Friday, 15 May 2015

A good gathering

A good gathering

As you might imagine I am not a great one for meetings and especially not ones that bear any close resemblance to a committee. So it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I took myself off on Monday to the AGM of the River Allen Association for the first time ever.

I guess I should have guessed the venue was to make this something out of the ordinary.  Crichel House in Dorset must rate as one of England's most beautiful county homes, the cream sandstone Classical Revival mansion overlooking a lake fed by the Allen. The shoot room had been laid out for our meeting around a long table draped with crisp, starched linen. As I settled into one of the matching twenty four antique dining chairs I prepared for the usual litany of administration, accounts and points of order. But remarkably under the deft chairmanship of William Hanham this was all dispatched within ten minutes at which point everyone around the table was invited to say a few words reporting from their particular beat on the Allen or the organisation they were representing.

And there were all sorts. The one that immediately caught my eye was a gentleman whose nameplate announced him as from Sembcorp which sounded rather sinister. As it turned out the name was about to be consigned to the Room 101 for daft business names with the firm was returning to its old title as the Bournemouth Water Company. This is one of the smallest water companies in Britain with a  catchment that takes in most of the Dorset chalkstreams. Interestingly he had news that since the roll-out of metering household water usage was steadily declining, a trend they expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

The hydrologist had less good news; every month since December has seen average rainfall at less than 50% of what is normally expected.  Groundwater levels are a tad below usual, but not enough to make anyone panic. The ground moisture is -1.5%, which he helpfully explains means that any rain that falls from now on will mostly be  sucked up by the land before it has a chance to recharge the rivers. How different to this time last year. Mother Nature has a habit of equalling things out.

Tom Troubridge, the retiring cormorant licensee ( I bet you never knew there was such a thing) delivered the best speech of the day charting his 15 years spent battling the Bristol authorities to obtain a licence on behalf of the Association to cull cormorants in the Allen valley. In many respects there is something utterly Pythonesque about the whole process. The bureaucracy that granted the original licence to cull a single cormorant in the first year. The changes of policy that happen at a whim. The presumption that these birds are a good thing until proved otherwise.  But all credit to Tom, he took on Defra and won.

And so around the table we went; Dorset Wildlife Trust, Environment Agency, Waitrose, East Dorset Council and the River Trusts to name a just a few. It was a remarkable gathering of people whose lives are touched daily by the chalkstreams and understood they could contribute, directly or indirectly, the conservation of something as special as the River Allen. When it came to me I couldn't compete with any of them on their level of expertise, but it did lead me to reflect on how the swingometer of public opinion has changed. 25 years ago it would have been inconceivable that a supermarket chain, water company, and river owners would have sat around a table for a morning to simply share news, views and information. Back then a river association meeting would involve a damn good argument about weed cutting dates, complaints about the lack of fly life accompanied by everyone's pet theory before we all went away not really much the wiser.

Now I'm not saying the chalkstreams are in prime condition; you will have read enough recently to know that pollution, urbanisation and competition for a scarce resource is not without its problems. But sitting around that table I have a sense that we have gone beyond passively managing decline. In the past the temptation was to say the problems are bigger than us, so what can we do? But clearly we can do a lot and it is a huge credit to everyone who sat around that table on Monday who are working to protect, improve and conserve our uniquely English chalkstreams.

April feedback draw winner

The feedback draw is back for a new season. It really is hard to overstate how valuable your contributions are to me. I can't spend as much time on the rivers as I would like (!) so hearing what you see and report makes the world of difference.

I really do read and reply to every single one; I sometimes can't keep up when they come in thick and fast during the peaks months, so please bear with me if you don't hear back immediately. I do also share your reports (anonymously if I think that is best) with the owners and river keepers; I can promise you that sometimes you cause a flurry of phone calls and as a result things do happen.

This year the monthly winner has a choice: a signed copy of Life of a Chalkstream in paperback or a Union fly box. I will not be offended if you choose the latter! The end of season draw is for a wonderful Hardy Cascapedia reel.
Well done to James Rawlins who wins in April having fished Avon Springs on the River Avon. James let me know whether you would like the book or box.


A trio  of questions to either confound you or confirm your brilliance. Answers as the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!

1) What bird is Cuculus canorus?      

2) What time is sunset today on the River Test?           

3) Who is the Minister for Environment? 

