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Jim Murray, The Actor who is an Activist Angler

Jim Murray, The Actor who is an Activist Angler

Jim Murray is a talented actor and passionate angler. Best known for his television roles, including Stephen Hart in Primeval and Prince Andrew in The Crown, Jim has also successfully transferred his love of angling onto the screen, through his TV partnership with Robson Green in their Fly Fishing Adventures series. Jim works with a number of environmental organisations to highlight issues around pollution and the plight of the Atlantic Salmon. He is married to the actress Sarah Parish. John Cheyne, of the Angling Trust, caught up with him last month to find out what makes him tick.

Tell me about your fishing beginnings. Did you fish as a boy?

"Yes, but not in the same manner in which I enjoy fishing now. I was introduced to fishing by my father. He had a small share in a horrible, diesel tugboat in North Wales, and he used to insist that myself, my brother and my sister act as crew and take us out in the big, very lumpy Irish Sea. We would catch mackerel just hand-lining, or rather he would, while we acted as a factory processing line. He would reel-in the fish, I would break the necks, my brother would cut them and my sister would wash them and put them in the bucket. Then we’d head in and sell them to people coming off the beach in torrential rain. Not fun at all! If anything, that put me off fishing.

Then, thankfully, my grandfather saved me. He was a passionate fly fisherman who fished the rivers in North Wales. In Betws-y-Coed and places like that, and this is back in the days when there were monster sea trout to catch. He introduced me to fly fishing on the reservoirs of Macclesfield, and I found that a welcome relief and the antithesis of my father’s mackerel fishing trips.  He taught me to cast the old-fashioned way by tying a little piece of cotton wool on the end of the of the leader and he got an old tyre and put it in his garden and said keep casting until you can land the cotton wool in the tyre every time and that's what I did and that's what sealed my fate as a fly angler."

So, you started out on trout, but salmon really are your drug of choice these days?

"As a young man, I downed my rods and went to London to become an actor. I grew up rurally, so despite loving the London life, I needed somewhere to escape. I found Syon Park lakes in Brentford, just across the Thames from Kew Gardens where there is fishing for rainbows and that's where I rediscovered how to cast and feel the thrill of hooking into a fish and the weird mix of relaxation and excitement and happiness that it brings.

 A little while later I caught back up with an old friend who I had grown up with, Lee Hooks, who invited me to go Salmon fishing with him, so we went to Scotland. I'd never waded in a big river before, I mean the Wye is big, but not where I used to fish it. So, we are wading in this magnificent river, amongst breathtaking scenery and suddenly my jaw just hit the ground. I thought, “This is just insane, this is it. This is my calling.” I was lucky enough (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to catch a salmon very early on in my salmon fishing career and that sealed the deal. I was a salmon junkie.

Over the next few years I went fishing more and more and I got to know the rivers up in Scotland pretty well over an eight year period. Then I sort of branched out to Norway and Iceland and Canada and that's when I really got more of a global idea about the struggles that the salmon are facing, and that's when the love affair beyond just catching them and casting for them began. I started getting to know the ongoing environmental campaigns and the people behind them and their organisations. People like you at the Angling Trust, John, and the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the work you do together as the Missing Salmon Alliance. I knew I really wanted to help in any way I could, whatever small platform I have or whatever passion that is within me. I have to stand up and fight for what I love."

Jim with an Icelandic monster brown trout Jim with an Icelandic monster brown trout
Jim with an Icelandic monster brown trout
Jim tackled up and ready to go!Jim tackled up and ready to go!
Jim tackled up and ready to go!

I get the sense that like so many other anglers, you find fishing to be an escape, a chance to reset yourself away from the pressures of modern life?

"Listen, we all have pressure, yeah, I do of course. I’m very lucky, career wise, I keep getting employment and I love what I do. I’m blessed, so it’s not necessarily a professional escape, but it has been a personal escape. For instance, you know a big one, which is well documented for me, was when we, my wife Sarah and I, lost our first daughter, Ella Jane, in 2009.  I couldn't find a thing to help me. You know, therapy wasn't doing it for me. Talking to friends didn’t work despite their best efforts, it was just all encompassing and awful, traumatic. You know, a situation of deep, deep grief. Nothing was really working. So, I just stood in the river and cast at fish and slowly, slowly it worked.

For somebody else it would be playing a piano or painting or writing a poem. A creative mindful process which moves you forward. I believe you're still creating when you're fishing, you might not have anything to show for it like a painting, or a piece of acting, or a poem, or a song, or whatever. But you are creating. Yeah, a cathartic process."

Jim fly fishing for salmon Jim fly fishing for salmon
Jim fly fishing for salmon

You mentioned your wife, Sarah, have you ever taken her fishing?

