Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2016 in Photos

2016 in Photos

Dear Simon,

Before we completely consign 2016 to the dustbin of history there are two more duties to close out the year: voting in the the inaugural Fish & Fly Annual Awards and a quick gallop though a fishing year in photos.

Fish & Fly is one of the great on-line resources for us fly fishers and the ever inventive editor Paul Sharman has given us all the opportunity to give our verdict on the best bit of kit, retailer, fishing guide, personality of the year and much more in the first ever Fish & Fly 2016 Awards Survey. I am delighted to say that Fishing Breaks has been nominated in the Fishing Travel section. Do vote! 

The poll closes on January 2nd; click here to vote.


This is the most popular photo I have ever posted on social media. Only in Stockbridge would you be greeted at dawn by a man in waders, crossing a zebra crossing with a scythe over his shoulder on the way to work. Long may it continue.


When all about you is bleak one gorgeous fish can brighten a drab winter day.


Cow parsley heads in a frosted water meadow.


They may have come last in the One Fly but they seem mighty happy about it!


By my estimation only a 137 days to go ......


Duncan Weston, who was there with me in the trenches from the early days of Fishing Breaks right up until he retired due to ill health a couple of years ago, died on June 8th, his 76th birthday.


Our first ever Kids Fish Camp that ran for five days in July. 


Dusk on the River Nadder in Wiltshire with nothing but a few sheep, a last fluttering of sedges and glooping trout for company. Perfection


Yes, such is the parlous state of our native water vole that we rear them in captivity for re-populating otherwise barren rivers. This is one of a 110 released on the River Meon. PS The Pringle can is a cunning device to scoop them from the carrying cage - voles bite hard and don't let go!


This was the moment the Mop Fly arrived in the UK ...........


Dawn and -7C at The Bends on the River Test just upstream of Stockbridge this morning. It felt like it looks.


Our fly fishing capital town Stockbridge is looking very festive this year thanks to a big effort by all those who live and trade on the High Street, including lighting up the river.


Six fins to test your knowledge; they are all freshwater. Answers at the bottom of the page. It's just for fun!

My thanks to Chris Cooper (no relation ) for the  February grayling photo and Minnie Cooper (relation) for the May mayfly photo. And in case you have scrolled all the way down, please don't forget to vote in the Fish & Fly Awards poll.

All the best for 2017.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 

Rainbow trout pectoral fin.                    Perch dorsal fin
Grayling dorsal fin                                 Brown trout dorsal fin
Atlantic salmon adipoise fin                   Mirror carp pectoral fin

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Take the hard road


By the onset of dusk on Sunday I had had enough of being shrouded in mist; with the exception of a glorious Wednesday us Wallopians have barely seen the sun for two weeks. We rise to mist and go to bed to mist. It hangs around all day gathering in ever increasing swirls of density to become fog as soon as the sun starts to dip from its already feeble zenith.  It is the shortest day on Wednesday; it cannot come soon enough for me for it is the starting point towards a new summer.

But frankly by the time the church clock chimed three I could not wait any longer; somewhere up there at the far extreme of Nether Wallop is a much higher place, the hill they call Danebury Ring. On a clear day you can spy the Isle of Wight from the top even though it is 40 miles distant.  At night red warning lights blink from tall poles ushering the training helicopters from the nearby Middle Wallop airbase away from catastrophe.

Within a few dozen paces of leaving The Mill the steep climb starts. In summer the footpath is garlanded with daisies as it weaves you up a sloping field of shimmering corn. Today it is rotting stubble. The path is starting to turn to mud.  I refuse to slacken my pace even though the incline starts to make me puff, so I distract myself recounting in my head for the umpteenth time the disputed origin of the suffix to the name of our village. Some say Wallop refers to the family name of the Earls of Portsmouth, once mighty land owners around these parts. Others say 'wallop' means hidden valley. As I breast the rise I turn to see what I know I won't see; even on a clear day the village will already be hidden from view. Today it snuggles under a white duvet.

