Paul's Diary

  • Monday 3rd September 2018

    Slippery Jacks and assorted boletes Slippery Jacks and assorted boletes

    Autumn has come to Mid-Wales and suddenly the woods are full of fungi. This year two of my most productive woods have been clear-felled but yesterday another spot yielded a great flush of Slippery Jacks and other assorted boletes, plus a few chanterelles. The best find (not photographed unfortunately) was a mass of Hen of the Woods. I wasn't 100% sure, but I am now - and they taste great. Luckily there are lots more, and they are quite young, so I'll be back. Five trays in the dehydrator and a pan-full for breakfast!
    Another success is dried shrimps. I took Dewi down to the shore on a poor tide, hoping for shrimps. Not sure whether it was the small tide or the lateness of the season but the grey shrimps were not around. There were plenty of prawns though, and I put a tray of the smallest of them in the dehydrator. Instant umami!

  • Wednesday 29th August 2018 - Family news

    Today Bethan and Dewi arrived from France - to live once more in Machynlleth. Well, it will be a first for Dewi, who has lived all his life in France. He starts at the Machynlleth high school in a few days. We celebrated with a meal entirely from the garden, except for the mackerel I caught this morning and mushrooms picked just before dinner.
    We had a wrecking trip planned for today, but a dodgy forecast relegated it to an inshore trip. Then, once we had crossed the bar it became apparent that it would be much too rough to anchor, so we had a couple of bumpy drifts for mackerel before calling it a day.
    We've had lovely water on the river, but it is behaving oddly. I've had two or three short sessions, losing another salmon, but seeing no sea-trout at all. I've seen and heard of several more salmon caught, but the sea-trout run has dried up - at a time when they would usually be prolific.

  • Friday 24th August 2018 - Much more to report!

    Where do I start? Well, with the mullet, i suppose. I went to the Broadwater with Duncan, only to discover that i had taken an empty rod-tube! So, i was a spectator. My mate, Tommy, was also there (he is ALWAYS there), and I watched as he and Dunc covered hundreds of mullet with every conceivable fly. As on Dunc's previous visit, they were touching fish continually, and sometimes hooking one, but despite the occasional follow, the mullet were not taking the flies. I went again a day or two later, taking a light spinning rod, some tiny Mepps and Droppen spoons, and worms. i had exactly the same experience with baited and unbaited spoons, touching fish continually, but never actually hooking one, and never having a genuine take. So I'll leave them alone for a while!

    Following the rotten auction results mentioned in my last post, Trout and Salmon Magazine asked me to do an article on book prices. Initially I refused, but on reflection I decided that it would not do any harm to write about individual authors and their books, together with a price guide. So here is what I came up with - It is good discipline to have to fit everything into a half-page:

    The Angler's Bookshelf - Sidney Spencer The Angler's Bookshelf - Sidney Spencer

    Pondering on who to discuss next, I delved into Richard Waddington's books on salmon earlier this week. The British Library Catalogue says that Waddington was also the author of Teach Yourself Fishing by "Tom Rodway." I had my doubts about this, as Waddington was a wealthy toff, an expert on salmon and grouse, but hardly interested in the bream and pike that occupied Rodway. Anyway, to make my point I compared the two author's writing on salmon, and one point of difference was that Waddington always insisted on playing a salmon until it was on its side, then hand-tailing it; whereas the only method of landing a salmon mentioned by Rodway was the gaff.
    There is a point to all this! We have had a drizzly week and the river, while remaining clear, has livened up a little. Determined to have a cast, but still troubled with my shoulder, this afternoon I decided to take my everyday trout rod (5-weight with a floating line, 6lb leader) to look for a sewin. I fished a team of three flies for an hour, catching about twenty yellow-fins but nary a sea-trout. Then, at the tail of the second pool, as I was about to pack up, a salmon took my middle dropper, right under the rod-tip. I was on a fairly high bank, without a landing net, but the fish had plenty of room to run, and there were few snags (apart from the other two flies on the cast!) Waddington's words rang in my ears - "Once the fish is on its side it is beaten and easy to tail by hand." Well, of course, he was quite right, and it was. A nice 8lb fish, not very fresh but still a salmon! On a #12 fly - I suppose you might call it a pearly-bodied Wickhams spider.
    No trout fishing at all, though I did winkle out a 3lb sea-trout on a Rapala on a small flood a few days ago. It is turning out to be a mushroom year - every time I venture out I come home with something. We've had a good lot of field mushrooms this year - so many that I have invested in a dehydrator - the first batch of mushrooms and tomatoes went in this evening.

    Rico Rico

    Destined for the dehydrator Produce of field and garden, destined for the dehydrator

     

     

     

    8lb salmon on #12 Wickhams 8lb salmon on size 12 Wickhams spider

  • Wednesday 1st August 2018 - much later!

