A pastoral scene…


The ground was hard with frost, the air cold and the sky crystal clear and blue. The water of the Itchen ran slow and clear, crystals of ice glistened in the morning sun, Kingfishers darted low across the water and the sound of cows split the air.

For the second time this month we had made our way to the River Itchen just outside Winchester to fish for Grayling, however we weren’t the only ones this time, in fact the river and riverbanks were littered with figures resembling Action Man, dressed in their olive neoprene waders and comofalaged jackets, they certainly were dressed for the occasion. Young Tales made a quick observation, with three men fishing 10 metres apart there was a sense that they weren’t going to catch anything other than each other. A stunning comment from young Tales ‘ all the gear but no idea’ was most apt, especially in light that these gentlen had blanked where young Tales had managed to net two pewter bars within 20 mins of being on the water.

Fly fishing such a narrow stretch of the Itchen requires stealth and an understanding of where the fish hold up, unfortunately we witnessed a lot of thrashing about on the water, bite indicators and little understanding of the water. We met a gentleman called Clive, a friend of the renowned Garry Mills of Mills Tackle who demonstrated how to set up for a successful days fishing, trotting a chubber float above a olivette weight and linked to a size 20 hook was clearly an effective set up, 18 fish and one shy of 3lb with numerous trout in the tally was impressive.

What made me smile was young Tales ability to hook two 1lb Grayling and several juvenile salmon Parr in the process. He seemed to be at one with his surroundings knowing exactly where the fish would be. Mrs Tales spotted a good size Barbel further upstream, we investigated, but as the temperature dropped we decided to retire to The Bridge for warmth. I cloud cover would have helped the fishing however watching the fluorescent orange tip of the float dip beneath the water of the river was enough to put a big beaming smile on a certain young boys face.

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Lady of the stream and Robbie the bank stick…

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The title may lead you to think I’m about to review a new children’s title by Julia Donaldson & Alex Scheffler, but no this is about our day out on the banks of the River Itchen on a damp January day.

Having been away up in Derbyshire over the past couple of day I promised young Tales that we would head out fishing over the weekend, I did give him the option to spend time flying his new remote control Super Cub S, a rather substantial model plane but with low cloud and damp conditions fishing was the preferred option. 

It took a few trips up to the loft to store away the Christmas decorations and find a couple of bags of tackle and rods that had been put up there to clear space before my Mother arrived for the Christmas period, I could locate everything we needed however enough to tackle up a fly rod and a 11ft float rod for trotting.

Our destination today was on the outskirts of Winchester, we a fish a section fish the Itchen that run through meadowlands, flanked by trees and with the distant silhouette of Chuch spteeples whilst cattle graze on new shoots as mild conditions and no snow allows the grass to be lush the time of year, occasionally tugging at the holly trees that over hand from the boundary of the hedgerow with the river. The river path was well trodden as it is a popular spot for destination ramblers as well as local dog walkers and those who just want to take to the country to fill their lungs with fresh air and feel the chill wind against their faces.

It didn’t take us too long to commute the 68 miles but as the rain pelted the windscreen we glanced at each other wondering if we were just completely mad or were those clouds going to break to give us an hour or two of solace on the water, for us a pilgrimage as both the Itchen, Test and Avon are for us as much a Mecca for our fishing.

The river was running clear not quite gin clear but clear enough to feel confident if the fish were around we’d tempt one or two out on what would be our first fishing trip of 2017, may they continue in the months to come with greater frequency than last year. After we had the rods set up we walked down the hill from the Station where you can park to the small bridge that marks the start of the free fishing beat. Armed with a mixed box of maggots for trotting and a Wheatley box full of woven Czech nymphs we felt we had all we needed plus ‘lady luck’. 

As we walked the riverbank it was not long before we can across a father and son fishing, trotting their float mid-water and as we watched the tip of the rod started to bend, they played a grayling into the margin before we picked up conversation with them. I did notice the use of a closed face Abu reel, vintage and still in my mind one of the best river trotting reels I’ve ever used the Abu 1044. Fishing a mix of casters and maggots they seem to have had success so that indicated a way forward.

