Monday, 29 May 2017


There’s something undeniably beautiful about crucians, not just the way they look but the places they choose to live, even the tentative way they bite.

perfect crucian country - one of Peter Rolfe's delightful Saxon Ponds

waiting for a tiny nudge

These golden creatures provide anglers with so many rewards that it’s heartening to see all the efforts being made to save them. Many clubs are even creating new fisheries to ensure our grandchildren can enjoy crucian fishing too.

crucian catching always makes for happy anglers
a perfect crucian swim

June 1st marks the start of ‘Crucian Fishing Month’ and the Angling Trust have once again organised a crucian photography contest to raise awareness of their beauty and their plight. I’m honoured to be a judge once again and there are prizes for the winners, so enjoy some thoughtful snapping. 

Here's where to enter :

keeping up the traditions of angling

I guess when judging last years contest I was looking for photographs that captured the essence of the qualities that make crucians special and there were certainly some excellent entries … but as my school report kept saying, “must try harder”.

telling the story of a puma in the Andes Mountains

I’m no stills photographer but I did try harder and that earned me the privilege of making more than sixty wildlife films all around the world. I guess the principles of a good picture are the same whether moving or still so for what it’s worth, I’ll list a few tips that I’ve found useful.

If you are entering the ‘film category’ – new this year – then just make sure you tell a story. Try to shoot it in a way that gives your audience a sense of actually ‘being there’, sharing the excitement with the angler. That often means getting off the tripod and with a wide angle lens, moving right in amongst the action. 

elastic stretcher

You’ll also need ‘cut-aways’ such as angler reactions, the bite, splashes of fish, bent rod and spinning reel, all shot so you are telling the audience what is happening in a dynamic way. This attention to detail really does make for engaging viewing.

a dignified surrender

Remember continuity too. Decide before you even start fishing where the angler is in relation to the lake. If he or she is on the left and the water on the right then stick with it so as not to confuse your audience. In the business we call this ‘crossing the line’.

Making the decision where 'the line' is can be crucial, whether in stills or film for it dictates where the light is coming from and that is vital for good photography. Back-light [sun shining towards the camera] can be wonderfully evocative, graphic too, which makes for more dramatic images and you can always use fill in flash if the sunshine is too severe.

my attempt to do justice to a splendid creature - no, not Chris
Pay lots of attention to the background. Always avoid clutter such as ugly buildings, parked vehicles, telegraph poles and even bits of tackle. In fact, anything that spoils the illusion of being deep in the countryside and when it comes to fish portraits, all the above is vital.

Try to angle the light on the crucian so those beautiful golden scales are etched and glow. Try also to use the lake as a background so the fishes home becomes a part of the photo. Water provides a lovely soft background for the fish too. I suggested this last year but I don’t think you were paying attention!

glistening gold and big too
If you have a fancy camera you could even crank up the shutter speed so the resultant wide aperture makes for an out of focus background. This is always good as it draws more attention to the fish … and don’t forget to check round the edges of the frame so that you can leave out any irrelevant details.

happy days with friends and a first crucian for Annabelle
Do enjoy photographing your golden gems and do try harder this time so as to enhance the crucians’ reputation as one of our most beautiful fish … but above all else, never forget that fish live in water, so be quick.

This is the link to the Angling Trust's details about the Photo Contest and how to enter :

Peter Rolfe's book, 'Crock of Gold' is essential reading for all crucian enthusiasts.

full of anticipation when dusk falls on June 15th

Monday, 16 January 2017


Dorset's gem - the little River Allen

                           CHALK STREAM GOLD

Award-winning wildlife film-maker Hugh Miles talks to Mat Manning, and explains why we should all be fighting to save the UK’s threatened chalk streams.

[Mat is a fishing pal of mine and shares a love of tench and roach. More importantly perhaps, he’s a top freelance professional journalist and past content editor of the much admired Blackmore Vale and Stour and Avon journals. We’d rather have been fishing together on the Stour but with time limited, he visited me at home to listen to me banging on about our beleaguered chalk streams and this is his admirable summary of my ramblings.]

