Peter H Welcome to our travel podcast, we’re specialists, travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice So we want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter M I suppose it’s a bit like Marmite, you either love it or you hate it…if you told me 20 years ago that every time I saw a shark, I’d be running towards it instead of away from it, I wouldn’t really have believed you, but that is what we do.
Peter H So this week, we’re deep in rural Hampshire, in the south of England, around 75 miles from London. We’re sitting outside a quaint fishing hut on the intimate River Anton. I a tributary of the Test, a meandering chalk stream that is to fly fishers what St Anton is to skiers and St Andrews is to to golfers.
Felice With a bit of difficulty we found our way by car along the railway line that closed in the 60s, and across several fields where flocks of sheep graze in the autumn sunshine. It’s lucky we’ve left the dogs at home. It doesn’t get any more pastoral than this.
Peter H We’ve come here to meet the Lord of the Flies himself, Peter McLeod. Peter’s international career as an extreme fly fishing expert has taken him and his clients from India and the Seychelles to Sudan, Kenya, Alaska, Hawaii, Christmas Island and a host of other places in search of fish, both great and small. Right now, he’s back on his beloved Westfair Beat to the River Anton. But as the trout begin their evening rise, he’s just as excited as ever.
So, Peter, when it all began for you, you had a fly rod for your seventh birthday, I’m guessing?
Peter M That’s a pretty accurate description. I started fly fishing when I was between six and seven. I’d been a coarse fishermen up to that point. I had enjoyed spending time watching a float with a few maggots as a child who was obsessed with water and obsessed with fish. And I managed to rope my father back into it, who had fished as a child and suddenly got very keen again, and then my brother and then my mother and then sort of roped in the rest of the family. And he had been a fly fisherman, so he started fly fishing again. And he slowly corrupted me from my coarse fishing and transformed me into a fly fisherman at about the age of seven. And most of that involves sitting around on a lake with an old tank aeriel as a fly rod while my father went off fishing, or climbing trees to look for flies, which was very interesting.
But finally I was sat on a lake watching my rod in the same way that I would with a float, because I hadn’t really grasped the whole concept, and a trout took the fly and disappeared off into the blue yonder. And it was so much more powerful and so much more exciting than anything I’d ever hooked up to that point that I’m afraid from that point there was no hope at all. I was hooked for life.
Peter H Then you continued fishing through your teens and on?
Peter M I totally carried on. I was always fishing at home with my father. We used to do family trips to Scotland in search of salmon. Very rarely did we actually catch any salmon because we had no idea what we were doing, so we mostly ended up on rivers with not enough water in them or the wrong time of year. But eventually we did hook a few salmon as well, and then I fished all the way through my school years. There was a fishing club at my public school, so I sort of slowly gave up cricket and various other sports to go and fish instead. And it really just took hold, I’m afraid. I think my parents were slightly worried as to which direction it was going to take me in.
Peter H Quite clearly, your take you to fishing and fishing and more fishing.
Peter M Yes, I think it was kind of inevitable, really.
Felice I’ve never fished – actually have fished once; I’ll tell you about that later. But what is the thing that pulls you to it?
Peter M There’s a number of facets that I think make fishermen this kind of slightly obsessive creature that we become. Those people who don’t have it, don’t understand it. I suppose it’s a bit like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it. And there’s very little in between with fishing, I think you’re either all in or you’re not. But for me personally, it’s the places that I go to, it’s the calm that I find when I’m on the water, it’s the fact that when I’m fishing I don’t think about anything else at all. And in that way it is extremely relaxing.
And then there’s also an inordinate quantity of toys that you have to own, and the more toys you have, the better obviously, like most really good sports, and huge numbers of techniques to learn. And you will never have the same fishing day twice. And every single species, every single country, every single environment brings its own techniques and its own challenges – so every day is a school day.
Peter H So what was the moment in your life you decided that you really couldn’t do anything else, that you could actually make money out of this and make it a profession?
