Paul's Diary

  • 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

  • Friday 26th May 2017 - Ireland!

    Just back from our tour of Ireland. In Galway we had a day botanising on the Burren - finding wild gentians, mountain avens, lots and lots of beautiful plants. Next day I tackled the mighty Corrib, piloted and guided by my friend Philip White. The mayfly had started, but were patchy, and we caught a few smallish fish as well as tickling a few bigger ones. Then off to Kerry where Mrs Morgan and Mrs Lanigan-O'Keeffe continued plant-hunting while I experienced a day of pulling flies on Lough Currane. Conditions were great for fishing a team of flies, and I was gillied by the great Bob Priestley, but no-one was catching salmon or sea-trout. Next day we fished Lough Cloonaghlin - a beautiful mountain lough that must be marvellous when the sea-trout are up. As it was we were content with plenty of small trout and a great view of the pair of sea-eagles that inhabit the temperate-rain-forest island on the lough.

    Tea-break on Lough Currane Tea-break on Lough Currane

    Bob Priestley gillies on Cloonaghlin Bob Priestley gillies on Cloonaghlin

    Currane selfie Currane selfie

    Paul's flies for Currane Paul's flies for Currane

  • Monday 3rd April 2017 - not more books!

    Skues Nymph Dressings & Dunne Dry Flies in the Sunshine Skues Nymph Dressings & Dunne Dry Flies in the Sunshine

    I spent the weekend in the deep south of Hampshire at the Angling Auction and Fishing Tackle Fair at Romsey. It was a sociable affair, with many old - and new - friends staying at the same hotel in Romsey. There were not a huge number of books in Saturday's auction, but there were a few nice things from the estates of Fred Buller and Terry Griffiths. Terry played a large part in the production of both of these fine books, so I thought I'd better buy them.
    I sold a few copies of Farlows Salmon Flies to the tackle dealers at the fair on Sunday, and raided their stocks to fill the little space that remained in the van.

  • Sunday 26th March 2017 - Tideline Books

    Over forty years ago Geoff Worrall offered me a job as his assistant at Tideline Books. Nothing came of it - he wouldn't pay my fare from Orkney, and I couldn't afford it. Over the years our paths crossed, buying and selling books to each other -  Geoff died in 1997, but his business continued under other owners up until today. This week I bought the remaining stock and assets of Tideline Books, bringing together the two leading British field sports publishers. Tideline Books have been publishing books on wildfowling, deer-stalking, sporting dogs and guns since 1969, and many of their classic titles remain in print. It is going to be great fun finding a home for all those books (probably another forty-foot shipping container) and incorporating a lot of new titles into the Coch-y-Bonddu list. Watch this space - there will be lots of new books listed here over the next couple of weeks - many of them at bargain prices!

    Net-Making for Sport Net-Making for Sport

    Tales of a Wildfowler Tales of a Wildfowler

    Nine Maneaters and One Rogue Nine Maneaters and One Rogue

    The Roe Deer - Tegner The Roe Deer - Tegner

    The Jack Russell Terrier - Plummer The Jack Russell Terrier - Plummer

    The Wildfowler in Scotland The Wildfowler in Scotland

  • Wednesday 15th March 2017 - First and last grayling

    I've just returned from a two-week trip to the Danish Fly Festival and the London Fly Fishing Fair. I had hoped to fish for sea-trout after the Danish fair, but sleet and snow on the Monday morning frightened me off, so I began the long drive home.
    Back here, the evenings are lengthening so I decided to do some last-minute pruning of a big apple tree after work. That was successful - until, in the dusk, I fell off the ladder onto a steel compost bin. Lots of bruises, but nothing serious resulted.
    I have rejoined the Birmingham Angling Association after many years. They still have lots of waters on the Severn, from Newtown all the way down to Gloucestershire. High water had prevented me from grayling fishing last month, but I determined to have a last cast on the last day of the grayling season. Yesterday afternoon Ceri dropped me off while she went shopping, and I had a delightful couple of hours , catching some nice trout and grayling in the Spring sunshine. I fished a couple of spiders (orange partridge and Greenwells) above a hare's ear nymph, and caught fish on all three flies - not huge but several of each species of about 8 or 10 ounces.

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