Former Royal nanny Tiggy Pettifer has dedicated her life to catching and protecting Atlantic salmon. Fieldsports Journal meets the Welsh fundraiser with boundless energy.
“I warn you now that I will talk about salmon for hours without drawing breath if you don’t stop me,” warns Tiggy as we get settled ahead of our interview from her ‘madhouse’ in rural Wales, adding: “And do not ask me any questions about the Wales family, that was 27 years ago.”
Growing up on the River Usk, high spirited Tiggy was aged just four when she caught her first fish unaided. Now in her fifties, the mother-of-four is on a mission to help save salmon and raise awareness of their plight. Plus she is as keen as ever about catching them. “There is nothing more exciting than your fly being followed by a salmon. When you see that bow wave coming at you. The old adage that the tug is the drug is so true. That is why I spent 90 fruitless hours trying to catch one this summer.”
A member of The Association of Advanced Professional Game Angling Instructors, irrepressible Tiggy is well suited to freelance teaching, specialising in women and children. “I would teach men but I find they don’t like being taught by a woman.” She says it is her mission to get kids off screens and onto the riverbank: “It isn’t just about fishing, it is about connecting with the natural world. Some children that come here are frightened of lambs. Lambs!”
Tiggy grew up on the Glanusk estate, which is still owned by her family and just a few miles where she now lives overlooking the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. The 20,000-acre playground features four-and-a-half miles double bank fishing which is where clients are given lessons. “Each season I teach around 50 people,” the ever-cheerful Tiggy explains, adding: “Our stretch of the River is ideal for teaching as it is easy wading. It is remarkable how quickly children pick it up. The mothers are slightly trickier as they may have been taught by their husbands. Our days on the river are about more than just bothering fish. We light a fire, toast marshmallows and watch kingfishers and dippers.”
It seems it is impossible to quell the enthusiasm of this third-generation fishing-fanatic: “If I am not teaching, I fish every day. I do it for sanity. It restores my soul. Just to stand in the river, is undiluted heaven. You forget about everything. All you are thinking about is the fly.”
Another role Tiggy is passionate about is working as a fundraising officer for the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST). Most recently, the AST raised more than £131,000 in their online auction which was held during the pandemic. “We were floored by the level of support from both donors of lots and those bidding. And of course, a big thank you to Fieldsports Journal which heavily promoted the auction for us. To give you context, last year we raised £84,000.”
Her message to readers is simply two words: Enough apathy. “As a core community we can do so much to help our salmon with such tiny things. I do not want to point fingers, but if we can clean up pollution, look after the redds by keeping them covered by trees and protected from avian predation and livestock, it will all help. With just those tiny things we are aiding smolts leave the river. We have to keep the babies safe. As the AST discovered in its tagging project last year, we are losing 50% of our smolts before they even get to the sea. Enough talk and science, we need action now. We cannot let this iconic, keystone species disappear on our watch. If all is well with the salmon, all will be well in the world. Never a truer is said. They are the canaries of the sea. While we cannot do anything about what climate change is doing to the middle of the Atlantic, but we can help our rivers. Salmon are the most majestic species. To travel so far for such a long time, to return to the burn where they were born is incredible. It is one of the greatest migrations on the planet but because they are fish and no-one can see them they get forgotten about. If we all come together then the salmon have a serious ally. It cannot be left to one organisation. Missing Salmon Alliance is a real breakthrough. United we are much stronger together.”
And with that I summon up the courage to interrupt Tiggy and draw our conversation to a close. There was no problem here with drawing out material from this interviewee. She exudes a joie de vivre that makes me think that I must try to be more Tiggy. With her fighting for salmon the species may just have a chance to recover. Bravo Tiggy.