Paul Whitehouse: My Favourite Fishing Locations

Paul Whitehouse is a man known for many things, not least for being the creator of The Fast Show and one half of Harry and Paul. But few people know that he’s a man who loves to fish, and we jumped at the opportunity to sit down and shoot the breeze about his favourite locations to wade in the water. So join us for this catch up, as we talk spawning salmon in close to home spots and more curious creatures in the shallows of the Seychelles.

Paul Whitehouse

Fast Show creator, actor, writer and comedian.  Johnny Depp describes him as “the greatest actor of all time”.

Published

April 24th 2014

So go on, Paul, tell us what we’re missing out on. 

I’ve been going to the River Dee in Scotland every year for about 15 years. It’s the sort of place I’d quite like to drown, well, have my ashes scattered there anyway. It’s just a wonderful place, and there’s something about the tradition of salmon fishing in Scotland that you tap into.

There’s a place called Park on the River Dee, an estate, and you can just go on the website and check availability. You can’t just show up – or you certainly couldn’t in my week.

I’ve been with old mates from junior school – kids that I’ve known since I was 5 years old – and it’s great that we still get together. Obviously, we hate each other and we don’t really talk the rest of the year, you know what it’s like, but we still unite for that. One week of…well, you can imagine. The communist manifesto isn’t discussed much, let’s put it like that. I’d like to raise it occasionally, but I’d be shot down, by middle-aged men with too much money.

You stay in the main house and you get an exclusive bit of the river for that time. We used to have a battle with the other bank. It used to be renowned as a spring river: the ultimate in salmon fishing. Spring salmon is like a bar of silver, the ultimate prize. The runs have changed a bit and there’s now a big run in September, which is when we go.

If I’m lucky, I’d catch ten a week. I’ve caught some very big ones – far too big to boast about – but you have to put them back. Catch and release is a big thing now. It never used to be.

You could argue that not eating them is morally wrong. At least if you were going out and catching it and eating it, then you could say that you weren’t toying with another living creature. But when I’ve had this moral argument with other people, they say you have to look at the overall benefit of what fishing does for fish stocks. And habitat. And conservation.

But doesn’t someone else get it somewhere else, and eat it?

No, because salmon come to the river of their birth. Up they go, avoiding grizzly bears, where they spawn and then die (most of them).

So you’re getting them on the way up?

Yeah, it’s terrible isn’t it? But we put them back, so at least they get to ‘have their fun’. If they get back to the sea after they’ve mated, do you know where they feed?

Enlighten us?

Iceland and Greenland. They travel thousands of miles over there, avoiding the Russian boats.

Anywhere else in the UK you love? 

The River Test in Hampshire is a really quintessential fly fishing destination. People come from all around the world. Fly fishing is very class conscious, there is a real snobbery about it – or there was, maybe 150 years ago. Cane rods, silk lines, up stream, dry flight. My Rowley Birkin character, I met him in Iceland – he’s brown bread now.

Did he see your impression of him? Did he love it?

Well, like a lot of posh people, he was very polite about it. It was ‘wonderful’. They tracked him down for some documentary about The Fast Show, and said, ‘You know Paul Whitehouse based that character on you’, and he went, ‘Oh, that’s marvellous’. He took it very well.

And what about the place itself?

So Hampshire – the Test – it’s an eco-system that doesn’t exist really anywhere else in the world. A little bit of it bubbles up in Northern France, so people come from all over the world. It’s Gin-clear…that’s a good term isn’t it?

There’s been loads of pointless hostility between different groups about how you’re supposed to fish for trout, you know. You wouldn’t believe it, but there’s loads of literature about it.

The River Test runs from Andover way down through Hampshire, and the Itchin runs almost parallel with it through Winchester. It’s a lovely area. It’s the home of fly fishing for trout and the literature around it, that’s where it came from. The river system is unique. I used to rent a place in Stocksbridge. Jim Davidson’s nearby. Amazing place.

I’ve just bought a place down there. I used to rent, and I joined a club, so you get one day every other week, and you go and fish there. It’s all very civilised. Salmon fishing is a bit more macho, you know, chest waders up past your waist, big double handed rods – it’s quite physically demanding. And salmon are obviously big as well – quite frightening. This is more gentile. If you want to go by the book, you’re supposed to match exactly the insect that’s hatching and you’re supposed to identify them, like ‘Oh that’s a large dark olive’.

Is that a fly?

Yeah, well, a may fly. You tie it out of feathers and all that. It’s amazing.

A real fly?!

No, you match it by tying an artificial version of what it would be at the time. And that might change during the day as well.

What happens is the nymph comes up, the trout will take the nymph at one point, and then it’ll emerge – it’s called ecloding. The nymph, as it hits the surface, turns into a fly. It really is amazing to see. It’s like a caterpillar without the cocoon, it literally just goes bang and turns into a fly, instantly. And it just stays there on the water. There’s a season, it’s usually from about, Spring to Autumn depending on the river. They spawn in the winter.

Bored yet?

Never. But on a related note, we know this carp fisherman. He’s got all the gear…

Yeah, the gear! They’ve all got the camouflage gear. Bob Mortimer once said to me, ‘I’ve heard there’s more divorces among carp fishermen than anyone else’, because they go away for weeks don’t they? You can see why though. It’s funny, I went and met an old-fashioned carp fisherman who does fish with all the split cane and I said ‘What are you like?’. He said ‘I don’t like all that gear. It’s like they’re going to war with the fish’. I can see both sides.