    Half a year has gone, with little sport to report. A damaged shoulder has made both fishing and shooting difficult, and a serious case of laziness has curtailed my diary-keeping.
    Two major irritations today. First I heard - too late - of an online auction in America of a serious collection of angling books. I looked at the site and the prices realised were pathetic. Presumably that is down to poor advertising by the auctioneers. Certainly , had I known about it, some of those books would have fetched higher prices.
    Then, against my wishes, Amazon refunded a customer in Alaska. He had given me a street address to which, he afterwards told me, USPS will not deliver. So not my fault, but it cost me a hundred and fifty quid!

    We're just home from the Game Fair at Ragley Hall. It was blazing hot on Friday, high winds on Saturday, and pouring rain on Sunday - normal Game Fair conditions, and we didn't do too badly. Takings are about half of what they were ten years ago, and the stand prices are only double what they were.

    No sport to relate. While at the Northern Ireland Game Fair at Shanes Castle I had a couple of hours on the marvellous River Maine. During a dusk caddis hatch I caught fish continually - roach, perch, trout from tiddlers to a pound or so, and finally, as it got dark, four dollaghan, each over a pound. I've never known such a density of fish. Of course, the shoulder suffered for a couple of weeks after that!
    Drought has kept me away from the Dyfi. I missed a tiny spate over the weekend so I went for a look last night, but only came home with mushrooms. Tomorrow I have planned a mullet hunt. I'll keep you posted.

    Now that the powers-that-be have completely banned anglers from taking bass, the estuary is full of them. Those with commercial licences continue to take hundreds, while the holidaying angler cannot take one. There are boats fishing over the reef every day, livebaiting and lure-fishing for bass. I assume that they are putting them all back.

  • Friday 1st December 2017 - winter sport

    The rash of pheasant farms across Mid-Wales has its benefits. Apart from providing road-kill breakfasts for a host of kites and buzzards, the hordes of pheasants filter down the valleys providing much sport for the rough shooter. Mind you, it takes the fun out of poaching, when there is a pheasant under every bush.
    There is plenty of work for beaters and pickers-up on the commercial and syndicate shoots, and such a surplus of game-birds that even I am being choosy about how many birds I take home. I pushed Rico too hard on an early shoot at Llynlloedd, when we were picking up for a whole team of guns. He was exhausted next day, and an infected foot swelled up for a few days. After a week's rest he was back at work, though I have been careful to keep in in as much as possible. He was apparently fully recovered, but after a run by the river last night I discovered that he had lost a claw from the infected foot. He seems happy enough, though, and we are both looking forward to our second day at Llanbrynmair tomorrow.
    I had hoped that we might see a duck or two flight in the dusk, but not one came, though I did see a couple of woodcock out over the river - safe enough from me! A few snipe were scarping about, too. Maybe it's time to dig out the number sevens and try to bag one or two. Every visit to the marsh in the dusk reveals something different. Last night, as I sat under a high bank with my feet in the river, I spotted a water-rail skulking along the shore, then as the light faded, I was surprised by a kingfisher trying to land on my gun barrels. It crashed into my hand and I almost fell in the river! Years ago two young kingfishers together landed on my rod as I waded down a narrow Shropshire stream - only for a few seconds but long enough to put a bend in my old fibreglass rod - but that's the first time one has taken my gun for a branch.
    Today I attended the funeral of my old friend David Duncalf from Conway. David was one of the last real sportsman-naturalists, sharing my interest in all aspects of the countryside, from serious gardening, cooking and preserving, to game and sea fishing, wildfowling and game shooting, and, of course, sporting art and literature. He was the founder of OFFA, the loose organisation of sporting gentlemen with whom I occasionally share a day with rod or gun, and his funeral had something of the feel of a day in the countryside with good friends. Even the setting was appropriate - the ancient church of St Mary at Caerhun, set among ancient yews on the site of a Roman fort overlooking the river Conwy.

  • Thursday 2nd November 2017 - A little sport - and what I think of the NRW!

