Friday, 2 December 2016

SAVING SEA BASS


an anglers dream - bass in the surf - as depicted by inspirational artist, David Miller
There won’t be many anglers who don’t appreciate how magical bass can be … and a lot of non-anglers who appreciate them when on a plate in a restaurant! But there lies the problem. They taste so good they have become the ‘go to’ fish on many chefs’ repertoires so have also become the best cash crop for any commercial fisherman with a net.

a tasty meal - sandeels for bass, bass for diners ... David Miller's 'art in action', as with all those depicted on this blog
Diners don’t know and probably don’t care where their fish come from. They might be farmed but most are harvested from the sea and stocks are so over exploited that they are fast approaching the stage where they are no longer sustainable. There is a very real danger that bass stocks are already in terminal decline.

Across Northern Europe, sea bass stocks are in deep trouble because of commercial over-fishing and the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice and introduce the necessary conservation measures. The Angling Trust and Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) have pressed hard for a ban on bass netting and we fully support the EU Commission’s proposals for 2017 for a sustainable and well managed recreational and commercial hook and line only bass fishery.


The campaign is going well and we already have over 9,000 signatures on our national petition … but we need at least 10,000 to ensure the government takes notice. Lots of people have gone on to the campaign page to either sign or to send an email to their MP. However, we need to keep the pressure up and this is where YOU can help.




a spectacular sporting fish - let us pray that they survive and flourish for future generations
It would be great if you could sign the petition and share on YOUR Facebook and Twitter. And don't forget to send on to friends and family, too!


please help these beautiful creatures survive - simply sign the petition - it takes less than a minute
"Let's support our fellow anglers by signing the national petition to get rid of the damaging bass nets and give these wonderful fish a future. The decision will be made on December 12th so we've not got long. Click here to sign. It only takes a minute so...PLEASE SIGN AND SHARE NOW."
a sight for sore eyes - bass beneath the surface - and the title for one of David Miller's wonderful books

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A PASSION FOR CATCHING - STILL GOING STRONG

 
                 


the iconic series first shown on BBC2 in 1993 to audiences of over six million
‘A Passion for Angling’ and ‘Catching the Impossible’ are still capturing big audiences, for they describe the magic of being by the waterside with a rod and line like no others.

'Catching the Impossible's' Martin Bowler with 44lb4oz common caught on a float
I’m bound to say that because I filmed and produced them, along with funding their production but because so many folk write complimentary letters constantly assuring us that they are the best fishing films that have ever been made, who are we to argue!

Bob James, Hugh Miles and Chris Yates with two of Bob's memorable catch of ten two pounders
We started filming ‘Passion’ on June 16th 1989 so it is remarkable that the adventures of Chris Yates and Bob James are still appealing to anglers … and non-anglers after all this time. Both series took more than four years to complete, not just because we wanted to capture the very essence of what it means to be by river or lake but because I had to do my ‘day job’ in order to be able to afford the luxury of being so particular about filming everything in the most perfect light.
you can't beat sunrise on a misty summers day

filming mountain lions in the Patagonian Andes
For those new to our Websites and Blog, my day job is making wildlife films for a living and this enables me to fund fishing films. I could only do so as and when I had time in between expeditions to far off lands chasing exciting critters, so that is why the six hour long film series we made for BBC 2 ‘A Passion for Angling’ took over four years to complete. ‘Catching the Impossible’ with Martin Bowler and it’s nine one hour films for Ch4 took almost as long, partly because we were trying to catch ‘impossible’ sized fish. Martin did just that of course and most anglers now reckon that some of our targets would indeed be impossible.




I've been doing it for a long time but not often enough in the African sunshine
So far as my day job is concerned, I won’t ever admit to having ‘retired’ but my body is so wrecked from staggering around in the mountains in pursuit of elusive big cats that I no longer have the joints to do so. Both hips have already been replaced and my shoulders are in line for becoming part of this moronic man, or should that read …


During our filming we certainly took infinite care to represent angling in a way that we felt did justice to the magic of the sport. In fact, Bob and Chris used to accuse me of being a perfectionist, Martin Bowler of ‘Impossible’ too but in Martin’s case that would be calling the kettle black. He was so professional in his approach to the challenges of catching giant fish that he almost put David Attenborough to shame, even if that would be impossible. Whatever we think, I hope that a couple of stories will help you to understand the trouble that we took to make both series as inspiring as possible.

the opening scene of 'A Passion for Angling' - Chris on the famous dam wall at Redmire
We felt that the ‘Passion’ films had to include the famous record carp water, Redmire. In fact, my initial  plan was to only make one film but our time at that magical pool was so idyllic and so successful that I convinced Bob and Chris that we ought to make a series of six films. After a further four years of hard graft, they were both wishing that they hadn’t agreed!

Chris and his catches at the legendary Redmire were famous because they culminated in his record 51lb6oz carp, a fish that followed the even more famous capture of Richard Walker’s 44lb monster. 
Richard Walker with his historic 44lb record carp

the scarecrow assembled in the Redmire shallows
So with so many happy memories of his time there, Chris was keen to return, not so that he could catch yet more big carp but so that he could finally try out his eccentric idea of a fishing scarecrow!

