Archive for August, 2012

The River Piddle

August 11, 2012

The River Piddle: Fishing Fellowship Part ll

After the exceptional hospitality afforded me in Tiverton by Adrian Howell and Darren Blackburn I set off on a day trip further afield to meet up with two anglers who once again I had never previously met and who had promised me assistance in accessing some fishing. This was however really rather special for a number of reasons. Firstly Tony King and Richard Slocock operate REFFIS, (Register of Experience Fly Fishing Instructors and Schools), an organisation established to provide a means of identifying quality angling instructors and guides. They also had access to the most Southerly Chalk Streams in the UK, the rivers Piddle and Frome in Dorset. I have actually, up to this point, never fished a genuine English Chalk Stream and was most excited by the prospect. I headed out of Tiverton in the early morning along winding country roads and negotiated numerous complicated sets of that most British of inventions the multiple “mini” roundabout, losing my way on occasion but finally found myself crossing the border into Dorset.

Richard and Tony run REFFIS. The Register of Experienced Fly Fishing Guides and Schools. Click on the image to find a REFFIS guide near you.

It proved an interesting journey and I was fascinated to see how as I moved further East the cottages changed subtly, appearing a tad more cosy and warmer in aspect than the dour constructions of the South West. Obviously this is a primarily the result of the use  of different stone, these older villages having been built using whatever materials were local. The cottages of Cornwall and Devon frequently manufactured from granite blocks and with local slate roofs having a cold and somewhat forbidding outlook, as though permanently huddled down against the wind and rain. The Dorset houses fashioned from lighter and warmer looking stone and generally topped with thatched roofs appeared much less dreary and welcoming in some way. The change in archictectural styel providing an interesting diversion as I motored past the parking for the Olympic Sailing events being held at Weymouth.

True to his word Tony was waiting for me at Lawrences Farm, Richard’s home in Tolpuddle, and first order of the day was coffee and some fly fishing chatter in the kitchen. There could be little doubt that there is a brotherhood amongst fly anglers as we settled in easily to discussion of fishing, guiding, REFFIS and the pro’s and con’s of instruction. It is rather like suddenly finding others who speak the same language and with communication barriers removed one settles into familiar conversation like old friends despite the newness of the acquaintance.

I spent some time with Tony on the lawn, casting various rods and going through the paces of an assessment to insure that I could actually cut the mustard when it came to fly fishing and the instruction thereof. It is interesting to see how different people approach fly casting instruction and although we didn’t entirely see eye to eye on the best means of transferring such knowledge it was equally apparent that we both knew what we were up to and agreed on all the more important aspects. So having passed muster it was time to head out to a beat on the Piddle for a spot of fishing. The weather wasn’t as kind or unkind as it might have been, a little gray and windy but at least not pouring down and we found the stream flowing strongly and crystal clear.

Tony King fishes the Piddle near Tolpuddle.

Tony proved to be a mine of information, instructing me on such gems as the traditional explanation that the many towns in the area, Tolpuddle, Afpuddle, Briantspuddle, Puddletown and the like had indeed been “piddles” in the past, the names changed to avoid causing affront to visiting royalty at some point in time.  There is apparently little evidence that this is truly the case but it is a nice story. The River Piddle however remained such and looking at the crystal water and waving weed fronds of this glorious little gem of a stream it was quite obvious that any association with bodily functions or sanitarywares was purely coincidental. Ref:

Tolpuddle is equally famous for the Tolpuddle Martyrs, a group of 19th century farm labourers who formed a friendly society in protest of the reduction of their wages. The Combination Acts which made gathering for such purposes had been repealed and the formation of Trade Unions was no longer illegal but the martyrs were prosecuted under an ancient law with respect to the swearing of secret oaths and ultimately sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. They became popular heroes and 800, 000 signatures were collected demanding their release. Supporters organised a political march and eventually their sentences were overturned and they were released some two years later. Ref:

With history put to one side Tony and I focused then on the fishing. The Piddle at this point is a narrow if frequently deep stream, and “lightly keepered” which means that it doesn’t sport the overly mown and tended lawns of some of the more famous chalk streams, it also and importantly remains un-stocked and hosts native brown trout . In fact the bankside herbage was more than averagely unkempt due to the heavy rains which had made grass cutting impossible in the preceding month, which made stalking and casting more tricky than it might have been, but the fishing was no worse for the challenge.

However conditions left us battling an unruly and troublesome breeze attempting to land flies in a fast flowing stream which in some parts was only a few feet across. Tony I have to confess was far better at spotting the trout than I was, but we did get to target some specific fish under tricky conditions and in time I had my first genuine wild native brown trout on the bank.

