Friday, 18 May 2018

Be careful what you wish for


The old hippy in me is tempted to misquote The Eagles Hotel California: we haven't had that water here since nineteen insert any year you like. I'll hazard you'll never see chalkstreams during the Mayfly in quite this good a condition again in this life or the next.

As you know I beseech the rain Gods every winter and this year they listened; the rivers are fast and full. It is not unalloyed good news, so sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. River keepers are mowing with strimmers not mowers having mired a tractor or two in an unexpectedly wet patch of bank. The lower reaches don't have the clarity we'd like and the brown trout, who are lazy at the best of times, have been hiding on the bottom rather than swim against the flow. Many a feedback form has used the word 'doggo' to describe their lack of feeding.


How has this impacted on the hatch? Well, Ephemera danica has been hatching along these banks for millions of years so without the benefit of a calendar the start/finish of the three week frenzy does slide around. The general consensus is that, despite the burst of super-hot weather, is that we are late this year. If you came last week you will have surely seen a few hatching, caught some on Mayfly imitations, but there is no doubt the start of duffers fortnight is not yet upon us.

If you are tempted I'm sure there are a few dates still to be had. Use the Date Checker to take a look.




Chalk Talk

If you don't get enough of me via this bi-weekly blog/newsletter you'll be pleased (or run screaming for the hills) to hear I am now a regular columnist for 
Trout & Salmon.
I must admit it did all rather come out of the blue. Something I never thought I would ever do and my sincere thanks to Editor Andrew Flitcroft for giving me the opportunity for not one, but two sentimental reasons. Firstly, as a schoolboy, confined to institutions far away from the chalkstreams Trout & Salmon was my monthly fix of escapism. A few of us who shared the same passion even managed to gang up on the librarian to convince her that our cause was as a valid as that of the rugby and cricket aficionados so she included the magazine on the library shelves.

The other is to do with Dermot Wilson, who once lived here at Nether Wallop Mill. This year marks the 50th anniversary of him setting up shop and by way of some celebration (more of that later in the year) I went to interview his widow Renée who lives not far away on the banks of the River Ebble just outside Salisbury.

For someone who was so good with words it always surprised me that Dermot only wrote the one book Fishing the Dry Fly but he was a regular columnist for Trout and Salmon. Renée tells me that though he did the occasional piece for Country Life, The Field and so on, they never had much appeal to him and it was his writing for Trout & Salmon that he held most dear right until his death. It is strange how the wheels of fate have turned and I am truly privileged to be able, in some small way, to follow in his footsteps.



Source of much refreshment

I am not sure why this is but chalkstreams are, all of a sudden, seen to be offering not just great fishing, but the inspiration and source for refreshment as well.

Refreshment for mind and body .....
For many years we have had Hildon Mineral Water drawn from the aquifers of the Test valley, which you will find in some of the best hotels and restaurants. Then last year a cider maker sprung up in the Meon Valley with a range of three pressings matured in oak barrels that were named respectively Chalkstream, Brown Trout and Dragonfly. At the confluence of the Anton and Test the Cottonworth Vineyard is making sparkling wines méthode champenoise in both white and rosé.

So, where might you ask, is the beer? Well, don't despair as it has arrived in the form of four enthusiasts who have set up shop behind The Greyhound pub in Broughton, the next village downstream of Nether Wallop, on the Wallop Brook. The first brewing is Wallop Gold (what else?!) which we will be sampling here at the fishing school and at our fishing lunches.



April feedback winner


We have kicked off the monthly feedback draw little late this month but I'm pleased to say the winner for April was Robert Smith who fished Avon Springs on the opening day.

Regular users of the feedback facility (thank you all) will notice that I have introduced a star rating to summarise your day. I know it is something of a blunt tool but once we have sufficient responses I am hoping to use the ratings to rank the fisheries.

The Fishing Breaks snood is on the way to Robert and he, like everyone else, goes into the end-of-season draw for the Simms pliers.