"I used to take her fishing a lot in the early days when we were “courting”. I think that’s what the word is (laughs). I took her because I thought I really want to share this incredible thing that I love with this person that I'm falling in love with. So, I took her fishing. I'd be looking at her smiling and loving it, forgetting what a great actress she is! Then we went on this camper van holiday, me and her driving around and my old dog, Jake. We drove around Devon and Cornwall in the summer of 2007, I think it was, and I had my fly rod. We pulled into this campsite and a guy saw my rod and told me about this amazing pool on the local river that was full of salmon. I grabbed Sarah and we hiked for miles over mud and barbed wire fences, through the flies and found the bend in the river.

It was full of wild, amazing, fresh salmon jumping constantly. The river was breathtaking, and the sunset was amazing, and my beautiful new girlfriend was there with me. I was so happy. I cast and cast, tried every fly possible, using my little trout rod. I spent hours there and as time moved on I kept glancing across and I could see Sarah getting more and more bored and agitated by the flies by the minute. I realised, you know what? If this is going to continue as a relationship, you're just going to have to accept that maybe fishing together isn’t going to happen I think it's healthy to have your own pursuits. You don’t have to share a love of everything to share a love."

Tell me about other actors, who have you found that is either a secret angler or as passionate as you?

"There are some actor anglers. Obviously, there is Paul Whitehouse. Paul is amazing we had a fun time together at The Game Fair recently. Then there is another Paul, Paul Young, who I grew up watching on his Hooked show on TV. I only realised recently he was actually an actor before he was a TV fishing presenter. Obviously, I’ve fished and worked with Robson Green and I think Kevin Costner's a huge fan of fly fishing as is Michael Keaton the original Batman! He's fished many a time on the Upper Itchen outside my house."

Jim with fellow actor and fly fishing fanatic Robson Green Jim with fellow actor and fly fishing fanatic Robson Green
Jim with fellow actor and fly fishing fanatic Robson Green

I’ve seen a picture of you fishing with the actor Dominic West - is he a passionate angler?

"Haha. I mean, he told me he was and then I took him fishing and very quickly realised that perhaps he didn't fish an awful lot. But hey, that's what we actors do. We all lie. We all say we are great horsemen. We're great swordsmen. We all do our own stunts, anything to get the gig. We were working together on The Crown (Dominic played Prince Charles). I invited Dominic on to our fishing TV show because he expressed an interest and he had done a little bit of fly fishing over in Ireland and he was desperate to catch his first salmon. I think he thought he would come on our show and we'd film for a day on the Spey and he'd have three salmon to his name by lunch. Sadly, as you can imagine, that didn't happen. But he's tenacious bugger, a tenacious, tenacious man and he kept going, kept trying."

Did I read that you kind of did your audition for The Crown while you were fishing? 

"Yes, I was fishing with Robson for salmon on the Middle Dee and I got a call saying can you audition for the role of Prince Andrew in The Crown’. I thought it was a joke. I couldn’t really see myself as Prince Andrew, but you know, I thought 'Well hang on, you're an actor!'

Nowadays, because of the digital nature of things. When you are asked to audition, you are expected to learn the scenes, film it yourself and then send it to the producers within a 24-hour turnaround. Which is a pain if you are busy salmon fishing! So I set my alarm for five in the morning and just power learned the script and I said to Robson, 'Can you quickly film me between breakfast and putting your waders on?'

Anyway, he came into my room and I dressed as much as I could in character, brushed my hair forward, as I thought Prince Andrew had and we filmed it on my phone in one take with Robson reading the lines of the queen! So then I was in the river, trying to send it, looking for 4G and I found a little patch of signal and I pressed send, and it you know it takes ages to send a five minute piece of film. I'm there in the river, fishing with one hand, phone held up in the air with the other. Eventually it went and amazingly they loved it, and the rest is history. So fishing, I think it's a good omen for me."

Jim fishing the River Itchen Jim fishing the River Itchen
Jim fishing the River Itchen

Let's get on to ‘Activist Anglers’. You are obviously very engaged as far as conservation is concerned. You give a lot of help to us, the Angling Trust and other angling and conservation organisations. How did the ‘Activist Anglers’ idea come to you and what are your hopes for it in the future?

"So, the idea first came to me when I was travelling around to various rivers, fishing and learning very quickly about the challenges that salmon face. With every angler that I've ever met, invariably you get onto the subject of conservation. It’s a natural conversation to have. 'Why haven't we seen a fish? Why haven't we caught a fish yet? It's not our fault. It must be because there are no fish here or the rivers in in bad condition.'