“Although you may not be able to put a face to the name, anyone with more than a passing interest in fishing and wildlife will be familiar with the work of Hugh Miles.

getting up close and personal in Chile's Andes Mountains - our remote campsite is hidden just behind my head
The Dorset-based wildlife film maker set a new standard in fishing films when ‘A Passion for Angling’ first aired on BBC2 almost a quarter of a century ago. The six enchanting films threw away the “how-to” formula of tackle, bait and tactics, and replaced it with beautiful imagery, enchanting music and charming eccentricity. The series, based on the piscatorial adventures of angling author Chris Yates and his companion Bob James, is still hailed by many as the finest ever representation of the true allure of angling and the natural world.
Bob and Chris and a couple of near three pound roach - just two of ten caught and filmed that day

our star narrator Bernard Cribbins with a twenty+ pounder, one of many big fish he caught while filming with Martin Bowler
Ten years ago, Hugh embarked on an even more ambitious project, the aptly-named ‘Catching the Impossible’. With Hugh behind the camera and record-breaking angler Martin Bowler in front, the pair spent four years working tirelessly to capture hundreds of fishing hours, and some very impressive specimens.

Martin with a 44/4 common carp, caught while stalking with a float and pellet in the margins
a swagger of perch in the Hampshire Avon
‘Catching the Impossible’ took the viewer into the fish’s realm with breath-taking underwater sequences. Hugh was determined not to cheat by filming in aquariums, and instead spent many long hours wrestling with a waterproof camera on a long pole to capture the beauty of what he describes as “Britain’s most ignored natural environment.  

a beautiful mirror carp of twenty to thirty pounds

The aim was not simply to make a series of films about fishing but to create a visual celebration of angling, the great outdoors and the underwater environment for all to enjoy. The resulting series more than met that brief.

Hugh’s film-making credentials make for impressive reading. In 1973 he took a job with the RSPB and ran its film unit, making lots of films, most notably one on Ospreys that sold to over forty countries. It set him up for the risky life of the 'self-unemployed'. 

a classic nest-site in the Highlands of Scotland - from the book 'Catching the Impossible'
His first freelance job was on Sir David Attenborough’s epic ‘Life on Earth’. He wrote and produced ‘Searching for the Snow Leopard’, and worked on the BAFTA-winning ‘Life in the Freezer’, the David Attenborough special ‘Tiger’, and ‘Kingdom of the Ice Bear’, which was nominated for six BAFTAs. 

what wonderful, charasmatic animals they are
In total, Hugh has won three British Academy Awards, several Emmys and ten “green Oscars” at Wildscreen, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. His career has taken him all around the world, making more than 60 films – most of which stress the need to protect the world’s natural resources. Despite, in his words, “trying to retire”, Hugh has spent the last few years helping conservation organisations closer to home raise awareness of the importance and fragility of the chalk stream environment. To that end, he has made the films ‘Liquid Gold’ for Dorset Wildlife Trust and ‘Our Rivers in Crisis’ for Salmon and Trout Conservation UK.

 because of the governements lack of action protecting our rivers a comprehensive complaint was taken to the European Parliament
There are only around 160 chalk streams in the world – the habitat is rarer than Amazon rainforest – and about 80 per cent of them are in the UK. This unique ecosystem sustains rich aquatic plant life, which in turn supports the valuable insect populations for which chalk streams are renowned.
jewel of our chalk streams - photographed by John Slader
The plants and invertebrates of the chalk stream are at the foundation of an ecosystem that encompasses countless species of bird, mammal and fish. 

seriously cute but drastically declining water vole - photographed by Stewart Canham
another freshwater jewel
Kingfishers, water voles, brown trout and grayling are familiar chalk stream species. One that’s less well-known, and extremely vulnerable, is the white-clawed crayfish – our only native crayfish.

a little white-clawed crayfish
The white-clawed crayfish was once common in the rivers of England and Wales but numbers have declined rapidly over the last two decades; largely due to the rampage of the American signal crayfish. This invasive species escaped from farms where it was reared for the table and spread rapidly. Apart from being bigger and stronger than our little native crayfish, the signal crayfish carries an infectious water mould commonly referred to as crayfish plague – a disease which has had a devastating impact on the white-claw.
a deadly Signal crayfish, a colonist from the States

nice one! - and every little helps - photographed by Laurie Campbell

searching for an otter - a regular resident on the Allen
Hugh’s beloved River Allen, the Wimborne chalk stream that features in 'Liquid Gold', was home to a thriving population of white-clawed crayfish. While making the film, Hugh captured lots of footage of the endangered crustaceans, but just a couple of years later, in
the summer of 2015, he received a call from a friend whose daughter had found a dead crayfish in the river. It turned out to be yet another instance of crayfish plague, and the colony was wiped out. Undeniable proof of the fragility of the chalk stream environment.