Quiz

More chances to prove, or improve, your intellect on beer, reading and music.  Answers, as ever, at the bottom of the page.

1)     When was Trout & Salmon magazine first published?

2)     In which country is beer said to have been first brewed?

3)     When was the record album Hotel California released?



Enjoy the Mayfly!



Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director


Quiz answers:


1)     1955

2)     In what is now known as Iran, some 7,000 years ago

3)     1976


Friday, 4 May 2018

One Fly. Many winners.

Greetings!

There are not many things that keep me awake at night but the draw for the One Fly does. There was a time when it was all very relaxed. On the Saturday prior to the competition we gather for the Guides briefing and way back when we started on 2008 we used to draw both the beats for the guides and the contestants. How we would laugh and josh as the names came out of the hat, safe in the knowledge that any snafu could be rectified away from public gaze

Jason Askey-Wood with his winning fly
Now in this age of transparency (dreadful word) and in a bid to notch up the drama, it was decided that we would hold the contestant draw on the morning of the One Fly itself. Oh, how I live in fear of it going wrong. In 2016 I peered into the hat to pull out the 36th and last name to see nothing. Looking up I saw 72 expectant faces eager for the starting gun. Piers Morgan's Stockbridge Christmas lights disaster had nothing on this, though I am probably one of the few to feel his pain. Back in the hat I ran my finger under the sweatband that dislodged the final bit of paper. Crisis averted. This year, I am happy to say, no such heart-stopping moments as the draw dodged the first of many heavy showers that were to typify the day.
This wasn't going to be an easy year. We have had a wet, wet winter and I haven't seen the chalkstream aquifers pumping water this high and fast since the floods of 2013/14. In some respects it is actually more pronounced. Back in 2014 the volumes were receding by April; this year they were still on an upward curve though the peak is now past. So anyone on the lower beats would have to cope with lots of water, fish still hiding out and in some cases poor clarity. But that is the challenge of the One Fly; you draw your beat and you adapt accordingly. And plenty adapted very well.
A well tied winning fly after 18 fish.
Top billing is really shared by Jason Askey-Wood and Grant Harrower, though Jason shaded Grant to the overall title by just 10 points, which is simply the difference of one fish being one inch longer. Or in Grant's case hanging onto his fly (worth 75 points) which he lost with still ninety minutes to go. But hey, that's why we call it the One Fly. Regardless it was a pretty amazing fishing day by both of them with 41 fish between them, Jason with 18 on the River Kennet at Benham Estate and Grant on The Greyhound beat catching 23. In all the three dozen anglers caught 217 fish between them, all of which were released, with everyone bar three catching at least one fish. The biggest fish of the day was by the guide/fisher combo of Michael Jacobsen and Kris Kent who landed a monster 24" brown on the Orvis Ginger Beer beat at Kimbridge.
It was a great day. We came. We fished. We got wet. And we marked the start of a new chalkstream season, in the course of which we raised over £2,500 for the Alex Lewis Trust. In ending I have to give special mention to the winning Guide Gary Allen to accompanied Jason Askey- Wood, donating his £500 winning cheque to be split equally between the Alex Lewis Trust and another cause close to the heart of his family. Thank you Gary.
Click here to see the photos from the day.



Stockbridge: shopping valhalla

Plenty of us who live within easy striking distance of Stockbridge have concluded that with the ubiquity of internet shopping all our consumer needs are now met online and by the occasional foray into the fly fishing capital of Britain.

