Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Lovely creatures aren’t they, living their lives in the quietest corners of our countryside, unassuming and discrete in both character and nature but still able to drive us anglers mad.

It’s become something of a tradition these past few years for me to start the season trying to fill the 16th with bars of gold. They seem the perfect creature to catch on a midsummer dawn and this year was no exception, so as the light increased from a starlit sky, my friend Chris Wild and I crept into our swims full of anticipation.

Isn’t it wonderful that the same feeling of excitement and sleepless nights arises before the glorious 16th every year, even after nearly seventy years of angling adventures. There is a whole season of fishing ahead, new or familiar challenges to look forward to and a world of mystery to explore. Variety of quarry and waters is the key but there’s no harm in starting with those that are close to your heart.

I love crucians for the conundrums that they throw up. Will they be in the swim you have chosen? Will they bite and on what bait? Will you even see the bites and if so, will you be able to strike at the right moment? These and many other questions are the essence and charm of crucian fishing and solving the riddles are where the rewards are won.

Trying to win a few bites, I had raked and lightly baited the swim the evening before, so I hoped to see tell-tale bubbles when dawn started to illuminate the pool … and my hopes were fulfilled but … there were too many bubbles and they were too big. I feared the worse, king carp, otherwise known as ‘nuisance fish’. I pulled my delicate pole rig out in fear that it would be trashed but eventually I became impatient at not being able to fish for crucians and dropped in again.

I’m guessing you have already decided the outcome and the bite when it came resulted in a violent explosion of water, an instant stretching of elastic, the nearby bed of lilies smashed and a sad goodbye to my float.

Trying to calm down, I added a little more soft pellet groundbait to the now muddy swim, picked up my slightly stronger rig and dropped in again. More bubbles rose and I hoped for a tench but an hour later the chaos resumed. What I assumed was the same carp had returned for more breakfast and it proceeded to give me a tour of all the surrounding lilies, trashing the swim in the process. It was an exciting battle and I was grateful that I’d invested in a Drennan Acolyte Margin Pole, for I was able to pull like hell without fearing it would break. It’s also armed with an elastic puller so I eventually subdued the carp’s enthusiasm for war and led it to my too small crucian landing net.

It was a splendid looking mirror carp with large scales and weighed 12lbs14ozs, not quite the peaceful start that I’d imagined but an entertaining way to celebrate the season’s opening. My swim needed an hour to recover from the wreckage before I managed a first crucian of the season, so I decided to start again, rake and bait it and wait some more.

Chris was fishing in what we call the Vole Swim opposite [because that’s where they live] and had already made me jealous by catching a tench of about 3lbs – I love tench … but don’t we all … and was now busy pulling his hair out in his attempt to induce and hit the crucian bites. I had prepared his swim the night before by raking and baiting and it certainly resulted in crucians being attracted to his swim for he eventually succeeded in landing a beauty of over two pounds.

Meanwhile, my swim was recovering, bubbles rising and by the delicate lowering of soft 6mm pellets below a tiny float, I began to catch some cracking crucians. The weather warmed up and I became engrossed in seeing just how close to my feet I could attract them. After an intriguing few hours I had up to ten big crucians so close that they were alongside the bank-side vegetation in just inches of water.

Fixing up the top two of my pole with an inch long broken top of a pole float, I freelined a pellet amongst them and tried to watch them take the bait. They had stirred up the silt but when I was able to see them make the pick up, all that happened was the slightest nod of the sliver of my indicator. They sat stationary with the bait and it’s no wonder they make us pull our hair out as most of the time the bait was surrounded by half a dozen crucians and absolutely nothing happened to indicate I had a bite … and most of the time I hadn’t!

No wonder we love fishing for them, so subtle are they in their feeding … but eventually I got the hang of knowing what they were doing and ended the session with sixteen crucians to a best of 2lbs5ozs and with an average weight of 2lbs1oz. … and delightfully, most of them were tricked at my feet.