labour MP Jon Crudass with a bonnie brownie from the Test on an S&TA Conservation day
Anyone who has ever had the fortune to cast a fly on a chalk stream will appreciate the beauty of these precious places, but Hugh is quick to point out that just because they can look near-perfect from above the surface, it’s often a very different story beneath.

ranunculus suffocated by algae
“Most chalk streams look wonderful, but that doesn’t mean that all is as it should be – the state of the wildlife can still be dire,” he explained.

‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a cliché, but in the case of our fish life it is alarmingly true. We can’t see them, know little about them and, as a result, don’t care. Education is long overdue, and showing adults and children is the key.”

several schools were invited to DWT showings of 'Liquid Gold', teaching dozens of children and staff the true value of rivers
Invasive species such as signal crayfish, Himalayan balsam and mink can all take their toll on chalk streams, as can cormorants, and pollution from roads, factories, sewage works and agriculture, but the single biggest threat is reduced water flow.

the source of the River Allen - crystal clear water bubbling up from the aquifers
Chalk streams spring from underground aquifers that fill up during the winter months. The filtration brought about from this process is what gives chalk streams their trademark crystal clarity, which allows life-giving sunlight to penetrate their depths. The natural filtration process also makes water from chalk aquifers extremely desirable to water companies; it’s a cheap option as it takes far less work and expense to prepare it for human consumption. Consequently, abstraction has a massive impact on chalk streams, many of which are now running lower than ever.

just one of many reports of environmental disasters due to lack of water
Water depletion doesn’t just affect the level of a river; it also affects the speed of the flow. Ranunculus, a key aquatic plant in the chalk stream ecosystem, thrives in swiftly-flowing water – take it away and you not only lose the plant but also the myriad invertebrates that feed on it and live amongst it. Reduced flow also results in a build-up of silt and other sediments that smother the rivers’ gravel bed and suffocate the eggs of fish.

a brownie looking for silt free gravel in which to lay her eggs
“More and more houses are being built but nobody ever seems to stop to ask where the water will come from,” Hugh added.

beautiful grayling are a common resident in chalk streams
“Chalk streams support some of the richest diversity of wildlife anywhere in Europe, yet we abstract the lifeblood out of them and kill the animals by the bucket load.”

roach, dace and chub thrive in the nutrient rich waters too
Although our chalk streams, and all waterways for that matter, need proper protection in the form of government policy and action, Hugh believes we can all help in our own small way. Little things like making sure the tap isn’t left running while you brush your teeth and thinking twice about watering the lawn or washing the car quite as often as usual start to make a big difference to water consumption when everyone makes the effort. Beyond that, Hugh suggests that we all lend our support to charities like ‘Salmon and Trout Conservation UK’, the 'Wessex Chalk Stream and Rivers Trust' and the ‘Dorset Wildlife Trust’, and do our bit to beat the drum for our local rivers and streams.

“Chalk streams really are liquid gold. We can live without gold – we die without water,” Hugh concluded.
you can see how choked the River Test ranunculus is in the background - the trout have to be stocked from fish-farms now

Monday, 12 December 2016


a giant Fraser River sturgeon for Keith with ace guide Jeff - read all about the big battle below
Lovely company, beautiful scenery, guides with a sense of fun and fishing to die for. What’s there not to like.

In October I was kindly invited to join Keith and Sandy Armishaw of 'Angling Heritage' fame on a fishing trip to Canada, three days hunting sturgeon on the Fraser River followed by three days salmon fishing on Vancouver Island. We were to be joined by Graham and Jane Nicol and Abby from Aberdeen. They all proved to be the most enjoyable company you could wish for so even without the fishing, the holiday was a success. And we had lots in common, all lovers of gardening and wildlife, Jane even being a regular volunteer at the iconic RHS gardens at Rosemoor.

As for the fishing, Graham and Abby only wanted to fly fish for salmon while Keith and I were keen on trying for sturgeon and treating the salmon as a bonus. So we paired off, with Sandy and Jane exploring the local places of interest using our vehicle or indulging in some retail therapy.