Young Tales took up the fly rod, with his first cast the yellow woven nymph pulled around with the current only to be taken by an eager grayling close in the margins, however after a momentary tug the fish was off.

The scenery in this valley of Hampshire reminds me of the etchings of that truer British romantic artist/etcher Samuel Palmer,distant church spires, grazing cows, streams, woodlands and low flying barn owls- it is truest a magical place that is only just over an hour from London. I am lucky to own a collection of Palmer’s work and the scene today reminded me of ‘The Willow’. It was under a willow that young Tales was casting, several follows but no takes so we moved upstream past a small a weir or flow regulato, here the water runs dark, deeper and through a narrower channel lined with reeds giving you between 18 inches and a yard to fish from if you are without waders. 

The drips of water from the hood of my Barbour ran consistently indicating that the drizzle had now turned into train, soon the rain passed over and fishing resumed. The bright orange tip meandering through the pale gray reflective water, in and out of shadows and momentarily pulling back in an eddy as the current flowed over a submerged tree trunk and clump of weed, most of the weed in the river has broken off as it decays before it starts it new growth. As the float swung to the left of a channel it disappeared beneath the surface at the same time the top of the rod bowed to the water and the line pulled tight. There displaying her pewter coloured scales and crimson dorsal fin a ‘lady of the stream’ gracefully made her way to the straw coloured reeds and deep green cress that grace the margins. For young Tales a beaming smile and a voice full of excitement as his is what we came for. Several trotts later another pewter bar came drop the depths. These fish are strong, if you try to handle one they have immense strength that pushes against your grip. Having returned the fish and taken time to observe the flow of the river we where joined by two Officers from the Environment Agency, they had come to check that we were carrying our Lisence to fish, to some this is an unwelcome visit however this is the first time for many years I’ve been asked. I have to say I was please to see these Officers of our sport, for it is the revenue from our licenses that help manage the waterways we fish.


The rain had set in and my old Barbour was leaking, classic it may be but not as functional/waterproof as more contemporary outerware. As Mrs Tales points out my old Barbour not only smells like a pocket full of change but stiffens in the cold and from age is more like a sieve. The warmth of home seemed more inviting than another hour on the river so we started to make our way back to the car, we stopped for one last cast and out of the corner of his eye young Tales spotted a stick, not any old stick but a home-made bankstick. Made of bamboo, brass, alloy with silk whippings and a Hazel twig fork at the top. Buried deep into the bank and on the edge of reeds to most it would be unnoticeable, it had probably been there for sometime and only now visible because the surrounding vegitation had died back. On inspection it was thoughtfully constructed, along the shaft was a paper tape measure varnished along the bamboo length but it was showing signs of weathering but did have the name ‘Robbie’ written in ink beneath the varnish. After much debate we decided to take the bank stick home with us..we will take ‘Robbie’ out on another adventure and should ‘Robbie’s’ owner get in touch then happily return it. As you can imagine ‘Stickmam’ came to mind and young Tales was quite chuffed with his riverbank find.

Regeneration…


After 4 days into the New Year I report that there has been no fishing, no car boot fairs and vintage tackle purchased. However, on my travels around the metropolis I have been close to the rivers and canals that once formed the arteries of how trade was done in the City, the Thames is still as important to trade and industry as it’s always been, but the canals that fed the metropolis with coal, goods and all manner of things did so at a price to the environment and the ecology of the waterways.

My commute into London means crossing the Thames twice a day, usually by bus across the elegant structure of Hammersmith Bridge during the winter months and by foot in spring and summer. Recently I have been plying my trade around the Paddington Basin and around the area of regeneration of Kings Cross where the canal is a feature of the landscape. What is pleasing to the eye is the level of conservation of these historic waterways and more importantly the upkeep and state of the water. Once filled with pollutants, bikes, shopping trolleys, car doors and rubbish they now form part of the gentrification of what were run down areas of London.

I was please to see that these historic waterways are being managed and form the focal points of bars, residential properties, an Art School, Theatre and a gateway from Europe to the centre of London. The graphics surrounding part of a building project gave me great heart that we may be able to fish for silver fish once more…an excuse to pack a travel rod, reel, float and end tackle for an evenings fishing in the summer  with a G&T in one hand and a rod in the other just a stones-throw from The Lighterman.