Peter M I think the moment came when I was doing interviews in London. The rest of my family have been in the City and I was trying to get into the City under sort of management from parents. And I knew in my heart of hearts that it just wasn’t for me. But I walked out of one interview and I was wandering down Pall Mall and I walked into Farlows.
Peter H Farlows is a famous fishing tackle shop, right?
Peter M I thought, I just can’t I can’t do this. So I walked in that I asked to see the manager and I said: ‘Do you have any jobs? This is what I’ve done.’ Because at that point I’d done some guiding in Norway during my holidays for one of the other big tour operators. So I’d spent some time in international waters already, I’d done some bone fishing, I’ve done various other bits and pieces which most 21, 22 year olds, 23 year olds have not really had the chance to do – and they hired me on the spot. So I went home with the joyous news to tell my father that I had a job, at which point he sort of threw his hands up in the air and sort of despaired – until he realised that I could get him cheaper fishing tackle, and then suddenly everything was fine.
Peter H Then presumably you went home and said: ‘I got the job, but not the job you were expecting, Dad.’
Peter M See, it’s the toys, the toys, even if you don’t fish…some very exciting looking toys.
Felice Can you name some?
Peter M Rods, reels, lines, flies, paraphernalia, accessories, things that you definitely need, but maybe don’t.
Felice Clothing? Special clothing?
Peter M Clothing, bags, equipment. I mean, the list is endless.
Peter H And expensive?
Peter M It can be. I mean, yes, I think with every sport, when you get up to a certain level then things you can pay as much as you want to for things. But there is certainly an inordinate quantity of much cheaper fishing tackle on the market these days, which prevents barrier to entry.
Peter H Which is the same thing with skiing, which we spend more time doing than anything else. You can spend a quite enormous amount of money, but it doesn’t make you necessarily a very good skier.
Peter M No, but it keeps you going when you can’t ski, doesn’t it?
Peter H Absolutely right.
Peter M Planning and preparation prevents poor performance.
Peter H So the first love was fishing for brown trout?
Peter M Actually, I was born and raised in the Far East. I was sent back to school here and my parents retired. And we were also spending a large quantity of time in Norfolk at the time. So I was mostly fishing still waters to begin with, still waters for stock rainbow trout, but that developed into rivers and then a real passion for river fishing and brown trout…and then salmon because they were bigger and they fought harder and were more elusive and very frustrating.
Felice Do you always eat the fish that you catch?
Peter M No, generally, actually, I put them all back. I think these days, with all of the issues that certainly wild salmon face, not only in this country but across the world, catch and release is becoming a far more common thing, thank heavens. Hopefully that will in turn allow us to protect salmon stocks for the future. But that’s a whole different podcast.
Felice So you catch the fish, take a picture of yourself with it?
Peter M A quick photograph is always nice. Habeas corpus, as they say, proof of body, because otherwise your friends don’t believe you. But the way that we handle fish is vital, these days especially with various conservation organisations. You know, they’ve scientifically investigated what harms fish in the best way of managing, releasing fish. So, you know, we don’t hold them out of water for any longer than you have to, preferably not at all.
There’s a big movement to keep them wet so you can take a photograph of the fish half in and half out of the water. Handling is very important: dry hands, all of that kind of thing, so that you don’t remove the slime and the fish has got the best chance of returning and becoming bigger, hopefully. And we’ve seen that, you know, we’ve seen fish suddenly down here at Westfair, which we’ve landed three or four times in a season, so we know that it works.
Peter H And there’s always the problem with barbed hooks.
Peter M We make sure we use barbless hooks – so we flatten barbs off anything that we use slip, fly out quickly, return the fish.
Peter H Much more skill too.
Peter M It’s not that much harder, actually you just have to maintain tension. And quite frankly, a fish which is worth half its weight will get off if you haven’t maintained tension any way, whether you have a barb or not.
Peter H But much easier to get out.
Peter M You can slip the fly out without even taking the fish out of the water most of the time to watch it swim away. And actually, for me, that’s probably the most rewarding thing of all.
