Friday, 22 September 2017

It is all about the fish

It is all about the fish

Every time I clear Customs at Gatwick or Heathrow and scurry at speed for the Arrivals Hall I often wonder who is the target market for that last Duty Free concession. Generally they seem to be deserted excepting the bored looking staff whose sole task is to ensure the bottles are correctly aligned, labels to the front. Sometime you'll see some desperate-faced traveller scanning the shelves for that I-really-should-have -thought-of-this-in-a previous- country gift. Good luck with that. But on arriving at Vágar it seems they do sometimes have a purpose.

Now you might expect the airport of the Faroes Islands to be the last redoubt of 1970's concrete utility architecture. Huh, no chance. Even close to midnight the jaded traveller has to be blown away by this tribute to Scandi-chic. Think of a concept Ikea store where only the hippest designers may apply. Even the staff are cheerful. Maybe the building does that to them. The guy at passport control positively beamed as us, though having examined my passport went more delighted still by simply uttering the acronym EU accompanied by a wry smile.  You see the Faroes, though 'a nation within the realm of Denmark', is not part of the European Union.  These are friends we might soon need. After all they have an awful lot of fish, but more on that later.

Heading for the exit, amongst the gleaming aluminium and primary colour furniture, was a Duty Free shop that dwarfed anything London airports have to offer.  The four tills were manned by yet more cheerful people, who smiled and waved, then looked genuinely baffled as we walked on by. But we were the only people to do that. Every single passenger piled into the shop for a frenzy of alcohol and chocolate buying.  Not a single person emerged into the baggage hall without at least two bulging carrier bags. Half cases of wine, monster tubes of Smarties, cases of beer, giant Quality Street tins. You are limited to 3kg of chocolate according to the notices, though I suspect that maybe rather for your own well-being that any economic rationale. But enough of the shopping habits of the  Faroese.

I think my biggest misconception of the Faroes was that it was small; it may only have a population of 48,000, plus 70,000 sheep but you cover a lot of ground across the 18 islands that are either connected by bridges, sea tunnels or ferries, the latter which the people treat as lightly as hop-on/hop-off buses. My hire car, hardly an ancient wreck, had done 288,000 kilometres.  So, be prepared - you will do a lot of driving. Not that it is a hardship. The scenery is stunning and the biggest traffic jam I encountered was a car in front of me at a roundabout. However, they do drive fast. Really fast and that includes the enormous refrigerated container freight lorries, the arteries of the economy.
I was here for the fish, but the real fish that dominate these islands are of the deep sea or farmed variety. The industry accounts for 95% of the economy. Just about every fjord-like inlet has a fishing harbour, a cluster of houses overlooking a solid stone breakwater, the wharf dominated by an industrial-scale fish processing warehouse. Some harbours may be home to just a handful of small trawlers, but there is a graduation in scale working up to the largest which is home to the Russian fleet, each trawler the size of a continental car ferry. All these are linked by that interminable merry-go-round of juggernauts.

Fish, and that means all fish, is food or currency as far as the Faroese are concerned. Catch and release for anything of eatable size is not even a consideration. When I caught my first sea trout the guide commented that it was 'of good eating size'.  And that is the thing here. The population fish an awful lot. As you drive around just about every lake or estuary will have someone holding a rod whatever the time of day, or night in the summer. Salmon, sea trout and brown trout, essentially the only freshwater fish here, are hunted not just for the pleasure of angling but to eat. Nobody minds that as a visitor you let your catch go, but you are regarded as rather odd.

The fishing here is very uncomplicated; a box of familiar wet flies and rods in the 5-7 wt. range.  Tippets are 3lb but everyone insists that the overall length of your leader must be twice the length of your rod when fishing for brown trout in the lakes; you can come down to 15ft (and up to 5lb) for sea trout. And that is pretty well it. Cast as far as you can, stick to water with ripple and keep varying your retrieve. If you see a fish move, cast directly at it. If one misses your fly or you get a tug, got at it again like a demon. Don't dally in one spot to long if it doesn't deliver.  And always be ready for the induced take as you lift off to cast again.