Last cast…


The lack of posts on my blog certainly reflect the changes in our lives this year along with the loss of my Father. As they say ‘time and tide waits for no man’, how true those words have been during 2016.

As I write this last post for 2016 I can’t help thinking about how time has passed by all to quickly. In the early spring the focus was on the ill health of my Father, he seemed to rapidly go downhill faster than a skier on a run down the Matterhorn. On reflection it all seemed to happen so fast and when I think about it although 7 months have now passed the rawness of it feels as if it were only yesterday.

I took on a new role in late March which has been all consuming of my time every day and weekends seem taken up with planning the following week or working at Gin Festivals. There seems to be little down time these days and as a consequence little time to fish however we have been afforded a greater involvement in motor sport, another of young Tales’s passions, so I guess not all bad.
Again I seem to be pressed for time to write as we head out of the door to see in the New Year. So as a last cast can I take this oppprtunity to thank each and everyone of you who have view this blog and may I wish you all a happy, healthy and rewarding 2017 and those of you of the brotherhood of the angle, many a tight line.

Pike fishing


Christmas may be upon us but that  should not stop the intrepid angler from heading to a peaceful stretch of the Thames in search of that feared and reveared predictor of the middle and upper reaches Essox Lucius the Pike. Haveing read a snippet of Fallon’s Angler I’m tempted to buy some sprats from our local fishmonger and suspend one beneath a classic Pike float using my old Chapman 550 cane rod or possibly my Hardy LRH 2 Salmon spinning rod which is strong enough to do the job paired to an old Abu 66 Cardinal reel.

Having set aside a nice red and white Pike float for the occasion I then remembered a recent tweet suggesting a Heddon Knocker lure may also be just the ticket for our wise toothy friend of the deep.

There will be days between Christmas and New Year when a few hours spent by the river will allow me to get my thoughts together. Having lost my Father earlier this year I hope 2017 proves to be a better year, 2016 certainly passed by all too quickly. Little time was spent fishing or searching out vintage tackle hence the lack of posts on here. Hopefully I will get time next week to go fishing with young Tales so that we can finish the year off with a strong bend in the top of the rod and a Pike in the net. 

  
    

 

On the 4th day of Advent

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Found on a table at a sale of vintage and collectables this disguised Abu Toby lure. Clearly decorated in the original owners favourite colours I wonder if this was for predatory fish or for a Spring or Autumn Salmon. I guess the only way to find out is to fish with it, but in the meantime it can be used as a decoration on the tree, once the treble has been removed. 

 

Whisky and water…

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Under bright skies the farmers market was quieter then usual, some new vendors stalled amoungst the regulars and the usual banter filled the air, then one stall holder shouted  ‘Downton how are you?, that’s the nickname given to me by Ed the purveyor of Sushi, I have to say it is rather good, better than what you’ll get in M&S, Yo Sushi and other fast food outlets.

Having spent a good part of the morning in the loft looking for the Christmas decorations and trying to have a good tidy up, just that I need to find some space to store things before Mum comes for Christmas. Having a passion for collecting art and an eclectic mix of decorative items I’ve seemed to have collected enough to fill Downton Abbey let alone our humble home which is comfortable but a bit on the small size, I guess that’s the compromise for living in this leafy part of London. Amoungst all the boxes of collectables, paperwork, mirrors, old furniture and obsolete electrical goods. However, in one area of the loft are several boxes of Speyside Whisky, a collection put together over several years and have remain unopened for at least a decade.

I have always had a passion for whisky in fact I was fortunate enough to work for the well respected merchant of fine wines and spirits, Berry Bros & Rudd. The heritage of the company in St James’s spans over 300 years and the owners of the  Glenrothes brand and that familiar tipple when on holiday, Cutty Sark, which they have now sold on. For me the crisp winter nights becon a dram or two of a fine malt and a dash of Franklin & Sons Artesian Water which comes from a well know Scottish spring.  I’ve still not acquired any whisky stones yet as I have in the past used a large round ice mould to chill my glass down so maybe a trip to Whisky World this week to see what new releases there are to add to the Christmas drinks list.