Felice So when did you start your own fishing business?
Peter M I started Aardvark McLeod in 2005 off the back of a fortuitous meeting with some certain individuals. I had been working for another agency, doing something very similar for the previous five and a half years. And since then, I mean 2005 to the present day – we’re pushing into our sixteenth year – and it’s just grown continually throughout the process. We’ve added skill sets, we’ve added destinations, to now covering over 200 operations in 30 different countries.
Felice Do you provide local hosts or do you go along? How does that work?
Peter M It’s mostly done by the operators themselves and we work with individuals who we trust, who we have fished with personally. We know that they are going to look after our clients to the same ability that we would expect to look after them.
Peter H So you work with a tour operator?
Peter M I mean, not normally a tour operator – we’re a tour operator ourself. But we work with operations on the ground, such as, say, we have an operation in Venezuela or the Seychelles and we work with those guys very closely. So we handle all of the bookings, we handle all the travel arrangements, we put the whole thing together in the time. In the case of saltwater, for example, will pick which tide week is going to be best based on our personal knowledge of that destination.
Peter H So looking at what you have on your website – you’ve fished in Argentina, Belize, Christmas Island, Canada, Cuba, Hawaii, Mexico. It goes on. It’s all over the world, isn’t it?
Peter M Yes, absolutely.
Peter H Where’s your favourite?
Peter M It’s always a difficult one, that one. I’m slightly obsessed with a particular species of fish called a giant trevally. So the best giant trevally habitat is really in the Seychelles. So that is certainly one of my favourite destinations. The wilder the better as far as I’m concerned.
Felice So on the trips that you organise, how many are in a group?
Peter M It’s anything from single individuals – we mostly handle individuals, pairs, small groups, we don’t generally handle too many large groups unless they are friends, if that makes sense. So we’ll put groups together which are fishing mates. Quite often they’ve met on another fishing trip or our operation, and you when you spend time with someone on a fishing operation you get to know them very well and often long-term friendships are made that way.
Peter H What percentage are man to woman? Mostly men?
Peter M Sadly, it’s mostly men. There certainly are some incredible women anglers out there and certainly we have had the pleasure of looking after many of them. I think my oldest currently is 92 and has fished pretty much everywhere all over the world, and still is returning to Iceland for two weeks every year. She’s an extraordinary woman.
But I think fishing is one of those sports which seems to be predominately male, I don’t know why that is, but it’s certainly open to women anglers and I’ve always found that women anglers tend to be far more successful, mostly because they listen to the guides rather than thinking they know it all. So therefore they tend to do better.
Peter H That brings us back to skiing…it’s exactly the same thing.
Peter M It’s so frustrating. They take male counterparts even further, which they find highly entertaining, and so do the rest of us.
Felice I see that you do trips to Kenya, and that’s the only place I’ve ever fished. I caught a blue marlin.
Peter M Well, you’re going to start at the top that way, aren’t you Felice? I mean, the blue marlin is probably one of the largest species of fish swimming in the oceans.
Felice It was enormous. And two men had to help me get it in. And at the same time, I felt really seasick, so was quite tricky.
Peter H You also had to buy a drink, didn’t you?
Felice Yes. One of the things was – it was in Mombasa – you had to buy for everyone in the bar.
Peter M Was it Hemingway’s?
Peter M It’s a wonderful spot that still some phenomenal billfish runs, sailfish runs, that happen off the coast there. But yes, you’re certainly starting at the very, very top of your species list. You’re only going to work backwards from that one.
Peter H You then stopped and I don’t think you fished since?
Peter M Well, stop while you’re ahead.
Felice I was on a trip to Kenya and it was on offer so I did it; I thought: ‘I’ll try it.’
Peter H Absolutely. Try everything once.
Felice But do people normally work their way up then in terms of fish size, or what?