The fact is that the lakes and estuaries are teeming with trout and sea trout. Of the latter on a clear, still day I watched shoal of a least a hundred circling in water no more than three feet deep for an hour, the size ranging from a pound to three pounds. They took no account of anything I cast at them which was a lesson well learnt. In the Faroes the worse the weather, the better the fishing.  If you want to splurge ahead of a trip to these rocky islands spend it all on good waders and a jacket.  It is not cold, but it is wet.

Other than that, I think you might just enjoy it here. 

How to get there:  Where to stay: Fishing guide: Car hire: 


You may recall that we took part in a water vole release programme last summer on the River Meon, which along with many other rivers, has seen a catastrophic decline in the population.  Well, I am happy to report, that after some additional releases, the Meon valley now has a population from source to sea.

Elaina Whittaker-Slark who has coordinated the project on behalf of the South Downs National Park Authority tells me that the releasees at Exton Manor Farm (all 110 of them) settled in, then dispersed as hoped. Better still they have begun breeding and integrating with what was left of the natives.

It will take a few years to know for sure whether the programme will have a lasting effect but voles are a fecund bunch - 4-5 litters will all have an impact. The main killer of voles, other than domestic cats, are mink but they are now absent from the Meon catchment.  Habitat is generally in fine shape; the Meon remains a largely untouched chalkstream. Disease is probably the imponderable due to the lack of research and definitive data.

Let's keep it crossed for our furry pals.

Thanks to everyone who sent in answers to the Double Delphi quiz. The Q&A was:

1)      In which country is the Oracle of Delphi (photo)? Greece
2)      What does the word delphic mean? Obscure, Enigmatic or Ambiguous
3)      On which Caribbean island is Delphi Lodge? Abaco Island

Well done to Sebastian Aymes who has a signed copy of Peter Mantle's book in the post to him today

No prizes this week just three questions loosely based on the Newsletter topics.

1)      How many miles is it from London Stansted to Vágar? 558, 758 or 958 miles.

2)      The origin of the word juggernaut is jagannath. From which country does the word originate?

3)      In a famous comic novel (and film) Urk, one of the central characters, spends a great deal of time talking to water voles on the farm. What was the novel by Stella Gibbons?

It is just for fun, with the answers at the bottom of the page.

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director

Quiz answers:
1)  758 miles  
2) India, after a God who allowed his worshippers to be crushed beneath his carriage by way of sacrifice.

3) Cold Comfort Farm.

Friday, 8 September 2017

A busman's holiday

By rights I should be writing this today from a log cabin in Idaho. The imminent dawn heralds the last day of practice before the One Fly contest starts. Jetlag has gone. The kinks in the body created by eighteen hours in three decreasingly smaller planes are straightened out. The mountain air smells chill fresh. The early autumn mists swirl close to the ground in the valley below. But I'm not there.

For a variety of family reasons I made the decision to forgo the 2017 Jackson Hole One Fly soon after the last cast of last year's competition. Reasons that seemed so pressing and important 12 months ago are either less so now or completely redundant, overtaken by events. Essentially I had a hole in my calendar, so what better way to fill it than with a fishing trip. But where?

North America was out; I simply could not go there having said that I would not. I only had a week so that cut out the far distant options. Argentina's Jurassic Lake will have to wait for another time. The warm, saltwater stuff is already in the diary for January and February. Russia is all but over and Europe didn't hold much appeal. I turned to the northern Atlantic.

Iceland I adore. But again? Probably not. Ah, Greenland that enormous blob on the map that is rarely mentioned excepting as the only country to have actually left the European Union. 1985 in case you ask. The Arctic char fishing looked amazing, as did the scenery. I started to research how to get there. You fly into the capital, Nuuk. Well, who could resist such name? Now information on the fishing, especially fly, is sparse so I turned to the only person who might have been there, ace all round angler and my grayling protagonist, John Bailey. As it turned out John had been many times. "My dear boy", he said (this phrase is a Bailey precursor to bad news), "you will absolutely hate it." Not Greenland then.