Likewise Danebury Ring is still nowhere to be seen but the route to it is marked by the grass swathe that was once Stockbridge racecourse that gently rises away from me into the distance for a straight 10 furlongs. I know it is a mile and a quarter because today, even a hundred years after the last race was run, the bouncy turf is training gallops to the local racing stable who have helpfully laid out marker dollies. As I pass one the next looms up ahead, a vague form hidden in the mist which slowly comes into sharper focus as I approach.

As I count each passing marker the mist is definitely thinning until, without warning it breaks. Whilst all behind me is clouded, ahead, in sharp relief, in bright, clear air is the Iron Age fort we call Danebury Ring.  I quicken my pace to reach the summit ahead of the soon-to-set sun.  I am not the first. Men have been drawn to this place for seven thousand years or more. It is the highest point for miles around.  As an easily defended settlement it pre-dates Stonehenge. The climb is harder than anything earlier so I do pause for breath at the natural breaks as the hill, as prominent in this landscape as a jelly mould on a table, rises then plateaus before rising again.

At the top I marvel at the full circumference of the scene below me. In some respects it is not so remarkable. The rolling, sheep-grazed chalk downs disappearing into the mist. The spindly silhouette of the leaf-bare beech trees on a ridge so many miles away that those colossal trees appear no higher than matchsticks at this distance. No roads. No people. No buildings. The only colour is from the static grey sky where breaks in the cloud allow for bright patches of the pinky-orange setting sun to show through. The crows provide the soundtrack, swirling in their hundreds beneath my feet as they caw-caw in incessant unison whilst seeking out their night time roost.

Actually I am wrong. It is remarkable. Because for thousands of years men have stood at the very spot I am now and seen the very self same landscape. Heard the crows. Watched the sunset. And like me shivered in anticipation of the chill hours ahead. For this continuity we as a nation should be very proud. In a turbulent world we still have on our doorstep some of the most amazing, beautiful and unchanging landscape that remains, for me at least, a thing of great wonder. But we stand at a threshold.

In my lifetime I have seen the population of Britain rise from around 50 million to close to 70 million, most of the increase in the already densely populated parts of England. Steel pylons have strung electric power cables across what we now call National Parks. Motorways have obliterated villages. Where there were once rivers there are now just boreholes. The sleepy market towns Pevsner celebrated are surrounded by a mish-mash of development, a beleaguered hole in an ever growing donut.  Agriculture has long lost its way farming solar parks, wind turbines and government subsidy.  Where once we had communities we have boroughs, or if you are really unlucky, a unitary authority. And industry does whatever it chooses; the lure of jobs and taxes blinds all to any possible downsides.

It is a horrible triptych of urbanisation, industry and pollution that threatens what we hold dear. Thirty years ago The Economist wrote tongue-in-cheek that no UK government would rest easy until all of southern England was concreted over. Sadly they may well be right. In our own way all of us recognise this, doing our bit to fight the fight: recycling, green energy, eco cars, campaigning where we see damage and misdeeds. I could go on, but you get the idea - it is a long list of battles. But let us be honest we are fighting the symptoms of the disease not the disease itself.

At some point, if we wish to preserve what we hold dear, the time will come to call a halt.  No more new houses. No more roads. No more factories. No more of the disease because the medicines will not work forever. Individual communities, be they towns, villages , counties or whatever groups coalesce around the cause should be entitled to say, accepting the consequences of that decision,  'we are full'.

It was completely dark by the time I made it back to The Mill to the welcoming warmth and light of a home which made me think: is it the ultimate complacency of entitled nimbyism to hold up the FULL sign to exclude progress to those that follow me?  I guess in a way it is. But then again progression assumes an upwards path with a duty to nurture a better world for those that follow.  As a nation we need to realise that we stand at something of a crossroads. The correct road to take is the hard-to-argue one. Whether we take it depends on a collective will.