Peter M When it comes to fly fishing…there is a big distinction between the two types of fishing. So normally what you have done there, experience wise, is standard game fishing. So you’re using lines and bait and sometimes live teases and live bait. When it comes to fly fishing, you are using much, much lighter tackle. So for a marlin, for example, you would have probably twenty pound test in the middle. So there’s only so hard you can pull, or you snap it off. So the captains have to be extremely skilled to billfish on fly.
But you know, marlin, sailfish, they’re all possible to do on fly and it’s very, very skilful so a lot of people will work their way up through the species list to get to that level. Unless, of course, you’re my business partner, Charlotte Chilcott, who I started working with and sent her out to Costa Rica to go and catch a sailfish before she even caught a trout, which was potentially slightly mean. But she succeeded and has never looked back.
Felice So on these trips to the Seychelles or Kenya or wherever, do you organise where people are going to stay as well?
Peter M Absolutely. So we do everything from the moment they call us to say, ‘right, I would like to do this.’ Then we will handle the flights, the transfers, any hotel nights and that which are necessary, we’ll book them into the operations. We will try to ensure that they get a guide who is going to be suitable personality-wise. And a lot of that really does come down to knowing your destinations extremely well, knowing the operators you are working with and the guides, and being able to divine people’s personalities from spending time with them to see whether it’s a good fit, because at the end of the day, you’re going to spend a lot of time with these people.
Peter H Yes, you don’t want to have a situation where two people fall out on day one. It can be very difficult if you’re living in very close proximity.
Peter M It can be extremely difficult, yes. Generally speaking, it doesn’t happen because most fly fishermen seem to be a nice bunch of people, but occasionally you get a clash of personalities. I’m afraid that’s going to happen anywhere in the world and then you just have to manage it as best you can.
Peter H Then for equipment – you make all your own flies?
Peter M I used to tie my own flies. I sadly don’t have the time these days.
Peter H It’s quite a time-consuming operation, I gather?
Peter M Also, every time I get my fly kit out my kids think that’s great. And they want to pull all my bits of feathers and materials all over the sitting room and it just turns into a bit of a situation, should we say. So these days I work very closely with a fly company called Fulling Mill. I’m one of their ambassadors, and they supply us with all of the flies that we use. And then I have a few customs as well, so custom ties. And the only the only flies that I tie myself now are specific saltwater patterns normally leading up to a particular trip – it’s all part of the preparation and the experience and the fun.
Felice Have you had any scary experiences like crocodiles or hippos or anything else that’s in the water?
Peter M Many, yes. Well, if you are going to insert yourself into the environment of creatures which are bigger than yourself, and you spend enough time there, you’re going to have encounters. Some of those are probably far more scary than they actually are in reality. But when you are hunting trevally, for example, you spend most of your time up to your waist in water in the surf line, and you’re looking for trevally in the waves, but trevally also hang around with sharks. So if you told me 20 years ago that every time I saw a shark, I’d be running towards it instead of away from it, I wouldn’t really have believed you…but that is what we do.
Peter H Tell us about the giant trevally? I’d never actually heard of it until I looked it up this morning. This is your obsession, right?
Peter M It is.
Peter H What is it, first of all?
Peter M So, latin is caranx ignobilis. It is a very large kingfish species. It is an apex predator that you find on the flats, mostly through the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. They have a cousin in the Atlantic Ocean called a jack trevally. But the GTs get bigger. And I don’t know where the obsession really came from – I think anybody who’s hooked one on the fly will become obsessed immediately. Have you seen the Blue Planet on the television? Did you see the series of the fish eating birds? The footage? Many people who are listening to this may have seen that, but they will eat entire terns off the surface and they will come out of the water to eat them. There are very omnivorous fish, they will eat pretty much anything which crosses their path.
Peter H Including you, if you’re in the way?
Peter M They’d certainly give you a nip if you get close enough, they’ve got some fairly large cordell teeth in the front and they are very predatory.
Peter H We’re talking about big fish. I mean, they could be the size of a man, can’t they? I mean, 170 centimetres.