Chris had harboured this crazy idea for years but had been ‘dissuaded’ by the various syndicates to try it. I was much more liberal and jumped at the idea. The plan was to place a manikin in the shallows in the area where he had caught his record fish. It would be dressed in Chris’s coat and hat and be holding a rod. Once installed, we baited the spot for several days and the carp became habituated to this silent, stationary ‘angler’ and ended up feeding within a couple of feet … a lesson there for our modern day impatient and noisy angling.

waiting for the carp to arrive
At what we considered to be the most opportune moment, Chris replaced the manikin and stood stock still, [probably because he was stuck in the knee-deep mud]. He didn’t have to wait long before several carp approached him for a feed and I’ll always remember the magic moment when what appeared to be the manikin actually moved. It was Chris swinging his bait gently into the path of a feeding carp and he promptly missed the bite!

Unperturbed, the carp were quick to return and Chris didn’t miss the next time, battling a spirited common towards Bob who was waiting in the nearby reeds with a landing net. Chris was understandably pleased to prove that his madcap scheme would work and that we had another magical sequence in the can. In fact it was one of many, for Bob and Chris each caught two twenty pound plus carp, all using different methods, including Bob’s hooked from a tree and having to join the beautiful leather carp called Raspberry by jumping out of the branches into the water and deep mud.

the jump, illustrated by Rodger McPhail
We also filmed a gudgeon match ‘to the death’, the pair reluctantly punting out into the hallowed waters through the mist as the sun was rising. Chris doesn’t do early mornings so it was a struggle, even if we did capture the most evocative summer sequence in the whole series.

I still love that sequence, even after twenty five years, for those misty images accompanied by Jennie Muskett’s perfect music and Bernard’s dulcet tones of narration capture the very essence of the magic of angling.
If you wish to purchase the DVD of the six film series of 50min films, then please visit www.passionforangling.info

You can also purchase Chris Yates' film on escapist carp fishing 'Caught in Time'. It's a perfect hours viewing with the maestro doing what he does best. 

If you buy the 'Passion' DVD you can have a free 'Catching the Impossible' book - just the £4 postage to pay. 


Sue sending out the 'Passion' DVD's and 'Catching' books
Our website includes  instructions on what to do to get Sue up and running with your order. She sends them out almost every day but please don’t leave ordering until a few days before Christmas as she will be busy cooking up a storm for the festivities and I hope to be out fishing.


 
‘Catching the Impossible’ is a different kettle of fish, intentionally of course as I felt it ridiculous to try to emulate or even repeat the success of ‘Passion’.

This is a series that follows the adventures of Martin Bowler as he attempts to catch some of the biggest fish in Britain, the targets for the many species being of a size that might attract the impossible tag. Of course, nothing is ‘impossible’ and I hoped that Martin would prove this to be true! He is accompanied by narrator and ace angler Bernard Cribbins … when Bernard had the time to spare from his hectic schedule, especially when filming Dr.Who  … and as they say, “didn’t they do well’!

Bernard with his beautiful 22lb snapper - it grew on to be over thirty pounds and was named Bernard!
Martin caught so many big fish that it’s difficult to believe but I was there with the camera to record the truth and we all know the camera never lies don’t we! Among our targets was a forty pound carp on the float, a fifteen pound barbel, a seven pound chub, a one pound dace, a ten pound tench, a thirty pound pike and a perch of over four pounds.

Martin with his awesome 32lb 6oz monster from an estate lake
I mention the perch last as Martin had already caught twenty-three perch of that size and we thought it would be easy to achieve. Wrong! The challenge nearly broke our resolve but in the end we didn’t just hit the target, Martin actually caught a perch of five pounds four ounces. The Angling Times informed us that it was the biggest perch ever caught from a river, [not any more], but at the time we were blown away by it’s size – and we still are!

what a fish! Martin with his 5lb 4oz Gt.Ouse perch
A three-pound roach was also on the list and at the time was far from impossible. After all, even I had caught four of that size so Martin raised the stakes and decided that the challenge should be a three-pound roach … but from a river. Now this was impossible, for after the squadrons of killer cormorants had invaded our rivers, even two-pound roach are very rare.

We reckoned we would need help to even come close to the target so called up friends Terry Lampard and Tim Norman for back-up. We tried lots of places on both the Hampshire Avon and Dorset Stour and caught some good roach but nothing even close to the target.

Then on a day of overcast skies, little wind and slightly coloured rivers, Terry and Tim tried the Stour while Martin and I tried the Avon. I was in one of my favourite swims and caught a 2/5 roach almost immediately, along with several others, then Martin called from downstream and said he had started to catch too. The roach were evidently ‘on’ and this was confirmed when Tim called to say they had already caught a two pounder and suggested we should get over to the Stour pronto as Terry was feeling lucky!

