With hundreds of generous donors contributing lots from every corner of Britain and Ireland, and even beyond, the annual Wild Trout Trust Auction (8th-17th March) is a fabulous way for anglers to widen their horizons and explore fisheries which they might never otherwise be able to visit.
And, anecdotally, some super-keen participants have even started using it as a guide to help them scope out whole seasons of exciting fishing experiences.
As a wide-ranging fisherman myself (and not just on urban rivers!) I was intrigued when I heard that fishing pals John Pollard and Roger ‘Steve’ Stephens have been doing exactly this. I had to find out more, and ended up discussing how they go about planning their adventures with the Wild Trout Trust Auction…
Theo: John and Roger, thanks so much for supporting the Wild Trout Trust Auction! How long have you been taking part, and how did you come to start using it as a way of planning your fishing season together?
John: We have been bidding and winning lots for at least 15 years – in fact I’d say it’s now just part of our annual routine. In general, we use the Auction as a way of extending our range of fishing experiences – focusing on trout and grayling beats we wouldn’t normally be able to enjoy. On the other hand, this hasn’t precluded us from being attracted to some real wild cards, like carp fishing with the WTT’s Director, Shaun Leonard!
Quite early on, we also started to use the Auction for buying overseas holiday lots – for example where a three-day package can be extended into a week by buying a few extra days direct from the lodge. This way, we’ve been able to enjoy price-competitive holidays in Patagonia, Spain, the Bahamas (four times) and Mexico (twice) with the added satisfaction that our money was going to the worthiest of all causes.
Theo: That’s fascinating… so do you have a process that you go through, to identify and prioritise your favourite lots for the year?
John: Our process is pretty simple – going through the catalogue with a fine comb to identify lots we’d both like to fish in our geographical area. As I’ve said, we usually try for new experiences, though sometimes the opportunity to go back to a beat with knowledge from a previous visit can be an attraction.
We each do this separately, before discussing a final list over a beer together, to agree our maximum bids which we work out as a percentage of the guide price. Most importantly, we also agree a rock-solid maximum spend and the number of days we want to fish! Steve then draws up a master list marked with these numbers, and we watch the online bidding, dipping our toes now and then. As bidding proceeds, we inevitably have to knock off our list the lots that pass beyond our maximum, so by the last day the list is much shorter. To avoid any screw-ups, we’ve agreed that only Steve will bid on the last day, and I have to wait for him to tell me how big a cheque he needs from me – that’s trust! Sometimes all our budget is spent before our list has played through, and occasionally we have a few pence over. That’s when we might look very closely at the short re-entry list of unsold lots which the Trust makes available after the main Auction has finished – there’s often another opportunity not to be missed.
Steve: I won’t argue with one word of that! But I can give you some numbers too – last year, after our beer-fuelled shortlisting meeting (which we spent whittling out lots for only one fisherman, and pretty well everything north of the Watford Gap) our bidding long-list contained over 50 lots.
We were more or less rapidly outbid on over than 40 of these, and then I started to play cat and mouse with the remainder. Great fun! Right at the end, I spent the whole evening crouched over my keyboard with a large glass of Rioja, and often the bidding went right down to the wire in the very last minute. Sometimes, if we have a bit of spare budget, I do go a few quid over our originally-agreed maximum bid to make sure of landing a really remarkable lot…
Theo: So what kinds of lots have you won in the past – and can you tell us about any of the memorable adventures that you’ve enjoyed as a result?
Steve: I have lasting memories of the days when we laughed ourselves silly – notably with Shaun looking for carp on the fly, and some extra special days on super hush-hush Itchen beats. And how about the irrepressible Ivan Tarin in the magical Pyrenees?
Mentioning Ivan brings me on to food and wine: it would have been worth the trip to Spain just for the hospitality. We’ve had some notable streamside lunches by the chalk streams, too. After the importance of lunch, there’s the learning aspect too – for example, the opportunity to fish with Charles and Alex Jardine, two of the nicest guys you could ever hope to meet, and so many splendid river keepers and host-donors. And a remarkable variety of Caribbean bonefish guides, like the hilarious ‘T’ at Bair’s Lodge in South Andros (“Why do they call me ‘T’? Because they can’t spell ‘Theophilus’!”)
John: In more than 15 years, it’s hard to list all the memories of our adventures, but I’d agree with Steve – in the main, they’ve been the ones where we’ve enjoyed the company of wonderfully interesting hosts, guides and river keepers. People who shared knowledge and experience with us, that we’d never normally be able to enjoy. I am grateful that they have made me a much better fisherman as a result!
Theo: That’s so inspiring – and such a huge variety of experiences near and far. Thanks for telling us about how you’ve made the most of previous Wild Trout Trust Auctions, John and Steve, and best of luck when you’re planning and bidding for this year’s season of adventures!
The Wild Trout Trust Auction runs from 8 – 17 March 2019.
Click here to download a catalogue, or follow #WTTauction and #WTTseasonofadventures on social media, and start planning your own season of fishing adventures!
The Pyrenees and bonefishing along with other trips abroad are not in the auction but are sold as fixed price trips up to 15 April. https://www.wildtrout.org/auction/catalogue?c=t
Fishing with Charles Jardine https://www.wildtrout.org/auction/1-day-for-2-rods-river-lambourn-berkshire-guided-by-charles-jardine
Theo Pike is a freelance environmental, fishing and marketing writer. He’s Chair of Trustees of the South East Rivers Trust, and founding editor of urbantrout.net, a website and eco-brand dedicated to the urban fly fishing and river restoration movements.
His first book, Trout in Dirty Places, was published by Merlin Unwin Books in 2012, and his manual on controlling invasive non-native species, The Pocket Guide to Balsam Bashing, has recently been republished in ebook format.
Theo now also works with the Wild Trout Trust as their Trout in the Town Officer (South) helping to boost the impact of this programme across the south of England and Wales.