Saturday, 22 October 2022

                     AUTUMN'S HOPE AND HAPPINESS

 

Autumn, a season of change, of beauty, hope and happiness. And if you’re a fisherman, there’s no season that provides so many exciting challenges. 

Tench might be starting to slink away, the trout season fading but barbel are now at their best and wildlife doesn’t get any more beautiful than these bronze beauties - if you can catch them. 


Which reminds me of a particularly enjoyable day with good friend Martin Bowler on the River Wye a while back. The barbel were very hungry, grabbing our baits so enthusiastically that our rods needed to be held tight if we weren’t to lose them. 

The added spice was the pressure to succeed because Martin was writing one of his excellent Angling Times features about our day and as the sun was shining, the extreme beauty of the riverside ensured our few hours together provided happy memories. You can’t beat sharing a day with a good friend. 

Autumn also signals the start of the challenge to find big roach in our rivers and as trotting down the flow with a centre-pin reel and ‘Topper Haskins’ float is my favourite type of fishing, it’s a treat to be doing it again. I tried for the first time last week on a beautiful stretch of the Hampshire Avon and the precision and concentration required is what makes it so appealing. 

Bright sun made the afternoon a quest of hope rather than expectation but when ‘the magic hour’ arrived and dusk made seeing the float difficult, the big roach started rolling and in my book, there is little else that is so exciting. Any minute now ... and thump, thump as the float plunges under.


I failed to catch a roach weighing over two pounds and though there seems to be a growing trend that pours scorn on the idea of weight being a measure of the quality of a catch, a two pound roach remains the ultimate prize for a river angler. It certainly does for this passionate angler and as for a three pounder, dream on. 

Catching such fish in a lake is somewhat easier, so I have friends that suggest a still-water two or even three pounder is only worth half it’s weight! But in my book, any roach is a good roach. I love ‘em all, whatever their size.


Another species that comes onto anglers radar in autumn is the perch and if only I had more time to go fishing, I’d target a stripy or two every day as they are so beautiful.



I’ve made time to fish for them with Chris Yates in the past and whenever we catch a good ‘un, we always promise ourselves to try for them more often. 

But no doubt like us all, I find it difficult to find enough time to go fishing, which is a shame as it's the surest way of escaping the madness of the world we find ourselves in, those endless layers of insanity that keep on piling up and threatening our equilibrium. 

I won’t depress myself by listing them all but no doubt you know the score and have your own ways of trying to stay positive against the odds and for me, going out to be with wildlife is one of the most rewarding ... and you can't get any closer to nature than when fishing because you actually get to touch it.



Another added bonus of fishing is that it means you stay out in the countryside longer and being still and quiet, see more creatures than you ever would if walking.
 


And if you have time to stay until that ‘magic hour’ when the world wakes up and nature forgets to be fearful, the declining day will reveal secrets that lift your spirits and might even make you feel pleased to be alive. 

So it's simple - to live happily - just go fishing with friends!



Tuesday, 6 September 2022

                 WE’RE BUZZING FOR BEES 


Please don’t fear the worst. This will be a good news story because even though Britain is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world, there are things that we can do to make life better for wildlife - and for us humans too, like planting flowers for bees and butterflies. 


After one of the worst years of widespread climate chaos in living memory, most wildlife enthusiast will have noticed that this has also been a sadly depleted summer for bees and butterflies. We don’t really understand why they haven’t shown up here in sunny Dorset, but my wife Sue and I were determined to do what we can to attract them to our patch and if all of us helped them a bit, the world would be a better place. 

 

 

We do appreciate living in a lovely big garden, creating places for wildlife with a spade, and we didn’t need to spend much cash at all, simply planting in gravel patches or mending old pots, even finding containers that could be filled with compost, peat free of course, then planting them with buzzer friendly plants. Most of these plants were carefully stored perennials from last year and once re-potted and watered, they burst into life in a kaleidoscope of colour. Re-cycled wildlife. Perfect!


