Monday, 21 October 2013


such beautiful fish - why don't I fish for barbel more often?
Firstly, I make no apologies for the lack of posts. The summer continued and I just had to go fishing! I’m also updating my film on the River Allen for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, so I guess that will have to do as an excuse.

S&TA article © Laurie Campbell
Not long ago I was invited to write a piece for the Salmon and Trout Association’s magazine ‘Gamefisher’ and having been a supporter for years, I was delighted to oblige. They do lots of wonderful conservation work, facing up to many of the challenges that our rivers suffer these days, along with other issues and I’d urge you to join them and support their invaluable work. 

a Royalty salmon

Part of the challenge we face with fisheries and fish is a lack of hard evidence and their science teams are working hard to provide the facts that we need to fight the battles ahead.

H.Avon brown trout

The S&TA are not just about salmon and trout … water is water whatever swims in it and rivers deserve all the help we can give them. Anyway, I decided to avoid any of the fishy issues in my article and have a bit of fun, so here goes.

an unhappy polar bear
 male tiger in central India - big aren't they!
Filming an animal that can eat you always adds a bit of excitement to a day in the office. My office might be an ice floe in the Arctic with a hungry polar bear threatening you, a charging tiger protecting it’s cubs in an Indian Jungle or a dark night in the South American Andes surrounded by three mountain lions.

S.American puma looking for dinner © Laurie Campbell
These adventures are just some of the privileges of being a wildlife film maker. They might also include a chance to cast a line into some remote and previously un-fished corners of our planet … a dream of every passionate angler. There’s hardly ever any time to fish when making a film but sometimes I get lucky.

what a beautiful office © Laurie Campbell
We’ve all heard about the wonderful fishing in Patagonia so when spending two years filming pumas in the mountains - and by some strange coincidence - the camera equipment happened to include a couple of rods! In the early eighties the trout were so prolific that the locals could catch them by simply twirling a spinner out, cast off an old tin.

Even in the nineties, I caught trout to ten pounds or so, especially in streams that had recently been damned by volcanic larva. In one lake the trout were feasting on dragonfly larvae in the flooded forest and a live larvae cast between the dead trees resulted in violent takes, spinning reels and blooded knuckles. The fights and resulting meals were memorable.

clunking great brown trout in the Andes rivers and lakes
In the crystal clear, fast flowing rivers, I used fry imitations, swung across the flow and these were grabbed by the most beautiful brownies of three to four pounds. There were also silver bullets that looked like grilse and about the same size but I suspect were a type of steelhead. Whatever they were, they tasted very good and when camping in the wilds, anything is better then our staple, tinned tuna.

camping in the wilds is wonderful © Laurie Campbell
One evening my assistant Donny and I had invited some scientists for a party in our tent, so at dawn I headed off to the river and caught a lovely brownie and silver thingy for our guests. I had to go filming so stored the fish on a string in the lake by our tents. Returning in the evening to cook our meal, I was shocked to pull the string in and there was nothing on the end. Our pet camp fox had nicked our prize. So it was back to tuna and rice – again - though washed down with plenty of Chilean wine, the party went off well.
befriending this fox was a mixed blessing © Laurie Campbell
on the puma highway round the lake © Laurie Campbell

big pussy cat - big teeth © Laurie Campbell
The huge lake by which I spent a lot of time also contained huge trout of twenty or more pounds. The shore was the home of my star big cat and while filming her I often saw these trout causing impressive vortices on the surface. I tried to catch one of course but kept on being disturbed by my cat as she hunted along the coast so had to use the camera instead of the rod. I had to pay attention because mountain lions do kill humans most years in the States … and this story has a tragic ending. Two anglers were fishing on the opposite shore one day when one was caught and eaten by a puma. I guess he saw it and ran instead of standing his ground as I did on many occasions but it sure puts a new twist on the famous ‘last casts’ that we all enjoy.

The privilege of being able to choose the films I made gave me the opportunity to go to one of the anglers ‘holy of holies’ – Alaska. Our film story for ITV revolved around the herring and how important it was to the ecosystem, so we bought a 35ft boat as a base and filming platform … and a place from which to have an occasional lucky dip. It would be rude not to wouldn’t it.

humpback whale too close for comfort
One of the key film sequences was the spectacle of humpback whales ‘bubble netting’. This impressive behaviour involves teamwork, for the whales have to surround a shoal of herring with a curtain of bubbles, make a high-pitched noise to drive them to the surface and then time their lunge to engulf the shoal on the surface. Our job was to be as close to this great sight as possible without disturbing the whales.

I soon became aware of the dead and injured herring that the whales had missed and reasoned that when they sank to the bottom they would provide the perfect ‘chum’ for halibut … so making note of the exact spot on the GPS … and once the whales had finished feasting, we dropped a dead fish over the side and didn’t have long to wait before the rod was wrenched down by a large flatty. I caught one which weighed 106lbs, then next morning got one so large that we couldn’t lift it into the boat. On measurement it was estimated at over 200lbs. and the titanic battle I had to raise it off the seabed will live with me forever.

We never killed any of the big ones for dinner but little ones of ten pounds or so were cooked on the Barbie at the back of the boat. We had to put up with eating either salmon or halibut every day … but someone’s got to do it!

it's the quick or the dead in Africa
Making a film on crocs for Nat.Geo. provided a chance to fish for Africa’s giant catfish, dozens of which would feast on the carcasses of the wildebeast caught by the crocs. One was about 18ft long and only had three legs ; we called it ‘Tripod’. I hooked a big catfish one night that was too big to lift up the bank so a Masai tribesman who was keen to eat it tried to spear it in the head. Alas, the spear was too blunt and he broke the line, a twist on the one that got away.

mum watches young osprey exercising new wings near the Spey
Then when filming sea eagles in Norway there were cod, when filming ospreys in Scotland, trout and salmon from the Spey … and when filming otters in Shetland and the weather was bad I had time to catch plenty of sea trout. Poached, served cold and washed down with chilled Chablis – delicious.

one for the pot
So filming and camping in the wilds can provide plenty of adventures and a diet fit for kings … and it sure beats working for a living!

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