Saturday 14 November 2015


a perfect Avon roach and probably a project offspring

Roach – a favourite fish for many and certainly for me and though they have suffered declines on many rivers, not least the iconic Hampshire Avon, they are making a comeback, even on this most famous of waterways … and you might ask why?

Bob's famous catch of two pound Avon roach in 'A Passion for Angling'
With something as complex as a riverine ecosystem there is never a  simple answer to any question. No doubt the dreaded flocks of cormorants have had a devastating effect on the roach population ; the relentless weed cutting probably had a negative impact too. Then there is the general lack of flow compared with the good old days. When first faced with this powerful rush of deep water, anglers would be daunted by the challenge, me included … but once the challenge was faced, the rewards of numerous big roach were there to be won.

In the early ‘80’s I made a film for BBC 2’s legendary series called ‘The World About Us’ on the Hampshire Avon and Longford’s river keeper Tom Williams. I looked at it recently and the thing that struck me most, apart from the numerous fish was the impressive volume of water and weed in the river. The many carriers in the water-meadows had flowing water in them too, providing invaluable nursery areas for young fish, including roach.

The carriers have fallen into disrepair now and the main stream is a sorry remnant of a once fast and lush river and if you add the increasing number of chemicals running off the fields, then it is no wonder that fish populations are suffering, especially with the loss of so much good habitat. There are no doubt many other factors that have contributed to the declines but not to be daunted by the challenges ahead, Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price decided to act instead of just whinging like most of us do. 

 stews where the one year olds are grown on - the diggers in the background are digging out the lake where the roach will grow even bigger
 finished pool slowly filling up with rain water - a future home for breeding yet more roach, paid for by fund raising gigs.
Their success in creating the Avon Roach Project and raising and releasing tens of thousands of roach into the river has received well deserved acclaim and even more importantly, anglers are beginning to catch roach in places which for many years has been unheard of.

some of the thousands of mature roach released into the Avon
Because these places are the very spots where Trev and Budgie have been releasing roach for a number of years, it’s tempting to suggest that these are indeed the fish that they have so painstakingly raised from roach eggs gathered from the river. There will always be doubters of course, those that suggest the increase in roach is just a result of natural recruitment and that all they are doing is feeding the cormorants … but whatever the reason, let’s celebrate that at least some roach are back in the Avon and that catching them is more of an expectation now than a surprise.

Trev enjoying a few hours doing what we like most of all
Only last week, Trev and I decided we’d put our skills to the test and see if we could find a true Avon roach. We tried in an area where releases had taken place, just to give ourselves a better chance of course and bingo, we caught the most perfect specimens on traditional trotted bread flake.

fin perfect Avon roach - only eight ounces but a two pounder one day maybe
With their lead being followed on several other rivers, the breeding of roach has become a successful way for roach anglers to make a difference and we can be thankful that Trev and Budgie have had the sheer bloody mindedness to rise to the challenge. As they are well aware, nature will never thrive without good habitat in which to live and these last two years or more have seen an increasing number of habitat creation projects undertaken by them with the support of the Environment Agency too and it’s thanks to their relentless hard work that they are slowly transforming a once famous river back to it’s former glory.

 backwater cleared by the Roach Project to provide juveniles with a safe haven
There are numerous examples from around the world that prove that nature, given half a chance will fight back and we should all be grateful for that and support those who are prepared to make the effort.

If you want to learn more about the project then please visit their website and blog. I made a couple of films for Trev and Budgie about the project, Keith Arthur and Tight Lines have done the same and links to these can be found in the Film Footage flag on their website :

… and to read and see more, visit their blog :

Saturday 7 November 2015


the classic series of long ago, the culmination of four years filming from 1989 to 1993

We are all well aware that angling participation is falling, especially among the young and that is a concern not just for the health and well being of our freshwater environment but our youngsters too. Put simply, angling is good for us and lots of studies have proved that point time after time.

from Anglers Mail - Nov. 2015
The only age group that has increased participation is us ‘oldies’ and I suspect that is because we have more time compared to those who are driven to work all the hours god sent and are determined to make as much money as possible … but why if you have no time to enjoy it? The young have many distractions, not least that of social media … and a fear by their parents of letting them into the great outdoors doesn’t help. So you might ask, what can we do to help?

Firstly, we should applaud the recent increase in the depiction of angling on TV instead of knocking it. ‘A Passion for Angling’ was first shown on BBC2 in 1993 to critical acclaim but there has been very little on the mainstream channels since, maybe because they showed Passion five times before they felt it had run it’s course. It would be interesting to repeat it again now and see if it is as successful as it was more than twenty years ago. One memorable note from a viewer to the BBC after the first programme simply said :

“I’m not an angler,
I don’t even like angling
but I’m hooked”

the Passion Crew - Chris Yates, Bob James and a roach angler
The BBC Natural History Unit tried to ‘out-do’ Passion in the late 90’s with their series ‘Tales from the River Bank’ [and I know that to be a fact because the producer is a fisherman and friend and told me so] but sadly it slid under the radar, the most memorable sequence being Chris Yates blowing a bait-boat out of the water with a twelve bore! I’d love to see that again …