 


During our forty years living here and tending the garden to attract wildlife, we’ve gathered pots one by one, so over time we have lots. But all anyone needs to do is find just one and plant it with a salvia or dahlia and the bees will zoom in, three at a time. 




The good news is that you only need one pot to make a positive difference and they don’t even have to be big to attract and feed lots of buzzers. 


This little cluster of three inch tall vases, a present from a good friend, is decorated with a fresh group of flower cuttings every couple of days so that, when placed on a table by our garden seat, we can enjoy close encounters with the many winged wonders while sipping tea.
Pink persicaria is an ace attractor, nasturtiums too, though the best magnet of all is the yellow daisy like blooms of this more subtle version of a sunflower, helianthus ‘lemon queen’.

 

 

All cosmos are beautiful, attractive to us and the bees and a little packet of seeds provides a garden full of joy. 



In our larger pots, salvias such as white ‘whirling butterflies’ and this gorgeous ‘blue butterflies’ thrive.


And dahlia’s such as ‘Bishop of Canterbury’ and ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ prove irresistible to honey and carder bees as they provide a snow storm of pollen and nectar.

 

 

 

Hoverflies are always good value too, especially exotic looking critters such as ‘helophilus pendulum’, sometimes called the ‘footballer’ because of it’s kit!

 

 

 

Devils-bit scabious are an essential plant to have in your pots and gardens and purple loosetrife is a winner for many weeks, providing food for bees and butterflies, including this delightful holly blue. 



Of course, every public library in the country is stacked with gardening books filled with gorgeous plants that attract and feed our buzzers and the few examples we have selected and enjoyed here have hardly opened the honey pot of choice. 


So, if everyone in your neighbourhood planted just one pot of flowers, our gardens and yards, window sills and dusty corners would be filled with the delightful sound of buzzing insects, forever grateful for our kindness in providing them with pollen and nectar. It needn’t cost the earth because all it needs is some earth, a few seeds and a little patience. And do leave the nettles ... they come free.

So just give it a go. It’s a win, win treat and the bees and butterflies you're helping will make you smile.

Thursday, 28 July 2022

BERNARD CRIBBINS


                                

Such a sad day for so many of us because Bernard’s death means we will be denied his extraordinary talents to make us laugh and cry … and cry laughing. Sue and I still fall about when seeing him playing the ‘hotel inspector’ in Fawlty Towers.

His story telling skills were unmatched by anyone and he was never recognised in the way many of us felt he should be. Yes, he was awarded an OBE but no one could doubt he richly deserved the title Sir Bernard Cribbins.

The joy he provided for us millions along with inspiring so many children was wonderful, not least in ‘Old Jack’s Boat’. He told me many times how much he enjoyed telling those stories and during his hundred episodes, grew very fond of his doggy companion, Salty, who in turn loved Bernard. But then, didn’t we all.

I first had the privilege of working with him in the mid ’70’s when I asked him to narrate our RSPB film about Robins. He spoke our star robin’s thoughts so amusingly that he had them rocking in the isles at the Festival Hall and for years the film became a prime time fixture on BBC1 at Christmas.

When creating our ‘Passion for Angling’ series for the BBC, it was a no brainer to choose Bernard to describe the adventures of Chris Yates and Bob James and it was his dulcet tones that contributed so much to the success of the series.


Following that up with Martin Bowler’s ‘Catching the Impossible’, I wanted Bernard to be Martin’s angling companion and because he is such a good angler, he never failed us when required to catch a particular fish. We all became great friends and would have included Bernard in every ‘impossible’ challenge but he was very busy at the time, chasing David Tennant’s Dr.Who round the film sets at night. Even worse, he was suffering from cancer and had to put up with chemo every week. How he managed to successfully battle big carp and twenty pound pike after all those challenges was remarkable.
As the years rolled on, he became a bit lame due to his habit of jumping out of aircraft with the Paras and getting shot at in Palestine. He loved the Paras but hated the bullets!