Peter M I mean, that’s a really big offshore GT. Most of the ones that we encounter, I would say, are probably between 50 and 130 centimetres, so certainly.
Peter H And weight?
Peter M Over 100 pounds, about 45 kilos, something like that. But the big difference is we’re hunting these fish in the shallow water. So what is normally a reef species, if you like, and they will hang around structure in the blue water and they will congregate in shoals as well, but they will come onto the flats at the right stages of the tide to hunt on the flats. And when I mean the salt flats, I mean water, which is really from your calf after your thigh – and you can sight-fish for them.
So if you were here on the river site-fishing for trout, you can site-fish for a fish – which is up to 80 pounds – with a fly and watch it fly down and watch it hunt the fly down and hit it and then tear off. And that is extremely exciting. So it’s not only the hunt, it’s the visual element, it’s the take because this fish will come out of the water and look you in the eye as it eats the fly.
Peter H You described them somewhere as being a bunch of hooligans.
Peter M Oh, totally. Yes, they are hooligans, the gangsters of the flats. They’re just brutal and magnificent in many ways. Great fun, really good fun, certainly test you. I’ll give you a prime example, actually. So I took some gentlemen down to the Seychelles last spring and there was a particular gentleman who hadn’t ever fished for giant trevally. So he’d invested huge amounts of money in the top kit and he got everything sorted. And we got onto the flats and I saw a big GT, probably 60, 70 pounds, sat on the back of a big ray – because what they do is they follow the rays over the flats as well, and they fly onto the back of the ray and then they turn black so you can’t see them. And then they feed on any fish which are scared up by the rays. It goes along the bottom, a sort of symbiotic relationship.
I spotted this fish and I got him out of the boat, and we waded up to it quietly and we got the fly. And he missed it one side and he missed it in the other. Then he put the fly right in the right place. The fish charged, hit the fly, did a 180-degree turn and went off at about 30 miles an hour. And his brand new line, which is probably £100, got wrapped straight around his brand new reel, which then went off like a gunshot and destroyed essentially the reel, the line, and part of the rod, and then took the line. So within the first ten minutes of being on the flats, he’d essentially been annihilated, kit-wise, I managed to grab the line as it was heading out at the top of the ring, so at one point I had the line in my hands as this fish was disappearing off because we thought we’d be able to try and tie the two back together again. But sadly, the slack had just gone off and disappeared and went on its merry way. It’s a humbling fish.
Felice Now I’m assuming you can’t do any of these trips, so you’re concentrating on the UK?
Peter M Sadly, this is the truth. Until this situation resolves itself one way or another, either they can come up with a testing process at the airport that we can all start travelling with, or a vaccine or something, then we are limited to domestic waters. So from that side of things, we are selling an awful lot of chalk stream fishing. We have various beats down here in the Hampshire, Avon and Itchen valleys. We sell guided fishing, socially-distant guided fishing, obviously, and we also have other domestic programs. So we have fishing in Scotland, the Eden, and various other areas such as that.
Felice If people want to come fishing in Hampshire, for example, how does that work? Is it a whole day or do they come for a weekend?
Peter M We sell it by the day, which is sort of normal for this area and people will give us a window. We can tell them what’s available. We can make a selection based on what their skill level we think is going to be, what kind of water they think they’re going to like. So whether it’s here on the Anton, which is a bit smaller and a bit more intimate, or whether it’s down on the main Test, which is much wider, slightly more manicured in certain areas – each has its own challenges. We can then see whether they need a guide, for example, and whether they want one day or two days or three days. We can organise all of that and sometimes we organise groups of friends, obviously up to only six at the moment. But in the past, when we’ve been allowed to, then we can organise larger groups than that.
Peter H You’ll organise somewhere for them to stay? A pub or hotel?
Peter M Again, before we were in this situation, then, yes, we could do all of that. Right now, it’s a little bit trickier.
Felice So do you get a lot of people coming from London for the day?