I’m behind this year on my writing and sadly I’m behind on my Advent posts so I will aim to put one together for tomorrow. With the loss of my father earlier this year, a new job which has become all consuming and with little opportunity to fish, source vintage tackle or walk the shoreline I’ve been short on inspiration, hopefully I’ll get back to more activity in the New Year. For now I’ll raise a glass of the fine spirit and think about returning to the water over the Christmas holidays for an early frosty and crisp mornings Perch or Grayling fishing…now there’s a thought.

The Amwell

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Having not really invested in any vintage tackle this year I couldn’t but help notice the sale of a Chapman of Ware cane fishing rod on thatcwell known online auction site. 

Having followed it over a few days I noticed that it sold for £162.50, a good amount and more than I sold mine for a year ago at the Vintage Tackle Fair in Redditch. My pristine example was purchased by a German collector for £135.

In early November those of the brotherhood of the angel will take to the roads early in the morning and head to the Mecca of all things piscatorial for the Vintage Tackle Fair, however  tempting it is, but I realise I’ll come back with more than I left to sell and that doesn’t please Mrs Tales.

I do have four Chapman rods to sell, a couple of Chapman 500’s and a sought after 550 which was refurbished by the respected Mr Paul Cook, which reminds me I have a Hardy LRH cane Salmon spinning rod to refurbish and a friends Farlow Elf that needs a new top section.

With little fishing done this year I’ve decided to reduce the amount of rods and reels in the collection, even young Tales realised that although it’s nice to have a cane rod the practicalities of a more modern rod means that you’ll use it more, much like the classic car only being driven on dry days.

Well it’s time to head to bed to read the most recent copy of Trout & Salmon, scroll through the feeds on the twitter account and look at all those lucky enough to be Grayling fishing this week.

Perched on the edge…

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From the tranquil Thames to Donington Park Circuit life couldn’t be more different however ‘perched on the edge’ seems an apt headline.

On Sunday the air was full of the scent on autum, earthy notes of decaying bankside vegitation, smoke in the air from burning leaves and that damp smell you get in the dappled light of October. For some the next six weeks are a highlight of their year.


With less fishing done this year we ventured out with a couple of short  lure rods for a little bit of Perch fishing with soft lures and Mepps spinners, Rovex and Shimano reels attached to our Rovex and Ron Thompson Tyran Travel Spinning Rod.


Young  Tales was perched on the edge of a concert wall beneath a motorway bridge searching out a predatory fish, unfortunately there were few fish around or not interested in our offerings. We moved on to a favourite mark near Green Street in Lowet Sunbury but again nothing wanted to bite. Fallen apples bobbed in the margins and the sky reflected in the water indicated little flow in the river. The water coloured by recent rainfall gave little hope for a fish.


Today I also was perched on the edge but in a very different way. Being privileged to attend a track day at Donington hosted by Rally Champion Steve Perez and Ginetta. With the opportunity to be driven and drive a host of Ginetta race cars and tutored by some very young and tallented drivers who put me through my paces as conditions changed during the day.

  
In wet conditions I managed to take to the grass and bring out the yellow flag but by the end of the session I felt I had made good progress with my track craft and conquered my fears of pushing hard in wet condition on a glassy track surface with a day’s rubber and oil laid down and

 on a track I barely know having only done a dozen or so laps around, well maybe 20 or so if I include those driven by Tom Ingram, Sennan Proctor and Jody a young star of GT racing.

Cornwall…this way

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Last Friday I took the decision to drive on my own to Cornwall to visit Rubina and William Tyler-Street,owners of the Curio Spirits Company based in Mullion Cove. We had things to discuss on brand development and it was good to see developments at the distillery. It was also an opportunity to catch up with friends who I share the same passions with, drinking gin, art, antiques and a coastal lifestyle – that’s if you can call mine that for living on the banks of the Thames.