Elaine Sperber. I'm sorry, I made her do it .........
I understand those of you who live in more metropolitan parts might think of us, to use that Del Boy term, as carrot crunchers but we are happy with our butcher, baker, greengrocer, florist, post office, two chic delis, coffee shop, wine store, a whisky shop on the way .... well, I won't go on but we jam a lot into one single, and relatively short, High Street.
However, we have been deficient in one important area: a bookshop. Amazon is all very well but there is nothing like browsing the shelves, reading the back covers and flicking through the virgin pages to unearth a new author or rediscover one you had long forgotten. Well, I am delighted to say The Bookmark now has to be added to my list above.
The shop has been opened by Elaine Sperber, an American who long ago came to our shores and lives in a village not so far away. For most of her professional life she was in the TV and film business, Head of Drama for Children's BBC, where she commissioned 53 series including hits Tracy Beaker and Stig of the Dump, with a whole raft of other independent film and TV producer credits to her name.
After decades of reading scripts and books for a profession Elaine has a massive fund in literary knowledge and this is reflected in the diverse and fascinating books she stocks. Give her your literary brief and in a flash she'll have a selection that will open new reading doors. The Bookmark is handily located a few doors down from Robjents and directly opposite Orvis.




The Feather Thief

I don't really like to cut and paste entire articles; it seems a bit of a cheat. But below I have reproduced in full Maggie Fergusson's review last week in The Spectator of the Kirk Wallace Johnson book The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century.

The truth is I haven't had a chance to read the book, but even if I had I could not better the Fergusson review. I suspect you, like me, as you read the piece will wonder where it is all going but for anyone with an interest in fly fishing, and fly tying in particular, it will suddenly hit you right between the eyes.

"They don't look like a natural pair. First there's the author, Kirk Wallace Johnson, a hero of America's war in Iraq and a modern-day Schindler who, as USAID's only Arabic-speaking American employee, arranged for hundreds of Iraqis to find safe haven in the US. In the process, he developed PTSD, sleepwalked through a hotel window, flung himself from a ledge and plunged, nearly, to his death. Then there's the stranger-than-fiction Edwin Rist, a brilliant young flautist who, on a pitch-black night nine years ago, in pursuit of an obsession with rare bird feathers, risked years in jail in one of the most brazen and bizarre museum heists ever accomplished. Yet Johnson and Rist are made for one another. Within pages I was hooked. This is a weird and wonderful book.
On the evening of 23 June 2009, Rist, then a 20-year-old Royal Academy of Music student who hoped one day to play principal flute for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, performed in a concert of Haydn, Handel and Mendelssohn. Then, having taken his bows, he gathered wire-cutters, an LED torch, latex gloves, a diamond-blade glass cutter and what must have been a tardis of a wheely suitcase, and caught a train to Tring in Hertfordshire. From the station, he walked to the Natural History Museum, once the private repository of Walter Rothschild, the highly eccentric second Lord Rothschild, who rode about in a carriage pulled by zebra. Gifted to the nation in 1937, the museum is home to one of the finest collections of stuffed mammals, ornithological specimens, reptiles and insects in the UK.
Breaking a window, Rist hoisted himself into the museum. He had originally planned to be swift and selective, but as he began to fling open the white steel cabinets of dead birds he was seduced into a kind of feeding frenzy. It would later be some small comfort to the museum curators that Rist bypassed Darwin's sizeable collection of finches, and the skins and skeletons of the Dodo and the Auk, concentrating instead on birds that appeared more colourful and exotic: Resplendent Quetzals, gathered in the 1880s from the Chiriqui cloud forests of western Panama and nearly four feet in length; 14 skins of the Lovely Cotinga; 37 Purple-Breasted Cotinga; 21 Spangled Cotinga; 37 Birds of Paradise; 24 Magnificent Riflebirds; 12 Superb Birds of Paradise; four Blue Birds of Paradise; 17 Flame Bowerbirds, and so on. When he finally dragged himself back outside, there were 299 birds stuffed into his suitcase.
Many of the birds Rist had stolen had been collected by one very remarkable man: Alfred Russel Wallace, a self-taught naturalist from a humble background who, in the mid-19th century, worked his way deep into the gloomy forests of the Malay Archipelago, hunting down mammals, reptiles and birds, funding his expeditions by selling off duplicate skins. He lived on a diet of alligator, monkey and turtle, and was prey to malaria, vampire bats, serpents and pirates, all the while collecting creatures of otherworldly beauty, many of which had thrived undiscovered by human beings for more than 20 million years.