The chill wind and damp conditions were not conducive to insect hatches and the better fish fell to nymphs, I was sure that we could have caught more with a long rod and some weighted Czech nymphs but I don’t think either of us really considered this as a righteous option on such a spectacularly gorgeous stream. I think that we spooked more fish than we caught but it didn’t matter, we caught and release a number of trout, a few of good size and were more than happy with our efforts. On the walk back to the car Tony spotted a large Pike holding in the clear water, I suspect they he was already planning to come back and remove this predator at some point in the near future.

Tony with a gorgeous native wild Piddle Brownie, you can click on the image to go to Tony’s website.

The drive back to Tiverton was briefly interrupted for us to share an ale at a roadside pub before we bid one another farewell and went our separate ways but I am most thankful to Tony and Richard for affording me the opportunity.  Fishing on both the Piddle and Frome can be organised through Richard and information on these lovely and reasonably priced waters can be obtained from If you find yourself in the vicinity of Dorset I can heartily recommend that you give these lovely streams a try and if you are particularly fortunate you may be able to arrange for Tony to guide you. The images above provide links to REFFIS and Tony King’s Website.

Many thanks to Richard and Tony for the opportunity, two more anglers who selflessly contributed to my most enjoyable holiday.

The Fellowship of Fly Fishermen.

August 10, 2012

I wonder if you have ever lost your wallet? In this modern rushed age, what with myriad distractions numerous pressures and a world inhabited by nefarious characters the odds are pretty good that you have. Of course there is a world of hurt coming if this should occur, what with credit cards to be stopped and replaced, money gone and who knows what else suddenly plucked from your previously happy little existence. On the other hand there is equally, or at least I like to imagine so, cause for hope. You see I am forgetful by nature, easily distracted and prone to losing or forgetting things and wallets are only one of the many bits and bobs that have had to be replaced over the years. So you might say that I am something of an expert in terms of the joys and heartaches of potential loss.

The bad thing is that should your missing wallet not turn up then everyone in the world is a suspect, your faith in the goodness of human nature is lost and you start to cross the road when others approach, lock your car at stop streets and huddle away from the now apparently threatening masses. Equally should some kind soul track you down and return the aforementioned item faith is restored, the sun seems warmer, the rain less bothersome, the flowers brighter and you find yourself tipping the guy at the garage who cleaned your windows for you.

In my rather skewed outlook of the world and the people in it I like to imagine that fly fishermen would return the wallet more often than not, it just seems to me that most of us are above such things as common theft and perhaps actually bordering on that near antisocial trait of honest helpfulness. I am not sure which comes first the chicken or the egg, the outlook or the fly rod?  I am however writing this with a warm heart and yes I did tip the guy at the garage who cleaned my windows. You see my faith is restored and if not in the unwashed masses of this global village at least in with regards to the washed or unwashed members who wield fly rods.

I have recently returned from an extended stay in the UK, the land of my birth, and although the primary motivation for the trip was a family wedding the hidden agenda was undoubtedly to secure some fishing, hopefully a lot of fishing.

I was rather keen to slot in a bit of boat fishing on larger lakes, something not overly available in respect of my local geography and at the same time was trusting that I may even organise some stream fishing, maybe even chalk stream fishing for that matter but with little idea how to go about organising it.

Stream or river fishing in the UK isn’t quite so easy to come by as one may imagine, in fact for a country which seems to see little but constant rain and with every piece of low lying land a potential trout, salmon or grayling haven it can prove uncommonly tricky to gain access to water. Much of it is privatised, inaccessible, overpriced or simply not spoken about so prior to my planned departure I did a bit of on line research. Whereas in the past possibly fly tying, casting or whatever were essential skills for the avid fly-rodder, perhaps for the modern piscatorial traveller it is equally essential that one can tickle the keyboard and at least make some progress with Google and Email.

So it was that I managed to locate a few fellow anglers who proved uncommonly helpful and to whom I now find myself in considerable moral if not financial debt.

The first was Adrian Howell, the secretary for the Tiverton Fly Fishing Association. This very kind gentleman not only agreed to meet up with me but had already organised that I could fish the River Culm with his friend Darren Blackburn that same evening.

Only a fellow fly fisher would assume that you were up for a fishing trip unplanned in less than three hours’ time and I saw it as a measure of the man that he would even consider this normal behaviour, because of course I would too.  Darren proved to be a wonderful host and afforded me the privilege of a guest ticket on what proved to be a glorious small stream.

