Photograph by Steve Barnett

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Who's that calls?

It's not all about the river.  When you work your way upstream towards Charles Cotton's Fishing House (The Temple) there are other excellences to which your attention may be peculiarly and forcibly directed.  Amongst these are the steps...

Not as Friendly as Piscator to Viator!
Beresford Hall was demolished by order of the local authority sometime in the 19th Century.  Today we cannot see where Charles Cotton lived.  But as anglers making our way along the private path, climbing the little hill up from Pike Pool, we are met by what is left of a very old flight of simple, stone steps set into the side of the hill.  Here we can know with certainty that these are the very steps that the Servant used to call Piscator and Viator to their mid-day meal.  These stones have had the feet of Charles Cotton and of Izaak Walton tread on them.  They are still there, forgotten by all except a few anglers.  Passing by these, one almost hears the call:  "Sir, will it please you to come to dinner?"

Next time we will take a peek at the Little Fishing House.  Unlike Beresford Hall it is still standing and still perfectly usable by today's Piscators and Viators...

Regular Rod

Friday, 27 January 2012

But what have we got here?

Click the image of the book to see the text more clearly.  Check it out carefully.  Charles Cotton explains that Pike Pool gets its name not from the rock springing up in the middle of the river but from the "Pike" that you see standing up there distant from the rock.

Here is the Pike Pool, on the map it is clearly marked.  It is still there and you can catch fish from it to this day if you are there at the right time.  Right there where Izaak Walton lost "a great fish"!

Here is what it looks like today.  The trees have partly concealed the "Pike" but you can make it out.  Even in this coloured water during this winter's rain it still looks mysteriously fishy...

Pike Pool from Charles Cotton's Path

Kneeling down there, in years gone by, your faithful correspondent has managed a few trout and grayling.  This summer I'm "Going Back" and will be trying to repeat the pleasure!

I'll show you another landmark from the Complete Angler in the next blogpost.  On it you can trace one or two of the footsteps, not of our great angling ancestor Charles Cotton but of one of his humble maidservants...

Regular Rod

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

On the Way Back!

I went for a river walk along the banks of the Dove today in Wolfscote Dale and Beresford Dale with Andy the river keeper and Warren and Jan, the river keepers from the estate where I spend most of my fishing time these days.  It is pretty exciting seeing the improvements already made.  It is also fascinating to listen in on the conversations between the three keepers as they assessed each little twist and turn of the river considering how to make things better and better.  What a glorious privilege to be able to walk in the footsteps of Izaak Walton and his talented but much younger friend Charles Cotton and see that many of the features described in the fifth edition of the Complete Angler are still discernable.  I hope to be doing this again in a few months, but with a rod in my hand...

The Cradle of Fly Fishing's History starts just here at the bridge near the ford at Beresford Dale.  It's marked FB on the map next to the "o" in "Beresford":

"Do you use to travel with wheelbarrows in this country?"

Of course this bridge is like Caesar's Axe.  It has had all its parts replaced several times over the centuries, but we are lucky in that it has kept its profile just as it would have been in 1674 and before then too!  These locally traditional bridges are no longer common.  Most of them have been replaced with wider and safer structures.  It is a source of joy to me that this one is here, just as it should be.  I hope the Health and Safety folk never get their hands on it!

We can retrace more of the history of this great Sport of ours whilst we follow in the footsteps of Charles Cotton's Piscator and Viator up through Bereford Dale.  Next time I'll show you the "Pike Pool".

Regular Rod

Friday, 13 January 2012


Keepers can be pulled in all directions sometimes.  Here there is some coppicing to be done.  The land is council owned and the setting is urban.  It is part of the seven and a half miles that make up the fantastic, dry fly fishery on the Haddon Estate, fished by the members of the Peacock Fly Fishing Club and the lucky day ticket holders alike. 

If the work was being done on one of the parts of the fishery where the land is owned by the Estate then this fire would not be lit.  The brash would be laid in special, elongated piles in a loose thatch.  Such a structure is simply known as a "Beetle Bank".  I have some in Duck Holds Wood.  They break down slowly and provide great habitat for beetles and their larvae, this brings the wrens, dunnocks, robins and other insectivorous birds to feed here. 

There is one Beetle Bank near where I sling my hammock in high summer.  I doze off. Wake up and there in the Beetle Bank I can watch a wren picking his way carefully through the juicy delights that live there and then he flits up to the top of the brash and sings his head off in stout proclamation that all this is his, all the females hereabouts are his, all the territory around this bounteous castle are his and don't anyone forget it...

Not here though.  It's a popular walk and folks like to see everything neat and tidy.  They wouldn't recognise the value of a Beetle Bank.  There would be complaints about the place looking untidy.  So the keepers are requested to burn up the brash even though as green wood it will take some getting going.  The turf has been cut away and carefully stored.  When the burning is over all will be cleared up and made tidy and the turf relaid leaving no sign that there had ever been a fire there.