Peter M A lot of people from London, a lot of people who are in this area anyway and are obsessive fishermen. Then also further afield than that, the chalk streams have a very big draw. Yes, we will take complete beginners – all of our guides are good instructors as well, so they can teach you from scratch, get you on the water, show you what it’s all about, We can provide all the kit that you will need as well, flies, leaders, roads, lines and get you on the water and show you what it’s all about.
Peter H As a beginner, what would it cost? What sort of price are we talking about?
Peter M If you were going to start from scratch, most people start on stillwaters, which is probably £30 or £40 a day, something like that, and then maybe a bit of instruction on an hourly basis – that’s going to be more like £60 or £70 for an hour. And then most people come to us at that point who will take a beat for the day, and a beat here down in the Hampshire Valley is anything from £140 to about £350 a day, including VAT during mayfly.
Felice Can you explain what a beat is for people who don’t know?
Peter M I should backtrack a little for those who are not au fait with fishing terminology, apologies. So a bit will be a section of water, which is roughly 500 to 600 metres long – obviously that varies on which part of the river you’re on – which will be split up for two rods. So when you take a beat for the day, you will have that beat to yourself. That means that you won’t have to share with anyone else wandering along. Certain other beats work well for three to four rods. Here at Westfair, we do four to six rods, although we will book it for two because we’ve got 600 metres of fishing here so there’s a lot of water.
Peter H Is that on both banks?
Peter M It’s both banks but most of it here is single bank. It really depends where you are.
Felice You get a little hut with it?
Peter M Most beats come with a hut, yes.
Felice Can you bring a picnic?
Peter M Absolutely. During the main part of the lockdown, most huts were closed for obvious reasons, but they are slowly opening up again now and, as long as everybody observes the various legislation that’s been put out, there’s nothing better to socially distance than being on a riverbank, quite frankly.
Felice How do you relax? Because people fish to relax, but it’s your job. So do you have another way you relax?
Peter M I photograph people fishing. I love photography. So photography for me has become a real passion, really stemming from being in the most beautiful places on the planet and wanting to record that. And from there it’s grown and grown and grown. And now I actually sometimes I struggle to know whether to pick up a rod or a camera, and I get just as much pleasure out of photographing fishing and environments and people fishing as I do actually fishing myself.
But guiding also, so once a guide always a guide. Even if I am fishing with friends, I can’t help but actually I end up slightly sat on their shoulder trying to help them, rather than than fishing myself. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of fishing over the years and there’s nothing that gives me more pleasure than seeing that excitement come across someone else’s face for the first time, or helping them with a certain technique that opens different doors for them. So it’s almost like fishing vicariously through somebody else.
Peter H For those who don’t understand it, just explain what fly fishing is?
Peter M Yes, that’s a good one. So fly fishing, the concept behind fly fishing is…and why it differs from coarse fishing or bait fishing or lure fishing – is that firstly we are using an artificial ‘fly’ in inverted commas, which is a construction these days of anything from synthetic fibres to feathers to look like a specific insect or a bait fish or some other natural food source that the fish we are chasing has. So whether that’s in saltwater, it’s small crustaceans and crabs, or in freshwater it’s various insect stages its larvae, it’s dry flies or the the grown mature insect that we find the fish feeding on. And fish can be very selective.
Having found your fish, you then have to figure out what it’s eating. And then the secret is to deliver the fly in such a way that you are going to fool the fish. And the way you do that with a fly rod is the weight comes in the fly line rather than a big heavy thing at the end that you toss out into the sea or a lake or something like that. So you can cast very precisely and fly casting in itself is, I would describe it as poetry in motion. It’s it’s a very artful practice in its own right. It takes many years to really get to the point where you can be extremely sufficient, but at the same time as a beginner, you can get to a level very quickly that you can go and catch fish.
Many people will spend a large amount of time just practicing their casting. And the better your casting, the more opportunities you can take advantage of. So once you have found your fish, you’ve selected your fly, you’ve got the right tackle for that particular fish – certainly in the case of river fish, the aim is to sneak up behind it because fish point upriver. So you sneak up behind it, you spot your fish and then you have to present your fly maybe two feet above it to allow it to drift down over the fish.
