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LIFE OF A CHALKSTREAM by Simon Cooper. Book review

Tuesday, 03 June 2014 16:23

Seldom have I been more enthralled by a book about fly fishing than I was with Simon Copper’s debut work, Life Of A chalkstream, a book I just could not put down.

 

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It is a simple story beautifully told about the resurrection of a Hampshire chalkstream called the River Evitt, though in real life the river has a different name that the author has chosen not to reveal.

Simon Cooper, a long-time fly fishing guide and river keeper, goes into the life of his chalkstream almost month by month, certainly season by season, revealing interesting facts about the intricate tapestries of nature that make these the most desirable fly fishing waters in the world.

The book opens with a lovely piece on the restoration of a carrier stream of the Evitt that had long stood dry. It is so cleverly written that you feel a deep sense of satisfaction when after months of hard work the last planks are lifted and the water bursts into the carrier’s parched course. He describes how he runs after the bulge of flowing water like an excited schoolboy as the wave forces its way downstream until its confluence with the Evitt, the first time anyone had seen this in forty or fifty years!

The author writes about the natural life in and around chalkstreams and he does it in more detail than I have ever encountered, including how trout occupy feeding lies, how complex the mayfly’s lifecycle actually is, how precisely seasonal its hatches are, how pike operate, how the spawning process begins, unfolds and ends, how to spot trout redds from a riverbank, salmon in chalkstreams, how strangely mysterious the phenomenon of sea-run brown trout is – I could go on and on. It is the most comprehensive and enlightening dissertation on the subject I have ever read.

To illustrate the point, here is a quote from the book that was a revelation to me and it concerns caddis (grannom) hatches.

It is a strange thing about the grannom hatch, but it is incredibly localised, which might explain why some people might go an entire fishing life without seeing one – you really have to be there. During most days of the season, if I compare notes with friends up and down the valley we’ll report much the same hatches on any given day. But with the grannom I can have a monster hatch at one end of the river  – it never lasts long, maybe half-an-hour at the most – while someone just a few hundred yards upriver will not see a single one all day long.

You get a sense from this quote not only how interesting and unique the caddis hatch can be, but how well Simon writes. His prose is refreshingly clear and engaging, so that in reading the book you almost feel that you are not so much reading but in a comfortable conversation with the author.  You also sense early on just how knowledgeable a naturalist he is, but then he describes being around river keepers and chalkstreams from his early childhood and for most of his professional life. Hell, even his office is perched directly above a chalkstream!

Click in image to enlarge

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Simon in his office at Nether Wallop Mill. Note the Wallop Brook in the background.

This all lends an unshakable authenticity to his insightful writings on the throb and pulse of the season to season continuum of these unique rivers.

This is my ‘fishing book of the year’ so far, an absolutely intriguing read that taught me so much, and provided me so much enjoyment that I cannot recommend it to you highly enough.

William Collins Books, 2014. Hardcover, 306 pages. ISBN 978-0-00-754786-9.

For Simon’s guiding and tuition business, Fishing Breaks at Nether Wallop Mill, see http://www.fishingbreaks.co.uk

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