Jonathan's Balcombe's book What a Fish Knows is a complex read. On the one hand it is full of fascinating insights into the behaviour and lives of fish. How they live, how they communicate, how they navigate their lives. Read it today and you will, with little effort, be quite the bore over Christmas lunch.

But on the other hand Balcombe's book is a Crie de Coeur for all fish. He firmly believes (and I am with him on this) that fish should have equal rights to animals. But clearly they don't. 

As he says of vegetarians who eat fish they do it, 'as if there were no moral distinction between cod and a cucumber'. This might be fine if we are treating our oceans with care, but we are not. Ever increasing demand for fish allied with prodigiously efficient commercial fishing fleets is gradually extinguishing sea life.

Balcombe wants us all to stop eating fish now. See if you agree. Buy it on Amazon


We will be shutting up shop for a few days over Christmas, but us fly fishers are a restless bunch so it will not be for long. With the start of the new season now closer than the end of the last this is the time to start planning.

If you had an opportunity to read my last Newsletter you will know we have lots of new stuff for 2017 and that the web site is loaded up, ready to go. 

So, if you are happy to book on-line it is all there for a few clicks of a mouse. That said should you prefer a chat on the phone or like to ping a few emails back and forth we are happy to help in any way.

Closed                 December 23rd-27th
10am-4pm           December 28th & 29th
9am-1pm             December 30th
Closed                 December 31st-January 2nd
9am-5pm             January 3rd onwards


Who am I?
You will notice a trend that I am becoming something of a magpie. This week the questions come from What a Fish Knows.
1)      What is the fish on the right?

2)      How many species of fish are there in the world?

3)      How many eggs does an Ocean Sunfish carry?

4)      How many million years ago did the first fish evolve?

It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page. I will be back between Christmas and the New Year with 2016 in Photos and the great 'Who's Fin is That?' quiz. 

In the meantime from all of us at Fishing Breaks, and the fish as well, have a very Happy Christmas.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) Pufferfish  2) 33,249 and counting. 4 new sharks were discovered last year  3) 300 million  4) 530 million; homo sapiens appeared 2 million years ago.

Friday, 9 December 2016

New for 2017 & diaries open

Nether Wallop Mill, England Friday December 9th 2016

I suspect we will be a nation divided as midnight approaches on New Year's Eve. In the one corner there will be the Brexit/Trump contingent still partying as if there is tomorrow. In the other will be the Remain/Clinton camp musing that there may well be no tomorrow. Who is right and who is wrong I have no idea, but what I do know for sure is that the rains will fall, the rivers will fill and by April the dark nights of winter will be a long distant memory. Like the emerging insects we try to imitate us fly fishers will don our garb, dismiss the mad axis around which our respective daily lives revolve to head out to a far better place - the river bank.

Qing Ya Xi Lodge
So, on that rather more cheerful note, here is some news of what's new, what's changed and what's of interest for the coming season.

Our big project over the winter has been the restoration on Beat 1 at Bullington Manor. For those of you who get muddled with the beat layout that is the most upstream of the four with the red brick viaduct of the disused railway near to the top. Some people have wondered whether the work will adversely affect the fishing or impede access. The simple answer is absolutely not; you will see some bare soil on the banks and structures in the river but beyond that it is at the very least business as usual, or if our works are as successful as we hope, better. If you missed the last Newsletter read a full update on the project here.

Absolutely brand new for 2017 is Qing Ya Xi Lodge on the River Itchen. Formerly known as Kingfisher Lodge, the new name roughly translated from its Mandarin origin, means tranquil waters. The new owner has embarked on extensive work to return the fishery to its original glory which is in essence three beats in one: the leat, the navigation and the main river proper. The fast, tumbling leat has a host of wild fish, the slower flowing navigation the big, fussy fish and the main River Itchen ideal for sight fishing. The season opens on April 16 and it is perfectly suited for one to three Rods.

At Dunbridge (River Dun) we have always slightly struggled as the access and rod room were right beside the house, so I am delighted to say that we have flipped everything around. Now you'll park near the top of the beat, walk the winding path through the gorgeous wild meadows which will bring you out to the new hand crafted, architect-designed cabin in splendid isolation right on a bend in the river.

