Thursday, 25 February 2016

Licence to Fish

There has been much discussion around the National Fishing Licence now that the administration and enforcement has passed from the Environment Agency to the Angling Trust. It seemed the perfect opportunity for changes, so I for one am delighted that a press release last week heralded innovation for 2017.

Most logically your licence will now run for a year from the date of purchase; in the past all licences ran from 1/April regardless of when bought so it was a positive disincentive for anyone considering buying one later in the year.

The release continues saying that licences are to be 'free for junior anglers'. They don't state exactly the age for a junior but I'm assuming from the currently structure (free for under 12's, reduced rate for 12-16 years) this will mean all under 16's are free. 

If this is correct huge high fives and congratulations to whoever pushed this through. This is a massive shot in the arm for all those who are working hard to promote fishing in communities and schools by removing a licence that was both an administrative and financial barrier to participation.

There is a slight sting in the tail as the news release ends with the announcement that licence fees will be increased in 2017. All that said I don't think we can begrudge this as it will be the first rise in 7 years. Do take comfort that all the money does goes directly to fishery work, plus a whole lot more that comes our way via grant-in-aid from the government.  If you want to see where the money is spent in your area click on this link; you will see some interesting stuff going on.

My one disappointment is that not possessing a fishing licence will remain a criminal offence. It seems to me a Victorian solution to a problem that is better solved in other ways. Criminalising an innocent pastime is a crime in itself; far better to devise penalties and incentives in the same way that train or parking tickets are collected. I'm minded of something I heard from a local squash club where they had a problem with players wearing black soled shoes which marked the court  despite  numerous notices stating 'Do Not Wear Black Soled Shoes'. Then someone changed the wording to read 'Please Check Your Opponent is Not Wearing Black Soled Shoes'. Lo and behold with a combination of nudge and peer group pressure the problem went away.

Let us save the long arm of the law for truly heinous crimes against angling.

For reasons of accident rather than any particular plan I have always seemed to have had more fishing on the River Test than the River Itchen. Nothing wrong in that - they are both great rivers usually spoken of in the same sentence - but I've been conscious for a while that I needed some more beats on the river that flows through what was once the capital of England.

East Lodge

Actually the opportunities for finding fishing on the Itchen are less by the simple fact of geography; the Itchen is just twenty miles from source to sea whilst the Test is double that. Add in tributaries, carriers and so on the disparity is greater still. There is probably four times as much river bank in the Test catchment compared to the Itchen.

But such is the strange happenchance of life that for 2016 I am delighted to say that I have fishing on not one, but two more beats on the River Itchen at East Lodge and Shawford Park. The former I have heard a great deal about in recent years as the keen, young keeper there Rob Rees was a flat mate of our own river keeper Jonny Walker. If you are a dry fly aficionado this is the place to head for; there are no nymphs allowed here. How that doyen of the Itchen and inventor of the nymph GEM Skues would have coped, heaven knows.

At Shawford Park the two beats run through the beautiful parkland grounds of Shawford Park House. This is a hidden gem, hardly fished at all in recent years and I suspect the location alone will take your breath away. Here you have a mixture of the main river and a fast carrier, the latter great for wading if you fancy it. 
All in all if you fancy a trip to the Itchen you will not be disappointed whichever you choose. More details here.


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

1) When did George Skues publish Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream that launched the nymph revolution?

2) Which native tree used to be planted outside houses to ward off witches?

3) What is an osteologist?


One of my first ever guides and river keeper, Simon Ward has recently produced a great short film that captures the beauty and wonderment of the Mayfly. 
Mayfly insect

Set to an original soundtrack by Hamish Napier this will transport you to the river in an instant. Look out for the scene in which the adult emerges from the nymph - it shows the amazing effort this requires.

Watch it here.....

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) 1910 2) Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia 3) A collector and student of bones.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Which is your favourite fish?

Which is your favourite fish? 


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

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

The logistics of even picking the fish as eligible for the poll is not easy. How do you define native? Carp are included on the basis of a 600 year tenure but rainbow trout, a mere 150 year ago arrival are not. Should European eels go in the fresh or sea column?   

As Jack points out there are over 400 native species, freshwater and seawater, so he has helpfully narrowed the list down to 20 in both categories.  I confess there is a fish on the freshwater list I had never heard of - the Vendace. Wikipedia tells me it is 'an edible whitefish found in lakes in northern Europe. In Britain it is now confined to two lakes in the English Lake District.' My feeling is that Coregonus vandesius will struggle to garner many votes.

