The fly fishing guide: Matthew Solon
Matthew Solon (26) works for Frontiers UK as a fly fishing guide on the Ponoi River in Russia. He grew up in East Clare, Ireland, where the Shannon river and Lough Derg had a huge influence on his lifestyle. “As a child, walking into my grandfather's kitchen was always filled with expectation of what fish or game may be lying on the counter,” he said.
Mayfly time on Derg, like many of the Irish Loughs, is almost a religion and from a young age Matthew would wait on tenter hooks for the cherished words: “The fly is up”.
This passion for fly fishing grew with each passing year, so much so that by the time it came to choosing a career path Matthew knew that he wanted to work in some fisheries-related industry.
After graduating from the National University of Galway with a Bachelor degree in Marine Science, Matthew was first introduced to guiding by Pat Hughes, while working for the Marine Institute, on the Burrishoole fishery, County Mayo.
“Listening to guests' stories about far-flung fishing destinations really excited me, so I decided that I needed to get a taste of this action for myself,” he adds.
In 2011, Matthew started working at Nervous Waters at Kau Tapen Lodge on the Rio Grande, Argentina. “Guiding with guys like Max Mameav (head guide on the Ponoi) and Per Tronde was like living with two fishing encyclopaedias! The knowledge I gained while I was there was amazing!” he said.
Guiding with Max brought its own advantages and in 2012 Matthew found himself deep in the Arctic tundra, working for Frontiers UK on one of the most prolific Atlantic salmon rivers in the world, the mighty Ponoi. “I have worked with and guided for some unbelievable characters on two of the best fisheries in the world,” said Matthew, “and feel both lucky and privileged to be able say I have turned my lifelong passion into a career.”
The shooting instructor: Tom Payne
Tom Payne (30), a farmer's son from Hertfordshire, began shooting at home with his father at the age of eight. Starting with a .410 and then moving on to his trusty side-by-side 20 bore, Tom spent his free time at home and on the family shoot, and spent his summers at Camps Estate in the Scottish Borders where he shot his first grouse.
From the age of 14 there was only one place to find him: in a pigeon hide. Pigeons are his main shooting passion and he now advises and writes articles on the subject.
After work experience with Strutt & Parker Sporting, he started a degree at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester. After graduating, Tom started working as a professional pigeon Shot and sporting agent.
In 2007, Tom was asked to join West London Shooting School as a full-time game shooting instructor where he had the privilege of learning from the instructing team.
“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to have learnt so much from instructors like Alan Rose, Pat Burridge, Ed Watson and Simon Ward through my time there,” he says. “I owe a huge amount to Roddy Richmond Watson and Jonno Irby.”
In 2012, Tom started as a private shooting instructor, operating under the name of Shooting Tom.
“I think the future is bright for our game shooting industry. It is so important to get young Shots and novice game Shots off to the right start. I want them to be as passionate as myself and become shooting people, not just people that shoot.”
The Gunmaker: Rupert Blackwall
Rupert Blackwall (30) is a self-employed gunmaker from Oxfordshire. Rupert's interest in sporting guns began with a passion for shooting and countryside pursuits.
Growing up in the heart of the Cotswolds, with game shooting all around, it did not take Rupert long to get into the sport. “Like most youngsters,” says Rupert, “local family-run shoots were a key to my interest in shooting, which in turn led to my passion for English guns and rifles.”
Apart from shooting, engineering was another interest of Rupert's, so he decided to combine the two and throw himself into a career in gunmaking.
After doing A level engineering, Rupert got an apprenticeship at E.J. Churchill, working under the masterful eye of Lee Butler. “I had a well-rounded apprenticeship with E.J. Churchill,” says Rupert. “I learnt everything from finishing to actioning and rifle making. This is due to the size of the small team, which I think gave me much better exposure to and understanding of all the different areas of gunmaking.”
After his apprenticeship, Rupert was hungry for more, so embarked on a part-time business management degree. “When I finished my degree, I set up my own business near Charlbury in the Cotswolds using my skills and everything I had learnt from my ten years at E.J. Churchill.”
This is where R.J.Blackwall Gun Makers was born. Initially repairing and restoring English guns, Rupert is now starting to build a few bolt rifles of his own and in the next couple of years he will produce some shotguns too. “I have just expanded the business by putting in a showroom, giving the business another arm and allowing me to deal in accessories and both new and second-hand guns.
“The gun trade is still very much alive,” says Rupert, “which allows me to keep growing my business. I feel this growth shows that the industry has resilience to external pressures. As long as the industry maintains its wildlife conservation ethos and continues to ensure that game does not get wasted, I feel this will ensure a bright future for all of us.”
Contact: www.rjblackwall.co.uk 01608 811319
The Sporting Agent: Edward Darbishire
Edward Darbishire (26) is a sporting agent at Ian Coley Sporting. He was brought up on a mixed farm in Warwickshire from where his passion for the countryside and shooting began.
Educated in Somerset, he actively pursued shooting in his spare time both at school and at home. After graduating from Harper Adams, and already having an established farm shoot with his brother, he took up a position with Mark Osborne at J.M. Osborne & Co. “I learned a great deal from Mark and certainly owe him a lot,” he said. “He is hugely knowledgeable on all things shooting, especially grouse.”
After his time spent at J.M. Osborne & Co, Edward knew that sporting agency work was definitely his chosen career and in 2011 took up a position with Ian Coley at his shooting business in Cheltenham. “The last two years have been extremely enjoyable and learning from someone as experienced as Ian has been hugely beneficial,” says Ed. “We have had two superb seasons and the market in the Cotswolds is still strong.
“I think shooting has a very bright future. Our shooting school is bringing new men, women and children into the sport on an almost daily basis and the game shooting
has also picked up after a slump in 2007. I also believe game, as a source of meat, is growing in popularity, not only for the taste but also the traceability that people are now looking for.”
The Gamekeeper: Lee Alderson
Lee Alderson (18) is a gamekeeper on the Wemmergill Estate in County Durham. In 2012, as a student at Newton Rigg College near Penrith, he was selected as the Best Gamekeeping Student by the National Gamekeepers' Organisation after being nominated by the college.
Lee is from Kirkby Stephen in Cumbia, where he attended the grammar school before beginning an apprenticeship at Wemmergill in June 2011. On completion of his apprenticeship and his studies, he was offered a full-time position as one of the estate's six underkeepers.
His interest in gamekeeping began as a child – he is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Edward Braithwaite, who has been a keeper for more than four decades.
“I've always enjoyed country life and country sports,” said Lee. “I used to go out with my granddad, and then as I got older I started going beating on weekends and in the holidays. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to make gamekeeping my career rather than just taking up shooting as a hobby.
“And you couldn't have a better place to work than Wemmergill – the headkeeper, John Pinkney, and everyone there take time to teach me. It's incredible the amount I've learnt in just one year, and it's thanks to them all. Studying at college and then working at Wemmergill is the ideal combination. It's been a great year for me, first the award and then to be offered the job as underkeeper, I'm thrilled to bits!”