Monday, 23 December 2013

Santa delivers the goods

I have to confess November had me worried. Day after day of beautiful weather. Blue skies. Warm days. Gorgeous autumnal foliage that just went on and on. But, and this was the worry, not a drop of rain. And as November stretched into December, little seemed to be changing. 
Rain is my obsession. From mid-October to mid-March I basically can't get enough of it. At Nether Wallop Mill the bedroom at the top of the mill building has a huge slate roof that resonates like a kettle drum when the downpours come. Some nights it so loud it wakes me up and when it does I smile and drift back to sleep safe in the knowledge that my chalkstreams are receiving their life enhancing moisture. 

For these are not normal rivers; the water that flows through them has, as they say on the X Factor, been on a journey. The rain that splashes from the heavens tonight will not appear in the river for six months, in between seeping thousands of feet into the chalk layers beneath southern England to reappear at the surface maybe a hundred miles from where it originally fell as the purest, most perfect water for trout and the ecosystem around which the chalkstream valleys revolve. So when I see a dry November I worry not for today but for the summer to come.

I am sure that over the Christmas holidays you will look out the window and curse the vile, wet weather. The dog won't get that walk and nor, more importantly will you but at least be happy for me and the chalkstreams. The past few weeks have wiped out the deficit and every little bit from now on is the icing on the cake. Maybe I should believe in Santa Claus after all?

If you have read this far today, and my other Blogs and Newsletters in the past year, please may I offer a sincere and heartfelt thank you. There will be more to come in 2014 but for now, from us all at Fishing Breaks, have a truly wonderful Christmas  

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Things of great beauty

It is one of those ironies that despite inventing modern day fly fishing many of the great innovations happening in our sport are now born outside the British Isles; even our brand names are acquiring foreign owners with 2013 at watershed year in that respect seeing House of Hardy bought by an American conglomerate and Farlow's a wealthy Russian.

Abel hemostat  
Is any of that bad? I am not sure, but when I see the beautiful, tactile hemostats recently launched by Abel reels of west coast USA I don't really care who made them, I just want one and actually I now do. I was lucky enough to see a prototype about a year ago, got my foot in the door and commissioned a small production run just for Fishing Breaks. As it turns out mine were the first ever out of the factory, which was a saga in itself - you have to admire the guys at Abel who close on Fridays during the summer as it is surfing season ... well I guess if your factory was on the Californian Big Sur, you might do the same as well ....

As I write my hemostats are currently in a warehouse at Heathrow awaiting customs release now I have paid a Chancellor's ransom in import duty but I am sure they will be here in plenty of time as our Feedback draw prizes for 2014. If you can't wait that long, or don't fancy your chances in the draw, here is the link to Abel. I don't think the hemostats will be in UK stores until spring of next year.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Life of a Chalkstream

Just a quick post to let you all know that the 2010 River Test Only Fly will be shown tomorrow (10.30pm) on Sky Discovery Shed channel. The 30 minute show presented by Game Fishers' Diary host Rae Borras follows the trials and tribulations of the teams. This show was previously only available to subscribers via OnLine TV. For more details of the 2014 One Fly visit the Fishing Breaks website

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Great Squid Hunt

In my years of Fishing Breaks I have done some odd things in the name of running a company, but whipped by sub zero winds a mile out to sea off the Dorset coast in the darkening gloom of late November trying to catch a squid was never in any business plan I recall writing. I can barely tell you how cold it was; every time I peeked out from under my sheepskin lined hat I expected to be pebble-dashed by driving snow and all those romantic notions of hitching a ride on A Deadliest Catch trawler (Discovery TV channel most nights) are now consigned to history.