Of course, anglers blame everybody but themselves, but you know, they're largely right when it comes to salmon angling. Certainly, a lot of the time. Every single angler that I spoke to, all of them bar none says, 'What can we do? How can we help? I just feel so powerless.' They wanted to do something.  I was certainly one of those people and I thought, well let’s harness this, let’s do something.  I had the conversation with you and Jamie (Cook) about this and the work of the Angling Trust which inspired me, there are so many things we can do, but it can be overwhelming deciding where to focus your passion. So, I thought, well, maybe there needs to be some sort of very clear, very simple, no strings attached initiative whereby a fisherman can learn about what more they can do beyond just fishing. So now we have the website hosted by you guys at Angling Trust, with a clear list of ways that anglers can help, can get involved."

Activist Anglers and Anglers Against PollutionActivist Anglers and Anglers Against Pollution

Let's get on to ‘Activist Anglers’. You are obviously very engaged as far as conservation is concerned. You give a lot of help to us, the Angling Trust and other angling and conservation organisations. How did the ‘Activist Anglers’ idea come to you and what are your hopes for it in the future?

"So, the idea first came to me when I was travelling around to various rivers, fishing and learning very quickly about the challenges that salmon face. With every angler that I've ever met, invariably you get onto the subject of conservation. It’s a natural conversation to have. 'Why haven't we seen a fish? Why haven't we caught a fish yet? It's not our fault. It must be because there are no fish here or the rivers in in bad condition.'

Of course, anglers blame everybody but themselves, but you know, they're largely right when it comes to salmon angling. Certainly, a lot of the time. Every single angler that I spoke to, all of them bar none says, 'What can we do? How can we help? I just feel so powerless.' They wanted to do something.  I was certainly one of those people and I thought, well let’s harness this, let’s do something.  I had the conversation with you and Jamie (Cook) about this and the work of the Angling Trust which inspired me, there are so many things we can do, but it can be overwhelming deciding where to focus your passion. So, I thought, well, maybe there needs to be some sort of very clear, very simple, no strings attached initiative whereby a fisherman can learn about what more they can do beyond just fishing. So now we have the website hosted by you guys at Angling Trust, with a clear list of ways that anglers can help, can get involved.

As an example, the Water Quality Monitoring initiative that you have rolled out over the last year as part of your Anglers Against Pollution campaign is amazing. I just got the latest figures and you've now got over 500 volunteers from 220 fishing clubs on board and they are monitoring on 170 different rivers across the country and that's 16 months in from zero, which is fantastic. It’s really starting to make waves and has been covered on ITV main news and the BBC and the National newspapers. This whole thing of citizen science is fantastic, and is music to my ears and should be music to any conservationist ears. Recently, New Scientist asked me to do a little bit for them on this very topic, they insisted on filming me doing water quality sampling using one of your kits. It's got to be the future and it completely embodies what activist anglers is about. It's taking the river's health into your own hands because nobody else is taking care of it. The data gives us power to force change. It’s insane. It’s brilliant. It’s invaluable."

The infamous water quality monitoring yellow boxesThe infamous water quality monitoring yellow boxes
The infamous water quality monitoring yellow boxes

So, if you were going to give advice to an angler who is keen to get involved but doesn't know quite what to do, what would it be?

"Well, start by going to www.activistanglers.com which will take you to our page on the Angling Trust website and give you a range of ways that you can help, that suit the time and energy you have.

Secondly, don't be afraid to report anything that looks in any way wrong on your river with regards to possible pollution. I produced a video about how to report properly with your help last year, which we could maybe link to in this article. I reported some diesel spilling on the River Test, which is one of my local rivers. As a result, we've now got your sister organisation Fish Legal taking Southern Water to court. I'm not saying that's due to me, but I know that me reporting it on a regular basis certainly helps their case. So don't be afraid to speak up. Your voice is important and deserves to be heard. Ideally, every angler should be a member of Angling Trust & Fish Legal, it’s inexpensive to join and it makes a huge difference."

Jim with Fish Legal outside Southampton Magistrates CourtJim with Fish Legal outside Southampton Magistrates Court
Jim with Fish Legal outside Southampton Magistrates Court

"Fish Legal personally really piques an interest. Just because I love the idea of a of a renegade bunch of lawyers working pro bono around the clock to take on the giants of industry that are our water companies and the elements of agriculture that don’t care for our environment. So, it’s great that when you join Angling Trust as an individual member 30% of your subs go directly to support the work of Fish Legal. I guess that’s my message, become an Activist Angler, don’t just wait for others, get involved, join the Angling Trust, persuade your club or syndicate to join too and get them involved with the Water Quality Monitoring initiative, report pollution, fight for your rivers."

Farlows is proud to actively support the Angling Trust in whatever ways it can. Find out more here: www.anglingtrust.net and read more about Anglers Against Pollution.

2023-11-13 11:45:00
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