When he came to stay with Sue and I and our two children, we naturally became even more fond of him. Katie and Peter just reminded me that Bernard has been making them laugh and smile all their lives and are tearful at this news, along no doubt with so many of todays children. He was such a lovely man, so kind and generous, amusing too of course and I wish I had the space to tell you some of his stories.

Oh, alright, just one then. Bernard described playing celebrity cricket with Fred Trueman at Lords when a naked lady streaker ran onto the pitch and Fred said “That’s the only thing that’s swung all day!”… and of course, all told by Bernard in a perfect Yorkshire accent.

Bernard has been described as a creative genius and non of us could ever doubt that. His extraordinary variety of talents means he will be missed by us all and having had the privilege of sharing a tiny portion of his life, his passing brings tears to my eyes. Rest in peace Bernard and catch another one for me please.


Monday, 27 June 2022

I LOVE TENCH

 

                                 I LOVE TENCH


‘Amo, Amas, Amat’ are the few Latin words I remember and mean ‘I love’. So if like me you were unfortunate to suffer fifth form Latin lessons at school, then you would know that the latin name for these most iconic freshwater fish with red eyes is ‘tinca tinca’.
 


Tench live in some of our most beautiful countryside, thriving in lily decorated lakes, weedy canals and gravel pits, slow flowing rivers, even very small ponds and in recent years, these rotund, golden scaled, muscular fish have been voted our most popular fish. 


What’s more, their homes are havens for a rich and diverse wildlife and the enjoyment of sharing the wilds with nature is one of the most important reason for being an angler and as is often said, ‘there is more to fishing than catching fish’.

Tench have of course been a favourite angler’s quarry for centuries,
[I wonder if the Romans fished for them?] and I love tench, not just because of their beauty but because they can be tricky to catch, especially the big ones, and we all like a challenge don’t we?



What’s more, if we’re lucky enough to hook one, they fight like mad for their freedom and using their large rounded fins, they make it a proper contest before we’re finally able to admire them face to face. 




I first clapped eyes on a tench when still a schoolboy at Ely in the Fens. My pal, nicknamed ‘Purdy’ Hawks and I were very keen birders and fishermen, cycling long distances over that inspiring ‘land off skies’ to find wildlife.

 


Here’s Purdy with our two tawny owls called Archibald and Susie. We acted as the Ely bird hospital, these two owls falling out of the cathedral tower and brought to us for rehab. A few weeks later they fledged successfully but even after flying free they would float down to us from the nearby trees to be fed. Magic! 

 Back to our tench because when a farmer told us about a small pond off the beaten track that provided a home for tench, we were there as fast as our bicycle wheels would spin. 

The pools were dug long ago to provide clay for bricks, their banks now overgrown with willows, hawthorn bushes and brambles, the perfect home for the sadly now rare turtle doves and even a pair of long-eared owls. 

As we arrived with rods strapped to our cross bars, redshank and snipe jumped alarmed from their nest sites in wet ditches, so we were careful as we approached the water, forcing our way through brambles and stingers before a mysteriously dark pool magically appeared, separated into two by a thick strip of phragmites [latin again], from which sang several reed warblers. 

We were excited by the possibility of catching our first ever tench, so hurriedly assembled our ancient cane rods and threaded on little porcupine floats, adding a small shot that would rest gently on the muddy bottom. We’d scrounged some old bread from school, mashed some of it up and flung it beside the reeds before casting out a lump of bread flake. 

Our tackle and methods were basic but it wasn’t long before both floats slid below the surface and we were battling with fiesta little tench of about two pounds, maybe more as some were very plump. I remember our joy so vividly that it’s as if it was yesterday. 

We continued catching several more, hardly noticing the increasingly heavy rain and with the fishing so good, choosing to ignore it. But by the time we had caught enough we were throughly soaked and cycled back across the Fens to school, chilled but happy, our catch totalling thirteen tench.


My Box Brownie recorded some of them and no tench will ever be as memorable as our catch, shared with the best pal a schoolboy could ever wish for. I wonder where Purdy is now?