My love affair with Dorset and its chalk streams started over a decade ago when I fished Richard Slocock’s day ticket waters on the Frome and the Piddle. I was splitting my time between home and wife in the North of Scotland and working down south and staying with my sister. To pass the time and take my mind off things I looked around for somewhere to fish. All the local clubs had long waiting lists and the prices for the Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire chalk streams were a bit steep for me. Richard had been a founding member of the Wild Trout Trust and one of their Conservation Officers suggested I gave him a visit. It seemed a long drive down that Saturday in September 2005. I remember feeling nervous knocking on the front door, but Richard immediately put me at my ease as he led me across to the little shop where he wrote out my ticket and gave me directions. Richard was very generous with his time, his local knowledge and expertise. Feeling much more confident I made my way to the beat. Looking back in my Fishing Journal those first few visits were very challenging. Warm sun and bright skies made for difficult fishing. But the Frome and Piddle were generous to me and I wrote fondly of my visits. The good weather brought out the beauty of Dorset. Broad river valleys, rolling chalk hills, ancient bridges spanning sedate rivers and streams running over clean gravels with swaying ranunculus, picture postcard villages with quaint names such as Puddletown, Piddlehinton and Piddletrentide. I tittered in a Benny Hill kind of way as I drove the Dorset lanes. The drives down never felt long again.
When my marriage fell apart and I moved back home permanently I joined Richard’s syndicate. My catch returns are evidence of halcyon days on the Dorset chalk streams. Ample hatches, good water conditions and free rising fish. Catching wild Brown Trout to three pounds off the top was heaven to me.
It was a wrench to give up my place on Richard’s syndicate. The long drives down were getting to me and I was offered a place on a more local syndicate. It was a tough decision. But I didn’t fall out of love with the Dorset chalk streams. It wasn’t goodbye, simply au revoir.
It was John Aplin and two good friends who rekindled my love affair. I can’t remember how it came about but on a cold December day I found myself with Charles and Denise listening to John as he briefed us on his little bit of heaven across the fields from the Dairy House. I’d known of John for some time, but I think this was the first time we’d actually met, and there was nowhere more perfect to meet him than on his Home Beat. We had a wonderful day stalking the big ladies that haunt John’s bit of the Frome.
Since then I’ve met John many times and we’ve become firm friends. I’ve fished his beat, been hosted on the Dorchester Fishing Club waters he keepers, got drunk with him at the Monnow Social, enjoyed many a pre-fishing sausage sandwich in the kitchen at the Dairy House and even helped him clear weed from a pond in the grounds of a five-star hotel. When John started the Little Syndicate, I was one of its first members.
John is one of those rare people who quietly gets on and makes stuff happen. One of the things that John has been quietly making happen since September 2012 is The Dorset Chalk Streams Club. John Aplin came up with the idea of a Dorset Chalk Streams Club in 2011, to allow likeminded people to sit round a warm fire on a winters night and chat about chalkstreams, Dorset chalkstreams of course. The hope was to present guest speakers from all areas of chalkstream fishing and habitat improvement. Subjects ranging from fly tying, chalkstream fishing, fishing destinations and the flora & fauna of this wonderful habitat. They got off to a grand start with the first speaker being Charles Jardine who talked about the history of fly fishing, fishing destinations and fly-fishing methods, together with lots of great humour thrown in.
Since that first meeting the Dorset Chalk Streams Club has gone from strength to strength. It meets once a month though the winter at the village hall in West Stafford. There is no charge as The Dorset Wildlife Trust through the Dorset Wild Rivers Project very kindly sponsor the hire of the village hall and the heating and website is sponsored by the West Dorset Foodie. Those attending either bring a bottle or buy a pint from the Wise Man pub, rather handily located opposite the Hall.
Everyone is asked to bring something for the buffet that is heartily tucked into after the presentations.
John works hard to put together a great programme of presentations each winter which both entertain and edify the assembled throng. Each year sees a mix of subject matter, with fishing always on the agenda. As well as regular Charles Jardine, Alex Jardine has come to talk about the delights of fishing the Ribnic & Pliva rivers in Bosnia and catching big Grayling on the chalk streams. Glen Pointon, supported by the Wet Your Know Crew came down from Staffordshire to talk about hunting big browns on the Wye and Dove and his goal to create THE Dry Fly that transcends all others.
Local David Burton has talked about his early years as a fly fisherman and his steep learning curve into a fisherman that now catches some fine-looking trout from our local rivers. Richard Miller & John Thorpe have talked about their holiday fishing on the Mykel and Knoydart, up on the west coast of Scotland.
River ecology is always a popular topic. Dr Rasmus Lauridsen from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust kindly gave a talk on the activities of SAMARCH a major EU-funded programme that will provide vital research on rapidly declining salmon and sea trout (salmonid) populations.
Bill Beaumont from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust is a regular updating the club on the latest studies into the River Frome salmon. Angus Menzies fascinated everyone with how invertebrate life is being used to assess river health and identify incidents affecting fish and anglers. Jacob Dew from the Dorset Wild Rivers Project introduced this major restoration project. Fiona Bowles, Water Environment and Catchment Specialist, very kindly gave an update on the Poole Harbour Catchment Initiative whilst Jon Holland has talked about a year in the life of a Fish Health Inspector – fascinating just how much goes on behind the scenes to keep the UK with one of the healthiest stocks of fish.
Writers are always popular. Dr Tony Hayter (Author of FM Halford and the Dry Fly Revolution and G.E.M. Skues The man of the nymph) has been a regular visitor talking about the life and times of Halford and Skues.
Sometimes it is the more esoteric contributions that fascinate. Michael Heaton talked about water meadows, their history and their value to anglers whilst the ever-entertaining Ian May has told the club all about carved and painted fish.
The club has even had PCSO Tom Belching, Rural Engagement Officer of the Dorset Police Rural Crime Team, talk about rural crime in Dorset.
Sometimes the club goes on tour. In May 2015 twenty-five members visited the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s, Salmon & Trout Research Centre at East Stoke. This has been monitoring salmon & sea trout since 1973, using various ingenious fish counting methods. Bill Beaumont who has been working at the Centre since he arrived in 1971 for a three-month trial showed everyone around. You could tell that it was all his ‘baby’ as he enthusiastically explained all the methods used by his team to count the smolts out and the adult salmon back in.
Attendees are encouraged to bring along any old tackle they are looking to sell, in case any of the others can be tempted and the Club meetings have attracted a number of tackle, flies and fly-tying suppliers to offer their wares whilst people are enjoying the buffet. Thank you to Chevron Hackles, Funky Fly Tying, Tom Regula, and Harry Wallace for the support.
So, if you are at a loose end this winter why not pop along to The Dorset Chalk Streams Club, meet some new friends, enjoy a pint and some great presentations and have a slice of cake.
For more information and details of forthcoming meetings checkout the Dorset Chalk Streams Club website:
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