 The evening light started to fade as I drove down the A303 and onwards to the A30, the rear lights of the cars in front forming a snake like trail across the Southern Counties through Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Sommerset, Devon and on to Cornwall. Stonehenge always seems to slow the traffic down as people look at one of the wonders of the world. It took a good few hours to get to what I feel are the ends of the earth, a sky so dark that the stars shine like diamonds, trees bent over from the Atlantic winds their branches encrusted with moss and the smell of the sea, distant crashing of waves and the odd Cornish chough call.

As I pulled into the car park of the Mullion Cove Hotel, Willaim peered through the passenger window to greet me. We sat talking for a few hours sipping at out pints of Tribute after a meal of locally caught fish and reared beef. We talked about distilling, shipwrecks, Customs Officers, poets, the sea and what next to create. As a seasoned brand ambassador I presented my Franklin & Sons Tonic range the bar manager and General Manager, which they seemed to like.

Saturday morning arrived after a good nights sleep, but I missed my morning cuddle with young Tales. Breakfast rolled into our meeting to discuss what next and after a few hours we felt we’d made enough ground to wrap up after a tour around the grounds and a conversation on how to develop the business further, the possibility of a visitor centre for the distillery and it’s expansion – certainly I noted the amount of knocks on the door by gin enthusiasts as they came to purchase their bootles of gin, much in the same way as when I was in my early teens and people coming to Quill Hall Farm for their eggs and milk, how times change.

Without giving too much away we had conceptualised a great new brand.

 It’s now down to us to turn creative scribbles and research into an award winning brand in both visual and liquid terms. I am very excited by the new journey we have embarked on. With more knocks on the door by gin enthusiast it was time I made passage to Hayle on my whirlwind journey to Cornwall, however there was one detour to make, the Lizard, and a visit to ‘Cornwall’, a small antiques and decorative interiors shop owned by our good friend Debbie who appeared on TV a few nights before my trip. The shop is a real cornucopia, an eclectic mix of old and new items…it’s difficult for me not to want to take most of it home but I was told in no uncertain terms that Mrs Tales said I have too much already. Debbie kindly gave me a small booklet on Falmouth Corporation Fishery, printed in 1963 and detailed popular patterns of flies on the Corpoartion water, Black Spider, Wickhams’s Fancy, Peter Ross, Coch-y-Bondhu and one of my favourites the Alexander, noting that the Sedge Fly fished wet or dry was deadly – that then prompted me that as time was of the essence I should make haste to Hayle but not before one last drop in to Last Stop, for me one of the best tackle shops around and certainly the best in Cornwall – a bass fishers paradise. Unfortunately when I arrived Chris wasn’t there but that didn’t stop me buying a 28g Tsunami Frenzy Jig in sliver/orange as a point jig for young Tales next excursion to the South Coast.

  
 My thoughts went back my last visit in July when I attended the Gin Festival in St Ives, giving us the opportunity to visit our friends who live on the Lizard and in St Ives. Part of my excitement this time was to see Richard Nott my artist friend and to see his new studio in Hayle, a former forge and known as the Forge. This new studio gives him a great space to work in.

Nestled in the back of the car was my trusted W F Holdsworth ‘Equipe’road bike which I offered Richard back in the summer. Richard, a keen cyclist would make better use of this 70’s icon of British road racing rather than for it to endure the harsh elements of another winter propped up against the potting shed, or rather Gin Shed as it’s now known. Whilst walking around Richard’s studio I was thinking about what a great distillery building it would make. Richard was in the middle of creating some new works, I was then thinking about a big white wall at home that one would look great on…

 Talking about gin sheds, Curio have a fine one that houses their still and the production hub of their Curio Rock Samphire Gin and crafted vodkas. In a secluded spot on the outskirts of Mullion, on the edge of a wind blown coppice surrounded by a stone wall their still house made of a stone structure painted in what I call Tiffany Blue an out-building to the farm which itself has a rich history and by all accounts has had a dwelling sited there for over a 1,000 years. The old farmhouse once an armoury is allegedly haunted – you can tell that a rich history seeps from it’s walls. I urge you to visit the Curio Distillery if you are that way inclined to learn where your gin comes from.

Within 24 hours it was time to head back to SW London, a shame to be leaving so soon but I know not for long there is something about Cornwall that draws you back time and time again.