Fraser River scenery and weather to die for
On day one, Keith and I set off down the Harrison river on Merr’s jet boat. Western Canada is a gorgeous place, the guides a treat to be with and the wildlife prolific. Loons and western grebes were numerous, bald eagles too along with harbour seals, plus goosanders and Canada geese, all busily feeding in the crystal clear water and framed by mountains of conifer forest draped in moss and lichen.

Hugh's 'hot spot' - waiting for a bite
Surrounded by all this beauty, we anchored up and lowered our baits into the deep water, small balls of fresh salmon eggs wrapped in ladies tights. The gear was simple, the strongest possible hook attached to tough braid, a small lead weight, a powerful multiplier and 10ft. rod.

happy to be fishing - guide Merr and yours truly
Keith had fished here the previous year so he generously gave me first turn when and if we got a bite. Only one rod each is allowed, so Merr spread the three out either side of the boat and though we were fishing for creatures that might weigh over a hundred pounds the bites can be very subtle, so I watched each tip like a hawk.

always time to smile when you catch a new PB

Plucks from squaw fish kept me on my toes because sturgeon bites are similar but slightly slower and more purposeful. We saw several great heaving’s of water as sturgeon showed they were out there but we couldn’t tempt them to take so Merr moved us downriver a couple of times to try different spots.

He changed one bait to a lump of salmon gills and it wasn’t long before my rod heaved over like a barbel bite. No missing this and I was quickly attached to a sturgeon that was simply unstoppable. Despite my heaving with every muscle, line poured off the reel at an alarming rate.

hell fire, they sure can pull - 100yards ripped off already and lots more to go. It reached a snag by that far cliff
With at least a hundred yards of line already torn off my reel Merr calmly mentioned that sturgeon don’t usually run as far as this one and when another hundred yards had evaporated downriver he was less calm and decided to follow the fish in the boat before it spooled me.

struggling to gain control and failing
I have caught some big fish over the years, including Alaskan halibut to over a hundred pounds but this was something else and I made only slow progress regaining some line. As if this wasn’t fun enough, I was distracted by a bald eagle flying just over my severely bent rod when it was stooped on by a peregrine. Life doesn’t really get any better than that.

bald eagles galore - this one atop an old osprey nest

Soon after this gift from god the fish had became snagged and I feared the worse, especially when the line twice pinged off rocks and went slack. I thought the braid was broken but each time I reeled like crazy and made contact again. Then it became snagged round a sunken tree but the gods were kind to me again and it came free. 

a glimpse of my first ever sturgeon ... six to seven feet of angry muscle
Finally I could see my leviathan deep down in the blue depths and Merr suggested it was at least six and a half feet long and weighed upwards of a hundred and fifty pounds. It was a very good start to the holiday!

beaten at last and heading for the bank for unhooking - it's quite big!
We had finally won the battle and dragged it towards the boat, though as Merr tried to tow it to the bank with the boat the strain was so great that the hook pulled, so we’ll never know exactly how big it was. I was relieved as it saved me getting wet in the cold water. Suffice to say it was BIG.

by my roach fishing standards, this is a monster
Sturgeon conservation is most impressive on the Fraser, each fish being measured for length and girth, then tagged so their growth, age and numbers can be monitored.
      Any fish over five feet cannot be removed from the water and must be studied close to the shore.

every fish is measured from nose to fork in tail
Scientists have a data base of over 55,000 sturgeon now, with at least a third still being tagged, so there’s a lot of sturgeon in the river! It is such a joy to be fishing in a place where the fish stocks are so carefully looked after and treated with admirable respect.

girth is measured just behind the pectoral fins

Keith enjoying some fluff flinging for chum salmon
Unable to add to our sturgeon tally, we headed downriver to a fast, shallow stretch in the hope of catching chum salmon, particularly a female so that we could re-stock our freezer with salmon-egg bait for the sturgeon. We caught plenty of males as they were aggressively defending their lies in preparation for imminent spawning. 

a colourful chum - ready for spawning in the nearby gravels, then they become bear bait
We released them all, the males spilling milt on the gravel as we unhooked the flies. The sport was too easy, so thick were they on the shallows and I soon lost interest ... but not in the wildlife. Dozens of bald eagles scoured the area for dead and dying fish but the highlight was an osprey plunging in successfully just upstream. Wherever they are in the world, ospreys have an undeniable charisma.

moving swims in Jeff's jet boat was a speedy joy, with wildlife all the way
Next day dawned bright and sunny and we were to be guided by Keith’s old friend, Jeff. He led Keith and his son to a hatful of sturgeon the previous year so we hoped he might be able to repeat the trick and as if in anticipation, Keith’s wife Sandy joined us to share the adventure. We bombed off downriver, leaving the Harrison far behind, heading to one of Jeff’s ‘secret spots’, though he admitted such places no longer exist on the Fraser.

