Sunday, 3 October 2021

CATCHING FOR CANCER

                           

                                    - FIRST CAST -


Anglers have a well deserved reputation for money raising for charities and non more so than for the one that I became an enthusiastic supporter of this year, “A BITE OUT OF CANCER”



This is the brain child of mad keen angler Mike Smith, who sadly lost his father to the disease. This proved to be a catalyst for his simple but inspired idea which encourages supporters who catch a good fish to then contribute a pound sterling for every pound the fish weighs. 


It’s a win win result, for anglers have a splendid fish to celebrate and all the proceeds of their success are given to Cancer Research UK, thus giving them more funds to fight this awful disease. I’ve lost several good friends to cancer and most of us have probably suffered the sad loss of friends or family too, so this simple idea of Mike’s is helping to save the lives of our loved ones. 

 Impressed by his idea, I encouraged many of my friends to support such a worthy cause, including the Angling Trust’s leader Jamie Cooke, along with Martin Salter, Martin Bowler and not least, the legendary Chris Yates himself. 

 
Mike was keen to meet Chris Yates and share a days fishing with him, so one of the managers of the charity George Frost arranged for a days social at the Wimborne and Districts’ Pinnock tench and crucian lakes.
 


It’s a delightful spot for a dangle and we all caught lots of fish, though Chris didn't fish, concentrating instead on ensuring that Mike and George were both able to gaze down on a beautiful bar of gold. 


At present, most of the fish that are contributing to cancer research are carp, but as many of these weigh upwards of thirty to forty pounds, the coffers fill up quickly, though Mike makes it clear that all fish species can contribute, even small ones, because as they say, ‘every penny counts’. We also contributed some copies of our book 'A Passion for Angling' for auction to help raise more funds and will continue to encourage everyone to contribute.


 

 

No days fishing is complete without enjoying Chris's Kelly Kettle tea and my wife Sue's Victoria sponge and this made for a perfect end to a memorable day. I hope, like Chris and I, you will catch a big fish and contribute to this vital and life-saving work.


 

 The charity has now exceeded their first target of an impressive , £26,000 and their next target is an eye watering £42,000, so we’d better get out there catching big fish to help Cancer Research UK  via Mike's splendid initiative "A Bite Out of Cancer".

 

                                 - SECOND CAST -


Chris and I were also asked to help raise money for another admirable cause, the making of a film about fish for that angling champion, Jack Perks. 

Raising the profile of fish is of vital importance if wildlife charities are to help protect fish and the places they live but they almost always get ignored, even though fish are wildlife too, not something that simply gets eaten by the other wildlife that many of us admire. 

 For years, Jack has done wonderful work on programmes like the BBC’s Springwatch and Countryfile, telling stories about our finned friends by filming them underwater in their wild habitats and filling us with amazing facts that encourage us to protect them.

 His latest project is to make a one hour film about the lives and loves of the UK’s marine and freshwater fish. As he told us, think BBC’s “Blue Planet” but on a much smaller budget! He tried to interest several broadcasters but they claimed that fish were boring and failed to win their funding. As we all know, fish certainly aren’t boring and Jack is determined to prove the broadcasters wrong, so undaunted, he set up a crowd-funding website to pay for it all. 



This is where Chris Yates and I came in because Jack foolishly thought that folk would pay good money to fish with us and put a days fishing up for auction. Much to our surprise he was right and a generous guy called Andy paid a substantial sum to join us and support Jack’s project. We arranged a time to meet up at the Wimborne clubs’ tench and crucian lake again, a prefect place to enjoying fishing in the tranquil backwaters of sunny Dorset. 





As luck would have it, Andy caught the largest tench and everyone enjoyed a splendid day catching lots of tench and crucians. We also enjoyed my wife Sue’s much admired Victoria sponge, washed down with copious quantities of Kelly Kettle tea. 