As my eye drifted over the atlas the Faroe Isles caught my eye. I had not a clue, though it sounded oddly familiar. I think it may be a regular on the shipping forecast. Google, the ever complicit partner for any fishing trip, offered one link It might not look much but believe you me I have rarely come across such a compelling web site. I was decided. The tickets are booked. The Fishing Guide is primed. I have three days to pursue salmon, sea trout and brown trout in estuary and lake. There aren't really any rivers; the islands are too small for them to be significant.

So, we will see. I have absolutely no idea what this will be like. The summer high is a chilly 11C. The guide book advises to bring a woolly hat 'even in summer'. But I'm excited and I didn't call John Bailey - I couldn't bear to have another bubble burst.

Watch this space.


If you took the staycation to heart you didn't much care for July with twice our normal rain. Had you expected respite in August you were out of luck at one and a half times the norm. But look on the bright side - the chalkstreams are in fine fettle for September. 

Well done to Andrew Cooper (no relation) who fished Qing Ya Xi in August which wins him the Fishing Breaks snood from the Feedback Draw. You are now all in the hat for the Abel reel at the end of October.


I spent most of my late teenage summers on the west coast of Ireland at about the time Peter Mantle had jacked in a perfectly good lawyering career to create his vision of the perfect fishing destination, the feted Delphi Lodge in Galway.

Now I was far too impoverished to stay at Peter's grand establishment, but I could afford the occasional day ticket. I do recall an impressive array of Mercedes cars in the drive and the continental types who seemed to be Peter's bread and butter. They favoured the full British tweed outfit; as the Queen would say, they look more English than us.  I never quite understood that look for holiday attire, though to be fair they equally failed to understand my penchant for scruffy Levis and collar-frayed shirts.

I am not sure Peter altogether approved of me either. I recall him shouting at me in the teeth of a howling gale as, with the river in flood and on the rise, I walked out into the middle on one of the stone jetties in my waders, even though it was a three feet under water. With hindsight I suspect he was just trying to save my life but at the time I thought him plain grumpy.

Four decades on it is no small irony that both Peter and I, who have ploughed our own professional fishing furrows, have ended up as neighbours in Nether Wallop.

On a personal level I am delighted to say that I have become a 'Double Delphi' having now stayed in both his Irish and Bahamanian lodges. Each is an amazing place, a tribute as much to Peter's determination as his vision. 

Because I can tell you for an absolute certainty that 'living the dream' is a hard trick to pull off.  Let his book show you how it is done.

Double Delphi is published by Wallop Books at £33 and available on-line


Peter Mantle has generously donated a signed copy of his book, so it is not just for fun this week. 

1)      In which country is the Oracle of Delphi (photo)?

2)      What does the word delphic mean?

3)      On which Caribbean island is Delphi Lodge?
Answer by replying to this email no later than a week today. First out the hat receives the book.


I am indebted to Justin Turner, the owner of Qing Ya Xi on the River Itchen, which has had a hugely successful first season, for sending me this photograph.

The man holding the fish is John Sturgis, one of the regular contingent from the Army & Navy Association who fish Mondays. That is no great news in itself but I do wonder if at 96 years of age John might just be our most elderly angler?

Certainly doesn't stop him catching fish!

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Friday, 18 August 2017

Writer's block

In music it is often said that the second album is the hardest; likewise the second book. I can't say I found this to be true. But my first film script? Well, that is a whole different story.