Hatch no. 2 for May

There is not much doubt that it has to be Ephemera danica that has just started to show in good numbers during this week, but maybe a few days later than usual this year. It is the way of the world that us fishermen get far more excited than the fish when the first hatch appears; the old fish take a while to remember what it is all about and the young fish a while to understand. 

Mayfly fishing is a waiting game most days; you will need to give it a few hours until they start to appear (often 3pm is the witching hour) so up to that point small amuse bouché such as Black Gnats or Olives will sometimes stir fish that are otherwise patiently waiting the arrival of the main course. 

Some days fish can switch rapidly between the emerging, hatched and dying mayfly, so have a variety of patterns to hand. Don't forget a 5lb tippet to make these wind-resistant flies turn over with ease. Finally if you do see early morning activity, and this will happen mostly in weeks three and four of the hatch, it is a good bet that the trout are taking spent mayfly from the day before.
 Mayfly on a reed

River Test One Fly video

The One Fly seems like a distant memory now but if you'd like to see a wonderful cri de coeur by two time winner Chris Sandford, who didn't do quite so well this year (!), Matt Dunkinson's three minute video of the day is worth a viewing. Click here to watch .....

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Cuckoo 2) 8.48pm 3) Liz Truss with responsibility for our rivers.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Does litter bug you?

IN THIS EDITION:  Does litter bug you? ...... One Fly Festival winners ...... Meadow flower of the month ........ Hatch no. 1 for May ......Quiz

Fishing Breaks 25th logo banner

Friday May 1st 2015

Does litter bug you?

Dear Simon,
I am often asked whether poaching is a big problem for us and the truth is no. Occasionally we will get a bunch of kids dangling over a bridge but trout are mostly a wary bunch who soon outwit them. So, on the rivers do we have any problems of the human kind? Well, of course. I must admit what used to enrage me most was wanton vandalism; breaking down fences, the smashing of cabin windows and low level stuff. But today it is litter that really is the bane of my life.

I exaggerate not when I tell you that each and every one of the river keepers I know will have spent some time in the past month on litter patrol in the run up to the opening day. However, for them it is not just a stick, bin bag and rummage along the verges but the donning of waders that has to do the job. It really never ceases to amaze me the amount of rubbish people discard into rivers. It is hard to conceive why anyone would lob a beer can into a pristine stream, but they do and in quantities you would find hard to believe. 

And there is a definite pecking order for the metal. Beer cans are in a clear majority, energy drinks second, closely followed by soft drinks. Sandwich packages, crisp bags and sweet wrappers are the litter stuff, plus loads of assorted items you really do not want me to list. Depressingly there is also a pattern to where we find most of this. Inevitably it will be downstream of urban conurbations; typically the hundred yards of a river below a road bridge or foot bridge on the edge of a town that will require a weekly clean up. The further you get away from people the less the problem .....

You may wonder what has prompted this rant. Well, three things really. Firstly, it has been much on my mind as we have dedicated so much time to the clearing up during April. Secondly, when we are trying so hard to improve the big stuff like water quality and habitat the litter thing really makes you despair as to why as a nation we can't be good about the small stuff. And finally the campaign launched by Country Life  at least told me I wasn't alone in being appalled at the quantity of littler desecrating our beautiful countryside. It doesn't make for uplifting reading (e.g. 2.25m items of litter discarded every day) but the article and subsequent support it has garnered is worth reading. Here is the link .....


One Fly Festival winners

A new venue, new beats and more teams that ever before gave the 2015 competition that little bit of edge as the anglers and guides, new and old gathered at The Greyhound in Stockbridge. There were a few glances to the heavens, recalling last year when it rained relentlessly from dawn to dusk. But with good cloud cover, a light breeze and just a very slight chill to the air after an over warm week this looked a perfect fishing day. So it proved.

By lunchtime the scores were stacking up; the fish total had already surpassed the 2014 full day tally. Six teams were vying for first place, with scores of a thousand points plus, a total usually considered good for a whole day. As the teams returned at the end of the day there was no real inkling as to who had won as so many different beats had produced so many good scores. In the final analysis the top five places were taken by five different beats covering four different rivers with 184 fish between them. That compares with 154 fish for the entire competition last year, which gives you some indication of just how good the fishing and fishers were this year. The total on the day was 409 fish, not including a chub to a dry fly at Broadlands!