I’m happy to report that Jack did raise enough money to make what will surely be a much admired film on the lives of several of the UK’s most interesting species, so all he has to do now is find all his stars and record the footage he needs to tell their fascinating stories. 

The film is going to be called “Britains’ Hidden Fishes” and we’ll all be looking out for Jack at the Oscars!

Monday, 16 August 2021

                       
   “WHAT IS IT THAT YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT FISHING”?



That was the question friend Martin Bowler asked me the other day while he created one of his splendid features for the Angling Times. Sadly, I failed to do his question justice, so here’s an attempt at a better answer.

I’m sure most of you would agree that one of the great joys of angling is that it takes you close to nature, out into a more peaceful world, full of the sights and sounds of wildlife and all the rewards that brings.



I found waterbirds magical when growing up in the Fens and I’ve been a passionate angler ever since. What’s more, the many challenges we face today makes angling even more relevant to our lives, the escape from reality a life saver. We hear plenty on the news these days about the healing power of nature and it certainly works for me.


The beauty of the unexpected is also an essential element in fishing, never quite knowing what will happen next, if at all, the  mystery of the unknown and what you’ll catch an essential ingredient that drives me and many other passionate anglers to keep looking for future adventures. It’s a journey in which you are always learning and that is one of the fascinations of fishing.


It’s often said that going fishing is simply an excuse for being there and that's partially true but of course, there’s more to it than that, like catching fish! Most of us always want to catch a bigger one and I’m certainly a specimen hunter by nature but now I’m growing older and maybe wiser, I’m finding that size isn’t everything and the trick is to believe that lesson from ‘A Passion for Angling’, “fishing is not about how to catch, it’s about how to enjoy”.


I grew up with Bernard Venables’ iconic ‘Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing’ as my bible and have been trying to recreate those magical scenes ever since, not just in my fishing but in films too, most notably when filming Bernard catching perch in our legendary 'Passion' series for BBC2.


 

 

 

 

 


Bernard’s inspiring paintings of rudd fishing in Norfolk had to be emulated of course and I was lucky to catch lots of two pounders in the school holidays, stalking the shoals in my little dinghy during magical days when searching Hickling Broad in the sunshine.



Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to catch a raft of big fish of many species, including this fish of a lifetime Fen giant of 3lb 9ozs, caught on freelined flake. It was raining at the time so I took a quick happy snap - very happy snap - and slipped her back. 

Nowadays, the varied tackle and methods I choose to use provide more enjoyment than the result, even if I know that I’m not always using the most efficient techniques. I simply love getting bites as this takes you away from normal life so effectively. Better still, if I can draw the fish really close to me and in the wildest places, then it's the nearest you can get to hunting and if you get lucky, you actually get to touch your quarry without hurting it.

I guess I’m a traditionalist, preferring to watch a float than ledgering and if that float is lowered in at the end of a pole, that’s even better. Pole fishing is so accurate and intimate, sensitive too and this lends itself perfectly to catching my favourite species, roach, tench and crucians, preferably big ones, though little ones are just as beautiful and seriously cute!



My enthusiasm for fishing reaches its height when trotting a float down a river for roach, where skill is required to catch the biggest ones. I’ve been lucky enough to catch a three pounder from both the Avon and Stour, the one from the Stour tricked by trotting bread flake on Christmas eve, the ultimate present! 

My biggest roach are from various lakes, I think I’m up to nine three pounders now but in many anglers opinion these don’t carry the same kudos as river roach and I’d agree, even if I still like catching them! Here's a three from Linch Hill, an 'easy' water to achieve that untimat roach goal.


However, I’ll never forget the evening of Nov13th 2018, when after four days and forty hours of fishing, [I don’t night fish], I got lucky with my only bite and landed the awesome fish below of three pounds, eleven ounces. I have no need or desire to publicise my catches, so a quick happy snap on the unhooking matt had to suffice to allow this beautiful creature a speedy return to it's home.
At just eight ounces below the roach record it was my ultimate fish of a lifetime. Happy days!