Still there will be light on the river bed and the Ranunculus fluitans can regain ascendancy  like it has just here.

The river and its inhabitants will benefit and so, therefore, will we!

Regular Rod

Monday, 9 January 2012

Coming Back - So Let's Go Back!

The received wisdom about places from your past is to "never go back".  You know the reasons why.  Places shrink as we get older.  More folk have found them and left their marks.  Sometimes the places are pitiful reflections of what there had once been.  That phrase, "never go back" has a classic fault in it, from an angling point of view at least.  It has that dangerous word right at the beginning "never"!  So we are in immediate conflict with another received wisdom in angling, "always avoid always and never say never".

From 1991 to 2001 your faithful correspondent was a lucky member of the syndicate that enjoyed perhaps the greatest privilege there was to be had in angling, certainly the greatest privilege in fly fishing.  We fished in the "Cradle" of Fly Fishing's History.  Fly fishing was happening on this water back in 1675 when its then owner, Charles Cotton, wrote the fly fishing section for the fifth edition of Izaak Walton's Complete Angler under the title  "The Complete Angler Part II being INSTRUCTIONS how to ANGLE for a TROUT or GRAYLING in a clear Stream." 

It was a wonderful fly water with brown trout and grayling both happy enough to take the dry fly, although the rules did say that "gentlemen may experiment with nymphs"!  Politically incorrect most certainly, but we all understood that really we ought to stick with the dry fly for the sake of the fish being allowed some sanctuary in such an intimate water, although you would not get drummed out and black listed if you did cast the occasional nymph to some awkward monster grayling that was hugging the bottom.  My biggest grayling there was 19¼ inches long from the nose to the fork in its tail, but that took a dry fly - Charles Cotton's Black Fly!

The "Cradle" can be navigated to this day by Charles Cotton's descriptions.  The famous Pike Pool is still there and holds fish under the far bank.  The steps, down which his maid came to call Piscator and Viator to their meal, are still there, if a little shrouded by tree branches.  The Little Fishing House is still there, only we all call it the Fishing Temple nowadays thanks to the inscription over the door "Piscatoribus Sacrum" meaning "Sacred Fishers".  It is easy to approve of such a sentiment.   Being anglers  and therefore the eyes and ears of the rivers and streams, are we not sacred?

The syndicate sank quietly out of view after 1997, just a couple of us kept the faith into 2001, the result of a tragic pollution that just about sterilised the river for several miles.  Carelessly discarded Cypermethrin sheep dip eradicated the invertebrates.  There was not even a midge left.  Silent spring followed for some years after.  The fish and the insectivorous birds had no food.  The birds were okay.  They just cleared off!  (Although their broods that summer were certainly unlucky...).  The fish: adults and juveniles alike, were not okay though. 
Thankfully, that sheep dip is now permanently banned!

The inability of the water to support life meant it couldn't support the syndicate and so the revenues abruptly stopped.  There was no one to take care of the river.  Without funding there was no way to do restoration to the banks and create the variety of habitat that is necessary for a successful wild trout and grayling fishery.  Very occasional visits to the lower reaches of the fishery did produce some success with pioneering trout that were slowly moving in to colonise the waters all over again, but it was not a viable wild trout fishery just yet. 

The unfettered growth of invasive, non-native species had hidden the banks and shaded out the river.  The Ranunculus fluitans beds were just about gone. 

The banks were poached by cattle with the resulting soil run-off, during winter's high waters, blinding the gravel beds with fatal results on any trout eggs that were waiting to hatch.
Things had to change and change dramatically for the better. 

This is what happened.

Andy, a full-time, dedicated keeper was appointed.  A scheme to attract anglers back to the water, at first on day tickets, did meet with some small success.  There was just enough money to start on a little bit of the work that needed doing.  Andy works as only the truly committed can.  The results, thus far, are splendid.  Charles Cotton's river has shown it is a true wild trout and grayling fishery.  It is ready for the next stage in the long term plan.  It will, once again, support a privileged, international syndicate of rods keen to experience fishing in Fly Fishing's "Cradle"!  It will thrive and once more become the Arcadian delight it used to be.  Watch this space as I find out more...

Regular Rod

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


Here's a puzzle.

Remember this picture?

Well here is the same place after the latest gales.

Now do I pull out the fallen branches and keep it an easy place to fish?  (Who am I kidding?  If it gets pulled out it will be by Warren and Jan the river keepers.)  Or do I leave it all alone and see if it provides more hidy holes for the fish next season?

Right now I want it left to do whatever it will do and watch and learn from the results.  What do you think?  What would be your choice?

Regular Rod

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year

Here's a couple of snaps of that lovely wintertime fly that we try to imitate in the beginning and ending of our trout season in England, the Large Dark Olive.  They cheer me up when I see them on a winter wander so are very appropriate for the sentiment of wishing you all a Happy New Year.

Regular Rod