Fishing: Interview with Guto Harri (Wales)

Guto Harri (Wales)
Guto Harri is a strategic communications consultant, writer and broadcaster living in London. No stranger to a frenetic work life having spent many years as a journalist at the BBC and also working at News International and Liberty Global. As a journalist he covered such key stories as the collapse of communism and the Gulf war. Guto was Director of External Affairs when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London. He has only ever lived in cities namely; Cardiff, Rome, New York and London. He is bi-lingual in English and Welsh and reports and presents in both mediums. He has presented such shows as The World at One, Westminster Live and can currently be seen presenting the S4C current affairs television programme, Y Byd yn ei Le. He is passionate fly fisherman and is often found on the River Wye which appropriately straddles the English and Welsh border.
How did your interest in fishing begin

I inherited from my grandfather, whom I had never met, his reel and rod which he used to fish in the river behind his house. I was intrigued by this and wanted to use it. I was fascinated by the idea that he would catch trout and my grandmother would cook it. At age 13, the opportunity to fish arose as the local vicar who lived in our road took up fishing and included me on trips. By age 14, three of us in school persuaded the biology teacher to start a fishing club which meant he could have access to a mini bus and started taking gangs of us up to the Brecon Beacons on the weekends.

Given your introduction to fishing through an elder family member have you passed on your passion to your family?

Yes all my three children fish. I introduced my eldest son to sea fishing in Florida and trout fishing in the streams of Philadelphia, when I was posted to New York. During summer holidays we have fished for sea bream in Sardinia. My eldest son really enjoys the sport and has progressed from net to rod and is now a keen harpoon fisherman.

Where have you fished and what kind of fishing do you like?

As a teenager growing up in a city I fished where the opportunity arose; mainly in reservoirs, sometimes lakes. In the holidays my friends and I would jump on a train and off to Penarth pier to do some sea fishing. We would catch nothing but burn in the sun! On annual holidays with my parents to Aaron Islands, off Galway in Ireland, I did some mackerel fishing and sea fishing with local lobster fishermen. Today though, apart from fishing in Sardinia on family holidays, I almost exclusively fly fish for trout. This form of fishing I enjoy the most. To catch a fish on a fly you have tied yourself, imitating nature, bringing it home, cleaning it and cooking it for supper gives a sense of "Hunter Gatherer" and of slotting into the food chain. To catch a wild brown trout in the River Wye, where I do most of my fishing these days, is quite special.

Have you consciously been aware of the health benefits of Fishing?

Absolutely. Ive always thought that there are glaring benefits. Fresh air - just getting out of the City and to breath Chanel quality air, with the sun and wind on your face and the river around you. Fly fishing is an active sport and the constant casting, retrieving, casting, retrieving is very good exercise. The main benefit for me is that fishing takes on an intensive level of concentration on something utterly mindless. It allows you to strip noise out of your life and to blend in with nature. The intense relaxation on such concentration makes you breath better, you feel your heart rate lowering. The repetition of casting and retrieving puts you in a trance like state and allows you to switch the brain off.

As a result of fishing have you developed any life skills that have been transferrable to the day job?

I have always worked in highly, highly social busy environments which I love. It was never a dull moment working for Boris! My work is very intense and can become draining. Always decisions to make, people to see and places to go. Experiencing the solitude of fly fishing in the river has meant I have come to appreciate solitude. The need for downtime is important to me if only for a short period of time in the day. I take myself out of the situation to recharge the batteries, maybe 20 mins away from the desk to eat a sandwich creating time to be on my own. Part of experiencing solitude brings a sense of perspective. Such an important attribute. When you stand-in the River Wye you reflect on the fact that people have been fishing here for centuries, a sense of calm, perspective, universality, timeliness engulfs you. You don't get too obsessed with looming deadlines. You realise it is not life or death.

Fishing entails focusing on getting one thing done. You have to focus to be in the right place, right weather, right kit, right fly, right kind of day and when everything is right you catch a fish. I have brought that level of focus on getting one thing done at a time, stripping out the noise, into the boardroom. It makes me more effective at taking decisions and in being focused it is a reminder that everything has to be fresh.

If you are convinced there are no fish in the river then it doesn't motivate you. When there are flies dancing on the river and you see the fish you become more determined, more motivated. This is a lesson for the boardroom. To motivate people there must be hope, direction, ownership and the reward of a sense of fulfilment when everything comes right.

Have there been any funny stories along the way?

I have fallen into the river a few times, usually being too focused and not noticing the raising water levels and the inevitable 'water over waders' incidents and down you go! Back in 2009, I had organised a photo opportunity for Boris Johnson, now of course Prime Minister, by going to a river in the East End promoting volunteering. A mischievous photographer asked for that perfect shot encouraging Boris to step back further. The water gushed over the waders and down he went falling backwards and in the process of loosing his footing, he grabbed the nearest person, pulling them in also. Of course it was all over the news. My first day away from City Hall as his PR man - I should have known better given my experience of that happening! It is still on YouTube for the world to see.

Who do you think could benefit from taking up fishing?

Anyone working in a highly stressed environment, under a lot of pressure and who don't give themselves the chance to exhale, the chance to switch off. Perhaps finding it difficult to schedule a class activity with their work schedule. If they could get themselves off to the banks of a river, I have no doubt after 3 hours that the pressures would lift, heart rates and blood pressures would come down and they would be much calmer at the end of it. Experiencing a wonderful day of fishing to boot!