Killing birds in pursuit of the study of natural history has, perhaps, some justification. But in the wake of Wallace's discoveries came a late-Victorian rage for incorporating them in women's fashion. In what became known as the Age of Extermination, hundreds of millions of birds - parrots, toucans, quetzals, snowy egrets, ospreys - were killed mainly, though not exclusively, to adorn hats. One merchant peddled a shawl made from 8,000 hummingbird skins.
As the birds' numbers dwindled, they became worth more than their weight in gold. When the Titanic went down in 1912, the most valuable and highly insured commodity in its hold was 40 crates of feathers. Not surprising, then, that when Rist hurried back towards Tring station, he was carrying $1 million worth of feathers. He had been in the museum three hours. The security guard, glued to a football match, had failed to notice the alarm indicator blinking.
Johnson is a master of pacing and suspense. We learn the details of Rist's crime at the very beginning of the book, but for a good few chapters we are kept wondering whether he'll be caught, and, if so, how; whether Johnson will get to meet him, and whether he is now behind bars, or out free in the world playing his flute.
The other burning question, of course, is what inspired such an outlandish crime. Edwin Rist was brought up in Claverack, a small town north of New York City, and home-schooled by parents who bred labradoodles for a living, and who devoted themselves to nurturing enthusiasms in their two sons. Edwin was just 11 when he caught by chance on television a demonstration of how to tie a fly for trout fishing. He was instantly captivated - and very soon as preoccupied with fly-tying as with his flute. He befriended a retired ornithology professor willing to sell him bird skins on the cheap. A zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo sent him feathers from the autumn moult of the Macaw, Spoonbill and Tragopan. He took a job chopping logs to fund his new addiction, but the rarest, most gorgeous feathers - and therefore the most elaborate flies - remained, financially, out of his reach. Meantime, what had begun as a hobby had become an obsession.
Over the internet, Rist became part of a shady 'feather underground', a community of (all-male) fanatics who had no interest whatsoever in fishing - 'People don't actually fish with this shit, right?' one tells Johnson - but who would go to almost any lengths to lay their hands on exotic feathers to tie flies. 'God, Family, Feathers' was the motto of one, while another described fly-tying as 'like a drug, nothing else matters, nothing else compares'.
Rist's new cronies were a disparate lot: a blacksmith, a retired detective, a dentist (what is it with dentists and endangered creatures?). But they had in common a breathtaking hubris: a belief that they could slice apart some of the most beautiful creatures in the natural world, and put them back together to make something more beautiful still. Dyed feathers just wouldn't do. 'The knowledge of the falsity eats at you,' Rist tells Johnson when they finally meet for an eight-hour hall-of-mirrors encounter during which Rist tries to persuade Johnson that he is not a thief, and that by snatching the Tring birds he was actually saving the lives of birds in the wild.
And how did Johnson become so obsessed with Rist? As he struggled to overcome his PTSD, he took up fly-fishing as a therapy. One day, as he stood waist-deep in a river in northern New Mexico, his fishing guide told him of Rist's crime. Johnson knew nothing of rare birds or salmon flies, and had no experience of tracking thieves; but, like Rist himself, he became fixated - as tenacious in his pursuit of truth and justice as any fly-tyer in pursuit of feathers. His ambition: to find out whether it was really possible that Rist worked alone, and to restore to Tring all 299 of the stolen birds.
There's no great climax to this tale, but it's a tribute to Johnson's storytelling gifts that when I turned the last page I felt bereft. The odd, but obvious, solution? To seek out his first book, To Be a Friend is Fatal, a memoir of the Iraq war."
The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk Wallace Johnson is published by Hutchinson. £20.


Quiz

More chances to prove, or improve, your intellect.  Answers, as ever, at the bottom of the page.