Jeff was very particular about where the bait should be cast
However, he was very careful to make sure we were anchored over THE spot, searching back and forth with the echo sounder before being satisfied we had a chance of a biggie. 

waiting for the little pluck that could be from a monster

He certainly knew his stuff, for it wasn’t long before the rods were twitching and we were catching. It was Keith’s turn to take the next bite and because of what followed, I was glad it was.

who would win the contest was in the balance for more than an hour

Dashing forward and striking, the rod took on an alarming curve. This was a BIG one and Keith failed to slow its powerful runs. 

Jeff found Keith's struggles quite amusing
It stayed deep except when leaping clear of the water to show Keith just what he was up against. All we could do is look on in admiration for the fighting attitude it showed.

This was a battle of wills and it was always in the balance as to who would win but to cut a long story short, after an hour nothing had changed. 

oooooh! - it's not very happy

Keith was flagging, the fish wasn’t, and as if to rub salt into Keith’s aching muscles, this huge fish kept on jumping, six times in all. It was simply awesome.

OMG moment - that is an awesome fish

the reel got quite hot
still angry but tiring
plungng to the bottom yet again, using the string flow to it's advantage
We all worried about the hook pulling or the line breaking. Well, you would after an hours fight wouldn't you, especially when it was diving so fiercely under the boat. It was give and take, Keith giving, the fish taking!
Eventually the strain told and when Keith’s stamina was finally spent, the fish weakened too and we battled it inch by inch towards the shore. 
WOW! now THAT is a big fish

Jeff keeping a watch on the time to see who would give up first
Jeff leapt off the boat, Keith staggered off and Jeff kept a clock on the battle until he grabed the line. 

it's almost over now as Jeff waits for his chance to grab the line
 angler enjoying a beach holiday - we just laughed
Keith collapsed face down onto the beach. It had taken 1hr 28mins to defeat and we were all elated that he won the contest. Well, the fish wasn’t happy or beaten and when trying to hold it’s head end for Sandy to take a pic, it gave a mighty heave and pushed me into the river.

a truly powerful sturgeon and still fighting - that splash on the left is caused by me - pushed into the river
It was especially good that Keith’s wife Sandy had been able to share the excitement and see Keith catch his biggest ever sturgeon. It measured 7feet 10inches, had a girth of 99cms, had been tagged many years previously so was at least 44yrs old and weighed about 280lbs. What a beautiful, prehistoric creature, a battler to the end and on releasing it we watched in admiration as it swam gently off into the depths … and to think that sturgeon sometimes grow substantially more than this in the Fraser. It sure is some river.

a triumphal trophy shot - happy days for all
All the sturgeon that we caught at first had already been tagged, then inexplicably, like busses, we caught four which were ‘virgins’. These included a monster on a wet day when it was my turn to strike the tentative bite. 

we're doing battle again and it's another biggie

We knew immediately it was an exceptional specimen as on it’s first run it leapt clean out of the river, causing us to oooh and aaagh like a missed goal at Man U. It made my knees quake with apprehension as I had visions of a long battle similar to Keith’s on the previous day.

yikes - this one's pulling a bit
Our guide Jeff always measured ‘Battle Timings’ because as all us fishermen know, our struggles tend to become exaggerated, especially afterwards in the pub. The fish did fight hard but unlike Keith I put my back into it and had it alongside the boat in 28mins!
oh yes, that will do

portrait of a happy angler
To be fair it didn’t have the attitude of his monster, nor the girth and being four inches shorter than his, weighed a mere 230lbs … but at seven and a half feet it was mighty impressive.

portrait of a beautiful monster
The place we had to take it ashore proved to be the sort of place that hippos dream of – deep soft mud, so deep that once we’d got off the boat into it, we couldn’t move. Unfortunately the fish could move and it was Keith’s turn to end up being pushed into the river. ‘Fill your boots’ has a different meaning when wearing chest waders and struggling with an angry fish and with the rain pouring down, all we could do was laugh.

