Friday, 20 October 2017

GREAT ROACHING - The Wimborne and District Angling Club

there is superb roach fishing in the clubs River Stour fisheries
I’m lucky that The Wimborne and District Angling Club is my local club and has been since we moved here to live some thirty six years ago. The club has many wonderful waters and over the years they have provided me with some memorable days, especially on the River Stour which runs through the town.

Chris Yates enjoying the perch fishing - some of them are BIG
I fish here quite often with my pal Chris Yates and you might be aware that Chris and I are giving a talk to club members, mainly about our BBC series ‘A Passion for Angling’ but about anything you wish to ask Chris, so please come armed with plenty of questions for the great man. 

Chris + 24lb common carp from Redmire

As Bob says in Passion, “He’s a legend in his lunchtime but unfortunately he’s beginning to believe it”! It’ll be an informal question and answer evening but with clips of some of our favourite bits of the series.

the Passion Crew - Bob James, Chris Yates and yours truly with giant Hampshire Avon roach
The talk is at 7.30pm on November 23rd at the Royal British Legion in Corfe Mullen – BH21 3HQ. It’s free but you have to be a member of the club, so if you want to hear from ‘the record carp catching legend’ you’ll have to join. You might not want to join the club just for Chris’s talk but there are dozens of ‘better’ reasons, an impressive folio of waters to choose from …

the 'Roach Bay' on the Stour at Wimborne
I love river fishing more than any other, especially trotting for roach and back in the days before cormorants, I would think nothing of popping down to the River Stour at dawn for a couple of hours fishing before work and catching double figures of splendid redfins.

superb roach of over two pounds were often caught and they're coming back
When conditions were spot on, fining down after a flood with colour just right I would catch lots of roach of over a pound in a session, with several two’s thrown in for good measure. My best day produced over forty pounds of roach with several two’s included and I prey for the day when these days will return … and they might, because there are lots of small roach up to ten ounces or so now, with the occasional pound pluser.

a lovely young roach filling the landing net
Just last winter I caught a beautiful young roach of 1lb10oz and the next day caught a thin old warrior of 1lb14ozs which would have easily been a two pounder when young and fit. It’s great trotting water with bread flake or punch, especially when an upstream wind makes float control a dream.

Mr.Yates was on hand to see me bagging little roach every cast
Even better, a vibrant new team are running the club and we now have permission and a license to scare and shoot cormorants, so some of the small roach will have more of a chance to grow to be big roach. The fishing is already really enjoyable and getting better every year.

good sport on a winters afternoon
you can't beat trotting a float down this idyllic waterway
More about our vibrant committee will follow but I can’t leave the river without mentioning the splendid perch. I’ve had many memorable days, often with Chris Yates when we have caught some big ‘uns, including a day when the big perch were biting and resulted in a brace of three pounders.

a cracking brace of three pounders - my best on the stretch weighed 3lb10ozs - so far!
perch lurking in the bank-side tree roots
On a freezing cold February day many years ago when I expected to blank, the perch were going mad and so I landed eleven two pounders and several smaller ones on the deadly lobworm. Memorable too was the day when I landed my biggest roach on the stretch of 2lb9oz and thought a brace shot would be good so cast out a lob and caught a 2lb5oz perch. Chris took the happy snap for me but a publisher lost the neg. so this image is lifted from the magazine and very poor.

2lb5oz perch and 2lb9oz roach snapped by Chris

you can't beat a cup of smokey tea

But what a memorable day, shared with my pal Chris who also caught big perch. We enjoyed plenty of Kelly Kettle tea too and still do, for the perch are still there, even if their size fluctuates year on year depending on the hunger of the local otters and some of our visitors from abroad. 

otters are sometimes seen at dusk © Jane Adams
the local kingfishers are very confiding

I’ve been roaching there and had otters rise up under my feet and with barn owls and little egrets hunting the far bank, along with kingfishers standing on your rod, it’s a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise.

barn owl hunt the river-side meadows © Stewart Canham
dynamic Hon. Sec. Stuart Hitchman gathers the troops

I haven’t tried many of the clubs’ waters as there’s never enough time to go fishing but there’s numerous lakes providing good carp fishing and thanks to our vibrant new committee, lots of improvements to many of them, with stockings aplenty to provide superb fishing. 

students from Sparsholt College replacing old platforms at the Creekmoor carp lakes
hundreds of tons of stone ensured all swims are disabled friendly

the lads worked hard
students, club volunteers and supervisors happy after a productive days work
Our new secretary Stu has been dynamic, raising tens of thousands of pounds from the EA and Angling Trusts’ development funds to enable new swims to be built and provide easy access for all, including some impressive platforms for the disabled.
ensuring access for all at the clubs lakes at Edmondsham

Crucian guru Peter Rolfe advising committee members before starting work on the new fishery at Edmondsham
One of the most exciting projects has been the dredging of the upper lake at Edmondsham to provide a new crucian and tench water … and it’s filling up as I write, ready for stocking in the next few weeks.  It will make a wonderfully peaceful place to fish in traditional ways and a rare and very valuable asset for the club.