1)      After which saint day on April 25th is the Hawthorn fly sometimes known?

2)      We have just celebrated Beltane, the day halfway between spring and summer. When is it?

3)      When were the first Bank Holidays officially granted by law in the UK?


Have a great holiday weekend!



Best wishes,
Simon Signature 
Founder & Managing Director


Quiz answers:

1)     St Mark's Day

2)      May 1st, May Day.

3)      The Bank Holidays Act 1871


Friday, 20 April 2018

Keeping in contact


Keeping in contact

It is not very often that I find myself at a bleak chain hotel, in an equally bleak but additionally, soulless conference room with a podium at one end, giant presentation screen above it and sitting at a 'break-out' tables. The presenters, young and enthusiast both, from a hip marketing agency tried to make it fun but frankly the topic for which we were gathered, GDPR, doesn't encourage high fives.

In one of those marvellous moments which must make any presenter wonder why they even got out of bed that morning Steve (might not have been his name, but I forget, so let's go with that for now) lobs out an easy question by way of an icebreaker: what is GDPR? Now everyone in the audience knew precisely what it meant. Why else would we have dragged ourselves to this depressing room if we didn't? He probably hadn't factored in his target market for that particular morning: hard bitten, largely self-employed small business owners who were trying to navigate this latest bit of EU legislation. He probably thought we were being sullen, all crossed arms and non-responsive. We actually just wanted him to get on with it. Mercifully he gave up without a fight, bringing up the first slide of the day:

The event, though that makes it sound it bit more of a happening that it was, had been arranged by the Southern Tourist Board (STB) which is one of those strange organisations that I've been a member of for nearly thirty years. Most of the time it just lurks in the background occasionally trying to sell you space in tourist publications, share the cost of a stand at a trade show or include you in a press visit. It is the nuts and bolts end of leisure marketing, not hugely exciting, but important nonetheless and when, to their credit, some overarching bit of regulation appears over the horizon, the STB leaps into action.

I am not sure why GDPR has put the fear of God into so many people. Maybe it is the fact that it seems to have crept up on us all of a sudden. I am sure it has been discussed in Brussels for years but only recently has it appeared in business consciousness. The unlimited fines for transgressors are scary - it is quite possible for a firm to be bankrupted. And, with spooky timing with all the Facebook issues, use of personal data has become a hot topic.

Essentially, from my perspective at least, the new legislation seems generally easy to navigate. Firstly, we have to store all the data you have ever given us to complete a booking - name, address, phone numbers etc. - safely. One hotelier completely floored Steve when she asked whether keeping her written records in her attic complied; I am not sure he understood that there was an age, not so long ago, when things were written down. Aside from that time-warp anomaly none of that is particularly contentious. It is your email addresses that has everyone in a stir.

Essentially in the past once someone had your email address they could pretty well do with it what they liked: sell, use it, pass it on and hold it forever. You might not have wittingly submitted to this use but by virtue of a tick box you did or did not tick or some clause buried in the Terms & Conditions your email details (and possibly more) was potentially out there. But from 25/May these practices are outlawed: it is all about consent. In the future you will have to give the holder of your email address your consent to use your email address. Of course, once you get into the detail, it is horribly more complicated than that but really the question many of us are wondering is whether it will have any effect? My gut feeling is yes; over time we will all notice a gradual reduction in the amount of emails we receive. Hurrah you might well say but I have a feeling it might hit small businesses the hardest who, without the benefit of huge marketing budgets, have been the most savvy, and generally least intrusive and least exploitative, users of direct email. Let me sketch it out from my side of the fence.

