Saturday, 27 August 2016

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

The Aggregation of Marginal Gains

I ended up watching more of the Olympics than I ever intended; by sheer fate I flew out on the day of the opening ceremony and flew back on the closing day as the flame was handed to the next host city, Tokyo. My destination didn't offer much in the way of TV choice but as we were in the same time zone as Rio the ESPN sports network made for easy viewing with two channels dedicated to the Games, one anchored from the Caribbean and the other Canada.  I never quite worked out why that was so, but deprived of Clare Balding I soldiered on, soon becoming quite knowledgeable in the workings of the Trinidad and Tobago athletic community and coming to the view that the Canadians generally prefer the Winter Olympics.

Dave Brailsford
Actually it was refreshing to be spared the jingoistic home coverage but it must be said that both the ESPN channels were in awe of the Great British effort as we scaled the medals table with each successive day. They seemed to be positively gleeful as we pushed China into third spot. As Francis Urquhart in House of Cards would have said, "You might very well think that; I couldn't possibly comment". Well, I do have readers in China ......

The really interesting discussions on ESPN asked the question as to why Team GB had been so successful. There was no side to this, just genuine inquiry. We were expected to do well in London 2012 but to improve in 2016? Well, that blew away all known metrics. Lottery funding is the most obvious reason but the more thoughtful commentators kept drawing the attention to cycling coach Dave Brailsford and his concept of "aggregation of marginal gains" that seeks for "the 1 percent margin for improvement in everything you do."

For Brailsford this meant examining every aspect of competitive cycling, finding that 1 percent in everything - the athlete, the lifestyle and the kit. They started by optimizing the things you might expect: the nutrition of riders, their weekly training programme, the ergonomics of the bike seat, and the weight of the tyres. But Brailsford and his team didn't stop there. They searched for 1 percent improvements in tiny areas that were overlooked by almost everyone else: discovering the pillow that offered the best sleep and taking it with them to hotels, testing for the most effective type of massage gel, and teaching riders the best way to wash their hands to avoid infection. They searched for 1 percent improvements everywhere.

Which had me thinking: could we apply the same to fly fishing? Of course the immediately exciting part of this is that it provides the perfect excuse to buy new stuff - rods, reels, lines, flies, clothing - well, the Brailsford theory seems to suggest no boundaries. Good bye cheap and cheerful B&B, hello five star luxury. But then again, try explaining that credit card statement away to your loved ones using the 1 percent argument. Good luck. But, on the serious other hand, Brailsford does have a point and his theory does work for fly fishing. But how?

Flies are a good point in case. In the tackle trade the old adage is that flies are tied to catch fishermen not fish. I'm sure we have all been snared this way as the huge array in the shop assail the senses so that after a few sensible choices we revert to buying on the basis of flies we like the look of regardless of utility. In the world of Brailsford such indiscriminate behaviour would have no place. Flies would only be bought to match the hatch and each successive fishing trip would be dedicated to adding a small new fact to our entomological knowledge.

Kit? Well, I don't think you have to have the very best or most expensive rods, reels, lines etc. but you do have to keep abreast of the times. Even the quite backwater of fly fishing technology moves on apace. Buying a new rod every year will not help, but buying a new one every five years will. Clothing? Well, I am not suggesting a skin-tight body suit but do dress for the weather. The fish are wet already so they don't care about the rain but if you keep dry and warm you'll catch more fish than if sheltering in the fishing hut.

I think suggesting a fitness regime might be a step too far, but ask any fishing guide the morning greeting they dread most for the day ahead and it will be "we all got slaughtered last night", accompanied by groans and a rush for the coffee pot. A vow of abstinence is too much to ask of any red-blooded fly fisher but generally it is better to get p****d the night after rather than the night before.

I am not going to attempt to list every variable in a fly fishing day that can be incrementally improved; you are smart enough to work them out for youself. But the interesting correlation to marginal gains is marginal losses i.e. repeatedly doing the same thing badly.  How many times have you lost a fly in a tree only to lose the replacement in exactly the same tree? The Brailsford theory holds in reverse, though he notes the losses have a tendency to snowball - it is a lot easier to get worse than better.

The big but to all this is the 'aggregation' word. Marginal improvement does not come in a rush nor will it be immediately noticeable. It is like being on a diet where you vow to lose a stone at the rate of an ounce a day and keep to it - that eureka moment will be a while coming.  


