Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Peaceful dawn on Grimbury Bay

They live in such a beautiful place and fight so hard that it’s difficult to believe a creature can have so much energy and endurance.

fully engaged in battle
No wonder my friends and I have got mullet swimming through our veins and nagging at our brains when we aren’t out there. Those who’ve tried it know they drive you mad.

mind the anchor rope!
Good friend Steve Derby used to come down south several times every year to fish for barbel in the Avon but since I took him out to try mullet fishing he has hardly cast for barbel ever again.

heading out into heaven
Instead he has bought himself a rig, found a mooring and is out in his boat at every opportunity, introducing several friends to the madness of mullet fishing.

happy Steve - he's going mullet fishing
a fresh breeze greets us
My best mate Trevor Harrop of Avon Roach Project fame was taken out there by friends and like Steve, it wasn’t long before he too bought a rig and is out there weekly, well he'd like to be. 

 Trevor soaking up the rays in the Clay Pool, dreaming of big roach
I often join him or borrow his boat to take our friends out, like Norfolk convert Brian Naylor.
Brian with a nice one

top guide Graham with proof he is
I was first introduced to the life changing sport by old hand Graham Peplar of Davis tackle fame. I wanted to film a sequence for our series “Catching the Impossible” so Graham kindly showed me the ropes and introduced me to one or two spots … and at the first we tried I caught a roach almost first cast so I was happy, especially when we each caught a mullet or two as well.

Martin and Bernard with a small one
Then I had to buy a rig as well, big enough for both Bernard Cribbins and Martin Bowler to fish from while I filmed. We had such a good time out there, so full of laughs, especially when Martin was driven mad by mullet escaping from his hook just when he thought he had them beat. [A clip of the cursing can be seen in Prog 9 of the series, the ‘making of’ bit that I tagged onto the TV series for the DVD sales. It can be viewed on a previous mullet post, Angling Adventures 3]. He got one in the end though.

Martin with a splendid fighter
Our most recent convert has been Pete Reading. He was first taken out by Trevor but sadly he blanked … though we don’t feel any sympathy for him any more because when Steve took him out the following week Pete’s first ever mullet weighed 7lbs1oz … so we’re not talking to him any more!

Pete with his 7/1 - blinding skill or beginners luck?
Though mullet occur all round our shores in summer, our adventures all take place in Christchurch Harbour, either in among the boats in the lower end of the River Stour and Avon or out in the wonderful wide open spaces of the mud flats and sand bars that are ever changing with the wind and tides. 

anticipation at dawn
Wherever you cast, it’s a beautiful place to be, the wildlife decorated water sliding past before rushing out into the Solent at Mudeford.

a birders paradise
There are three types of mullet, the small golden grey, one of which I caught when first out with Graham though I haven’t seen one since, the thin-lipped which are the most numerous and tend to weigh about 2-3lbs and the thick-lipped which can weigh up to 12 lbs, though a good one is anything from five pounds or so and a ceiling on rod and line seems to be about 8lbs. Mind you, size doesn’t matter when a three pounder fights so hard you think you have a monster on the end.

nearly six pounds if I remember correctly
Their appeal is widespread, for as mentioned in a previous post, when asked, the legendary Terry Lampard said that if he could only fish for one species for the rest of his life it would be mullet. He caught three eight pounders in his all too short time on our planet.
Terry with one of his biggies, tho' not 8lbs.

The fishing is simple : a strongish float rod, a centre-pin reel, 4-5lb line, an Avon type rod and float, then trotting or stret-pegging bread flake, with bread mash sloshed in to attract a fish that never eats bread. 

Steve bombing it in
It’s like roach fishing for something that resembles a tropical bonefish when hooked, though mullet are almost as fast and have more stamina. They are awesome.

ten minutes already

getting tense now, he's standing up
result - 5/15 of beautiful feisty mullet
What’s more there are hundreds of them in the harbour this summer, the shoals so thick that you could walk across their backs without getting your feet wet. And it’s such a pleasant change to dangle a bait in a place where there are so many fish, even if catching them is impossible!

dozens of mullet in the Clay Pool before sunrise
But that is all part of the appeal. Everything is changing all the time, the flow, the depth, the fish, the wind, the tides … and by the end of the day you sometimes come off the water feeling you have been in a tumbler dryer filled with water … and it seems however hard you try, you can’t understand why they took the bait, or more often, why they didn’t!

a real biggie - 27inches of muscle
About a month ago I was out there three days running, taking advantage of this wonderful summer, and caught seven mullet the first day, four mullet the second and seven mullet the third and each day they were accompanied by a few bass, sea trout, bream and dace, even a dab, all taken on bread.
tasty bass but they all go back

even tastier sea trout - if only it could be poached!

good bream - notice the cormorant slash on it's belly - greedy sods

a dab/ I'm told it's a flounder - on bread - ridiculous  
I thought I had it cracked but the last two times I’ve been out I failed to catch a single mullet … but that’s why we love it so much, especially when the wildlife is so rich, my blanks more than compensated for by the appearance of two very special birds, bearded tits. I never knew they ever visited Christchurch Harbour.
what an amazing picture of a bearded tit © Edwin Kats
even the small ones battle like monsters
not ready yet
not yet either

Mullet fishing has that essential ingredient that all good fishing should have and that’s mystery. Fishing for them is a journey into the unknown, one that drives you out there time after time to try to find all the pieces of the puzzle to complete the picture … but fortunately, most of the pieces are missing.

