Fishing has helped Hampshire actor Jim Murray through the best of times and the worst of times, and now he’s giving back to our local rivers with his new campaign to protect the waterways for future generations

‘My introduction to fishing as a child almost put me off entirely,’ recalls Jim. ‘As a family we would spend our holidays in north Wales aboard Dad’s smelly diesel-fumed tugboat fishing for mackerel that we’d then sell on the beach. It was a production line, not in any way fun. I disliked fishing in this way, and I used to get very seasick.’

Luckily Jim’s late grandfather Norman stepped in and took him fly fishing on a reservoir in Macclesfield, near where he grew up.

Great British Life: Jim was taught to fish by his grandfather. Image: Toby CursonJim was taught to fish by his grandfather. Image: Toby Curson

‘We never really caught much but I really enjoyed the experience. My grandfather was patient and gentle. He taught me how to cast. Once he’d dropped me back home, we found an old tyre in the garden for me to practice accurately casting into using one of his old bamboo rods with cotton tied onto the end. He definitely sowed the seed inside me.’

Once Jim had fledged home, he moved to London to kick start his acting career, remembering: ‘I am a country boy at heart, so I needed to find respite from living in a busy metropolis. I had a motorbike, so I would put the rods across my back and ride out to the lakes at Syon Park. For not much money, I would spend the whole day fishing for stocked trout there. Here, I cemented my love for the pastime.’

Around this same time, an old friend of Jim’s from north Wales, Leigh Hooks, got back in touch and invited him fly fishing in the Snowdonia National Park for wild trout as Jim explains: ‘Lee was instrumental in my fly fishing odyssey. We also ventured up to Scotland to fish for salmon on the Esk. Everything changed for me once I had fished for wild salmon. This was an epiphany moment. I had found my religion. I had found my spiritual home. I was in awe of this big, fast-flowing river. Incredibly I caught my first salmon on my second trip. They got me on the heavy drugs early! From that moment, every time I got an acting job, I put a percentage aside for fishing.’

After Jim met his wife, fellow actress Sarah Parish, they moved from London to Hampshire and welcomed their first daughter Ella-Jayne in 2008. Then at eight months, tragically, she died due to a congenital heart defect.

Great British Life: Fishing solo with his thoughts helped Jim through the grief of losing his daughter. Image: Toby CursonFishing solo with his thoughts helped Jim through the grief of losing his daughter. Image: Toby Curson

‘It was an incredibly distressing, life changing time for us. One way I worked through the trauma was to go fly fishing. I could not find the solace from therapy or speaking to friends. Fishing really seemed to help. Over the next four years I fished a lot. The most healing times were when I was in flow, fishing solo with my own thoughts. For me, like so many anglers, fishing is meditative and vital for my mental health. The rhythmic repetition of casting in the cathedral of nature – fish tend not to live in ugly places – the sound of water and my focus on targeting something is so restorative. Fishing changed the way I process everything. To this day, all my problems are solved on the river.’

A few years ago, Jim met fellow actor Robson Green, he remembers: ‘He hadn’t done much fly fishing, so I took him to the Thurso. He was instantly hooked. We became great friends and decided to make a fly fishing TV show. Robson and Jim's Fly Fishing Adventure was launched on ITV in 2021 where we fish around Iceland over three episodes.’

It was well received with the second series released in April this year which sees the duo fish the Tyne, Dee and Spey.

Great British Life: Jim solves all his problems on the river. Image: Toby CursonJim solves all his problems on the river. Image: Toby Curson

‘It was while we were fishing the Dee that I received an email from my agent asking me to audition for the role of Prince Andrew for series five and six of The Crown. They sent me some lines and wanted me to film myself in character. So, I got out of the river, shaved off my beard, got Robson to read the role of the Queen and we shot the scene that afternoon using an iPhone. A week later I received another email to say I’d landed the role.’

Civic minded Jim is a big believer in giving back by volunteering for various organisations. As well as being an ambassador for the Atlantic Salmon Trust and the Angling Trust, he has been involved in campaigns to protect our local rivers - the Itchen and Test. He explains: ‘Our biggest success story to date was exposing malpractice by a salad washing company. It was discharging pesticides that were harming invertebrates, which are the primary food source of wild salmon, downstream on the Alre and the upper reaches of the Itchen. Together with WildFish, I spearheaded a petition which called on the Environment Agency not to renew the company’s licence, and it gained more than 7,000 signatures. The factory ended up closing in 2020. Sadly, this is not an isolated incident - occurrences like this appear to be widespread which is why we all need to be proactive.’

Southern Water, the private utility company responsible for public wastewater collection in Hampshire, is his nemesis.

‘I try to hold them to account, particularly when there is a drought to stop them from over abstracting water from the Lower Test which is one of our flagship chalk streams and home to a rare subspecies of wild salmon. Every time they do this, they push this precious species to extinction. We have also called them out for oil spillages and dumping raw sewage. We need to keep the pressure on these companies.’

Jim has now launched a new campaign called Activist Anglers. Saying it has never been timelier for the angling community to rally together to protect and fight for the future of our waterways. ‘There are millions and millions of us anglers,’ he explains. ‘The term angler covers everyone from children crabbing in rock pools to the seasoned fly angler casting for the elusive sea trout in Patagonia. Fishing is global, fishing is huge. A single person can make a real difference. A little drive and passion translate into a lot of action, and that is what is needed now more than ever to demand the government’s attention to affect the change in policies that is so urgently required.

Great British Life: Jim's campaign will protect rivers close to home and further afield. Image: Toby CursonJim's campaign will protect rivers close to home and further afield. Image: Toby Curson

‘Anglers are the eyes and ears of our waterways, the custodians of their future. We are many and if we all unite and become more active in our roles as guardians, we will surely force the change our rivers and oceans are screaming out for.’

This month Jim is set to appear in the Carter Jonas Theatre at The Game Fair to speak about the campaign and raise awareness of how anglers can get involved.

‘It is a no-brainer for me to attend this event. Not only does it attract politicians and decision makers, but tens of thousands of anglers so it is a great platform to spread the word and inspire people. The idea of Activist Anglers is that fishermen do what they can when they can. I don’t want it to be overwhelming or onerous for people. I just want people to think more about what they can do - which could be anything from a litter pick to enrolling with your local Water Quality Monitoring Network or even protecting our waters from poaching by becoming a voluntary bailiff.’

Find out more about Jim’s campaign by following @activistanglers on social media.