    I'm still here! Although I always think of September and October as the best months for sport and foraging, this year has been very patchy. Gales, and too much water in the river, put paid to river fishing, bass fishing and several sea-fishing trips. We didn't even get any mackerel this year, so I haven't done much smoking yet - though I do have a few trout and sea-trout in the freezer so we'll have some "smoked salmon" for the winter.
    I've been busy working on my annual catalogue - it is being mailed today, so should be landing on your doorsteps in the next day or two. This, plus a succession of flyfishing fairs have further curtailed my opportunities for sport. However, now the catalogue is out of the way I intend to be out as much as possible with dog, gun or rod. Llynlloedd Shoot has been taken on by a commercial shoot operator. The one good thing about that is that it now has a full-time keeper and plenty of birds - and they have a need for beaters and pickers-up, so I'll be there at least once a week. We have our first keenly anticipated shoot in Llanbrynmair on Saturday.
    Not only have I been under siege from the weather and pressures of work, but I feel that I am under personal attack by the interfering officials of Natural Resources Wales who, ignoring the advice and experience of anglers and sportsmen, intend draconian changes to the life of country people in Wales. First they closed the hatcheries, which had helped us through the bad days of acidification and pollutions, maintaining stocks of sea-trout throughout our river  catchments. Stocks of salmon and sea-trout have always fluctuated a great deal, but they remain strong on the Dyfi, Dee, Severn and other rivers of North and Mid-Wales. Despite this I am told that NRW intend imposing a complete ban on the taking of salmon in Wales, as well as restrictions on angling methods, ignoring the voices of anglers. This will mean the end of the small angling clubs of Wales, who fish, mostly with worm and spinner, the tributaries of rivers like the Dyfi. Farmers will lose any income, because we aren't going to pay for something can't use, and the tourist industry will suffer correspondingly. And if there are no anglers on the river, who is left to care for and police the waterside environment?
    The officials of the NRW also have it in for shooters. Our wildfowling club have been instrumental in conserving the small population of Greenland white-fronted geese on the Dyfi estuary for the past forty years, not least through a voluntary ban on the shooting of all grey geese in the area. It has been the efforts of some of our member that have kept this issue in the news, ensuring funding for important conservation and monitoring work. Now this has back-fired on us as the NRW, again ignoring consultation, have imposed a restriction on most of our shooting area to prevent disturbance of the few remaining Greenland whitefronts. They have ignored requests from the wildfowlers and BASC, meaning that we are going to have to resort to the great expense of taking them to court.
    My politics (not usually discussed here!) are liberal and socialist, but I really resent the efforts of these bureaucrats to destroy the sporting traditions of people in Wales without any real discussion with those most closely involved. Not only are they seriously impinging on my way of life, but they are doing their best to ensure that the old ways of field sports and angling will be wiped out for ever.

  • Tuesday 12th September 2017 - pollack and seals, otters and salmon

    We've had several sea-fishing trips cancelled because of the weather, but we did manage our annual wrecking trip with Charlie. Despite a lumpy start to the day, we had a great time and all caught lots of pollack. We were accompanied by a friendly seal who pinched every decent fish that I hooked - many came in looking like the one below. However we still managed to bring home plenty of fillets for the smoker.
    We had a successful launch for "Artist Falconers" and "Out of the Hood" at the Falconry Weekend at Newent. On a lovely sunny Saturday Ron Digby, David Fox and Marcus Derbyshire joined us for a day of book-signing. Good job we did that because the Sunday was a wash-out!
    The windy rainy weather has put paid to my shore fishing, and hasn't been much good for flyfishing for sea-trout. It does seem to have brought in a few salmon, though. Despite high dirty water I've had two in the past few days; on Friday a nice fat ten-pounder and this afternoon, a trim little silver grilse.

    Robin with seal-savaged pollack Robin with seal-savaged pollack

    Ron Digby & David Fox signing "Artist Falconers." Ron Digby & David Fox signing "Artist Falconers."

    September flood salmon September flood salmon

  • Sunday 19th August 2017 - August floods

    It took a while to turn around my sea-trout season. A visit from my friend Arjan from the Netherlands got me out fishing last week. He came to fish for hill trout but the river looked so good that we stuck with the upper reaches of the Dyfi for a few days. We caught nothing spectacular, but I did start to pick up the odd two- or three-pounder on the fly. I usually frequent the lower river, so it was an eye-opener for me to see how much wonderful fly-water there is further upstream. On Arjan's last day we had some fun with Clywedog rainbows before finishing the week with an evening on a hill lake where we caught some some proper trout.
    I have had a few short sessions just above the tide and I am starting to find lots of small sewin, as well as frequent close encounters with otters.
    Bethan and Dewi have been here for most of August and we enjoyed one overnight trip to the Lleyn Peninsula. Despite the tourist hordes we found a few quiet coves, and in one of them Dewi tried his hand with a rod. It took him just a few minutes to master the fixed-spool reel, casting a soft-plastic bait on a jig, and on about his fifth cast he found something pulling the other way. Taid failed to catch a fish but was well satisfied with the result.
    We are getting fresh dirty floods almost daily - the river needs to drop before the fly is of much use, and of course the early sea-trout are now far upstream and getting pretty stale. Time to try for a salmon!