Now by my way of thinking a book is easy. You pitch the idea. A kind publisher shows some interest. You work it up into synopsis. In my case about two sides of A4 with thirty or forty words for each chapter heading.  The contract is signed. You are given a word count and deadline. And that is it. Over to you. For nine months nobody takes a blind bit of interest in your scribbling. The occasional email might appear checking you are still alive (the first clue is that you have cashed the advance cheque) but that is about it. The only boundaries are your imagination. The structure, the story, the beginning, middle and end are all of your choosing. Essentially you can do what you like. Of course the whole literary edifice may well coming crashing down upon your head when the manuscript is submitted for the red pen of the editor but you are a least given that freedom to roam. However a film script is a whole different beast.
 As you will have gathered I have never attempted a film script before. Like all good novices I turned to Google for help. Frankly don't bother. If anyone has written the definitive 'how to' guide it is defiantly refusing to give itself up to the algorithms refined by the finest programmers of Palo Alto.  I did glean that for most scripts one A4 page generally equals one minute of screen action. So, CHALK is eighty minutes long, my books are 80,000 words, so maybe I can make some equivalence of this? No. Film words have a whole different purpose to book words. I don't need to describe the scene. Word pictures are replaced by real pictures. As the song goes, a picture paints a thousand words.
You might think that the visions of the others involved in the project - filmmakers, editors, producers, directors and so on would make it hard but strangely, at least for me, that is not so. Of course people have conflicting views, but really that doesn't bother me. In fact compared to the solitude of book writing it is a blessing. Working with really creative people is a joy. Building something great from just the tools inside our collective brains is a buzz hard to beat.
So what is so difficult? Well, strangely when I set out to write this piece I didn't know but now I do. I have to give myself up to the amazing footage filmmakers Leo and Chris have shot. My job is to fill the gaps. Provide the links as we move from one scene to the next. You the filmgoer doesn't need great literature from me but rather the thread to the story of the movie. The narration should be subservient to everything you see before your eyes, the gentle guiding hand that outstretches whenever needed. You will hear the words but you will not have to listen for them.
There is no reason why you should be relieved - you probably never knew there was a problem but take some comfort that I am relieved. The writer's block, such as it was, has gone. The words written thus far will be left to slumber forever in some virtual cloud. All I need do now is to start again ......


The arrival of the Pacific Pink salmon to our shores hit the headlines last week. I must admit my first thought that is pretty amazing; after all the north-east coast of England and Scotland is one hell of a way from the northern Pacific.
Russian White Sea
As it turns out the truth is less spectacular and evidence, if any was needed, that fiddling with nature has consequences.
Apparently for half a century, starting from the 1950's, these salmon were introduced into the White Sea, north of Russia in an attempt to create a self-sustaining population. It seems they have succeeded with the fish now in Russian, Finnish and Norwegian rivers.
The Pink or Humpback salmon has a short life of just two years, dying after spawning like the other Pacific salmon species. We are seeing them at this time of year because they arrive in the lower reaches of rivers in July and August to spawn. The Environment Agency update suggests that there is no imminent danger to the Atlantic salmon or sea trout population. The Pacific salmon eggs hatch in late spring with the juveniles quickly smolting heading to sea without ever feeding in freshwater.
Are the Environment Agency right to be so relaxed? Other than the fact there is probably very little they can do even if the fish are a threat, I suspect we'll be fine. The British Isles has a long tradition of taking in new fish species without too many ill-effects - in fact the list is surprisingly long. I couldn't find a definitive tally but from my researches at least twenty-three species commonly found in lakes and rivers are not UK natives.
Now some have been here so long as to be regarded as now 'naturalised' - Common and Crucian carp, Goldfish and Rainbow trout all falling under that heading. Some of those have been here a mighty long time; Common carp were probably introduced by monks in the 16th century and Rainbow trout first arrived in the 19th century.
Of the others that are classified as non-natives I have to admit some I had always assumed were natives and others  I hadn't heard of, let alone caught. This is the list I compiled:  Bighead carp, Bitterling, Black bullhead, Bluegill, Brook trout, Channel catfish, Fathead minnow, Grass carp, Landlocked salmon, Orfe, Pacific Humpback salmon, Pumpkinseed, Silver carp, Sturgeon, Sterlet, Sunbleak, Topmouth gudgeon, Walleye, Wells catfish and Zander.
Updates of any omissions gratefully received.

