Fishing for Votes ?

27 Jul
Jon Cruddas MP with his first fly caught carp

Jon Cruddas MP with his first fly caught carp

When I first arrived in the House of Commons in 1997 I was impressed at the wide array of All Party Groups that had been established by MPs and Peers who shared common causes and who would come together to discuss, debate and raise issues of importance to their areas of interest. I was surprised, however, to discover that Britain’s most popular participative sport was not on the list – hardly a ringing endorsement of the impact of the national angling organisations that were around at the time. There was a House of Lords fly fishing club but after attending one rather stuffy dinner I came to the conclusion that this was never going to be the vehicle for getting angling higher up the political agenda. My problem was that there were strict rules about the membership of these All Party Groups with 20 nominees required from across the parties. Although I could easily round up ten Labour MPs from my own side, including several keen coarse anglers, I also needed anther ten from the combined opposition parties and there wasn’t anyone who seemed as keen as me to take this forward and to put in the work.

Luckily all that changed in 2005 with the election of Charles Walker as Conservative MP for Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. Charles tracked me down within days of his election and soon we were arranging some fishing trips. I had the pleasure in helping him catch his first barbel and he helped me iron out some of the many flaws in my fly fishing technique. Charles was clearly a fine all round angler, a great orator and just the person to help get the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group off the ground. We were joined by my neighbouring MP Richard Benyon who represents Newbury whilst on the Labour side we had Mike Foster from Worcester who was an accomplished match fisherman and my old friend Jon Cruddas, the MP for Dagenham. After I retired from the Commons in 2010 Charles took over from me as chair of the group and then passed the baton to another keen Conservative angler, George Hollingbery.

George took the group from strength to strength and was instrumental in getting the government to press the EU to introduce new minimum landing sizes and other conservation measures to protect declining bass stocks. Having a group of like minded MPs from across the political spectrum has proved invaluable for the Angling Trust and has enabled us to have a real impact on policy which simply wasn’t happening in the past.

A nice four pound plus chub for Christian Hollingbery and his Dad George.

A nice four pound plus chub for Christian Hollingbery and his Dad George.

And of course it’s not all meetings, debates and parliamentary questions. We actually went fishing as well. It was thanks to George Hollingbery that I caught my first salmon on the fly and I returned the favour by teaching George how to catch chub and grayling on the float. George has now been promoted to the government Whips Office which precludes him from involvement in our group but Charles Walker is back at the helm and very quickly got in touch with me after the general election to arrange an MPs fishing trip before the summer holidays.

I suggested we link up with Brian Clarke, the angling writer for The Times who had been out with us before, and try something a bit different. We were to fish for trout in the morning and for carp on the fly in the afternoon. There were a couple of waters near my home in Berkshire that would be just the ticket and the arrangements were duly made. Our party was to be Walker, Cruddas, Clarke, Benyon and myself along with Owen Smith the Shadow Secretary of State for Wales.

MPs Charles Walker, Owen Smith and Richard Benyon put political differences to one side as they search for trout on a low  River Pang in Berkshire.

MPs Charles Walker, Owen Smith and Richard Benyon put political differences to one side as they search for trout on a low River Pang in Berkshire.

We started on a lake near Theale and a few stocked trout succumbed to Charles while the rest of us struggled. Instead we decided to explore the nearby river Pang. This tiny Berkshire chalk stream is a favourite of Richard’s and he was keen to see if we could tempt some wild fish before we stopped for lunch. Unfortunately the river was just too low to make fishing viable but I’m sure the guys will be back there once the flows pick up as the Pang holds some lovely grayling and some beautifully marked brownies.

The trout weren't playing ball on the Pang but Owen Smith couldn't resist a cast of two in this pool.

The trout weren’t playing ball on the Pang but Owen Smith couldn’t resist a cast or two in this pool.

Richard Benyon very kindly laid on a nice lunch for us at Englefield House where the talk centred around the make up the new government and the campaign to become the next Labour Leader. Hardly anyone had attempted to catch carp on the fly before so I kitted them out with some deer hair dog biscuit imitations and a bag of Chum Mixers before leading a convey down to the lake where I hoped the carp would prove more cooperative than the trout had been earlier in the day.

Charles Walker MP quickly got the hang of feeding the carp into casting range and landed several fine fish

Charles Walker MP quickly got the hang of feeding the carp into casting range and landed several fine fish

I needn’t have worried as the fish were almost as keen as the anglers. Charles Walker hooked up on one of a pod of fish that were nosing under the bank when we arrived. Shortly after both Jon Cruddas and Owen Smith were playing carp and enthusing about their fighting qualities.
A happy Jon Cruddas in action

A happy Jon Cruddas in action

Best fish of the day went to Owen Smith who has become a carp convert.