relief that the war has been won

Monday, 5 August 2013


lots of gear
 isn't Ellie lovely - sure beats holding trophy roach
The BBC have been busy making a series of films this last year with the challenging title “Britain’s Great Wildlife Recovery”, challenging because there are so many examples of decline. Many of us are aware of these sad stories and unlike most of the media where bad news seems to be the only news, there appears to be a reluctance among the TV wildlife execs to face up to the facts and accept that not all is well out in the countryside.

just one of the major problems

dramatic declines in water voles © Stewart Canham

otters aren't always good news © Stewart Canham
The output is improving however, with the ‘Springwatch’ genre starting to tell the truth and explore the bad news stories of decline in a more balanced way … and to be fair, I’m led to believe that this new series is going to do likewise, even if the London based exec. producer is much keener on all the content being ‘happy’. I’ll let you be the judge of the content of the programmes, to be shown on BBC 1 from Sunday 18th August at about 5pm. It’s a good ‘slot’ as we media types say, and the fact that the series will be showing lots of great British wildlife is a rare treat. The ‘River’ programme, including otters, is to be shown on Sept 7th.

classic otter country
my Christmas special on BBC 2 

I recently became involved in the series due to my long history of filming otters. I made the first ever wild otter film in Shetland in the early ‘80’s, a BBC One film that attracted an amazing audience of 17.3 million, a figure that highlights the appeal and charisma of this fascinating animal. I followed this up with a 50min film on them for BBC Two, the inspiring experience of living with them in the wilds becoming the subject of my first book.

my first book on these charismatic animals
Regardless of your attitude to otters, there is no doubt that their recovery since the bad old days when our environment was poisoned with pesticides is one of the great success stories of modern conservation. Here in Dorset, they have now been recorded in every river in the county and as far as we can tell, this recovery is purely a natural one.

it's exciting to see them back © Stewart Canham
‘Recovery’ in some other parts of the UK  have been achieved by dumping large numbers of captive bred otters into rivers that probably couldn’t support them in the first place and I for one believe that releasing apex predators into the wild without an environmental impact assessment shows so called ‘conservationists’ in a very bad light. For instance, in 1996, 20 otters were dumped all at once out of the back of a van into Norfolk’s River Waveney and 25 into the Wensum, not only sentencing some of the otters to death through overcrowding and starvation but even worse, destroying the environment and fish life on which they were meant to survive. The perpetrators should be ashamed.

large carp are one of the otters favourite meals
If you’re trying to make a living by breeding carp and running commercial fisheries, the success of the otter recovery is not the best news you’ve had this past few years! However, the appeal of these ‘playful’ monsters to the general public is so great that anglers must keep their hostile attitude under wraps if we’re not to alienate many of Britain’s wildlife enthusiasts. It is one thing to get the law changed on cormorants, a success to be applauded but it ain’t going to happen with otters so we have to find other ways to ensure they don’t destroy our sport and our livelihoods.

perfect fish hide away ... and otters!
Working hard on our rivers and lakes to create habitat for fish to breed and grow successfully is the way forward … and I’ve seen enough examples around the world during my fifty year career making wildlife films to know that nature, given a chance, will recover and do well. More fish in our rivers will ensure otters are less likely to raid our carp lakes and garden ponds … and it might also be wise to cease the highly questionable habit of removing ‘nuisance fish’ from carp lakes, for these fish might get eaten instead of our prize carp.

goldfish snack from our pond

another victim of a nocturnal raid

the sight I dreaded at dawn

I have plenty of sympathy for those who have suffered losses, for our two fish ponds in the garden have been destroyed by the furry beauties. There are no fish left, even the tiny one year old minnows being eaten last week.

Many of these points were included in my interview with the lovely Ellie Harrison on the banks of the River Stour in Dorset - she’s as charming in real life as she is on the tele - though whether the issues get aired on the TV is beyond her control, mine too … but I did try.
preparing for filming

Ellie going over the script with Stephen Moss

dawn on the River Stour and an otter hidden below
Filming took place over two days. I found a family of otters before dawn on day one, a mum and two cubs but by the time the crew arrived they had gone to ground. I had splendid views of them though, one resting on the waters edge within three feet of my boots. Despite their raids on our garden and years of filming them around the world, I still get a thrill whenever I’m lucky enough to watch them.

two cubs following mum

family squabbles

mum spotted me but didn't flee
The crew were in place by sunrise on day two and I’d already found them one of the cubs which they followed in the misty sunrise.

on the trail of a Dorset otter

heading downriver to another otter family
My friend Stewart Canham was helping us and found the second family downstream, so we took off in hot pursuit and they were able to film Ellie watching them, though our best opportunity, when the family came ashore to groom was screwed by two canoeists who refused to delay their journey upriver with abusive language. [Canoeists really do need to start respecting the law and working on their people skills!]

I prefer being behind the camera!

briefing by producer Stephen Moss

Ellie trying to make sense of my ramblings
Then it was my turn to have the cameras turned on me as Ellie asked me about my experiences with otters past and present. I rabbited on about filming them in Shetland and ranted about the situation today so no doubt producer Stephen Moss will face a challenge when it comes to editing!

I'm hoping it will be a good series
It will just be a short piece in a film about rivers so I hope it contributes  a little to a better understanding of the problems faced by them and actually mentions our poor old fish too, so often ignored by everyone, despite being a vital part of a river’s biodiversity.  I won’t be holding my breath.                    BBC 2 Sept 7th – 5pm.