We arrived in the nick of time as Tim had just hooked a good roach that was lost to a pike. He had to re-tackle so it was Terry’s turn to trot the hot swim. I filmed a few tempting trots with bread flake when the float buried and a large roach rolled on the end of Terry’s line. It was a good fish which became bigger by the minute and when Tim finally netted it we all realised it was huge. At three pound five ounces it equalled the biggest roach that Terry had ever caught and in truth it was probably the only three pound roach still alive in the Stour.

Terry with his 'lucky' 3lb 5oz Dorset Stour roach
There was much celebration all round and expletives from Tim about how lucky Terry was. If my memory serves me right, the words included jam and bar steward. What a fish and what an angler.

dear 'Lamps' sure was an ace angler - here with one of his many seven pound plus chub
Sadly, as many followers of our sport will know, we lost Terry after a short illness a while back, just as he was completing his second book, ‘Last Casts’. His lifelong friend Tim Norman has supervised the completion of the book which describes some more of his exploits in search of a great variety of fish and if it’s anything like as good as his first book, ‘First Casts’ it will be a splendid read. This was one of the best angling books I’ve ever read, so if you want to share Terry’s adventures you can order the book from the following website :

If you want to share Martin and Bernard’s adventures with my camera in their faces when filming ‘Catching the Impossible’ then please visit: http://www.martinbowler.co.uk/shop  

our big and colourful book of the series with it's three set DVD's
The series comprises nine one hour films in sets of three on three DVD’s so you don’t have to buy them all at once! They are full of great fishing and some folk even prefer the series to ‘Passion’ but we’ll leave you to be the judge of that. There’s a splendid book describing our adventures too, full of pictures [400+] along with film clips and beautiful illustrations by the celebrated artist Rodger McPhail so you don’t even have to read it.

However you choose to spend your time, Sue and I hope that you have a happy and enjoyable Christmas and if out fishing, please catch one for me.
when our garden is coated in winter magic I'm certainly not going fishing, even if the countryside does look beautiful

Sunday, 13 November 2016

FILMING SNOW LEOPARDS


typical terrain in our patch in Ladakh, with a snow leopard track in the snow on the right
Icy mountains … remotest Asia … the ends of the earth … too hostile to survive.

But there is life here … a beautiful big cat … so rare it has become the stuff of legends … as mythical as the yeti.

This ghost like creature is the holy grail – the ultimate wildlife challenge. Almost impossible to see, let alone film - the snow leopard.

the beautiful big cat is so charasmatic that it inspires many artists
These are of course just so many words but they are the words I wrote for  the opening of my film on snow leopards and you only have to climb up into those unforgiving mountains to try to find that elusive cat to realise the truth of the challenge. The question comes to the fore, why even try?

Well, as a freelance wildlife film-maker you have to take risks to stay at the top of the game, even try to film subjects that have never been 'done' before, especially if they are considered ‘impossible’. Trouble is, on this occasion all the major broadcasters thought it was impossible to film snow leopards so I had to risk investing £120,000 of our own money to prove it wasn’t.

our location was in the Zanskar Mountians to the west of the capital of Ladakh, Leh

Never has that truth that ‘if you don’t get any film you don’t get to eat’ been closer to reality but we did get some good footage and so ITV, PBS in America plus a distribution company came up with the half million I reckoned I needed to give my team a fair chance of success. Our attempt would be based in Hemis National Park in Ladakh, NW India, an area of some of the most rugged terrain in the Himalayas and based on our research and recce, a favoured place for snow leopards.

typical rugged mountains favoured by snow leopards
The pre-eminent mountain scientist Dr. George Schaller described this as “a land of just enough” and that goes for humans as well as the animals. The mountain-sides are precipitous, largely barren, with few plants for the critters to eat, so predator territories are huge and definitely hostile to would be film-makers … and for me in this ‘just enough’ land, tinned tuna and rice was the gastronomic highlight.

The ‘office’ was daunting but truly beautiful and the Ladakhi people a joy to work with. Nothing was ever too much trouble for them and however hard the going, they never lost their sense of humour. The cricket matches with them were good too. England versus India has seldom been more competitive and on one memorable afternoon, with a light falling of snow on a turning wicket, a snow leopard watched the match from the rocks three hundred feet above.

we were a happy crew from start to finish ... and the top of that far ridge was a regular path for our quarry. The gent on the right is the eminent snow leopard scientist Rodney Jackson, an endless source of help in our quest.
We were operating in the area that snow leopards hope to find their prey, so in winter that meant from about 12,000ft to 16,000ft. There is little snow in the western Himalayas, which is fortunate as despite their name, the cats seem to hate snow. They try not to walk on it, maybe to avoid leaving pug mark signs of their presence ; not very helpful to us in our attempts to find them. It was difficult to see the cats, let alone film them, for the area was a maze of precipitous mountain sides and everything was confusion.

tough terrain, even for big cats

However, in time it became clear that the cats were using the paths of least resistance through their large territories and would mark their passing on prominent rocks, letting others know they were there, especially if in heat and looking for a mate. They spray the rocks with urine, the best sites being overhung so that any rain or snow doesn’t wash their scent away. Once we understood their significance, finding these spray rocks was simple and essential, for then we had an idea of where and when the cats would be passing.









