For the last couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Scourie Hotel in Sutherland North Scotland for some great wild brown trout fishing. I was introduced to the owners Richard and Fiona by two friends of theirs who I have been guiding on the Usk for a number of years. Geoffery from Cornwall and James from Maldon Essex where both at school I believe in Essex with Richard. The Scourie Hotel is a lovely fishing hotel with lots of character and some fine wild Loch and river fishing.
Earlier this year I received an email from Richard explaining that one of his clients (Arjan Schulten) had visited South Wales on a trip to fish the river Dee. He thought that I would be interested in an article he wrote. And I think our members would be very interested to. I contacted Arjan to ask his permission to publish it on our website and he said he looked forward to seeing it there. So here it is.
How is it possible that women in a male-dominated tradition/sport occupy such a special place with extraordinary achievements? Megan Boyd (salmon flies) and Miss Georgina Ballantine (caught the largest salmon with a rod in the United Kingdom on the Tay in 1922) are perfect examples.
Another such living legend of the (British) fly fishing world lives in South-Wales in the small town of Usk. Nico Heukels, president of the fly-fishing club Daddy Longlegs, told me all about his memorable visit to her store during a fishing trip to Usk. This is Jean Williams, owner of the Sweets Fishing Tackle Shop, whose doors first opened in 1930. After having read Rudy van Duijnhoven’s item (De Nederlandse Vliegvisser 60) I got excited and decided I should really visit the place. Especially since these kinds of stores are quickly disappearing and will not come back.
On my way to the Dee in North-Wales to capture my first grayling I visited Usk last summer. After having checked into the hotel I immediately went to the shop. Alas, when I arrived, I was disappointed because the store was closed. The opening hours, which were stuck to the door, were very extraordinary and characteristic (see photo) of what awaited me. I decided to explore Usk and the river, a beautiful river and a pretty picture where you are greeted by everyone.
After an hour I went back, but the store was still closed. A man walking his dog (who turned out to be her neighbour) gave me Jean’s phone number. I called her later that night, she even apologised a little bit, and we agreed to meet in her store the next day.
Lionel and Molly Sweet
The first owner of Harry Powell’s store, whose splitcane rod is still displayed on the wall and will never be sold, was succeeded by Lionel Sweet and his wife Molly. Lionel became European Casting champion in 1953 and remained so for the next twenty years. But Molly has influenced Jean the most.
Jean was employed in 1962 and Molly taught her how to manage the shop and especially how to ty flies. Jean took over the store after Molly and Lionel had passed away in the seventies. Since then she has received many (fly) anglers from all over the world in her own way, just as I was able to experience.
Back in time
At 10 a.m. I arrived at the store. When you come in an old-fashioned bell rings and you step into a world which is slowly disappearing. Time stood still in here. The store is full of old books, old photos, cigar and shoeboxes with, among other things, lines and rod bags, splitcane and carbonfibre rods.
Stuffed fish are in displays on the walls, with, among other things, a salmon of 35.5 pounds from a pond in Usk caught by Lionel Sweet in 1935. Gear of people who quit or left to the eternal fishing grounds are being sold as well (at that time a metre of angler books was for sale).
Jean extended a warm welcome and (traditionally) invited me to have a cup of tea and cake. When I told her the reason of my visit, she started telling all kinds of stories. She also showed me pictures of days gone and offered explanations. That morning two anglers stepped in too to have a talk and to buy some leader material. A woman asked whether Jean had already tied new salmon flies. Everyone had nothing but time and I had to pose for a picture. I also used this opportunity to show her the flies I had tied to catch graylings in the Dee and ask her opinion. Jean offered her sincere compliments. There you are, a “boy” of 58 and beaming, especially when I told her that I was going to baptise my new splitcane rod (‘The Classic’ of Peter den Hollander) in Wales. Jean told me she was really enamoured by the splitcane. She showed me the selection of salmon flies she tied herself. The Usk Grub was, of course, not missing from this selection, but also salmon flies with illustrious names as Paul’s Pride and Desperate Dan were present. The explanation was for free. I bought a few salmon flies and received a plastic fly box/container. After two cups of coffee and two pieces of cake I realised I had been inside for nearly two hours and I indicated that I still had a journey to North-Wales ahead of me and that I really had to leave.
After a warm goodbye I had to pose for another picture for her new sign and it was clear to me why Jean occupies such a special place in the world of fly fishing. She, as a woman with a captivating personality, mad it clear that you do not always have to prove yourself to others and that you should enjoy our beautiful hobby. Perhaps unnecessary to add, but if your ever in the neighbourhood…