Now, if you have drag on that from your line, or something like that, the fish can identify that that is not a natural insect and will refuse to eat it. So there’s a lot of skill that comes into it, and there’s a lot of different elements that have to go right to allow everything to work. But when it happens, when that fish comes up in the water column and sips your fly off the surface, it’s one of the most exciting things that will ever happen.
Felice Is there a particular type of weather that’s good for fishing, or bad?
Peter M Not really. I mean, there’s always been this sort of supposition that ‘when it’s raining, it’s good for fishing’ amongst those that don’t fish. Whereas actually we just sit there thinking: ‘God, it’s raining.’ You can catch fish in any scenario. I think the most important thing is stable conditions. Fish are not keen on conditions which are constantly changing, salmon especially – barometric pressure moving up and down they really don’t like, it tends to put them off and they just sit on the bottom and sulk.
Very bright, sunny conditions is probably not great either. Fish don’t have eyelids, so therefore they’re sitting on the bottom going ‘Where’s me sunglasses?’ But most conditions you can find areas where…for example, here in bright sunshine, we find the fish hanging underneath the bushes and the trees. So we then have to cast under the trees, which makes it a bit tougher, but much more fun. And you can always find areas which are in the lee of the wind. Or if you’re saltwater fishing in the lee of an island, you can always find somewhere to go and fish.
Peter H And what’s the difference between dry fly and wet fly?
Peter M There’s dry fly, wet fly and nymphing. So wet fly is your traditional Scottish fishing, which are really attractor patterns. So things like your traditional butchers and zulus and the things that most of us who come into contact with…in Scottish fishing, for example, for trout, there are attractor patterns. Then there are specific patterns which are imitating certain insects. So when we’re talking dry flies and nymphs, we’re talking about specific insects, such as the famous mayfly ephemer danica, which we have this phenomenon that happens here in the chalk stream valley, sort of back end of May and early June. These big insects, which are maybe an inch and a half long and the fish just go bananas. They call it ‘duffers’ fortnight’, so all you’ve got to do is get a fly in the water and the fish will eat them.
At that time of year, quite often some of the bigger fish which have been lurking under various trees and banks will come out, and you’ll finally have a chance to have a crack at them. And then the nymph is the larval stage. So when we’re fishing for river trout, for example, we need to try and present that nymph at the same level as the fish. You’ll see them feeding. And there can be a large amount of excitement as you watch that fish eat the fly. It’s got to be visual or you’re sensing it as well.
Felice What do you think about fishing and the environment? Because a lot of people are really against fishing for that reason.
Peter M I think that fly fishermen and well, fishermen in general, you’re probably going to find the largest body of conservationists you will find. And there’s many reasons for that. Firstly, most of us practice catch and release. But secondly, we are looking after the environment that they live in.
Oour chalk streams in this country are under huge threat at the moment, so there’s a parliamentary body which has just been formed to investigate this. All of those people who are putting their time, resources and money behind that of fishermen, and those are people who love the environment and love the rural countryside. It’s always been that way, it’s the same in international communities, it’s always the fishing, the fishermen who are at the core of conservation, which most people don’t really get or understand.They all think that because we’re fishing and, you know, hunting the fish. But it’s an affinity with the fish, it’s an affinity with the environment that they live in. And it’s not just the fish, it’s the habitat in general that we are very keen to protect. Granted, it’s a slightly selfish reason because we want to go fishing, but together it’s all part of the same notion.
Peter H I just want to go back to the giant trevally again.
Peter M Happy to.
Peter H You wrote a book called GT, A Fly Fishing Guide to the Giant Trevally. This is a kind of specialised enterprise because a lot of people haven’t even heard of the fish.
Peter M A lot of my friends asked me why I was writing a book about gin and tonic. So I told him to stop being so facetious. But no, all joking aside, it is an extremely specialised book. One of the main reasons I wrote it is there were no other books on the subject.