Other clues were their calling and the key time for this is winter, particularly in January and February, the mating season. It’s cold in the mountains, about minus 20c at night and with a broken zip on my tent, sleep was fitful, though a blessing in disguise for that is when the ladies scream, telling the males where they are … us too. I’m always amused when climbers suggest they have heard yetis screaming when what they are hearing is snow leopards.

the beautiful art of Gary Hodges
One of the highlights of our filming was the first ever sighting of a pair of snow leopards courting and my main cameraman Mitchell Kelly even managed to film them mating. [I saw them doing it the following year but was unable to reach the cliff ledge with the camera].

This sequence was one of our few true successes during our filming because right from the start the film became a damage limitation exercise. My colleague and co-cameraman on this quest was to be Chip Houseman, a close friend and highly talented cameraman with whom we had won a BAFTA for photography of the tiger film we made for the BBC and National Geographic.


Chip was a true 'mountain man', born and raised in Montana

During this filming Chip and I  laid plans to tackle the snow leopard and sent friend Rinchen, ex. warden of the Everest National Park to Ladakh to recce the area and work out the logistics. But just two weeks before filming was due to start, tragedy struck when Chip and his girlfriend Helen were killed in a Thai Airlines crash. I still haven’t really got over it.

budies in arms while filming tigers in India
A year passed before I could find another cameraman who was good enough to rise to the challenge and mad enough to try. Australian Mitchell Kelly had been besotted with snow leopards since childhood and had already done some great work in the Himalayas, so he was up and running soon after starting. We had designed two remote cameras that should provide us with intimate film and sure enough they did, so intimate that one cat even misted up the lens with its curious investigations of the technology. 

our remote cameras did work at times

However, their complicated wiring, the brutal cold and rugged terrain proved challenging and they became known as ‘confusion cameras’, all too often failing at crucial moments to film passing cats, even a mating pair.


My plan as producer was to feature Mitchell and his quest as the thread of our story, for I was now becoming crippled with arthritic hips and even looking up the mountains made them ache! Years of chasing pussy cats up mountains had done me in, most notably due to more than two years following a puma in the Patagonian Andes. But I was determined to be in Ladakh to film Mitchell with the cats, even if I had to limp up the hills with a stick.

on some days it was cold and grey
Mitchell had already had to be evacuated from the mountains twice, once for ripped stomach muscles due to hauling gear up steep slopes but also for altitude sickness. They call it ‘sickness’ but its actually a killer and when I joined Mitchell to film him on our last trip, the altitude nearly did for him on the first day in the mountains, in spite of acclimatising for five days. If Air India hadn’t been able to fly into Lei for the emergency evacuation, Mitchell would be dead.

most of the worlds 4 -5,000 or so snow leopards are in this area of Asia
Trying to recover the film was almost as tricky as filming the cats, but luckily one of my assistants Ralph Bower was about the same build as Mitchell and proved to be an ideal ‘stunt double’ for scenes of ‘Mitchell’ searching the mountains. Like I say, the film became a damage limitation exercise, especially when one of our porters was carrying equipment down a scree from a precipitous hide, slipped on the ice and slid several feet down, scattering rocks and snow far down the mountain. I watched in horror as he lay still for several minutes before he gingerly kneeled up and dusted the snow off his bruised body. Thankfully he was shaken but OK, unlike my £35,000 'Big Bertha' lens which was broken in half and beyond repair. Broken or not, it had saved him from cracking his head on the rocks so much the lesser of two evils … just another little set-back in our adventure.

Our ambition was to feature one particular cat and try to habituate it to our presence but were unable to see them often enough to achieve that ultimate aim. But we did get to recognise one individual that we called Mikmar, Ladakhi for ‘Red Eye’. He was our local male and had obviously been in a fight for the territory with another male, for he had a damaged left eye, hence his name. And finally we managed to film him on a kill, a large bharral, a half sheep, half goat and the cats favourite prey in our patch of mountains. When we started out we were pleased to capture any sort of image of a snow leopard as each one seemed a miracle, so in the end filming our cat in close up on a kill was a highlight.

our star male Mikmar, damaged left eye clearly visible, passing one of Rodney Jackson's camera traps
Our film was a struggle, probably inevitable given that we started off from zero. It was a battle of will against adversity, made possible by the tireless assistance of our Ladakhi helpers and their positive mental attitude. Us wildlife film-makers are often ‘accused’ of being very patient but I think very bloody minded would be a more appropriate description of our mind set. As Winston Churchill famously said “Never, never, never give up’.