I even managed two small tench so the hours flew by and were totally rewarding, especially as Chris had caught well too, in spite of being taken apart a couple of times by carp. He ended up with about ten splendid crucians so for both of us, the day certainly proved to be a glorious 16th.

Monday, 29 May 2017


There’s something undeniably beautiful about crucians, not just the way they look but the places they choose to live, even the tentative way they bite.

perfect crucian country - one of Peter Rolfe's delightful Saxon Ponds

waiting for a tiny nudge

These golden creatures provide anglers with so many rewards that it’s heartening to see all the efforts being made to save them. Many clubs are even creating new fisheries to ensure our grandchildren can enjoy crucian fishing too.

crucian catching always makes for happy anglers
a perfect crucian swim

June 1st marks the start of ‘Crucian Fishing Month’ and the Angling Trust have once again organised a crucian photography contest to raise awareness of their beauty and their plight. I’m honoured to be a judge once again and there are prizes for the winners, so enjoy some thoughtful snapping. 

Here's where to enter :

keeping up the traditions of angling

I guess when judging last years contest I was looking for photographs that captured the essence of the qualities that make crucians special and there were certainly some excellent entries … but as my school report kept saying, “must try harder”.

telling the story of a puma in the Andes Mountains

I’m no stills photographer but I did try harder and that earned me the privilege of making more than sixty wildlife films all around the world. I guess the principles of a good picture are the same whether moving or still so for what it’s worth, I’ll list a few tips that I’ve found useful.

If you are entering the ‘film category’ – new this year – then just make sure you tell a story. Try to shoot it in a way that gives your audience a sense of actually ‘being there’, sharing the excitement with the angler. That often means getting off the tripod and with a wide angle lens, moving right in amongst the action. 

elastic stretcher

You’ll also need ‘cut-aways’ such as angler reactions, the bite, splashes of fish, bent rod and spinning reel, all shot so you are telling the audience what is happening in a dynamic way. This attention to detail really does make for engaging viewing.

a dignified surrender

Remember continuity too. Decide before you even start fishing where the angler is in relation to the lake. If he or she is on the left and the water on the right then stick with it so as not to confuse your audience. In the business we call this ‘crossing the line’.

Making the decision where 'the line' is can be crucial, whether in stills or film for it dictates where the light is coming from and that is vital for good photography. Back-light [sun shining towards the camera] can be wonderfully evocative, graphic too, which makes for more dramatic images and you can always use fill in flash if the sunshine is too severe.

my attempt to do justice to a splendid creature - no, not Chris
Pay lots of attention to the background. Always avoid clutter such as ugly buildings, parked vehicles, telegraph poles and even bits of tackle. In fact, anything that spoils the illusion of being deep in the countryside and when it comes to fish portraits, all the above is vital.

Try to angle the light on the crucian so those beautiful golden scales are etched and glow. Try also to use the lake as a background so the fishes home becomes a part of the photo. Water provides a lovely soft background for the fish too. I suggested this last year but I don’t think you were paying attention!

glistening gold and big too
If you have a fancy camera you could even crank up the shutter speed so the resultant wide aperture makes for an out of focus background. This is always good as it draws more attention to the fish … and don’t forget to check round the edges of the frame so that you can leave out any irrelevant details.

happy days with friends and a first crucian for Annabelle
Do enjoy photographing your golden gems and do try harder this time so as to enhance the crucians’ reputation as one of our most beautiful fish … but above all else, never forget that fish live in water, so be quick.

This is the link to the Angling Trust's details about the Photo Contest and how to enter :

Peter Rolfe's book, 'Crock of Gold' is essential reading for all crucian enthusiasts.

full of anticipation when dusk falls on June 15th

Monday, 16 January 2017


Dorset's gem - the little River Allen

                           CHALK STREAM GOLD

Award-winning wildlife film-maker Hugh Miles talks to Mat Manning, and explains why we should all be fighting to save the UK’s threatened chalk streams.