Winning team: Stream Dreamers (top left). Duffers Delight: The Dream Team (top middle). Alex Lewis & Big Fish winners (top right)

 When the results were in the winner was Stream Dreamers led by John Graham a richly deserved reward as they have taken part in every One Fly since its inception. The winning angler was Marcus Janssen competing for the first time with a long time One Fly guide Brian Raw, who caught 48 fish on a Pheasant Tail/Hares Ear combo nymph, similar to the fly that won in 2010. The Estate prize went to Compton Chamberlayne who had been knocking on the door for the past two years with Benham Estate and Avon Springs picking up the section awards. The Big Fish prize with a 24" fish apiece was shared by Jan Grimstone and Alistair Robjent.

 If anyone felt a little bit nervous going into the One Fly that was as nothing compared to the 14  who put their vices on the line for the first ever UK Iron Man Fly Tying Challenge. This has its origins in Fly Tackle Dealer Show in the USA and takes a little bit of drama from the American version of Masterchef. This is how it works: the competition challenges all-comers to create the perfect fly within 15 minutes, but with a twist. The contestants are given no prior knowledge of the fly-tying materials. At the sound of the bell each is given an identical bag of fur, feathers, dubbing, flashy materials and hooks. What and how they tie is up to them, the outcome only limited by their skill, imagination and the ticking down of the clock. Just to spice up the challenge even more, a mystery material is given to each contestant half way through the first round. This must be included somewhere in the finished fly! When time is up luminaries from the fly tying industry judge the flies, eliminating all but three of the contestants who go forward to compete in a winner-takes-all tie-off the same evening.

Fly tying is a skilled art that requires a steady hand; all credit to the competitors who, despite some shaking hands, all managed to complete a fly in the allotted time. Two One Fly guides. Rob Doyle and Stuart Tanner made it through to the final round along with keen local tyer Simon Ware with Stuart (pictured) winning out in the end. 

A huge thank to Orvis for conceiving this event and also to The Greyhound on the Test for hosting the One Fly, all the rivers owners for providing the fishing and I am pleased to say the events raised £750 for our chosen charity the Alex Lewis Trust. If you would like to see more photos here is our link to Flickr.

Hatch no. 1 for May

On Tuesday I took a walk along the River Test at Middleton and bumped into Jeff Smith. For those of you who might have fished there any time in the past 40 or so years, Jeff will be familiar. A coal miner who came south, he learnt his trade under the fearsome Countess of Brecknock at Wherwell before moving 4 miles upstream to Longparish.

Jeff, at least to my southern ear, sounds as Yorkshire as the day he arrived and he likes to play up the gruff northerner gig, but really he is nothing of the sort. Since he retired five years ago he still takes an active interest in the river, helping out Andy Clay the current keeper during the weed cut and generally lending a hand. Walking along the river we were both bewailing the lack of Hawthorn fly in the past few seasons. It is not really a river fly at all, the eggs laid in the damp earth beneath hedges. It looks like a house fly with an undercarriage, the long droopy legs hanging beneath as it flies. But it is not a strong flyer and once grabbed by a gust of wind it succumbs to its fate, which often ends it up dumped on the river where the trout go mad for this occasional feast.

As Jeff and I chewed the cud we turned the corner along into the meadows to be greeted by a huge cluster of hawthorn flies, dancing as they do around the hawthorn bushes that make up a majority of the hedges around these parts. It is good to be wrong sometimes.


Meadow flower of the month

The cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis is the first and most visible of all the flowers in the water meadows (pratensis is Latin for meadow) in late April, poking its head well above the grass.  

It is often called lady's smock but I guess it gets its bird name as it appears around the same time of the first cuckoo call. The delicate pastel mauve-to-white petals always sparkle on damp mornings, little shining beacons dotted across the grassland. If you pick a few be careful; in folklore it is said to be sacred to the fairies, and so was unlucky if brought indoors. It was not included in May Day garlands for the same reason.


Back by popular demand is the quiz. Remember it is just for fun and the answers are at the bottom of the page.

1) How many fins does a trout have, including the tail?
2) Which fish is generally regarded as the biggest salmonid?
3) Which country is hosting the 35th World Fly Fishing Championships this year?

Have a good holiday weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) 8. Pectoral x2, pelvic x2, anal, adipose, dorsal and caudal (tail) x1. 2) The taimen. 3) Bosnia and Herzegovina June 18th-21st.