It is technically a spate river but it flowed quite clear and looked to all intents and purposes the same as a small chalk stream or limestone creek. Long strands of Rununculus bearing the prettiest white flowers waved in the current and numerous fish sought food and shelter amongst the waving fronds. Unfortunately the evening rise only just got started before a downpour and a drop in the air temperature seemed to put them down but we both caught fish. Salmon Parr and Brown Trout, all as pretty as pictures, the Parr with blue finger marks on their backs and the brownies with gloriously vivid red spots and full tails. All this organised by two fellow anglers who had never previously met me and had absolutely no benefit from sharing their treasures, I was already feeling eternally grateful to them both.

Bickleigh Bridge on the Exe, a perfect view with which to end a lovely day.

The next day however Adrian had organised for me to fish on a section of the Exe, primarily a salmon river but containing both wild browns and grayling and thankfully left pretty much unfished. This state of affairs as I understand it primarily a result of the onerous health and safety regulations which have prevented the hotel on the banks from offering the fishing for fear of someone falling in and the potential costly legal battle that might ensue.

I suppose that perhaps they already knew that South Africans are not overly litigatious and that the fly angling subspecies are really rather up for something of a challenge.  It proved to be a most interesting piece of water to fish, reminiscent of the Welsh Dee that I had fished in Commonwealth Championships and although I didn’t really have heavy enough flies for the water I was able to secure a few decent brown trout and again those pretty salmon parr. Perhaps the greatest joy was that I could fish techniques uncommon on the smaller rivers at home. Czech nymphing, mono-nymphing and swinging flies downstream all proved effective and I had a wonderful time. Not least because at the top of the beat lay the beer garden of the Fisherman’s Cot hotel which offered both cold real ale (Hobgoblin Ruby Ale if you must know) , a view of the river and the ancient bridge at Bickleigh with the constant hope of spotting a salmon moving over the weir. The salmon didn’t materialise but other than that it was a perfect end to the afternoon, even the sun shone just before it set.

One would have to question if things could get better but perhaps Adrian had indeed left the best until last. On day three I was given the chance to fish with Adrian and his son Adam on a higher section of the Exe. Private water and somewhere that I would never have been able to access without this kindness. This section of the river was a tad narrower than the section of the previous day, again primarily a salmon beat but holding good numbers of both wild brown and escaped rainbow trout with even the promise of a grayling. I was most hopefully of catching one of these “ladies of the stream” if only because they are not available to me on home waters and they are so pretty.

Adam Howell does battle with a feisty trout on the Exe.

Initially I set about Czech nymphing in a deep and fast run and the technique proved too much temptation for the escaped rainbows. The fish had however acclimatised very well to their new home and fought like Trojans. Pretty soon however I gave up the rod to Adam to show him more of the technique and it became obvious that I wasn’t going to pry the Gray’s Missionary from his hands once he met with success. The rain came and went and amidst something of a downpour we all shared a cup of tea courtesy of that spectacularly clever invention the Kelly Kettle which managed to produce a warm brew fed only with a few damp twigs. Adam continued to fish with the Czech nymph rig , Adrian set about swinging some traditional wet flies downstream and I elected to upstream nymph with a pheasant tail and a dry sedge. It is remarkable that we all caught fish on these different methods, although I think that still perhaps Adam, having honed his technique, had the best of it and was enjoying fishing down behind his dad and pointing out just how many fish Adrian had failed to lure up with those wets.

Once confident with the technique Adam was leading the way with his catch rate.

I managed to hold my own with the upstreaming and was most pleased to capture at least one pretty and not insubstantial grayling such that by day’s end we had all enjoyed both success and a good deal of fun. I was even invited to supper and I have to confess felt truly blessed that a family who had never known of my existence would put themselves  out to such a degree to make my holiday most memorable.

In my next post I shall continue the theme because I was equally well hosted on a genuine English Chalk Steam, but more of that later. For now I just want to say thank you to Adrian and his family for making a real mark on my holiday and to Darren for allowing me to interfere with his quiet evening contemplations on the Culm. You have all not only afforded me opportunities and pleasures which, without your help, I would never have experienced but equally you have restored my faith, both in people in general and in fly anglers in particular. I had a whale of a time and I do trust that I might one day be able to return the favour. It is times like this that I truly do believe that there is a fellowship amongst fly fishermen, a selfless bond which will glue us together over time and make all of us better people for the experience. Sometimes people ask me why I fish and it is people like Adrian, Adam and Darren who provide me with the power to just smile knowingly at the question and feel pity for the asker.