David Willis in Kenya with his son Miguel, waiting like us for the crocs to strike
This story of our quest has a happy ending, for I’ve been a friend of David and Judy Willis since the early ‘80’s, sharing many filming trips in Africa and India. David  makes his living from creating brilliant traditional  'Genre' paintings for the Sheikhs in Oman and this enables him to escape into the bush for widlife filming and photography. I’ve known his son Mateo for a long while and when he told me recently that he’d been commissioned by the BBC to film snow leopards, I was delighted to give him a bit of gen about where and when, even lend him my journals so that he could read about our trials and tribulations, along with what and where things  worked out for us.

friend David out filming Arabian Leopards in Oman with his son and ace cameraman Mateo
The film Mateo has contributed so much to is the new BBC1 Attenborough series ‘PLANET EARTH 11’ – MOUNTAINS, and it’s showing this Sunday at 8pm.

David Willis's stunning portrait of a snow leopard and 'harmonic convergence' to be advertising his own son's filming in the Radio Times
I was touched that both Mateo and his producer Justin Anderson thanked me for my small contribution to the success of their filming and it sure is rewarding to help others in their quest, especially friends. I’ve been in touch with Mateo and this is what he told me about their filming :

“Yes, filming snow leopards is a combination of bloodymindedness and long days! Myself and cameraman John Shiers spent two winters in Ladakh. For the third winter I was joined by camera assistant Duncan Parker. In total we spent over a hundred days in the field. Also a large number of camera traps were deployed each winter and contributed significantly to the footage of snow leopards we were able to capture".

"Filming snow leopards highlights how important an understanding of the subject is. Without Hugh’s prior experience and the knowledge of the spotters we wouldn’t have stood a chance as the area they range across is vast.  Success was only possible because we knew when the leopards were mostly likely to move and the areas they tended to frequent; the scent rocks, ridges and mountain paths."

capturing the magic - Willem de Beer


As a passionate conservationist, I think it's great that the BBC has invested so much time and money, technology and not least talent into giving this team a chance of success, for seeing wildlife on television in all it’s glory has got to be of benefit to the survival of those charismatic cats. Judging by the recent trailer I've seen on the BBC of two snow leopards fighting and hearing other great things about their footage, all I can think is WOW!

Just remember when you watch this programme just how tough it is to film there, then prepare to be impressed. You will never see television better than this, such great film of truly wonderful creatures in all their elusive glory.

        - November 13th – BBC1 8pm – PLANET EARTH 11 – MOUNTAINS -




Saturday, 5 November 2016

FILMING THE GREAT AND THE GOOD

 
friend and collegue during the filming of 'Catching the Impossible' Martin Bowler snapped this great pic of me on the Wye

One of the greatest joys in life is to venture into the countryside with a rod and line and follow an adventure that lasts a lifetime. I consider myself lucky that when I was very young I was shown how inspiring it can be by my grandfather … and even luckier that it has remained such an enjoyable passion ever since.

where it all started for me and many of my lifelong friends - Bernard's iconic creation that inspired thousands of anglers
I was equally fortunate that I grew up in an era when my angling hero was Mr.Crabtree, so my essential reading each week was that of Dick Walker, Fred J Taylor and of course, Peter Stone. Like all of us I guess, I was inspired by Bernard Venables and his imaginary fishing stories … and still am … and as a result tried to emulate the stars of the day in my fishing adventures.

Bernard's wonderfully evocative paintings in 'Mr. Crabtree Goes Fishing' ensured I became a fisherman for life

suitably inspired by Bernard, I visited Hickling Broad when still a boy and caught dozens of big rudd over two pounds
It is said that we can’t escape growing older by the day but never have to be ‘old’. It’s an attitude to life principle that I try to uphold but however determined, it’s only a matter time before we all fall off our perches. Sadly, many of my childhood heroes have done just that so I thought it might be interesting to recount the privileges I’ve been lucky enough to experience when filming some of these great anglers.

what a fabulous buiding in which to sing for my supper - an incomparable home for ten formative years
I grew up in a musical family and was lucky to win a choral scholarship to Ely Cathedral. This gave me virtually free schooling but more importantly, gave me access to the inspiring ‘land of skies’, the Fens. Ten years living in all that space meant I soon became passionate about wildlife and with the Great Ouse flowing not far from the school, fishing became almost as important.

the Fens - the 'land of skies' that inspired me to become a passionate wildlife film-maker, conservationist and fisherman
In-between reluctant acceptance that education was part of the reason for being there, myself and friends would escape into this watery world, pre-baiting swims to create Jacuzzis of bubbling bream. Roach became a favourite quarry … and still are … and during this time, Fred J started to write about dead-baiting for pike, so that had to be tried too. Lobbing a herring as far as we could into the iconic depths of Roswell Pits produced pike to 18lbs but we also pre-baited swims with fish scraps from school. We hadn’t ever read anything about this technique but it seemed like a good idea at the time [1957] and it was. On one memorable day I got taken apart by an absolute monster and even to this day, the loss of that huge pike still haunts me.

an eighteen pounder from my school days in the Fens at Ely
Fishing apart, I was destined to become a professional French horn player but at the crucial moment when a decision had to be made, the BBC started to show wildlife on television, including Peter Scott and the “Look” series, along with the “World About Us’. One of the programmes showed the legendary Eric Ashby stalking deer, badgers and foxes in the New Forest. He became my hero and from that moment my die was cast – I would try to become a wildlife film-maker.