[Mat is a fishing pal of mine and shares a love of tench and roach. More importantly perhaps, he’s a top freelance professional journalist and past content editor of the much admired Blackmore Vale and Stour and Avon journals. We’d rather have been fishing together on the Stour but with time limited, he visited me at home to listen to me banging on about our beleaguered chalk streams and this is his admirable summary of my ramblings.]

“Although you may not be able to put a face to the name, anyone with more than a passing interest in fishing and wildlife will be familiar with the work of Hugh Miles.

getting up close and personal in Chile's Andes Mountains - our remote campsite is hidden just behind my head
The Dorset-based wildlife film maker set a new standard in fishing films when ‘A Passion for Angling’ first aired on BBC2 almost a quarter of a century ago. The six enchanting films threw away the “how-to” formula of tackle, bait and tactics, and replaced it with beautiful imagery, enchanting music and charming eccentricity. The series, based on the piscatorial adventures of angling author Chris Yates and his companion Bob James, is still hailed by many as the finest ever representation of the true allure of angling and the natural world.
Bob and Chris and a couple of near three pound roach - just two of ten caught and filmed that day

our star narrator Bernard Cribbins with a twenty+ pounder, one of many big fish he caught while filming with Martin Bowler
Ten years ago, Hugh embarked on an even more ambitious project, the aptly-named ‘Catching the Impossible’. With Hugh behind the camera and record-breaking angler Martin Bowler in front, the pair spent four years working tirelessly to capture hundreds of fishing hours, and some very impressive specimens.

Martin with a 44/4 common carp, caught while stalking with a float and pellet in the margins
a swagger of perch in the Hampshire Avon
‘Catching the Impossible’ took the viewer into the fish’s realm with breath-taking underwater sequences. Hugh was determined not to cheat by filming in aquariums, and instead spent many long hours wrestling with a waterproof camera on a long pole to capture the beauty of what he describes as “Britain’s most ignored natural environment.  

a beautiful mirror carp of twenty to thirty pounds

The aim was not simply to make a series of films about fishing but to create a visual celebration of angling, the great outdoors and the underwater environment for all to enjoy. The resulting series more than met that brief.

Hugh’s film-making credentials make for impressive reading. In 1973 he took a job with the RSPB and ran its film unit, making lots of films, most notably one on Ospreys that sold to over forty countries. It set him up for the risky life of the 'self-unemployed'. 

a classic nest-site in the Highlands of Scotland - from the book 'Catching the Impossible'
His first freelance job was on Sir David Attenborough’s epic ‘Life on Earth’. He wrote and produced ‘Searching for the Snow Leopard’, and worked on the BAFTA-winning ‘Life in the Freezer’, the David Attenborough special ‘Tiger’, and ‘Kingdom of the Ice Bear’, which was nominated for six BAFTAs. 

what wonderful, charasmatic animals they are
In total, Hugh has won three British Academy Awards, several Emmys and ten “green Oscars” at Wildscreen, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. His career has taken him all around the world, making more than 60 films – most of which stress the need to protect the world’s natural resources. Despite, in his words, “trying to retire”, Hugh has spent the last few years helping conservation organisations closer to home raise awareness of the importance and fragility of the chalk stream environment. To that end, he has made the films ‘Liquid Gold’ for Dorset Wildlife Trust and ‘Our Rivers in Crisis’ for Salmon and Trout Conservation UK.

 because of the governements lack of action protecting our rivers a comprehensive complaint was taken to the European Parliament
There are only around 160 chalk streams in the world – the habitat is rarer than Amazon rainforest – and about 80 per cent of them are in the UK. This unique ecosystem sustains rich aquatic plant life, which in turn supports the valuable insect populations for which chalk streams are renowned.
jewel of our chalk streams - photographed by John Slader
The plants and invertebrates of the chalk stream are at the foundation of an ecosystem that encompasses countless species of bird, mammal and fish. 

seriously cute but drastically declining water vole - photographed by Stewart Canham
another freshwater jewel
Kingfishers, water voles, brown trout and grayling are familiar chalk stream species. One that’s less well-known, and extremely vulnerable, is the white-clawed crayfish – our only native crayfish.

