As you read this I will be heading down the narrow country lanes on Dorset en-route for the most westerly chalkstream on the planet. At my side will be my American photographer friend, Ken Takata.
Regular users of the Fishing Breaks web site, readers of this newsletter and various of my magazine articles will be very familiar with many of Ken's stunning images as for five of the past seven year he has spent two summer weeks with both rod and lens here in the UK.
Together we have covered many thousands of miles but he will, at this very moment, be gripping the passenger door handle as if his life depended on it for he still cannot get his head around English roads that are only wide enough for a single car. He is right, of course. It is a very bizarre concept to hurtle along roads designed for the days of horse and cart, relying on hope and instinct rather than any highway code.
River Bure - Norfolk
Ken has finally stopped asking 'what happens when we meet another car?' I think he has given up on my convoluted explanation of that careful etiquette country drivers regard as sacrosanct: i.e. whoever is in closest reversing distance of the nearest passing spot gives way to the other. Of course this tends to collapse when met with some huge piece of agricultural machinery or an Ocado van driver who took the day off on the How to Reverse a Van section on the induction course, thus rendering even the shortest backward movement too painful to watch. In the end it is easier to trade quarter of a mile in your own reverse gear than see another Iveco van gearbox being ground to oblivion.
Upper Seine - France
Today marks the last leg in our Compass Tour; 1700 miles on the road stretching from the Yorkshire Wolds to the Champagne region of France, all in an attempt to fish the geographical extremes of the chalkstreams.
At a later date I will tell you how we outwitted the Yorkshire trout of the Foston Beck, East Anglian wildies in the River Bure, their Gallic counterparts on the Upper Seine and hopefully we will fill the card on the River Bride but regardless of success or failure today the past ten days has cemented my belief in the total wondrousness of chalkstreams.
I am beginning to think Frederick Halford, the man to whom we owe the concept of modern day fly fishing, was one of the greatest pushers of all time.
Steelhead fly fishers like to say the tug is the drug. Well, if that is true (it is) then dry fly fishing is the crack cocaine of our sport. I know there is great artistry in a well executed Spey cast. I understand the sublime beauty of azure saltwater flats. But that moment when your perfectly presented floating fly is engulfed by a mouth from below is a high like no other.
For a fraction of a second you are a total master of the universe. Add all those fractions of a second together even across the most successful fishing lifetime and the full measure will be no more than a minute or two. The transient nature of success matters not. It is the manner of the success and it's very fleetingly nature that draws us all back to the river bank time and time again. Bad trips (pun intended) are wiped from our memory just as soon as we have the next good trip.
We are addicts to something few understand; probably better it stays that way.
A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF THE OTTERS' TALE
The Otters' Tale has struck something of a purple patch as May morphs into June.
Firstly, Country Life magazine gave me a glowing review Michael Wigan described the book as "This scrupulously accurate, limpidly written book is that rare thing: it teaches, inspires and entertains" I have to admit that the word limpidly sent me scurrying to dictionary corner a little worried that it may not be an entirely flattering word. But all was well, as it means in a clear and lucid manner
A few days later the PR guru at publishers Harper Collins sent me an email of high excitement; Otter's Tale had been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, the publication of record for the print trade. I am not sure I have ever read the TLS in my entire life but since they described my book as "The best popular account of the lives of otters written so far". They now have a subscriber for life.
Could it get any better? Well, actually yes. The following day yet another email from publishing HQ that I had been nominated for, and on the long list for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize. This annual award, in association with the National Trust and BBC Countryfile celebrates the very best books published each year in nature and travel writing in the UK.
With £5,000 up for grabs and plenty of attendant publicity, including the announcement being filmed by the BBC at the COUNTRYFILE LIVE event at Blenheim Palace August 3 it is just wonderful to be in contention. The current longlist of twelve is to be whittled down to a shortlist of six, the half dozen finalists announced on June 27.
I will keep you posted.
CHALK THE MOVIE - NEWS FROM THE SET
Things are moving on apace with CHALK - we already have seven days of filming under our belt, with another thirteen to go. George Browne at Fishing TV is posting regular updates on our Kickstarter page; here is the latest.