Best fish of the day went to Owen Smith who has become a carp convert.

Although the fish inevitably became more wary after a few had been landed most people were enjoying plenty of action. Funnily enough, although Brian Clarke was undoubtedly the most accomplished fly angler of us all it was he who was having most trouble converting his takes into fish on the bank. Sometimes this happens in fishing and it takes longer for the expert in one discipline to get into the zone for another species or technique. Brian is not only skillfull, he is persistent as well. I persuaded him to move to a spot where the fish looked a little less spooky and sure enough his reel was soon singing as a Berkshire carp headed for the horizon.

Fly fishing legend Brian Clarke  with a well earned fly caught carp.

Fly fishing legend Brian Clarke with a well earned fly caught carp.

With Parliament now in recess I guess the next time I hook up with our parliamentary supporters will be at the various party conferences in the autumn. But the great thing about having these strong angling relationships is that if anything happens that needs political intervention we know that there are a group of MPs who are only too happy to wade in on our behalf.

All systems go on the Thames Tideway

5 Jul

For lovers of London’s river this is shaping up to be a good year. On Sunday 20th September the second TideFest event will take place on the Thames at Kew, Brentford and Barnes and last week the final legal hurdles were cleared enabling the new ‘Supersewer’ to be built which will remove millions of tonnes of storm overflow sewage discharges which enter the river every year.

TideFest 2015

TideFest is a new river Thames event which took place for the first time last year on World Rivers Day to highlight and celebrate the recreational importance of the Thames Tideway to Londoners. TideFest 2015 is taking place on September 20th at Strand on the Green, Chiswick and at other locations along the Thames Tideway. TideFest is proud to be a partner of Totally Thames and to be supported by the Thames Tunnel Now Coalition and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

Tidefest is taking place this year on Sept 20 and will feature another great angling competition where some good weights are expected

Tidefest is taking place this year on September 20th at Kew, Brentford and Barnes and will feature another great angling competition where some good weights are expected

Activities for All

A wide range of activities are currently being planned for Sunday 20th September including:

1)Paddle boarding – Active 360
Pre-booked sessions for those new to paddleboarding, an Eco tour from Kew to Hammersmith and an evening river tour to Richmond. There will be a race at Strand on the Green at 4.30pm.
2) Kayak Taster Sessions – Edge Paddling
Turn up and try kayaking with qualified coaches
3) Nature reserve community days – Thames Water
A day out at Kempton Nature Reserve – an internationally important wetland habitat with great bird life. There will guided birdwatching walks and species surveys suitable for both adults and children.
4) Community activities, refreshments and displays
The marquees on the riverside embankment will host displays on the history of the Thames Tideway, historical artefacts collected by local archivists, painting by local artists, children’s activities, refreshment stall and an information point.


5) Tideway displays
Look out for the display boards on the history of the Thames from Thames Water and Thames Tideway Tunnel at local venues including the London Museum of Water and Steam.

6) Junior angling games
The charity Get Hooked on Fishing will be holding a series of angling related activities on the foreshore aimed at children and newcomers to the sport.
7) Angling Competition
The Angling Trust has organised the prestigious Thames Tideway Angling Championship which will take place at Strand on the Green and Barnes. 60 top anglers from across the UK will be taking part and spectators are welcome.

As well as bream there are some good shoals of dace and roach to target and both the Kew and Barnes sections

As well as bream there are some good shoals of dace and roach to target and both the Kew and Barnes sections

Last year's winner Clive Westwood picked up £500 plus pools money. This year there is £1000 up for grabs.

Last year’s winner Clive Westwood picked up £500 plus pools money. This year there is £1000 up for grabs.

8) On the Foreshore
Children’s activities including river dipping, water testing and games designed to describe what’s going on in the river are being organised by the environmental charity Thames 21
9) More Foreshore Activities
A series of highly informative Archaeological Walks and tour of Oliver’s Island will be held in the afternoon at Strand on the Green. There will also be a visit to the Lot’s Ait boatyard to learn about the history of boatbuilding on the river. A guided walk from Strand on the Green to Brentford via Lot’s Ait will also be available

Strand on the Green looking downstream from Kew Bridge towards Oliver's Ait. This will be the venue for many of the activities at this year's TideFest

Strand on the Green looking downstream from Kew Bridge towards Oliver’s Ait. This will be the venue for many of the activities at this year’s TideFest

10) Isleworth Ait visits
The London Wildlife Trust is once again offering people a rare chance to visit their nature reserve on Isleworth Ait.