my boyhood hero and legendary wildlife film-making pioneer Eric Ashby with one of his foxes rescued from the hunt
A degree in film-making was going to be necessary if I stood any chance of joining the BBC Film Unit, so luckily I won a place on a three year course at the Guildford College of Art.  Making films was what I wanted to learn and what better subject is there than fishing!

the star of the show - the legendary pike I named 'Old Tom' that featured in my very first fishing film
My first film was to be a story about the catching of a legendary pike on Hickling Broad. I had found an old beaten up stuffed pike abandoned in the college which weighed 26lbs. so having re-painted it and built a case, it was mounted above the bar of a local pub, the fictional story being that this scourge of the broad had finally been caught on Christmas eve. by the famous local angler, Dennis Pye. All I had to do was convince Dennis that a college kid was worth going out fishing for and then try to catch a 26lb pike to order!

Heigham Sounds - I can see the exact spot even now
On the appointed February day we ventured out onto Heigham Sounds and explored all Dennis’s favourite hot-spots - but they were all cold as ice. We too were frozen by an evil easterly and nothing seemed to be moving apart from the 1lb live roach on the end of Dennis’s famous dumb-bell rig. With a greased line he was able to skilfully steer the roach over the spot where he thought the pike would be lying in wait - but nothing stirred.

I should add that Dennis had given me the task of catching his live-baits before the filming could start, with nothing much under a pound acceptable! Luckily I had learned how to catch my favourite fish quite well and trotting a caster behind a stick float down the centre of the Thurne for two days produced a net-full of bait. I cringe to think of those roach as bait now … and also wish I knew of somewhere today that I could catch one pound roach to order!

Dennis motoring through the reeds in search of more monsters, just as we had in 1963
the fish filled waters of Horsey Mere
Having failed in Heigham Sounds, Dennis wasn’t for giving up and we searched Hickling Broad without a single run before making the long motor up to the famous Horsey Mere, soon to be the sight of the record pike capture, though not for us. We didn’t get a sniff despite Dennis’s tireless efforts and un-rivalled knowledge of the water.

Dennis's largest pike - a 34/2 from Horsey Mere in 1965
Undeterred, he went back to the very spot we started and swam the live-bait over THE spot once again. Nothing. By now we were feeling like blocks of ice and I tried to convince Dennis that we should give up and try again another day but he wasn’t having any of it.

a 27lb pike for Dennis from the same spot ... maybe the same fish?
Steering a fresh bait over the spot once again it suddenly disappeared. There was hardly a ripple, the float and roach simply gone, the line peeling off his big wooden centre-pin. I’d like to say that the strike and fight were spectacular but I think the pike must have been almost as cold as us because it came in like a lamb. However, it was big … and carefully weighed in front of my camera, went exactly 26lbs. Our fish was returned safely in spite of the horrendous gaff. All these historic Broads pics are from Stephen Harper's wonderful  and evocative book 'The Pike of Broadland'. Thank you Stephen - what a great trip you've given me down memory lane.

There are those that try to pour cold water on Dennis’s achievements and suggest he didn’t catch all the fish he claimed or that he exagerrated his success ... but he sure could fish and his ability and knowledge were impressive - and what a lovely, generous man, helping out a young student with his little college project. He delivered on cue and fans of John Wilson and Martin Bowler will be aware of how difficult that can be.

yet another thirty for Dennis - 33lbs from Hickling Broad
We hadn’t finished the filming either because the pike hadn’t fought at all. So a few days later, when we’d thawed out, we dramatised the event with great swirls created by the oars, bent rods and spinning reels, along with a few doubles that Dennis caught to build the drama. It was a good way to teach me editing, or ‘knitting’ as my wife Sue calls it!

I so wish I had a copy of the film but sadly the college binned it a few years back, though on reflection, the music I chose to dramatise the fight was so over the top that I cringe just to think about it. No wonder that many of my most successful wildlife films have no music at all. Lesson learned.

Bardsey Island off the Lleyn Peninsula - a place of pilgrimage for many birders
My next film was about lobster fishing on Bardsey Island off the Welsh coast, made with my childhood friend, Robin Pratt. Filmed during the college holidays, I was so determined to develop my skills that I ‘borrowed’ the film stock out of the college cabinet so that I could complete the project. Upon returning, the head of the film course, an industry professional called Stan Cubberley congratulated me on my commitment instead of bollocking me for steeling college property. He just nodded and said I’d make it in the profession because I was so determined. I was lucky to have him as a mentor for he was an excellent teacher.

Unbeknown to me during this filming, I was building a reputation as a competent film- maker and this came to the notice of Barry Welham of K.P.Morritt. [I still have one of his Intrepid reels].

He wanted to make a series of films that would help sell his fishing tackle and with a producer whose name I don’t remember … I don’t remember much any more [well, it was more than fifty years ago] … came up with the idea of famous anglers catching many of the most popular species and showing the tackle required to do so successfully.