Matt Hayes and Ben Fogle - and that IS a big fish
Now we have the BBC Natural History Unit’s admirable ‘Earth’s Wildest Waters’ and I’ll pin my flag to the mast immediately by saying I’m enjoying it and so is my wife Sue … and I bet we’re not alone. Yes, I wish it wasn’t in the ‘bake off’ style [why can’t the BBC come up with some new ideas for story telling?!] … and wish it had a better balance of guys and gals [and we’ve lost one lady already] but the guests are good value and Ben Fogle and Matt Hayes are good too, though I’d like to hear more from Matt. Maybe the tackle diagrams could have been demonstrated live by Matt instead of the clunky graphics? We could have heard more from the local guides too, especially from Valgerdur Arnadottir, that beautiful fly-fishing lady from Iceland. Those big trout were gorgeous too!

The locations have been ‘interesting’ and the fishing challenging and whatever you think of the series, the BBC should be applauded for spending a lot of money on trying to show angling in an interesting way … and the shows sure are expensive, for keeping five cameramen and a back up crew out there in remote locations, along with presenters and eight competitors costs a lot of dollars. I’m glad I wasn’t paying for it all.

Caught in Time is Yates at his best
In 1991 ‘Passion’ took over four years to complete and cost £440,000+ for six one hour programmes and they are all in the UK with only two anglers and a crew of one, yours truly. I am of course aware that comparisons are being made between this new series and our long ago effort, even to the point where Anglers Mail’s Steve Collette wrote “If one more person says to me that this show is no ‘Passion for Angling’  I’ll throw them in!”

It’s very complimentary to think that so many still consider ‘Passion’ to be the series against which to judge all others but suffice to say that every programme is simply different and should be enjoyed for what it is. Television has changed a lot in twenty odd years and that could account for the fact that Passion attracted audiences of up to 6.3 million and this new series only a little over one million but just be grateful it’s on and keep watching. You never know, they might make another series and next time it might be better.

What’s more, with ITV’s more modern ‘in your face’ presentation on angling, these two series might encourage more folk to go fishing … and selling more EA licences will benefit all our freshwater wildlife, including our fish. So get out there and enjoy, even if it is raining. With the rivers rising at last, it must be barbel time …

at 13/11 it's my biggest barbel ... so far!
If you want to buy the series, ‘A Passion for Angling’ we still sell the DVD’s from our cottage in Dorset and Sue sends them out virtually every day … if she isn’t out buying shoes! … so please ensure that you get your orders into us so that we can get them in the post in time for the festivities. Please visit our website for details …

Sue busy sending out the DVD's and books

We are also offering the book of the series Martin Bowler, Bernard Cribbins and I made for Ch4 called ‘Catching the Impossible’. It’s a big book, 400+ pages and 400+ photos along with Rodger McPhail art work and it’s free … just send us £4 to cover the postage. It’s a really lovely book … but I would say that wouldn’t I! 

lots of lovely pics of fish, scenery and wildlife and many illustrations by world renowned artist Rodger McPhail

There's a DVD of the nine programme series too in sets of three, available from 
... and this is our website : ttp://

Some anglers have suggested that they prefer ‘Catching’ to ‘Passion’ but that’s another story and like I say, they are all different and to be enjoyed without prejudice or pointless comparisons …

full of eye-opening stories about big fish and great anglers
And if you want to read more about Martin’s life as a professional angler, then his book ‘Totally Immersed’ is a splendid read …

… and if you’re not convinced that there is fishing just as exciting as in ‘Earth’s Wildest Waters’ if not more so  and close to home too, then read his book. What’s more, Martin has just caught a giant blue fin tuna of over 450lbs not far off the Irish coast, so I say to the BBC, have some courage and get out there. With our local ‘Big Fish’ you’ll blow the public’s imagination wide apart.
with blue sharks to over 200lbs and even bigger ones close to shore, maybe fewer people will be swimming in the sea!

Thursday 5 November 2015


strike action Scottish style
I saw an osprey yesterday, nothing remarkable in that you might say but it was November 4th and any self-respecting osprey should be well on their way to their winter quarters in West Africa. It's very late leaving, most having departed by mid September.

It was perched at the top of a spectacularly high ash tree overlooking the water meadows in the middle reaches of the Hampshire Avon. I was huddled under a brolly on the other side of the river, sheltering from the incessant rain. The sight of such a charismatic bird made my day, for I was failing to raise any interest from the river’s big barbel.

good weather for barbel catching - not so good for hungry ospreys
It wasn’t long after landing that the local hoodlums started to hassle it. Crows don’t like birds of prey but their constant strafing hardly made the osprey flinch and it continued to preen rain drops off it’s back, then scan up and down the valley wondering where it’s next meal would come from. Numerous gravel pits and the river itself had kept the bird well fed for several weeks but on a wet day when the waters surface is broken by drops of water, spotting it’s prey would be very tricky.

the same spot in summer - you wouldn't want to leave either
Fellow anglers and friends have told me that this osprey has been around in the valley for several weeks and have suggested it’s a young bird, which is more than likely given their migration habits. The adults leave for Africa soon after their young have fledged, leaving their youngsters to learn how to fish and find their way south in their own time.