President Brian Heap waits for his dumper truck to be loaded with silt
all hands getting deep and dirty and they are all club members working the machinery!
creating the perfect crucian habitat
... and AFTER - what a lovely tench and crucian water it will be - worth joining for this alone
All the work has been done by the stalwart volunteering members who make WDAC the great club that it is and it’s to their credit that the lake is going to be so good. As you’ll see when you go to fish there, we all have a lot to thank them for … and there’s no excuse for not joining them at work parties in the future. Please do what you can, when you can. Your club needs you! 

making six fifty minute films kept me away from the river

And please come along to hear what Chris has to say. If he bangs on too long I’ll cut him off with a new clip of film.
the first TV showing in 1993 - a long time ago but still as enjoyable as ever, so I'm told!

Thursday, 21 September 2017


a wonderful place for a holiday - the Paps of Jura from Islay - a true wilderness for wildlife
A sage once said that if you’re thinking of travelling – don’t!

If you’re looking for a vision of hell on earth that is often a reality, try travelling. Airports, queues, check ins, delays, long flights, cramped seats, no sleep, lost baggage, hours waiting for hire cars, finding accommodation in the dark, dodgy beds, poor food and all designed to empty your hard earned pot of cash. We’ve all been there and got the tea shirt.

Noto's ornate celebration to God
However, most of us have also had some wonderful holidays and my wife Sue and I have certainly made some fortunate choices. They range from culture to vultures and having been a wildlife nut since childhood, birds play an important part in my life because they are so rewarding. In fact, they inspired me to become a wildlife film-maker and as a result I’ve been privileged to enjoy the company of birds all around the world. You might not be a bird-watcher and if not you are missing out, for they are 'cheap' to watch, free even and their songs, their tameness in our gardens and their travels around the globe are always fascinating.

The Hebrides again - Islay's thousands of barnacle geese and famous malt whisky distilleries
My wife Sue enjoys them a lot too and we both love wild flowers, so when she said she’d like to visit Sicily, I jumped at the idea. But when to go and where exactly?
there were glorious drifts of wild flowers everywhere in April

the size of Roman amphitheatre in Syracuse impressed us
the conservation and detail of the mosaics at the RomanVilla Tellaro just down the road from our villa are wonderful 
Sicily is a big island and with the many piles of Greek and Roman rubble that we wanted to admire, along with the glorious Baroque architecture and art, we were spoilt for choice. However, I guessed the last week of April would be good for the flora and with migration in full swing at that time, it would be perfect for birds too. But where to stay?

Armed with a coffee table groaning under the weight of brochures, we started on the needle in a haystack search but with the attractions of Syracuse, Noto, Ragusa and Modica tucked into the less developed SE quarter, it seemed like a good area to start. What’s more, a marshy area along the nearby coast looked good for migrants. Then I struck lucky, for turning the pages, there was Villa Favorita. Having ‘Google Earthed’ it, I became excited at the prospect for it looked like the perfect place for our holiday – and it was!

what a beautiful place for a holiday
the owner's special family room in which we could relax in perfect peace

Fearing this is turning into a book, I’ll ignore the beautiful Villa and rooms, the kindly and faultless staff, the excellent food and wine … why can’t every country serve such tasty food … and concentrate on the estate and it’s birdlife.
service with a smile ... and their own estate 'house' wine was delicious
citrus groves and the sea

a perfect place to read and write
The 18th century villa is set on the top of a hill close to the ocean and surrounded by citrus groves that are protected from the sea breezes by ancient olive trees, so the delightful scent of oranges and lemons wafts into our windows and pervades every waking hour.