It was to be called “Tackle and Tactics” and I was to be employed as the cameraman. I guess I got paid but as I’m not the least bit motivated by money it didn’t matter as I was going to go fishing with some of my boyhood heroes.

First up was Dennis Pye who was once again going to catch pike from the Broads for me. We went into the middle of Duck Broad one sunny autumn day and he promptly caught a couple of pike weighing 18lbs and 19lbs. They fought hard this time so no need for the ‘jiggery-pokery’.

David Carl-Forbes trotted maggots on the delightful river Eden and caught some cracking dace but filming with National Champion Alan Wrangles was trickier. He was intending to catch tench from a classic Crabtree pool but they proved elusive, so we had to put our heads together to complete the sequence. Little red worms below a small float close to the lilies did the trick, as they so often do, producing three feisty little males. I guess we filmed carp, roach and chub but the detail has faded away.

filming Peter Stone fishing for barbel on the Kennet
Last but not least was Peter Stone. What a delightful man … and what a privilege to
spend time on the river- bank with him. He was going to catch bream from the Thames and barbel from the Kennet and of course he didn’t fail, landing several good bream of four to five pounds from a Thames weirpool near Oxford on ledgered lobworms.

'Stoney' caught several barbel for me of course
me when a young man with clockwork Bolex and Richard Walker inspired hat
I think he rolled the same bait between the rafts of ranunculous to snare three small barbel from a stretch of the Kennet shared by the other greats of the day, Dick Walker, Fred Taylor, Pete Thomas and no less than the young Peter Drennan. The pictures come from the day with Peter on the Kennet and I wonder how the films turned out so well when I was having to use a clockwork Bolex for the filming. I did have a tripod but was already developing the ‘hand-held style’ that served me so well when filming ‘A Passion for Angling’ and ‘Catching the Impossible’.


Dick Walker with a big haul shared with friend Peter Stone
Word got around that I’d done OK when filming fishing and when I decided to make my own series of fishing films it was obvious that they had to be made with no less than Richard Walker. I wrote to him and much to my delight received a positive reply. Yes, he was interested and would I join him on Grafham with Pete Thomas to discuss the content.

We motored out into the waves and chatted away while the two of them had a ‘friendly’ casting contest, throwing fly lines prodigious distances using double-hauling techniques while I looked on in admiration. Dick was going through his 'trouting' phase but was enthusiastic about making a series of films with me on all the ‘proper’ fish. We agreed on six half hour stories and to this day I regret never having made them. Wouldn’t they have been a wonderful archive of specimen angling in its formative years.

The films with Dick didn’t get made because I had managed to win a place in the BBC’s Film Unit in London and was consumed by the corporation for nine years, working on a their whole range of programmes, including a Beethoven trilogy, Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Who and Porridge. My ambition remained and I finally left to try to become a wildlife film-maker. I’d spent too long at the BBC and sadly, Dick passed away before I could pursue my dream fishing series with him.

Peter Drennan's classic tench lake in Oxfordshire, location for the first scene in 'Catching the Impossible'
Peter and Frances, Roy, Martin and Johny Ev. Ain't it good spending time on the bank with friends
The story doesn’t end quite there, for I’m privileged to say that Peter Stone and Peter Drennan became good friends and I shared several days with them on Peter’s iconic tench lake in Oxfordshire. Now Stoney has passed away we always give him a symbolic hug as we pass the massive Wellingtonia on the banks of the lake. He was the most delightful man in both word and deed.

I remember a special days barbel fishing on the upper Kennet with Stoney and Bernard Venables, accompanied by Chris Yates. We’d been invited there by Keith Elliott and though the swims looked delectable, I don’t remember actually fishing, preferring to sit with Bernard and Stoney for a good chat. I still regret not taking a film camera to record this unique day.

Bernard with a classic perch from the Avon
What does stick in the mind is the unsurprising fact that Peter was the only one to encourage a barbel to bite, even if he missed it and even more memorable was Bernard’s powers of concentration. He had found a particularly promising run tight under the near bank so lowered his bait in carefully, then knelt on the bank for fully two hours waiting for the line to tighten over his fingers. I think that most of us would have required A&E after kneeling on a damp bank for two hours … and Bernard was in his late eighties at the time. What a man and an inspiration to us all.






Chris and Bob admiring Bernard's Crabtree book
He was a star in ‘A Passion for Angling’ of course, catching perch to order, even a two pounder when under pressure to deliver. He always had a special place for the perch and often described it as the 'totem' fish ... and boy, didn't he capture the essence of their character in the pages of Crabtree.




Bernard's illustrations are some of the finest fish pictures ever painted
We took Bernard to Chew Valley Lake to do so, for Bob James and I had caught loads of big perch while doing a recce the previous week when if memory serves me right, I caught four perch over three pounds in as many casts.

two of several three pounders from Chew
We led Bernard to the same pontoon and I remember the horror when filming him walking out onto the wobbling platform and him nearly falling over into the water. Drowning Bernard Venables wouldn’t look good on your CV would it!

Sadly, the shoal of perch had moved on so we blanked, though Bernard finally did the business in a local lake by teasing a two plus stripy into taking a carefully wiggled lobworm. A star indeed.

