Christmas - a time to celebrate our days of joy with family and friends during these past years and to look forward to many more wildlife and fishing adventures during this next year.
Yes, we’re well aware that a virus is running riot so for now, all of us will keep ourselves isolated from our nearest and dearest and try to stay alive … and if Sue and I don’t succeed, this could serve as a goodbye!
But before we leave … and contrary to most people’s attitude to writing Christmas cards, I really enjoy the process because it means our friends are instantly on my mind and the more I write in each card, the longer I’m with them in spirit, regardless of not having seen them for years. This enables us to pass on our news and love and every card is rewarding because for a moment, they’ve been right there with us.
Sue and I are blessed to have so many to write to and I for one know it’s a privilege to share the fun of fishing with all my worm dangling friends. So I hope you enjoy sharing this selection of catches they’ve made during these past few years. And I'll start with those I fish with most, my computer guru and good pal Chris Wild, with whom I shared the excitement of stalking this beautiful 22lb common carp in the shallows of a local lake.
Next up is Steve Derby for he allows me the privilege of sharing his rig for mullet fishing in Christchurch Harbour and we had a splendid year of success, catching quite a few up to six and a bit pounds, along with some lovely roach. I know I’ve banged on about how hard mullet fight but if you’ve ever tried to land one, you’ll know that they never give up and in shallow water, the battles can be seriously exciting.
Also a fan of mullet madness is Steve’s long time friend, Brian Naylor, an ace angler who delights in making me jealous by telling stories of battles with giant sea trout in South America. We’ve shared a few scares together too as the feisty mullet try to break our line among the anchor chains.
Another fish that pulls a bit is the Indian Mahseer and I enjoyed some wonderful holidays there in winter sunshine, having been invited to join Steve, Brian and not least that ace barbel angler who helped us with our TV series ‘Catching the Impossible’, Pete Reading.
He caught us a twelve pound barbel to order and had lots of big mahseer during our adventures and it’s such a shame that those holidays together are no longer possible because the great wildlife and birding we enjoyed was only matched by our laughter.for half an hour, dragged him all over the river in his coracle. He's an all rounder so is just as keen on catching delicate crucian carp in one of our local lakes.
Gerry is a lifelong follower of Manchester United and he kindly invited close friend Chris Yates and I to enjoy a match with the club we support, Southampton. Being in ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ was dramatic, with 70,000 fans cheering their teams and it must be very odd for the players today to compete in front of empty stands.
Chris and I love our crucian fishing and have shared many memorable days trying to spot their sneaky bites ... and sometimes succeeding.
Chris also loves his perching but on this occasion he’d forgotten his rod so, shock horror, he had to fish with one of my carbon ones and I promised not to tell anyone that he’d broken his tradition never to use such a modern monstrosity.
Though I do enjoy crucian fishing, especially with Chris, my first love is roaching and I particularly like this pic of Stuart Wilson, the legendary keeper at the LAA’s Britford fishery with a sparkler.
I have many friends who love their roaching, including Malcolm Swinfen and luckily we've shared several two pounders. We also exchange fishing stories by email and with Malcolm being a good writer, they make enjoyable reading.
Many of our friends love catching big roach - of course they do, they are the best fish - and one who has done more than most for us anglers this last year by enabling us to start fishing again after lockdown is pal and Angling Trust guru Martin Salter. I was pleased to be alongside him when he caught this great big roach from the River Test. It wasn't quite a two pounder but it looks it!
I can't mention roach without acknowledging the lifetimes work of Trevor Harrop and Budgie Price and it's partly due to them that we can now trot the Hampshire Avon for roach again and stand a reasonable chance of catching one. Here they are landing a big chub! Sorry about that but I couldn't find the one of Budgie landing a roach of nearly two pounds.I have friends who sometimes prefer bigger fish than roach and I was so lucky to be invited to join those ace angling archivists, Keith and Sandy Armishaw for a holiday sturgeon fishing in Canada. What's more, we had such a good time I was invited again and boy, did we catch a lot of big fish.
This monster of Keith's took him 1hr 28mins to land and I caught one close to that size. We got very wet when it flapped and being stuck in the mud, we had an early bath - cue laughter.
We also visited Vancouver Island, fishing not far from where Prince Harry and Megan lived for a while, and the salmon fishing was a bit special, Keith landing this monster King Salmon on trotted salmon eggs and I caught several beautiful fresh run silver bars on a fly.
Luckily I'd been taught to cast by John Slader, an Orvis guide on the Test and stalwart of the Salmon and Trout Conservation Trust, so I was extremely fortunate to catch fish instead of trees. We had shared a grand bone fishing holiday out west and now we share roach fishing on our poles alongside the Avon and enjoy that just as much.
I have other pals that love fly fishing too, non more so than Jim Wreglesworth. He catches some gorgeous big brownies from our local rivers on the fly, loves roach fishing and shares a love of tench, catching lots of fiesty smallish ones with me one evening. He was quite happy!I have another great friend who I've fished with for many years and he's an inspiration because he makes such a commitment to achieve success and nearly always does, Mark Woodage. Only two years ago he caught a roach of 3lb14ozs from an 'impossible' water and helped me to catch one of 3lb10ozs so we were both rather happy chappies. He loves his tenching too and we've shared many happy days in the summer sun along with blanking on frosty mornings.
One angler I always look forward to joining for our trips down memory lane is Martin Bowler. We spent four years together creating our Ch4 series 'Catching the Impossible' and amazingly, after all that pressure to catch big 'uns, we remain the best of friends.
I helped him out with a bit of filming for one of his productions a few years back and we will never forget the day when he caught giant perch of 4lb5ozs, followed soon after by a true monster of 5lb4ozs. He is arguably the finest all round angler in the UK and a lovely bloke too so I count myself lucky to call him and his wife Jo friends.
Here we are with our close friends, ace wildlife cameramen Michael and Penny Richards and the legendary John Aitchison who was trying to film golden eagles catching geese! They do you know.
We go to Islay together as often as possible, along with other birding holidays but our annual New Year celebrations with Michael and Penny and Rick and Jen is cancelled this year for obvious reasons. It's sad as we've never missed the get together for the last thirty nine years. This pic of us on the West Somerset Railway makes me think of that exclamation in panto "it's behind you"!
We'll just have to be patient and wait for 'together time' when the worst of the virus is over. Finger's crossed it won't be too long, but in the meantime, Sue and I are lucky to have a lovely big garden to look after and keep us fit. Our wildflower meadow is butterfly heaven.
Our daughter Katie and partner Simon love their gardening too and are joining us for Christmas lunch from just up the road but very sensibly, our Pete decided it was too risky to come from Plymouth as he didn't want to kill the old folk!
We'll hopefully be seeing him in the Spring when everything is smelling of roses and our world slowly returning to normal. ... and it won't be long before summer glows with life and we're picnicking on the top of Dorset's Golden Cap. Until then, have a great Christmas and stay safe always ... and thank you to all my fishing pals for their great company and all the laughs.
With our love and best wishes, Hugh and Sue.