Natives of the White Sea


Come the autumn I will be on the road with a book tour for The Otters' Tale which I am delighted to kick off in Nether Wallop for a whole variety of reasons.

Firstly, and most obviously, it is where the book is set - the talk takes place just a few yards from Kuschta's family home. Also it is a fund raising drive to save not only our village pub (we are trying to buy it) but also to conserve the wall paintings in our Norman church.  The paintings, that have survived a thousand years on the fragile chalk and limewashed walls, do not do well with modern heating. So, rather than turn it off and let the parishioners freeze to death a solution is at hand - all it takes is money!

Do join us if you can. I'll probably make a few sidetracks into chalkstream territory and you will be greeted with some good wine to mellow the mood.

Thursday September 28th at Nether Wallop Village Hall. 7.30pm. £10/ticket with all proceeds to St. Andrews Church and Save the Five Bells Fund. Includes a glass of wine. Buy on-line or call Diane 01264 781988.


You might have seen this coming. Identify four on the non-native species mentioned above; one is naturalised.  It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page.

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

Top to bottom: Bluegill, Pacific Humpback salmon, Crucian carp and Zander

Friday, 4 August 2017

Losing isn't so bad

Nether Wallop Mill, Stockbridge, Hampshire

Years ago I recall David Frost getting extremely annoyed at the loss of his Breakfast TV franchise. This was the moment that someone, usually so urbane and relaxed in front of the camera, showed his true feelings. Pushing through the media pack to reach his limousine, he briefly addressed the crowd: "At school they taught me it was not the winning but the taking part that was the important thing. I thought it was b****cks then.  I know it to be b****cks today." With a face like thunder he ducked into his car, speeding off down Camden High Street and that, with the honourable exception of TV gold Through the Keyhole, was pretty well about the last we saw of David Frost.

l-r Stephen Moss, Madeline Bunting, me, Christopher Somerville, Clover Stroud and John Lewis-Stempel
At the time I think I may well have cheered him on - it seemed a suitably anti-establishment sentiment but actually Frost was wrong. The taking part is important and I was reminded of this as the winner of the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize was announced yesterday at Blenheim Palace. 

As I hope you have read elsewhere it was not me for The Otters' Tale but rather John Lewis-Stempel for Where Poppies Blow, the unique story of the British soldiers of the Great War and their relationship with the animals and plants around them.

It must be said the Wainwright process has felt like a long one from when submissions closed on 31st March to yesterday, with the various longlists and shortlists along the way; any of you waiting for exam results have my sympathy. 

But it has been worth it. To start with I never really ever expected to write one book, let alone two and then to be nominated for a literary prize, well in the words of Ian Drury, knock me down with a feather, Trevor.

And the prize process, aside from the agony of awaiting the result, has been a revelation. There is a whole community out there who I never realised followed nature writing with such interest and enthusiasm. I have had tweets, posts and emails from all parts, each and every one kind, encouraging and thoughtful. Some people say social media is a hateful place to inhabit. It may be for some. 

But for those of us who love our natural world, be it as twitchers, walkers, fishers or whatever you choose, it is a place to share in the wonderousness of the creatures and countryside that inhabit this very special isle.


You can't help but love the British weather. One moment we have our heads in our hands with drought despair and the next looking to the skies as the summer hoses down volumes of rain that should have by rights fallen months ago.

The 'headline' if you like is that the past twelve months have been the driest since 1992 across the southern chalkstream region and in localised parts since 1976. By most metrics you'd think we should have all packed up and gone home, but the latest data from the Environment Agency shows nearly all the chalkstreams with Normal flow rates, a smattering (mostly in the north-east) Above Normal though both the Kennet in Berkshire and the Coln in Gloucestershire are classified as Below Normal and Exceptionally Low respectively.

