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Falklands in the Family

Fishing

Article written by 18 October 2012

Peter Lapsley delves into his family’s history to reveal their long-standing connections with the Falklands – and how the Islands have become a mecca for brown trout and sea trout

After the First World War, my grandmother, Nora Lapsley, widowed and with two small boys – Dick (4) and my father, John (2) – met and married Pat Vincent, recently returned from the Western Front. Pat was appointed accountant to The Falkland Islands Company in Stanley, and the four of them went there in 1919.

From his bedroom in their house on the sea front beside the West Store in Stanley, father would gaze at the wrecked SS Great Britain immediately below his window. His half-brother, Paddy, was born in Stanley in 1924.

The Falklands were a magical place for the boys to grow up. With a tiny population and everyone knowing everyone, they could wander freely. They ran upland geese to ground, rather than waste ammunition on them, rode out for picnics and shooting parties, and fished for the two significant species found in the Falklands’ rivers and estuaries – the indigenous ‘zebra trout’ (trout-like in appearance and behaviour, but not in fact salmonids); and ‘mullet’ (actually Antarctic rock cod), which are common in the estuaries around the Islands and endear themselves to anglers with the ferocity of their fight. Both species are willing takers of flies.

Enter the brown trout…

They did not fish for brown trout or sea trout because there were none. It was not until 1939 that the first eyed brown trout ova were imported into the Falklands from Chile. The ova were incubated in a hatchery near Stanley and released into Moody Brook and the nearby Murrell River. In 1947 the Chilean government presented the hatchery with a further 30,000 ova. Over the next five years more were imported from Scotland. The resultant fry were transported around the islands in milk churns carried on horse-born panniers and in a tank on the island steamer, and released where they might provide sport and supplement people’s diets in rural settlements. With no predators, they thrived.

By 1956, strong sea trout runs had developed. During the 1956/’57 and ‘57/’58 seasons, anglers fishing the Murrell caught between 300 and 400 trout of between 1½ lbs and 12 lbs. Most were sea trout – proof that a brown trout is a sea trout and vice versa.

With 185 identified bird species, half a dozen species of seals and sea lions and no indigenous land mammals, the wildlife is generally unconcerned by human presence, and the boys inevitably became knowledgeable naturalists.

At that time, the Falklands’ only significant income was from sheep farming, although the white grass which covers much of the land offers poor grazing. Today, of course, the economy is dominated by the Ilex and Loligo squid fisheries, by cruise ship tourism and by the prospect of oil.

In the 1930s, the only means of getting to and from the Falklands was by sea, so home leave was occasional. Sadly, Pat died on the ship on the way home in 1933, and Nora never returned, although she remained closely in touch with her many friends there. Dick went into the Colonial Police Service. My father had a long and successful career in the Royal Air Force, chiefly as a fighter pilot, and Paddy eventually went to Dartmouth and then into the Royal Navy.

A family reunion with a difference

Many years later, as C-in-C Coastal Command, father was responsible for bringing the Nimrod into service to replace the Shackleton as the RAF’s maritime reconnaissance aircraft. He found it quite emotional in 1970 to go out in one of ‘his’ Nimrods to overfly the Great Britain as she was towed into the Bristol Channel at the end of her extraordinary voyage up the length of the Atlantic.

So engrained in our family’s DNA were the Falklands that we watched with astonishment in 1982 as the media tried to explain to the British pubic where they were.

After the Falklands War, the British Government built Mount Pleasant airport, some 30 miles west of Stanley, establishing the ‘air bridge’ to it from the UK via Ascension Island in 1985. Thereafter, I was able to go down to the Islands for varying periods in roughly alternate years until 2000, partly on business but also to renew family friendships, for the superb sea trout fishing and to watch the remarkable wildlife. Sadly, osteoporosis now prevents me from returning; the Falklands are magical in almost every respect, but they are not the ideal place in which to break bones.

Details of travel to the Falkland Islands and of accommodation, fishing and wildlife are available on the Falkland Islands Tourist Board’s website at http://www.falklandislands.com.

This article first appeared in Gamefisher, the Salmon & Trout Association members’ magazine, and is reproduced by kind permission of the S&TA – www.salmon-trout.org

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