Our beat on the River Meon at Exton Manor Farm is one of the true wild trout delights but it has, until now, only been open to single Rods. However, with the addition of some extra bank length, it is now a much longer beat for one or plenty for two sharing. The added bonus is that it now starts within casting distance (well, a world record Spey cast if I am being honest ...) of The Shoe Inn, still a proper village pub.  

Ilsington Lodge
Continuing on the theme of wild fish we are now into our third season at Ilsington on the River Frome, five miles of just that. I have now been able to make it more accessible so there is no longer a requirement to take a guide, with single Rods welcome. It is also on the Fish Camp rotation or if you prefer some luxury, the amazing lodge is open for weekend packages.

At Benham Estate on the River Kennet having originally been four Rods daily we dropped back to two last season but are now back to three for 2017. In Wiltshire Avon Springs has produced some huge fish in the past two years, including a monster caught by Charles Jardine in the One Fly. Most people have released the big 'uns but not everyone, which is a shame but maybe understandable for a fish of a lifetime. However, that will not be an option in the future as we are introducing a slot limit so only fish between 1 ½ to 2 ½ lbs may be killed.

Fish Camp, two days fishing with a night on the river, is back with more venues than ever, plus a new selection of Season Tickets with the 4x4, The Wild Bunch and the All Wading 4x4. The Kids Fish Camp for 12-16 year olds, which was over-subscribed last year will be back in July and I am currently putting together an advanced programme for those who came in 2016.

You will find all this plus more on the web site that is now fired up for 2017. Nearly all the diaries are available for on-line bookings though I would caution that some (see list below*) are not, so contact Diane by email or phone for dates and bookings.

I hope you find all your old favourites or maybe something new.

*Online from 22/December: Bullington Manor, School Farm, Middleton Estate & Wherwell Priory. On-line early January: Barton Court, East Lodge, Mottisfont Abbey, Timsbury & Wimborne St Giles.


Ace film makers Chris Cooper (no relation) and Leo Cincolo have been at it again with a wonderful grayling video shot at Bullington Manor back in October. It needs no further words from me. 

View it here or click on the photo.


Alan tying at BFF
If you ever fish with us, be it here at Nether Wallop Mill or with one of the guides, you will likely be fishing a fly tied by Alan Middleton. 

Alan, who has been a Fishing Breaks guide for over a decade, used to be Chairman of the Fly Dresser Guild so knows a thing or two about creating the perfect imitation.

So now, with the fishing ended for a while, you'll find Alan hunched over his tying bench in Sussex turning out thousands, and I really do mean thousands, of flies that we will use next season. Probably not a good idea to mention Pheasant Tail Nymphs or Parachute Adams in Alan's company anytime soon. Our most popular nymph and dry patterns respectively, the two combined turn him a bit stir crazy as he winds them onto a hook for the umpteenth time.

But hopefully by the spring Alan will have returned to normal as you will be able to see him tying on the Veniard stand at the London Fly Fishing fair that takes place in Islington March 10th/11th. Tickets and details here.


I am going to mercilessly pillage Jack Perks' new book Freshwater Fishes of Britain again.
1)      How many fish species are there in the British Isles?

2)      What is the largest?

3)      What is the smallest?

4)      When were carp introduced to the UK?

5)      Which species of fish does the Queen own and should, by law, be offered to her on capture?

It's just for fun and answers are at the bottom of the page. Jack's book is available from bookshops and Amazon

I will be back with one more email before Christmas (my letter to Santa on what Brexit gifts our rivers need), with 2016 in Photos and the great 'Who's Fin is That?' quiz to follow during the holidays.

Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,
Simon Signature    
Founder & Managing Director  

Quiz answers: 1) 42 native, 14 introduced. 2) Atlantic Sturgeon (880lb)  3) Ten-spined Stickleback (0.7oz)  4) 15th century 5) Atlantic Sturgeon.