Peter H Talk us through that moment when you first saw a giant trevally and caught one?
Peter M I was on a flat, on an island called Alphonse in the Seychelles – it’s one of the outer atolls. And I’d always been a bone fisherman up to this point that there are a lot of bone fishing in the Caribbean.
Peter H Explain bone fishing?
Peter M So bone fish are a little bit like a saltwater grayling. They are a smallish fish, they don’t get that big. They grow up to about 10, 15 pounds, which for bone is a big fish. They live in the shallows and they hunt, they live on crabs and crustaceans and we hunt them. They’re very honest fish. So you have a chance to cast that tails and hook up and they go off extremely fast – very exciting from that side of things.
But when you get to the Seychelles and you get to some of those atolls, there’s a huge number of other species that you can then target, whereas the Caribbean maybe doesn’t have quite the same diversity. This particular instance occurred when I’d caught a lot of bonefish and I was fishing with one of the Seychelles wild guide down there called Search, who’s a well known GT fisherman.
And he said: ‘Do you want to go fishing for giant trevally?’ And I’d heard about giant trevally. You know, I’d read about them and these extraordinary experiences that people have had. I said: ‘Yes, sure, anything to try for the first time. It sounds really exciting. Let’s go and give it a crack.’ So we went off the edge of the flats. The flats for me was a relatively safe area. So I was up to my knees, you know, and you feel you feel you’re relatively in control of your environment at that depth. And we immediately started walking through the surf line.
Now the surf line, for those people who don’t spend a lot of time there, is quite a fraught place. So there’s a lot of surf crashing around you, obviously there’s coral heads and lots of sharp coral you’ve got to be aware of. And there’s a lot else going on there aside from you just fishing. And suddenly I’m up to my waist. And this is obviously also off the edge of an atoll that drops away to about 1600 feet and your mind starts playing tricks with you, obviously, you know that there are bigger toothier things cruising around that edge than than what you’re hunting for. And I have to say, I was a little nervous. I was a little nervous the first time. And I think most people who get out of their depth, so to speak, do become a little bit nervous.
Suddenly I looked up, a wave came through and there was a GT on it and I just cast instinctively – it wasn’t a particularly big deal, probably 15, 20 pounds or something like that. And it just turned around, smashed the fly and then shot off. And I really had never experienced being attached to anything with that much power before. The reel was going, I was sort of being yanked sort of sideways, slightly off my feet. I was off balance in the surf anyway. I think I fell over, probably squealed a bit, but eventually I managed to land this thing and it was a bit of an epiphany, shall we say. And I’ve really been obsessed with that species ever since.
I’ve hunted them all over the world from Christmas Island in the Pacific, to Sudan, to the Seychelles, to Indonesia, South Africa, Mozambique – anywhere where I can think that they’re there I’ve tried to chase them. There was no looking back really.
Peter H And looking forward?
Peter M There’s still a few spots that I would like to go and look at. One of those is an area of atolls called St Brandon’s Atoll off the coast of Mauritius, which I haven’t visited yet. And there are some very, very large giant trevally there. It’s a 36-hour overnight sail to get there, though, over blue water. And I haven’t really found a load of people that wanted to go with me yet. But I will, and I will go because it’s on my list.
Felice If people want to find out more about fishing in the UK with you and also fishing around the world, how do they do that?
Peter M The best way is via our website, Aardvark McCleod. And if you want to get a little bit of a taste of the kind of things that we do, then jump onto YouTube and look for the Aardvark McCleod fly fishing channel and that’ll give you a very good idea of the kind of things that we do. There’s over 300 videos from destinations all around the world and also our domestic stuff.
Peter H Peter, thank you very much indeed for appearing on our travel podcast.
Peter M Thank you very much indeed for having me, it’s been a delight to be able to talk to you.
Peter H I think I’ll have to go fishing.
Peter M Well, there’s no time like the present.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes, Stitcher, or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Stay safe and we’ll see you next week.
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