It’s simply great that fishing provides an endless variety of challenges and techniques and I’m quite happy to chuck out a helicopter rig for big roach or a worm kebab for tench at nine wraps and waiting for the bite alarm to give me a shot of adrenaline. But effective as these techniques can be, I’ll always use a float if conditions allow.

I’m not a carp fishing bivy, bolt rig and buzzer angler but there are few more exciting forms of angling than stalking lake edges for carp and waiting for those vortexes and tail waves as they nurdle over my free-lined bait. Then when the line tightens and the pin screams - magic!


One of my most memorable carp was at Redmire, waiting expectantly with Chris Yates as a golden common rooted in the mud at our feet in search of my worm. The indicator was a tiny sliver of stick and when it quivered and slowly sank, my Mk4 Avon and centre-pin were severely tested.


Then there’s those magnificent golden barbel making the pin scream and the nerves jangle with the battle that always follows.
Variety is the spice of life and mullet fight even harder than barbel, especially if hooked in shallow estuary water.



They simply never give up and the speed of their endless runs is unbelievable. They often escape of course and the ospreys we sometimes see overhead are better at catching them, but all this makes mullet fishing as good as it gets.

So those are some of the reasons why I enjoy fishing and I haven't even mentioned that most important ingredient of all, fishing with friends, let alone those adventures abroad after the many exotic monsters.



Being close to nature and protecting wild creatures is the key to enjoying fishing and as anglers we do a lot to ensure our wildlife flourishes, not least because we pay the Environment Agency an annual fee of twenty five million pounds through our rod licence fees to look after our rivers and lakes. 

Whether they do enough with that money is open to debate as our rivers are in a sorry state and the threats increase every year. Us anglers also provide significant protection through their club work parties and by supporting the Angling Trust. We also raise many thousands of pounds for public health charities such as Cancer Research UK through fund raising initiatives and we should all be proud of that as we enjoy our adventures.


Hopefully these answers to Martin Bowlers’ question “what do you most enjoy about fishing” have triggered a few happy memories for you and that you’ll be out there more often now, chilling out while surrounded by wildlife … and that includes those fishy mysteries that swim below the surface, adding many more ‘tales of the very unexpected’.

Friday, 26 March 2021

WOW!

                                            

Yes, it’s ‘World Osprey Week’ and these most charismatic of birds are fast approaching on the eternal skyways from the west coast of Africa. Hooray for High Flyers!


We live in sunny Dorset and several ospreys have recently passed by on their way to Scotland, including the famous pair ‘Maya and 33’ that have already arrived at their nest on Rutland Water. Remarkably, after their two and a half thousand mile flight from Senegal they landed on their nest within half an hour of each other. Appropriately, it was at mid-day on March 20th, the vernal equinox and first day of Spring, cause for celebration all round! 

We are also getting increasingly excited here at Poole Harbour, for we had a nest occupied here by our own star female CJ7 for all of last spring. 


She was raised and fledged from Rutland Water in 2015 and in spite of this being her first attempt at breeding, she behaved impeccably, building up her new nest and defending it in the hope of attracting a mate. Sadly it wasn’t to be but ‘The Birds of Poole Harbour’ team and all us locals have our fingers X’d that this year will be the first time ospreys have nested on the south coast since their extinction here a hundred and eighty years ago. We were treated to daily excitement by watching her on the camera the team had set up on the nest. We hope that this image from Scotland is replicated in Dorset soon.

Being just six miles from our cottage, it is an extraordinary success, for it was only in the late 1950’s that ospreys successfully returned to nest in Scotland after being driven to extinction, the last pair nesting in 1916. The same happened along England’s south coast and it’s thanks to our friend Roy Dennis and his team and the translocation of youngsters from Scottish nests that they have every chance of returning here too. You can read the whole story by visiting the excellent Birds of Poole Harbour website - www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk/osprey/

It seems like only yesterday that Sue and I were living in Scotland for two years, [it was actually in the late ’70's], to make a film about ospreys for the RSPB and with the help of Roy [seen mending one of our nests], we completed the task so successfully that the film sold to forty six countries. This neatly goes to show what truly remarkable and exciting birds ospreys are and just in case you are unaware how remarkable these big birds are, I’ll quote the opening lines of the film Roy and I made all those years ago. The BBC even honoured us with a Radio Times front cover.