This happy reversal of fortune (unless of course your summer event was washed out) is due to plenty of rain in both June and July with 35-50% more than the average. In theory it is not the sort of rain that will have an immediate impact on the aquifers but it does have an impact when sustained over a period of weeks. It counters evaporation (a surprisingly high amount disappears this way), agricultural abstraction falls off, as does domestic consumption. And, naturally enough a certain amount finds its way into the rivers. It is fair to say crisis averted and we can uncross fingers between now and the end of the season.

Plenty of you battled the rain in July, one of those being Geoff Cheeseman who fished Deans Court on the River Allen which wins him the Fishing Breaks snood from the Feedback Draw.

You are now all in the hat for the Abel reel at the end of October.


In which river would you find a dolphin, brown trout, flounder and seahorse? Well, it may not quite be the exotic location you'd expect as it is our own, sometimes murky and dirty, River Thames.

Regular surveys by the Zoological Society London (ZSL) show life is thriving beneath the surface with seven sightings of dolphins so far this year. And they are not just in the estuary, having been spotted near Battersea Bridge, Hammersmith, Chiswick, two near the rail bridge in Chiswick and in Brentford, a full 60 miles from the sea. That is in addition to 19 harbour porpoises, 61 harbour seals and 106 grey seals.

Here are some of the other species ZSL have highlighted as making a comeback:

Atlantic salmon - These used to migrate from northern waters to the Thames but went extinct in the river after heavy industrialisation in 1833. They're back now and research indicates that's thanks to improving water quality.

Bullhead - A small fish often found in freshwater streams and rivers.

Common smelt - Once one of the most common fish in the country and a popular food source. One of the few significant colonies lives in Greater London.

Depressed river mussel - This large mollusc species loves the north side of the Thames, between Richmond and Twickenham.

European eel - Once common in - you guessed it - Europe, this species is now critically endangered. Some small eels, known as elvers, still swim up the Thames each summer.

Flounder - Usually found near the estuary, the marine fish has been known to swim much further upstream.

River lamprey - These primitive fish have no jaws and need relatively clean waters to breed. That means they were all but extinct from the Thames but a resurgence may be under way.

Brown trout - 2011 saw a record number of these fish swimming up the Thames to spawn.

Short-snouted seahorse - Usually preferring warmer Mediterranean waters, there is believed to be a small colony in the Thames.

Twaite Shad - A narrow, streamlined fish which is struggling to recover from the pollution in the Thames.

I did read somewhere the other day that the River Avon or Hampshire Avon as sometimes called (the longest chalkstream) was home to more freshwater fish species than any other UK river. Subsequently I have found no way to prove this but it has a ring of truth as the Avon has such a variety of water along its 80 or so miles from the tiny streams that percolate out of Salisbury Plain to the swirling mysteries of the Royalty Pool.  

Does anyone have any ideas?

Twaite shad


In case you missed the Newsletter Special last week here is the link for the August special offers with a 2 for 1 at Bullington Manor (Upper Test), Fisherton-de-la Mere (Wylye) and Dunbridge (River Dun).

Bullington Manor - Four beats over 2.5 miles. Perfect for sight fishing. £100/Rod. Suitable for 2-6 Rods.

Dunbridge - Has a wonderful new cabin for 2017 and some deep pools with big fish. £97.50/Rod. 2 Rods.

Fisherton-de-la Mere - Sample Mrs. Thompson's famous afternoon tea on a pretty beat. £50/Rod. 2 Rods.

Bullington Manor John above Venice Bridge
Bullington Manor from Venice Bridge


As I touched on TV this week, a few questions about famous angling TV shows. It is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page.

Jack Hargreaves with Ollie Kite
1)      Who were the anglers in Passion for Angling first aired in 1993?

2)      Who was the star of Channel 4's Go Fishing (1986-2002)?

3)      Jack Hargreaves fronted which fishing and country TV show 1963-81?

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

1) Bob James and Chris Yates  2) John Wilson  3) Out of Town