Looking around the world for clues for which to pick isn't helpful. Birds? Well, just about every country has a national bird. But fish? Well not so much - I could only find three nations with a national fish and that is a diverse bunch. Costa Rica has the Manatee, Japan unsurprisingly the Koi carp and South Africa the not-very-attractive Galijoen that looks a bit like sea bream. 

Who knows what we will choose and whether the British people will take a fish to their heart. My only hope is that the poll doesn't get hijacked by a 'species' group - I am sure plenty of you will recall a few years back when something similar happened tying the BBC in all sorts of knots when Bob Nudd topped the voting for Sports Personality of the Year.

If you'd like to vote you have until 26th March when a top ten will be announced with a further round of voting to establish the winner. Me? Well, in the sea category I am going to put my tick beside the mackerel on the basis that it must have been the first fish many of us caught and thus inspired a lifetime of angling. In the river my marketing head tells me Brown Trout, but in my heart the Three Spined Stickleback wins every time with a life story as interesting as any fish that ever lived.

Here is the link to vote.


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

It was looking grim at the end of November; we were showing few signs of making up for a very dry 2015 but the Gods have smiled. December was wet and January positively bucketed down giving us twice the average long term rainfall. As the monthly Environment  Agency report says, 'river flows and groundwater levels ranged from normal to exceptionally high status' in January.

It is good to have it validated but I really take my cue from the mill race that runs under the office here at Nether Wallop Mill. All through the summer and autumn the steel gate that controls the inflow is screwed down tight to preserve what water there is upstream.  As winter goes on I gradually open it up and when I can finally lift it all the way I know we have reached saturation point.  That day came about two weeks ago. The water pummels through without constraint; some weeks I even have to run the mill wheel to let even more past.

Nether Wallop mill wheel & race
Nether Wallop mill wheel & race

This is all good. The aquifer, that giant sponge deep beneath us that feeds the chalkstreams, is now full. We are set for the season ahead.

PS I have tried to capture the noise and power of the flow in this 35 second video. The mill wheel is cast iron, built c. 1865. As you will see it is in need of a repaint - for some reason at one time it was painted white. I suspect I will not be troubling the Oscar committee .....

NEW FOR 2016

You may well be reading this over half term juggling work emails, cursing the cost of Alpine lift passes and wondering who on earth invented the long half term. Surely it was just three days in our day?

I can't do much about the Pound/Euro exchange rate but if you are looking for a diversion for the summer holidays I'll point you in the direction of my week long Kids Fish Camp for July.

It has come out of the Saturday school fishing clubs - a chance to learn all about fly fishing here at Nether Wallop Mill. We do all the obvious casting and catching stuff but add in some entomology, fly tying, a trip to a fish farm and culminate the week with a day on the beautiful Bullington Manor beat on the Upper Test.

Our very own Alan Middleton runs the week with great expertise and enthusiasm. It is open to all ages 8-15. No experience required. Tackle provided. More details here ....



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

1) St Valentine is the patron saint of what activity?

2) What is odontology?

3) A gam is the collective noun for what species?


I was rootling around at an antiques fair in Stockbridge a couple of weekends ago and came across this photograph in a Hampshire history book. It was immediately recognisable as Itchen Stoke Mill as was the activity, weed cutting, but as Captain Kirk would say, not as we know it.

I thought at first they might be harrowing the river; that was commonly done to encourage spawning but with the photo dated around 1905 and the foliage suggesting this is summer or early autumn the timing would not be right. The current owner, Roger Harrison, cast some light. He tells me this was indeed weed cutting but of a fairly radical sort. The machine is moving a heavy cast iron bar along the river bed, tearing out the weed to create open channels in preparation for the water meadow flooding during the winter. The principle being that by removing the weed the water level would drop allowing the land to be drained more easily as and when required.

The bar didn't rip out the roots of the ranunculus so it would re-grow the following spring. It is thought that the bar, heavy as it was did, by accident rather than design, create some good, loose spawning gravel as it trundled along the bed as would have the hooves of the shire horses.

If you happen to visit this part of the River Itchen* you will notice the only change is trees; back then the Itchen valley was entirely denuded of trees which I guess was a product of the sheep grazing that dominated the area at that time.  

*Stop at The Bush Inn at Ovington and  walk back a hundred yards up the road. There is also a lovely footpath walk alongside the river.

Have a good week wherever you might be.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Bee keeping 2) The scientific study of teeth 3) Whales