we were as wet as the sturgeon
Jeff estimated it’s age at about forty years, so it surprised us that it had never been caught before. As with every fish landed by anglers, we injected a tag behind its pectoral fin before release, noting its serial number on a computer. When a third of the fish caught by many thousands of sport fishermen from around the world are still un-tagged, it serves to reinforce the feeling that there are amazing numbers of sturgeon in the river. It’s a resource that is carefully protected by the Canadian Government and the guides and a lesson in common sense for many countries, including the UK!

a pretty bearded one - the fish looks nice too

I loved the sturgeons' markings ... like a work of art
What is even better news is that not all the fish are big. In fact, some of the best looking fish I have ever caught are baby sturgeon and Keith and I caught several during our three days on the Fraser.

what a pair of beauties ... and I mean the fish this time ...
Cutest of the lot were a couple of two footers weighing just a few pounds and maybe five years old. There were several of three to four feet long and around fifteen years old and we had a few five footers weighing about sixty pounds and around twenty years old, so there is a good range of year classes and hope for a healthy ecosystem in the future.

battling happily yet again
The smaller ones still pull ‘well hard’ and we were delighted to end our three days with a double hook up, a leap clear of the water and a brace of five footers.
action stations - I'm sure they leap to let you know what you're up against
a beautiful pair of five footers to end our stay on the Fraser River

While trying to curb the sturgeons’ enthusiasm for staying in the middle of the river, skein after skein of white-fronted geese tumbled out of the sky above our heads before landing wearily on a nearby sandbank after their long flight from arctic Alaska. Being a lover of wild geese and the remote places they nest, it was even more exciting than if I’d caught another sturgeon. So we ended the day on a high with the reminder that winter was rapidly approaching.

hundreds of white fronted geese from Arctic Alaska
we saw plenty of fresh prints of numerous black bears

Our three days on the Fraser were over but our holiday wasn’t as we now had three days salmon fishing to look forward to. Graham and Abby had caught lots of chum salmon on the Frazer, along with a few beautiful silver coho, all on the fly of course, and now we were to try our luck on the fast flowing crystal clear rivers tumbling down the wooded mountains of Vancouver Island. It was a beautiful setting for a bit of fluff flinging and with several black bears and bald eagles keeping us company, there was never a dull moment.

lots of bald eagles sat waiting for the salmon to die
Vancouver Island is famous for man killing cougars and I harboured hopes of seeing one … but not too close! Our guides were Bill and Ron and though I was assured that the chances of seeing a cougar were nil, Ron did see one close to his home on our first morning in the darkness of dawn. It was his first ever sighting in fifty years of life on the island but it was enough to raise my hopes. If you don’t look you don’t see so whenever we saw black-tailed dear grazing, of which there were many, I searched carefully for cats eyes in the cover.

Our days started before dawn so we always had a chance as we drove over bumpy forest tracks for an hour and a half in the half-light. The drives were necessary because a deluge of rain had fallen on our transfer day and flooded the intended fishing spots on the Stamp River. 

the gang on their way to the Stamp River Falls
However, this only served to encourage huge numbers of salmon to run and we watched in awe as hundreds gathered at the falls and fish pass. Non of us had ever seen so many fish … tens of thousands struggling through the turbulent rapids.

rainfall flushed falls cascading past glorious autumn colours

washing machine full of salmon
a place of unrivaled beauty
so many salmon you could walk across their backs without getting your feet wet
We would be fishing for chum and Chinook salmon using 11ft switch rods, a shorter version of double handed salmon rods but still enabling double Spey casts to be achieved, a necessity along such wooded rivers. Fortunately, Bill was a patient guide as he coaxed us to create the ‘c’ loop one side before the ‘d’ loop the other, then punch the line out by pulling hard on the lower hand while holding the upper hand firm … well, something like that anyway.

Vancouver Islands' mountains were such a gorgeous place to fish
Graham and Abby are both ace fly fishermen and had no problems putting the fly over the numerous fish and catching plenty. Keith and I were on a steep learning curve but caught our share in the end. The chum had been in the river for a few days, the males developing large kypes and grown ‘colourful’. 