As keen birders will know, birds have an inbuilt sense of direction and are able to use the moon and stars to navigate by, even using the world’s magnetism, so finding the correct direction of travel isn’t an issue. What always puzzles me is how they know when they’ve arrived!

I‘ve been lucky enough to film wintering ospreys in West Africa and I guess the extensive mangrove swamps and fish rich creeks give them a clue … and they probably see other ospreys too. Watching them catching flying fish among the breakers was always entertaining, especially when they grabbed them by the wrong end and the fishes ‘wings’ opened up in the wind and caused so much drag that the ospreys had to flop back into the sea to adjust their catch.

Those ospreys were of course the survivors of the perilous journey. Some are shot in France and Spain, some die from hunger or exhaustion but judging by the rapidly increasing number of breeding pairs in the UK, many of them make it to Africa [and return]. They spend up to two years along the West African coast, developing their skills before returning to Scotland, initially to prospect for an available nest site and mate before heading south in July or August. It is just one of these youngish birds that I suspect was watching me from up in the ash tree.

After three hours it took off and headed upstream in the hope of a meal but by dusk it was still hunting as it approached me, alarm calling as a new posse of crows gave it some grief. It turned west to go off to it’s roosting tree in the rain, a reminder no doubt of it’s ‘summer’ in Scotland … and a happy reminder for me of our family summers spent filming them for the RSPB.

Scotland - the mission - film osprey on tree stump with fish
nice one - after several days waiting it's mission accomplished
pike dinner for one
In 1973 I left my promising nine year career as a cameraman at the BBC Film Unit, working on films such as Beethoven, Porridge and Dr.Who to pursue my conviction that wildlife film-making was the job for me. I left behind a good salary to join the RSPB Film Unit for not much salary at all! … but I loved being part of an organisation who were passionate about trying to save wildlife and enhance our knowledge of the issues of the day.

My first job was to edit the 22 cans of disconnected images to create a film called ‘Look Again at Garden Birds’. I even had to cut the negative myself so it was a dramatic fall from the big time to the very small time, though the film did OK and I learnt a lot about story telling. The films were played to a live audience of 2,500 [twice] for the Premier day at the Royal Festival Hall and you certainly knew very quickly if a shot or sequence was held too long or the audience became disengaged with the story you were telling. They didn't start booing but you could just sense their interest flagging.

I shall be forever grateful for the experience, especially as after a couple of years, I took over from Anthony Clay as head of the film unit and could develop stories that appealed to me. I’ll gloss over those years but suffice to say I became fed up with films about blue tits and decided to make a film about the most charismatic bird in Britain, the Osprey. So you’ll be grateful that this brings the blog full circle.

two images from our past as depicted in our 'Catching the Impossible' book
For two years in the mid 70’s my wife Sue and I headed up to Scotland in March with young Katie, [Peter was yet to be born] so that we could build the scaffold and hide at a suitable nest before the ospreys arrived. We would follow their lives every day and then dismantle the scaffold in early September after the family had fledged and departed south for the winter.

Katie and Peter grew up surrounded by wildlife ... more pics from our 'Catching the Impossible' book
Katie and Peter up nr. the nest - they're a lot older now
If I tell you that our children’s first words included ‘osprey!’ you’ll understand just how engrossed we were with their lives, trials and tribulations. In one notable July we didn’t get the camera out of it’s box for three weeks such was the rain, so yesterdays wet bird reminded me of one of my favourite shots in the film, a close up of a bedraggled female trying to keep her young dry in the nest with rain dripping off her beak.
 they have grown a lot - all Mum's good food! 

we built a lot of high scaffold towers - a job at SGB beckoned
looking for dinner on a sunny day
In spite of the challenges, the film was a tremendous success and sold to well over 40 countries. What’s more, the BBC Natural History Unit were so impressed that I was immediately dispatched to Africa to film a lion hunt in the Ngorongoro Crater for the iconic series, “Life on Earth”. We captured a double lion kill in the first three days and another couple too. Then a far rarer event, managed to nail a shot of two male cheetahs pulling down an adult wildebeast. We had finished the filming in ten days when a month had been scheduled so my career has never looked back. Better to be lucky than good they say!
the series of six films were an outstanding success, enjoyed by both anglers and non anglers alike

a series of nine films this time, some even preferred it to Passion but they are simply different
Anyway, as a result of all this the osprey has become an iconic symbol in our lives, the ace fisherman adorning the title sequence in both the BBC’s ‘A Passion for Angling’ and CH 4’s ‘Catching the Impossible’. No wonder I was so pleased to share the river-bank with one yesterday, even if it was raining. It didn’t seem to matter that I blanked.
the barbel did bite but that was the day before the osprey, two beauties to seven plus pounds