a little white-clawed crayfish
The white-clawed crayfish was once common in the rivers of England and Wales but numbers have declined rapidly over the last two decades; largely due to the rampage of the American signal crayfish. This invasive species escaped from farms where it was reared for the table and spread rapidly. Apart from being bigger and stronger than our little native crayfish, the signal crayfish carries an infectious water mould commonly referred to as crayfish plague – a disease which has had a devastating impact on the white-claw.
a deadly Signal crayfish, a colonist from the States

nice one! - and every little helps - photographed by Laurie Campbell

searching for an otter - a regular resident on the Allen
Hugh’s beloved River Allen, the Wimborne chalk stream that features in 'Liquid Gold', was home to a thriving population of white-clawed crayfish. While making the film, Hugh captured lots of footage of the endangered crustaceans, but just a couple of years later, in
the summer of 2015, he received a call from a friend whose daughter had found a dead crayfish in the river. It turned out to be yet another instance of crayfish plague, and the colony was wiped out. Undeniable proof of the fragility of the chalk stream environment.

labour MP Jon Crudass with a bonnie brownie from the Test on an S&TA Conservation day
Anyone who has ever had the fortune to cast a fly on a chalk stream will appreciate the beauty of these precious places, but Hugh is quick to point out that just because they can look near-perfect from above the surface, it’s often a very different story beneath.

ranunculus suffocated by algae
“Most chalk streams look wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that all is as it should be – the state of the wildlife can still be dire,” he explained.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a cliché, but in the case of our fish life it is alarmingly true. We can’t see them, know little about them and, as a result, don’t care. Education is long overdue, and showing adults and children is the key.”

several schools were invited to DWT showings of 'Liquid Gold', teaching dozens of children and staff the true value of rivers
Invasive species such as signal crayfish, Himalayan balsam and mink can all take their toll on chalk streams, as can cormorants, and pollution from roads, factories, sewage works and agriculture, but the single biggest threat is reduced water flow.

the source of the River Allen - crystal clear water bubbling up from the aquifers
Chalk streams spring from underground aquifers that fill up during the winter months. The filtration brought about from this process is what gives chalk streams their trademark crystal clarity, which allows life-giving sunlight to penetrate their depths. The natural filtration process also makes water from chalk aquifers extremely desirable to water companies; it’s a cheap option as it takes far less work and expense to prepare it for human consumption. Consequently, abstraction has a massive impact on chalk streams, many of which are now running lower than ever.

just one of many reports of environmental disasters due to lack of water
Water depletion doesn’t just affect the level of a river; it also affects the speed of the flow. Ranunculus, a key aquatic plant in the chalk stream ecosystem, thrives in swiftly-flowing water – take it away and you not only lose the plant but also the myriad invertebrates that feed on it and live amongst it. Reduced flow also results in a build-up of silt and other sediments that smother the rivers’ gravel bed and suffocate the eggs of fish.

a brownie looking for silt free gravel in which to lay her eggs
“More and more houses are being built but nobody ever seems to stop to ask where the water will come from,” Hugh added.

beautiful grayling are a common resident in chalk streams
“Chalk streams support some of the richest diversity of wildlife anywhere in Europe, yet we abstract the lifeblood out of them and kill the animals by the bucket load.”

roach, dace and chub thrive in the nutrient rich waters too
Although our chalk streams, and all waterways for that matter, need proper protection in the form of government policy and action, Hugh believes we can all help in our own small way. Little things like making sure the tap isn’t left running while you brush your teeth and thinking twice about watering the lawn or washing the car quite as often as usual start to make a big difference to water consumption when everyone makes the effort. Beyond that, Hugh suggests that we all lend our support to charities like ‘Salmon and Trout Conservation UK’, the 'Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust' and the ‘Dorset Wildlife Trust’, and do our bit to beat the drum for our local rivers and streams.

“Chalk streams really are liquid gold. We can live without gold – we die without water,” Hugh concluded.
you can see how choked the River Test ranunculus is in the background - the trout have to be stocked from fish-farms now