Top Cat III 

Why? Well, this what passes for fun when the Fishing Breaks crew - office, Guides and river keepers - celebrate the end of a season.  Anything fly fishing would be too much of a busman's holiday; we have done the horse racing and other suchlike but a day on a charter boat out of Weymouth harbour gets the vote most years.  Actually it is a good choice. None of us (excepting Tony King) are really any good at sea fishing and it is fun, just for a change, to be told how, what and where to fish. Mind you that doesn't stop us voicing opinions, but our Captain this year on the Top Cat III was Ivan Wellington, who at six foot three and with a penchant for playing rock anthems from his wheelhouse generally ignored any advice we gave him.

So why squid? I don't really know. We set off at 7.30am expecting a few cod, mackerel and maybe a sea bass if we were lucky, planning to be back for an afternoon session in the one of the harbour pubs for beer, fish and chips. But Ivan, who just does it his way and all power to him for that, had a plan though somewhere along the line he forgot to tell us about it. So at 4.30pm instead of heading into port, Ivan hove to with only the twinkling lights of the distant coast providing us with company, every other boat having fled for home ahead of the darkness. Off went the hooks from our rods, on went the squid jigs. These lures look a little like lurid Devon minnows minus the fins but plus a frightening array of upward facing sharpened steel points, hung from the base like grappling irons. The fishing process is simple: release the line until it hits the bottom (maybe 30-50 feet), wind in a few turns and then Squid jigspersistently raise and lower your rod tip. This is barely what you would call exciting; after 10 minutes we were all glazed over, huddled into our clothing for warmth. We tried a Mexican wave with our rod tips for a distraction and then banged out to the beat of one of Ivan's rock tunes but nothing happened as it got darker, colder and to be frank depressing. At one point someone piped up, 'What happened to the pub' to which Ivan replied 'Reel in', fired up the powerful twin diesel engines and motored a quarter of a mile to where we started twenty minutes earlier so we could drift, yet again, with the tide, jigging our rods.

And then I noticed the oddest thing. No longer were we alone at sea; all manner of craft from another big charter boat like us, to a host small fishing skiffs carrying bright white lanterns hung on small masts, were drifting in unison with us in the pitch dark. This is the commercial squid fishing fleet of Weymouth, something I never even imagined existed. Suddenly I felt we must be in with a chance and sure enough my line went heavy. Squid don't fight as such, they just hang onto the jig but as there is no barb or hook you have to smoothly and continuously bring them in, flipping them onto the deck with a single movement. Let the line go slack for a moment and they just drop off. But if you are successful, watch out for their fury. Squid move by jet propulsion and when they leave the water you will be subjected to an arc of white, briny water that comes your way at speed.

Squid in tank
1-2kg Loligo forbesi squid each roughly 2-3ft long
Nobody knows the full story of the squid's life around the UK coastline but from September to December they come close to shore to feed on crustaceans, small fish and other squid. The life of the commercial fleet such as it is, maybe a dozen boats, is precarious, the success depending on the breeding cycle from year to year as the pros do it just like we did, the only difference being hand lines rather than rods. This lack of mechanisation might explain why the fishing fleets are so few and so small it being what they call in the jargon 'low-impact' fishing with no heavy nets dragged over the sea bed and a low bycatch of unwanted fish caught unintentionally.  It might also be because the window of opportunity around dusk is so brief; from the moment we jigged our first squid to the boats heading in was no more that 45 minutes, but it is fast and furious when it happens. The squid are clearly in a shoal that move with the tide. When you are over the shoal every line has a fish and every line sent back down is instantly grabbed. But you can't stay with the shoal for more than a few minutes at a time so each boat takes it in turn to drift the prime spots, sharing the bounty out amongst everyone.

There is still a certain amount of romance about making a living from harvesting the sea on this scale and Weymouth on Monday's crisp, chill night was the epitome of that as we chugged back in. Around us the boats were packing the squid on ice, stowing away the gear and hosing down the decks. Piled up on the quay were the lobster pots, sea bass nets and the oyster gathering scoops, all proof that you have to bend with the seasons and nature to be successful if this is the life you choose. For us the choice was the warmth of the pub and the much delayed fish and chips; I suspect we will be back next year.