that she snuck up behind me to lob a rock in the river. I took the point.

 

All this came to mind when I read an article in the New York Times last week that said women are now the fastest (and only) growing demographic in fly-fishing. My business ears pricked up. I went on to read that in an extract from a recent study by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation it was that said women make up about 31 percent of the 6.5 million Americans who fly fish.  In 2016, more than two million women participated in the sport, an increase of about 142,000 from the previous year. The aim of the survey is to promote the fly fishing industry goal of gender balance by 2020 with an equal proportion of men and women participating.

 

At that point I scratched my head: 31% of fly fishers are women? I found it hard to believe. When we fish the One Fly in Jackson Hole no more than ten of the one hundred and sixty competitors are ever women and of the eighty guides maybe two are women. If I scoured the Fishing Breaks database I think I’d struggle to do any better than one in twenty. In the dim distant past I seemed to recall the UK mix said to be one to twelve. As this story took traction on social media the figure of 24% women for the UK became common currency, quoting an Environment Agency lifestyles survey from 2010. I still wasn’t convinced so I dug it out. This was a market research survey that polled 2800 people to discover how often people went fishing, what motivated them to go fishing and what might encourage them to go more often.

 

The first thing that struck me as odd about the poll was that the respondents were 51% women and 49% men. In a male dominated sport that would certainly skew the data but in itself it didn’t seem to explain the discrepancy so I turned to Dr. Bruno Broughton who is the expert in this field. It seems I wasn’t alone in spotting the oddity the problem lying not in the answer but the way in which the question was framed. Broughton explains:

 

“The 2010 survey repeated the phraseology used in previous surveys: “Have You Been Fishing…?” Females who accompanied males but didn’t actually use a rod-and-line referred to themselves as anglers because “we” went angling.  In other words, about one in four male anglers went fishing with a female at some stage in the period covered by the survey.”

 

So nearly all those 24% (there are of course some female anglers) considered that they had ‘gone fishing’ even though they never held the thick end of the rod. It seems that once this discrepancy is factored in the split reflects a 2006 survey that comes back to the rather depressing 5/95% figure.

 

I guess it is not all bad news. There has to be hope that if a quarter of partners are willing to come along it is surely a short step to actually have them fish themselves and likewise the children as well. Quite how you make that conversion I am not sure but I suspect the most effective strategies will lie at fishery level. Two for ones, family days and those sort of things. Abolishing the rod licence would help. The Environment Agency is already boasting that there has been an increase in participation by children after 12-16 year olds were exempted. It is short step of logic to say that this would apply to all society groups.

 

In the United States the focus, to quote the NY Times is on, “outreach events to educate women on gear choices, selection and function; plan classes to build skills and confidence on the water; and arrange mentoring opportunities for future female guides, shop employees and industry leaders.” All good stuff. Similar things have been happening here so I’m sure with the combined US/UK push we will see women with a higher profile in fly fishing and better served in stores.

 

But all that said I think that if we really want to move the needle it is probably incumbent on all of us who fly fish today to play our part. I am sure there are plenty of spouses out there who’d be willing to give fly fishing a try given encouragment, though I’ll give you a heads up: a fly rod to the uninitiated rarely makes for a romantic Christmas gift! On the other hand to a child or grandchild it is a whole different story – the promise of an adventure with those you love most.

 

 

 

CHALK APOLOGY

 

Sincere apologies for the hassles with trying to see CHALK in the first 48 hours of release. I didn’t help things by announcing four hours ahead of the official launch (sorry) and then we had techie problems.
I can’t pretend I understand how or what went wrong, but it did and your frustrations are understandable. However, all is resolved and thank you for all the glowing reviews that have since arrived at my Inbox.

 

So, if you’d like to watch CHALK click this link and follow the instructions to register with FishingTV. If you are still having difficulties do ping me an email. There isn’t a problem we haven’t been able to resolve yet!
If you’d like to see CHALK ‘live’ as it were, I am hosting a special screening as part of the One Fly Festival on April 26th & 27th. The Thursday showing is now sold out but tickets are available for the Friday. Book here ……

 

 

 

THE IMITATION GAME

 

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; at the weekend I felt the adage tested me.

 

I took a trip to Rosebourne, a new style of home store that specialises in local and fresh produce in which one of our neighbours in Nether Wallop has an interest. Maybe two Saturdays out from Christmas wasn’t the wisest day of the year for a first foray, but it was good to see the car park full and the store packed.

 

Wandering around I alighted on the drinks section which has all sorts of unusual brands and a local cider caught my eye. Well, it would. It was called Meon Valley Cider and comes in three varieties.

 

The dry has a damsel fly label. The medium dry called and with a brown trout label. And the medium, styled cool as a chalkstream, had an idyllic river scene on the label.

 

‘Gosh, how lovely.’ I thought. And then I did a double take. It was the cover from Life of a Chalkstream, with a few details altered.

 

I am not sure whether to be enraged or flattered. Watch this space.

 

PS You will not find the Life of a Chalkstream in hardback in the shops any longer. It sold out the print run. However I do have a stash if you’d like a copy. Buy here ….

 

 

QUIZ

 

Congratulations to Sgt Kev Kelly who was named Wildlife Law Enforcer of the Year at the Wildlife Crime Conference last month. His ‘beat’ is North Yorkshire with 21 wildlife crime officers under his control.  So in that vein, three questions. As ever it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom on the Newsletter.

 

1)    When was hunting with hounds banned in England and Wales? A) 1994  B) 1998  C)2004

 

2)    What is the punishment provided under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 for shooting a hawk in England or Wales?

 

3)    When was bear baiting banned in England? A) 1735  B) 1835  C) 1935

 

 

Happy Christmas shopping!

 

 

Best wishes,

 

Simon Cooper simon@fishingbreaks.co.uk

Founder & Managing Director

www.fishingbreaks.co.uk

 

 

Quiz answers:

 

1)    2004

2)    An unlimited fine, up to six months imprisonment or both

3)    1835 and then soon after across the Empire.

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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.
 
Caithness
FISHING FOR NATIONAL HONOUR IN 2016
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.
QUIZ
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.
NEW FOR 2016 – AN ITCHEN BRACE
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.
QUIZ
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?
 
MAYFLY BEAUTY
 
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.
WATER NEWS
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 ….

.

 
 
QUIZ
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?
 
WEED CUTTING BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT
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.

Greetings!

 

 

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