You've fished with us for a few years, a regular client who generally books in January for May. Over the years you have come to rely on us emailing you by way of a nudge when the booking season comes around. It works for you. It works for us. However, from 25/May I won't be able to send that nudge email unless you have specifically consented to receive it. If it is a verbal consent we will have to make a written note. If it is electronic consent you will have to click on a link. Now I suspect for us this is going to be reasonably easy to navigate. Our relationship with you is generally quite personal so one way or another we'll make it work. But I can easily see for other businesses who have a larger number of smaller transactions, where the interaction is less one-to-one, this is going to be a problem. Over time that contact list of thousands built up over years will be eroded away because as consumers we have not only become tired and suspicious of email marketing, but we are generally hopeless at being proactive so in the absence of the sign-up being done on our behalf we probably will not do it ourselves.

And that will make life more difficult, especially on small businesses who don't have considerable marketing budgets or clout. Larger business will likely return to traditional media - TV, magazines etc. - to capture new, old, lapsed or dormant customers but for the rest of us it is going to be a lot harder. And that is a great shame for I'm sure the EU legislation was meant to have precisely the opposite effect.



A good pub for lunch

On the topic of small business, the Countryside Alliance announced their regional finalists for the annual Rural Awards a while back, which they like to term the rural Oscars which to me is a bit of a stretch and frankly, the less we associate with Hollywood the better. I know the red carpet types like to burnish their eco-credentials but it is slightly at odds with the NetJets data who peg Oscar weekend as their busiest of the year with 250+ plus private planes arriving in LA.

Energy drinks for fishing
I don't think the overall winners have been selected (don't book that jet to London!) as yet, but ahead of that I'd like to pass on congratulations to two of the pubs (a new category for this year) that regularly feature on our lunchtime fishing circuit.

The Boot at Houghton has a garden that goes right down to the banks of the River Test and is just a hop, skip and a jump from Stockbridge. If you are in the Avon valley The Swan is tucked away in Enford; it has long been a favourite of mine.

If I had to have a bet my money would be on the Cornish firm Green & Blue, run by ex Dyson designers who create beautiful, stylish products that help wildlife. The Beepot Concrete Planter and Bee House is both as beautiful as it sounds intriguing, providing a home for solitary bees in search of a swarm.

You may read more about the awards, the winners in your area and a map of where the finalists are located via this link.




To release or not to release?
 
The Environment Agency have issued a consultation document proposing compulsory catch and release for all salmon on rivers that will be on the 'at-risk- register as of 2021 with the new regime taking effect in June of this year.

It prompted the Countryside Alliance, who object to the proposal, to run a Facebook poll to gauge public opinion. 68% in favour, 32% against. I'm not quite sure what to make of this. Personally it wouldn't bother me one way or another but I know for some people taking a fish home is the definition of fishing and I understand that point of view.

I think the problem with the EA proposal is that it introduces an element of compulsion that doesn't rest easy on our sport. We pride ourselves in being guardians of the rivers we use and with 90% of fish already released the job is pretty well already done.

With angling participation in decline alienating another group of people with a ban of doubtful gain, when so many other major problems assail our salmon rivers, looks to me like virtue signalling.

You may read more about the consultation via this link.




CHALK on the road
If you'd like to catch up with CHALK we are on the road next week as part of the One Fly Festival with a special screening in Stockbridge.

The film is showing the The Grosvenor Hotel. Doors open (i.e the bar) at 7pm with the show starting at 7.30pm on Friday April 28th. Tickets £15 on-line. 

As a little amuse-bouche here is a unique directors cut that was made for one of our major supporters to celebrate his day at Bullington Manor. 

Click on this link and log in with password: kickstarter123



Quiz


More chances to prove, or improve, your intellect.  Answers, as ever, at the bottom of the page.

1)      What do the initials SIM, as in your SIM card phone, denote?

2)      Which is which: bumble bee or wasp? Vespula vulgaris. Bombus hortorum.

3)
      What year did Georgina Ballantine (pictured) catch her record salmon?


Enjoy an August weather weekend!



Best wishes,
Simon Signature 

Founder & Managing Director


Quiz answers:

1)      subscriber identity module
2)      Vespula vulgaris wasp. Bombus hortorum bee
3)      1922