No celebration of our greatest anglers would be complete without mentioning the delightful Bob Church.  Legend is an overused compliment but with Bob it fits, not only for the endless variety of success he’s had over the years but also for his sheer enthusiasm. When filming him for ‘Catching the Impossible’ he was tireless in his attempts to deliver for the cameras and though he isn’t as young as he used to be, he made me tired just watching him. When effort meets reward, he’s an example to us all.

the inspiring Bob Church with one of his smaller pike. He caught a lot of very big ones
I’ve been privileged to film many other notable anglers, not least Chris Yates who was described by Bob James as “a legend in his lunchtime”.
Mr Yates with a splendid 24lb common from Redmire
the late great Terry Lampard with his biggest ever roach, all 3lbs 5ozs of it, caught while filming 'Catching the Impossible'
Terry Lampard and Tim Norman were memorable not just for the great big fish they caught but for the banter … and Des Taylor was as good company as you could ever wish to meet.

Des Taylor and Martin Bowler with a fiesty catfish from 'Catching the Impossible'
There are many stories I could tell about filming ‘A Passion for Angling’ and ‘Catching the Impossible’ and some of them are true. One in particular springs to mind, a remarkable turn of events while filming the winter episode of Passion on the River Kennet.

Bob James doing what he does best, trotting for roach on the Kennet
As we are both roach nuts, Bob bet me a vintage bottle of port that I couldn’t catch a two pound roach from the river on a float before he caught a three pounder on a ledger. [This sounds simple but has rarely ever been achieved on the upper Kennet]. Anyway, being a foolish boy I rose to the challenge and at dawn the next morning was trotting a favourite glide with stick float and caster. It wasn’t long before I didn’t have just one two pound roach in the net but two. When Bob and Chris walked down to start filming I asked Bob what vintage port he was going to buy me. His expletives are unrepeatable but good as his word, he went to buy me the promised port at lunchtime.

the 'Passion for Angling' crew and a brace of two pound roach during filming
We wanted to film a large roach being caught for the programme, so at dusk Bob was ledgering bread flake just above the weed-rack with my camera focussed on his isotope quiver tip. It eventually pulled down decisively and after a tense battle in the half-light with what was obviously a big fish, a giant roach appeared in the torch light wielded by Chris and eventually sank begrudgingly into the landing net.

What a wonderful fish it was, a real giant of the species and though weighing a fraction under three pounds, Bob obviously deserved a vintage bottle of port as well. Rising early the next day to film the frosty dawn was a painful struggle, even if we hadn’t quite empted both bottles with our curry and papadoms.

our star turn, ace angler, story teller and friend Bernard Cribbins
We were very fortunate that one of the true stars of stage and screen agreed to voice the ‘Passion for Angling’ narration, so the legendary Bernard Cribbins joined our team. The whole world knows what a great story-teller he is but few know just how good he is with a rod and line. His regular fishing pal was John Goddard and he used to give that legendary fly fisherman a run for his money in trout fishing contests when he wasn’t laughing.

Bernard doing the business during filming for 'Catching the Impossible'. The pike grew on to be over thirty pounds
He was busy filming a major part in Dr.Who when we were trying to film ‘Catching the Impossble’ so weren’t able to include him in every scene as we’d have liked to. He and co-star Martin Bowler got on like a house on fire, no surprise as they were two faultless professionals who worked so well together and though Bernard had little time to fish, he never failed to deliver the goods when in front of the camera.

On one notable day, memorable because for once Martin was unable to deliver a tench for the cameras, Bernard spotted a bubbler, flicked a lobworm into its path and landed a spirited four pounder. Sequence completed before the sun burnt the mist off the lilies – nice one. We still manage to go out and wet a line together when Bernard’s work allows and this scribble serves as a reminder that another trip is long overdue. We are so lucky to count him as a friend and it highlights the truth that the friends you fish with are far more important than the fish you catch.

a happy snap from our book of the series with Bernard delivering the tench to order
Time slips by at an alarming rate and I wish I had done more to record the legends of angling before they fell off their perches. Thankfully friends Keith and Sandy Armishaw are doing their best to record the great and the good of angling before our heroes have to dangle a maggot in that heavenly swim in the sky.

The invaluable heritage that they have already collected is most impressive - hundreds of letters, articles, films and photographs, along with recordings of some of the greats who have already moved swims. Conversations between the likes of Fred Buller and Fred J.Taylor, both MBE’s for services to angling, along with Barrie Rickards and Des Taylor [he’s still very much alive and kicking!] have been made into CD’s and then books created to celebrate their lives. There are other intriguing conversations too, John Goddard with Brian Clarke for instance, along with the irrepressible stars, Bob Church and Dave Stueart.  So we should always be grateful that Sandy and Keith are creating such a valuable record for us all to enjoy. Please visit www.anglingheritage.org for a fascinating look into our past … but beware. I used up hours of my day engrossed in what I saw and read and even then I had only dimpled the surface. You’ll love it!