                                - THE RETURN OF THE OSPREY -

“The Scottish Highlands, a wilderness of rock and heather, providing refuge for many wild creatures, and one bird in particular, a very special bird, one of the world’s most spectacular hunters - the osprey.

Evolution has set the osprey in a class of it’s own, equipped it with a unique anatomy for supremacy in it’s watery world : five foot wingspan, exceptional eyesight : from it’s sickle beak to it’s strong legs and raking talons, everything about it is designed for a purpose, the only bird of prey in the world to feed exclusively on live fish”.


Our children grew up under their wings so it is no wonder that one of Katie and Peter’s first words was ‘Osprey’! It was in the early years of the osprey’s re-colonisation of Scotland and we lived alongside these charismatic birds for two years. Our love for them is deep in our souls and we pray that this year will see them nesting just down the road in Dorset.


Katie and Peter still get excited whenever they see an osprey, as do Sue and I, so we can’t admire the Birds of Poole Harbour team more for their brave and exciting initiative to re-establish the breeding of ospreys just six miles from our home. These are trying times but if you want the best possible news, the osprey’s imminent return is it! We're all watching and waiting - every day! So far only crows ...


***She's back now though, arriving for a mullet lunch on April 1st and on the nest most mornings. We're praying that she attracts a mate this year, even if it means I'll be wasting hours watching her every move and hopefully, the growth of her chicks. Our fingers are firmly crossed.
But that’s not all the good news. Thanks to Roy’s energy and foresight, another high flyer is now winging around above us here on the south coast, the sea eagle.


This remarkable picture was taken from Hengistbury Head in Christchurch Harbour on March 23rd, just a couple of days ago! It shows two of the youngsters that Roy and his team have translocated from nests in Scotland in the hope that they can recolonise their old haunts around the Isle of White.


Like the osprey, sea eagles were exterminated from Scotland, the last ones nesting in 1916 on a steepling sea cliff on the Isle of Sky. I enjoyed the privilege of making a film for David Attenborough’s BBC One series about their remarkably successful reintroduction to Scotland between 1975 and 1985. Our film followed a few of the 75 translocated youngsters on their journey from nests along the cliffs of Norway to the Isle of Rum on Scotlands’ rugged west coast. Here they were raised by John Love and learnt the skills necessary for their survival and it is the same techniques that will hopefully prove triumphant down here on the Isle of White. They last nested here on Culver Cliff in 1780!

These two great pics were taken by friend and ace lensman Mike Read in Mull.

There are now one hundred and thirty territorial pairs of sea eagles in the UK and in spite of continuing persecution, numbers are increasing and providing substantial support for rural economies. These dramatic birds help raise £2.4 million on Skye and an impressive £5million on the Isle of Mull. You can read all the detail on Roy’s Wildlife Foundation Website - https://www.roydennis.org/

This splendid pic was taken by ace photographer Laurie Campbell for our Catching the Impossible book

Yet another high flyer is also helping stressed rural economies, the extraordinary success of the recolonisation of red kites across much of its’ former range. Their numbers have reached an unbelievable 1,800 pairs and they are increasing every year. 

In fact, it still shocks us that not so long ago we had to travel to remote valleys in West Wales to see one of only a dozen surviving red kites but can now look up and see red kites circling over our Dorset garden. Every one is a moment of magic.
So thanks to all these inspiring conservation initiatives and years of hard work, there is a lot of good news out there, so instead of walking head down, look up and be amazed by all these high flyers overhead. These truly are exciting times - WOW indeed!