Keith with a fiesty chum
Keith amusing Bill with a spinner enticed battle
a dark but lumpy chinook that couldn't resist Keith's lure
It would be being kind to describe them as attractive but as they powered off downstream at a rate of knots in an attempt to return to the sea, the sport was entertaining.
didn't they ever tell you to keep the rod UP!

Ron tails my chum
an ugly beast but a good sporting fighter
Next day we were on a small river only four kilometres from the sea and dozens of chum were  surging through our pool to their spawning redds. The water was very fast and though we had heavy sink-tips on, getting the fly deep enough to attract a take proved difficult. We had to laugh as they leapt past us, untroubled by our incompetent efforts. I felt sure I saw one smiling as it became airborne just beyond my flailing rod tip.

screaming reels - the salmon off back to the sea with guide Bill enjoying the party
However, I wasn’t going to be beaten and started, would you believe, to use my roach fishing skills. Paying line off the reel as if trotting a float, along with mending the line allowed the fly to scratch the bottom … and bingo. Fish on. The struggle was violent, the salmon screaming off towards the sea before I could slow it and start regaining some line. 

happy days - these fresh run chums were a joy to behold
After a period of give and take, Bill was able to tail it … and what a fish, a sparkling silver gem that he described excitedly as a ‘cromer’, fresh from the sea and still with sea-lice behind it’s adipose fin. It was one of the most beautiful fish I have ever caught ... then I caught several more - wonderful fishing!

simply gorgeous fish - and Keith with one on downstream where a black bear appeared on the bank in front of him

a fish as beautiful as you could ever wish to catch
Now I seemed to have mastered a technique that worked, I hooked a fish almost every cast, some of which stayed on long enough for me to hold for the camera. 

switch rod magic and little red fly
Keith was lower dawn the pool and had his share of action, though most of his fell off. I too had a problem or three, one big fish kiting left into a fallen tree, just like a chub, bless’em.

Bill trying to free a biggie from a snag - the salmon excaped of course
This day was as good as fishing gets so I siestad well when we returned to the lodge in mid afternoon. We wished we could have fished on longer and not had to rise and travel before dawn but that was the deal we signed up to.

a river full of fish
On the last day Keith and I decided to try for a steelhead in the upper reaches of the Stamp River, even though it was a little early for the best fishing. It was our last days fishing and the weather was perfect, a frost with mist rising off the crystal river followed by warm sunshine.
Our guide was local expert Sean and he knew more than a thing or two about catching steelhead. Anchored mid-river, we couldn’t believe how many fish there were, the bottom of the river literally black with salmon, some of them big Chinook of twenty to thirty pounds.  Among them were the occasional steelhead, holding station to eat any spilt eggs from the spawning.

Sean assured me that the subtle changes of colour make a difference
Our tackle was more familiar to us, multipliers with ten foot rods, floats rigged as if chub fishing, using plastic imitation salmon eggs of a variety of subtle differences, trying to trot the baits past the waiting steelhead … and we caught loads of fish but the wrong sort. Chinook salmon aren’t meant to take those sort of baits but on this particular day they hadn’t read the rules.
 a battling chinook that wouldn't give up caused gritted teeth
Battle after battle was fought, most eventually escaping but enough landed to satisfy our hunting instincts, the best to Keith being a great big lump of about 25lbs.

that sure is a lumpy salmon
plenty of water to encourage the salmon up to their redds
a spotty steelhead nears the net

We moved upstream through some impressively rafting type white water and lost almost all the steelhead we hooked but eventually landed a small steelhead and for me, it was a lifetime’s ambition fulfilled. One day I’ll return in the high season and try again for a bigger one. Well someone’s got to do it.
ace guide Sean happy with my first little steelhead

Hugh, Jane, Keith, Graham, Abby and Sandy - our gang doing what they do best ... eating and drinking
On our final night we gathered for a celebration dinner in our resort hotel and laid plans for a return visit next year. I shared a room with Abby and was up at dawn to enjoy the views across the sound to the mainland. The sand flats studded with large flocks of Canada geese, American widgeon and velvet scoter.
It was a fitting end to a splendid holiday and it’s difficult to imagine ever enjoying one more. As I wrote at the start, lovely company, beautiful scenery, guides with a sense of fun and fishing to die for. Perfect!
sunrise on our final morning, with wildfowl adding to the magic