dawn from our balcony and the oriole trees in the garden
such exciting birds to admire every morning before breakfast ... c. Mike Read
We’re woken at dawn by the glorious fluty calls of golden orioles in the huge ficus trees that glow in the rising sun. Keen to see such exciting birds, I creep through the courtyard and garden before several minutes of neck ache reveal the bars of gold hiding in the topmost branches. It turns out they are there every day, feeding on the little fruits of these weeping figs and are a joy to behold as they are so rare back in blighty.

hoopoe nested nearby, flying over the pool with food for their young
A leisurely stroll round the grounds before breakfast finds a diminutive, bright yellow serin singing from the hedges in the veg. plot, goldfinches in good voice above the ripening almonds, a woodchat shrike evidently nesting just below the garden and a pair of hoopoes flying over the swimming pool, one of which is carrying food for it’s chicks. What exotic looking birds they are.

the weather was simply perfect
Breakfast is taken on the terrace by the citrus groves, the sun already warm enough for shirtsleeves. Better still, that ubiquitous Mediterranean bird the Sardinian warbler serenades us as we gulp the juice from those famous Sicilian blood oranges.

With the air now tepid, the sky above is filled with swifts as they scythe the blue for insects. Some are bound together in flight, mating on the wing and I find myself humming that Paul Young song ‘Love is in the Air’. But it’s time for some culture now, so it’s Syracusa or maybe Noto, visible just across the valley from the swimming pool.
the ancient city of Noto seen from our villa pool

Sue admiring Noto Cathedral as it glows in the warm afternoon light
frescos adorn the ceilings
an impressive18th-century Baroque balcony on Palazzo Nicolaci in Noto - there were lots like it in the town
Sicily's southern tip - over the Med. lies troubled Libya
There’s an endless variety of interesting places to go nearby, including the very southern tip of Sicily where we look across the Med. towards the coast of sadly troubled Libya. Migrant swallows arrive as we scan the waters, survivors of their epic journey across the Sahara and the sea.
most of the offshore islands have forts which now act as lighthouses

water flows into the Vendicari lakes from the sea to ensure a welcome for thousands of migrant birds
Nearer to the Villa is the wonderful Vendicari wetland reserve where we enjoy the wildflower walks among flamingos, avocets and marsh harriers.
greater flamingoes and many species of wading birds make this an exciting birding spot

an obliging curlew near one of the hides as it refuels for it's migration north

flowers adorn every corner of the reserve, providing insect food for warblers and woodchat shrike
numerous lizards appreciated the warm sun as much as we did
the once numerous but sadly endangered turtle dove were a delight on the reserve
But we never linger long. The villa and it’s clear blue pool is too tempting, so after a delicious Sicilian antipasto lunch, one portion shared is enough, we write, read, embroider, swim and paint the scenery while soaking up the sun and birding.

The delights of the pool are shared by numerous thirsty birds, so there’s never a dull moment. The design of the pool ensures there’s always shallow water at the edge and this proves a magnet to many collared doves and wood pigeons, two of the villa’s commonest birds. Serins, goldfinches and linnets love it too, along with smart Italian and tree sparrows, magpies and spotless starlings – they are spotless even before they bathe – but most amusing was the Sardinian warbler, that attractive bird with it’s charcoal grey head and blood red eye.

The shower had been left dripping slightly and the warbler thought this was just the ticket, sitting under it until fully soaked, then jumping up into the olive tree above and having a good shake and preen. It evidently decided it enjoyed the cool water so much that it repeated the performance several times. It was like a Disney cartoon character, feathers splayed all over the place until groomed to sartorial elegance.

a splendid viewpoint for some pre breakfast birding

Whenever out in the gardens, we were always alert to passing birds and some rarer ones were seen every day. The sky was often lit up by the flocks of bee-eaters heading for Europe, there were alpine swifts among them, hobbies too, along with specials like Eleonora’s falcon and Montagu’s harrier.

colourful bee-eaters hunted the skies above us every day ...  c. Mike Read
serenading scops owl ... c. Mike Read

There never seemed to be a dull moment in the bird world so we’d sleep well, except when woken by the delightful pair of scops owls that hooted duets to each other in the moonlight. They sung every night, signalling the end of another perfect day in paradise.
... and so to bed after a day of delights ...

So my verdict on whether holidays are heaven or hell. Well, if you make good choices and get lucky like we did in Sicily then they are heavenly … even if it’s always good to be back home!
our garden is always a delight, especially in the spring and autumn

All our travel and bookings were arranged most efficiently by Inghams Italy ... and if you want to spend a holiday at the Villa Favorita then please visit their website -   -  you will love it.