If there's one thing the chalkstreams are famous for it's the fabled 'Duffers' Fortnight' that usually falls around the end of May. It is the time of year when the mayfly hatch en-masse, and the trout go crazy - the name means that any fool should be able to catch.
It is only fitting, then, that when Chris Cooper and Leo Cincolo (the filmmakers) headed down to the River Dun in the third week of May they were greeted by what the owner of the beat described as 'the biggest mayfly hatch [she] could remember. The guys took full advantage of this natural phenomenon, capturing some really exciting, stunning sequences.
Last week the chaps were out on the river bank again - on the River Test - this time in the company of our first two groups of guest anglers. On Tuesday we were joined by John and his wife Carole, and by Mike, all keen fly anglers and excited to be taking part in the day. John and Carol have been fishing the chalk for ages, and John even brought his beautiful split-cane rod with him, as well as the latest volume of the fishing book that he has kept for decades. When Carol's not fishing or the fish aren't biting she likes to do sketches and drawings on her tablet.
For Mike, on the other hand, it was only his second chalkstream experience, and his first at mayfly time. He had to wait until quite late in the day, but he got to fish the hatch in the end. Wednesday saw our second group of guest anglers. This time it was Graham, a South African now living in the UK, and Digby. Both are regular chalkstream anglers and had a wealth of great stories to share with us, and Digby also brought along the second split cane rod of the film so far - I wonder how many we'll see by the end of filming.
At the end of the week Chris and Leo met up with another guest angler - Chris -and Damon Valentine, aka "The London Flyfisher" for a shoot on one of the more unusual and interesting chalkstreams, the Wandle, which flows through London. You'll have to watch the film to find out if they've located a trout in this river that's slowly being restored to former glories.
To everyone's great relief we have some really important shots and sequences in the can already, as well as some lovely drone footage so things are progressing nicely. Chris and Leo are out and about quite a lot over the next month or so.
In other news, we're in the process of finalising a venue for the premiere - we've got a great place lined up, so watch this space for further announcements. Anyone like Sloe Gin?
JUNE WEED CUT
The June weed cut is in its final few days; by early next week all the rivers will be back to normal.
Mottisfont Abbey - River Dun beat
Bit of an odd year weed-wise. On some sections definitely a below par season thus far, with the weed growth never making up for lost time after a dry winter. On the other hand tributaries of the Test such as the River Dun were overwhelmed. We had to deploy a team of four to break the back of the Dunbridge beat; normally a leisurely team of two will crack through it.
The photo was taken by National Trust Mottisfont Abbey river keeper Neil Swift who is justifiably proud of his handiwork on the Dun beat. This is a textbook example of what we call a chequerboard cut. That is to say the white squares are cut clear of weed, to create a zigzag flow pattern that speeds up the current, which is great for both trout and bug life, whilst optimising the holding spots for fish.
You will sometimes see the weed cut in bars stretching across the full width of the river. This is a great way to preserve water depth, but not quite so good in other respects as it can encourage silt build ups and offers fewer opportunities for the angler.
If you'd like to follow Neil via Instagram here is his link.
The longest day and shortest night coming up, so get your Druid outfit out to head for Stonehenge. A few celestial questions to match the upcoming summer solstice - it is just for fun with answers at the bottom of the Newsletter.
Where is this?
1) What is a tropical year?
2) How long (in hours and minutes) is the longest day on June 21st?
3) King Arthur Pendragon (Druid Party) who lists his address as Stonehenge, Wiltshire stood in the recent parliamentary election to become the local MP. How many votes did he get?
4) The summer solstice is not always on June 21st; it is occasionally on June 20th or 22nd. The last time it was on June 22nd was 1975. When will be the next time?
5) This watercolour from 1900 was featured in the Sunday Times over the weekend. Which River Test beat is it?
Have a good weekend.
Simon Cooper firstname.lastname@example.org
Founder & Managing Director
1) The time it takes the Earth to orbit once around the Sun. It is around 365.242199 days.
2) 16 hours and 38 minutes. 4.43am - 9.21pm.
3) 415 (0.7% of the poll) which was down on his 729 in 2015
4) 2203. Not exactly one for the diary ......
5) Whitchurch Fulling Mill