Just a few random ones to stretch the brain ahead of a relaxing weekend:

1)     When were Bank Holidays enshrined in law?

2)   Where in the UK would you receive the most Bank Holidays each year?

3)      Who has caught the biggest salmon so far this year in Iceland?

4)      What was the unexpected catch by a German angler earlier this month? 

It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page.  

Have a great Bank Holiday weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

1)      1871  2) Northern Ireland and Isle of Man with 10 each. Scotland 9. England 8.  3) Eric Clapton at 28lbs  4) The intimate area of a nudist swimmer. Read article ..... 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

How to Spend It


Well, that is me sorted for Christmas which is a relief. I always start worrying around this time of year as my family begin to badger me for my Yuletide shopping list. My advice to you all - get in early and go big.

Now, let's face it the new Bentley Bentayga, the luxury SUV wagon, is an OK sort of a request. For the fishermen it is practical and safe. Always wise to emphasise the 'safe' word as your loved ones don't like the thought of anything bad happening to you. After all we do go to VERY dangerous places just off the M3. But on its own, let's face it the Bentayga (named after a rugged peak in the Canary Islands apparently), is something of a paltry gift. I laugh at the £175,000+ price tag.  

So, as I say go big and insist on the ultimate optional extra with the Bentayga Fly Fishing edition which has been created by Bentley's in-house coachbuilding division Mulliner. For a mere additional £80,000 Bentley tell us you may upgrade to all this:

"Four rods clad in special leather trimmed tubes sit under the parcel shelf, above landing nets in matching leather bags stored in carpet-trimmed pockets in the boot side. Three individual, saddle-leather-trimmed units sit at the heart of the setup - a 'master tackle station' with a sliding tray, a refreshment case and a waterproof wader stowage trunk.

That station houses a Burr Walnut veneered drawer containing fly-tying vice and tools, as well as a selection of hooks, feathers and cottons. As you would expect, the refreshment case contains a set of Mulliner fine-china tableware and metal flasks, perfect for when you need a break from reeling them in. All three units can be removed from the Bentayga's boot, giving maximum luggage space back.

For those fearing a fishy hue could detract from the smell of diamond quilted leather, Bentley provides a handy electronic dehumidifier unit to ensure your favourite hobby doesn't sully the Bentayga's interior. Further protection comes in the form of rear-sill protection covers and a waterproof boot-floor."

Of course the canny amongst you will be wondering what are these rods. Trout or salmon? Cane or carbon? What weight? What make are the reels and lines? Are the hooks barbless? And so on. Sadly, despite much trawling through numerous Bentley press releases and web pages I have still no idea. It seems to be something of a secret. But hey, why spoil the surprise for Christmas Day.


Sedge Cottage
Not every home on a river needs to cost a fortune. Matthew Hallett at Winkworths in Salisbury sends me word of three houses with fishing rights attached on the Wiltshire chalkstreams. 

You may take your pick between a quaint cottage at Bishopstone on the River Ebble,  a rather more modern house on the River Bourne and the aptly named barn-style Fishermans Reach on the River Nadder.

It is fair to say none of these are massive beats but speaking as one who lives over and beside the Wallop Brook it is hard to resist the allure of a river. The ever-burbling stream is a wonderful sedative to the stresses of life and aside from the fishing any bit of chalkstream, however apparently insignificant to the uninitiated, is a haven to be treasured.

Here are links to all three:

Of course if you don't want a home on the river but just the river it seems Wiltshire is the place to look this month with a good, long beat on the River Wylye on the market through Strutt & Parker. The guide price is £415,000 for both lots, the land and the fishing.

River Wylye at Stapleford, Wiltshire


A few random teasers this week.

1)      How long is the Tour de France?

2)      Does the Tour circuit France clockwise or counterclockwise?

3)      Has angling ever been an Olympic Sport?

4)     Jeremy Fisher of Beatrix Potter fame was what kind of a creature?

5)    And who tried to eat him?

It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page. 

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers:
1) 3,500 km or 2,200 miles over 21 stages. 2) The race alternates between clockwise and counterclockwise circuits of France. 3) Yes. Angling was an unofficial sport at the 1900 Olympics in Paris. At a series of competitions in August, some 600 fisherman participated in 4 separate events. No results have yet been discovered for these competitions. 4) A frog. 5) A large trout.