    Morben otter cubs Morben otter cubs

    Dewi's wrasse Dewi's wrasse

  • Saturday 15th July 2017 - Midsummer miscellany

    My sea-trout season has not happened - yet. In recent years I have caught some very nice fish in May and June, but not this time. I had a couple of sea-fresh three-pounders on the last flood, but they are pretty thin on the ground. We had a huge run of finnock last year, so let's hope they reappear as two-pounders in August.

    Sea fishing has not been much better - so far! Two out of three boat trips have been cancelled because of rough weather, though we have a staff trip planned for Monday and the forecast looks good. On our only outing so far we caught nice black bream all day, and plenty of mackerel. We also intercepted a terrific frenzy of gannets and shearwaters on the reef and caught a few bass on lures.

    For the second year I tried establishing doves in my dovecote. I bought ten in all, and they settled in well and it was great fun watching them wheel around, sometimes disappearing into the distance. Unfortunately our resident raptors were also watching them and over three weeks or so they were whittled away until all had gone.

    Publishing jobs continue to take up my time. I've got two raptor books ready for printing in time for the Falconry Weekend on 2nd September. Then just one massive job hanging over me (M. Petitjean!) before I can settle down to working on my monographs and bibliographical stuff.

    I have been buying more and better than ever - both new and antiquarian stuff. This week two pallets arrived from Rowland Ward in South Africa: beautiful books, nicely designed and printed - I was very happy to get them - and most of them are not available anywhere else in the world. The same day I got a list of  twenty good-quality sporting titles (7000 books!) from a top UK publisher - all at bargain prices. With the Tideline stock and all of the carp fishing remainders that I've been buying, we will have a great selection of new and unusual books in our next catalogue.

    The Game Fair at Hatfield House is looming. It is still the greatest gathering of country people in the year, so we will be making a good effort. I hope we are close enough to Gunmaker's Row for people to come and find all our new big game hunting books.  After that, I have kept August free for sport and family. Bethan and Dewi will be here for most of the month, so I hope we will spend lots of time at the shore, fishing and foraging.

    Rain today, on a quiet Saturday, so I'm catching up on jobs like updating this - though distracted and slowed by all the good stuff on Radio 4. We don't fish the Association waters on a Sunday, so usually I would try to take advantage of a slight rise in the river on Monday morning. However, this time I'll be off on the boat so I'll miss that. Instead I might grab an hour or so tomorrow on one of the tributaries, where Sunday fishing is allowed. If we get enough rain today I could try some light lure fishing in the rocky gorges of the Twymyn - the big sea-trout that ran in June must be hiding somewhere!

    In between everything else I add a few records every day to my bibliography. It is a never-ending task, but is a relaxation from real work, and I am amassing much information that has never before been recorded. Here is an example - six variant bindings of H.T. Sheringham's classic "Coarse Fishing." Nerdy stuff, eh? But someone has to do it.

    Four different Sheringham covers Four different Sheringham covers

    Six variant bindings of Sheringham's Coarse Fishing Six variant bindings of Sheringham's Coarse Fishing

    Sheringham, Coarse Fishing - Binding A Sheringham, Coarse Fishing - Binding A

  • Tuesday 31st May 2017 - A little fishing- at last.

    I have just returned from a quick tour of the south, where I collected a few more doves, a few boxes of books following successful bids at the Flydressers' Guild auction, and a van-full of carp fishing remainders. On Monday afternoon, having finished with book business earlier than expected, I did a little prospecting for somewhere to cast a fly without enduring the formality or expense of a day ticket. I found it in a little stretch of no-man's-water where the most exclusive of chalkstreams passes underneath a motorway bridge, and a quick walk revealed not only a pair of spawning (or at least, intertwined) sea-lampreys, but one or two mayflies and a few rising trout. Returning for my rod, I rose and hooked three nice half-pound brownies on dry flies in the fifty yards or so of water under the bridge. The third of them was clearly visible, hovering in the fast current in mid-river, and occasionally taking something from the surface. He proved to be bullet-proof as I bombarded him with the contents of my dry fly box - sometimes turning to glance at a fly but refusing all for about an hour until at last he succumbed to a #14 deer-hair Humpy. Maybe he was feeding on beetles.
    Next morning I had a hearty hotel breakfast before heading off to far more salubrious surroundings on the beautiful (though highly manicured) river Test. There, to my dismay, I found my hosts busy preparing a huge cooked breakfast - my second of the morning! There was little fly and few rising fish but I did eventually manage to deceive a fat rainbow with a nice CdC mayfly nicked from the late Terry Griffiths' flybox.  Without a net I had to play the fish to exhaustion before I could get a finger under a gill-cover and hoist him onto the bank. Earlier I had discovered the presence of a fish-smoker at the fishing hut, so I tapped him on the head (as an undesirable alien) and we ate him for lunch.

    The discerning motorway brown trout The discerning motorway brown trout

    Tim Benn with lunch Tim Benn with lunch

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