As well as angling there are sailing races, foreshore walks and chances to try out kayaking and paddle boarding

As well as angling there are sailing races, foreshore walks and chances to try out kayaking and stand up paddle boarding

11) Sailing competition
The SoTG Sailing Club will be holding their annual TideFest Challenge Trophy competition. Spectators welcome.
12) Boating events
The RIver Thames Society is organising four one hour boat trips from Kew Pier on the historic Thames launch the Windrush. Guided commentary included
13) Acoustic Music
It is hoped to have some live acoustic performers to entertain the crowds on the embankment.
14) Freshwater fish tanks
The Environment Agency will have their fish tanks on site displaying the fish and eels that live in the Thames Tideway.

TideFest is organised and supported by a whole range of environmental and river groups, including the Angling Trust

TideFest is organised and supported by a whole range of environmental and river groups, including the Angling Trust


Ticketing and charges: Thanks to the generous sponsorship from Tideway Tunnels and Thames Water all the activities are either free or offered at a substantially reduced rate.
More information: or contact Martin Salter at the Angling Trust or

Check out TideFest Facebook page at:

And look out for the new website which will be at:




London Environment and River Groups Welcome Legal Go Ahead for the Thames Tideway Tunnel

Environmental groups campaigning for the early construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel to remove millions of tonnes of untreated sewage that enters the river every year have given a warm welcome to the news that the last remaining legal hurdle has been crossed with the rejections of the two outstanding judicial reviews lodged by objectors to the project.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel will intercept 34 storm overflows like this one at Putney and, together with the Lee Tunnel, remove up to 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage from the Thames every year.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel will intercept 34 storm overflows like this one at Putney and, together with the Lee Tunnel, remove up to 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage from the Thames every year.

Last week, at the Court of Appeal, the two remaining applications for a Judicial Review of the Development Consent Order process for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, were heard by Mr Justice Sales. The judge conclusively rejected the two applications by Mr Graham Stevens and a group called ‘Thames Blue Green Economy’ fronted by Lady Dido Berkley. There is now no legal route available for the applications to proceed further and construction on the long awaited project is expected to begin in 2017.

The Tideway Tunnel team, whilst obviously pleased with the decisions, made no public comment other to state in a message to local authorities:

“After a long and exhaustive process to reach this position, the project team can now focus 100 per cent on bringing the tunnel scheme to fruition. We look forward to continuing to work with you to achieve this.”

However, representatives of the river and environmental groups that make up the Thames Tunnel Now coalition were more than happy to acknowledge the comprehensive rejection of the judicial reviews which they always felt were without foundation and were simply a device deployed by opponents to attempt to derail the project.

Debbie Leach, Chief Executive of the Waterways charity Thames 21 and chair of Thames Tunnel Now said:

“This is more great news for everyone who cares about having a cleaner Thames here in the heart of London. We all depend on the water in our rivers and need to protect it whenever we can – this project means that we can look forward to a River Thames we can be truly proud of, that we can use and enjoy safely and with confidence and where fish and wildlife can thrive.”

Gordon Scorer, Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust added:

“The Courts have consistently made the right decisions for the River Thames and Londoners. We need a sewage system fit for the 21st century, a system that no longer fouls the Thames, damaging the river’s fragile ecosystem and threatening the health of all who use it.”

Tim Webb of the RSPB said: “The Thames is tainted by sewage whenever
London’s drains struggle. Leaping this judicial hurdle will allow it to
become an asset worthy of our world class city. Water is life and clean
river water brings a lot more life on and beneath its surface as well as
at its edges. We and the courts have chosen life.”



Goodbye to a Classic Angler

29 Jun

Frank Guttfield, 1939 – 2015

Frank Guttfield with his personal best Thames chub of 8.02 courtesy of Mike Tucker’s back garden

Just before the start of this year’s river season fishing lost one of it’s great ‘classic’ anglers. Frank Guttfield, author, broadcaster, and an old school specimen hunter, who fought and subdued many a big fish in his time, had finally lost his battle with cancer.

His first book, In Search of Big Fish – a year of his diary targeting big fish – was published in 1964 and became a sell-out cult-classic. He went on to write for all the major UK angling publications, including the Angler’s Mail and Angling Times as well as the Daily Mail and Fisch und Fang in Germany. He appeared on primetime TV, featuring as a fish expert on Johnny Morris’s ‘Animal Magic’ on BBC One, also co-starring in several episodes of Jack Hargreaves’ iconic ‘Out of Town’ on ITV. His second book, The Big Fish Scene, was published in 1978 and showed how the angling world had evolved since his first book – featuring chapters from a new breed of ‘Specimen Hunters’ including John Wilson, John Bailey and Kevin Clifford.

Frank didn’t follow trends in fishing, particularly when the bolt-rig revolution spread from Carp fishing into the rest of the specimen world. He described using bolt-rigs as “trapping rather than fishing”, as to him, fishing involved a strike. This sort of static, hands-off approach, however successful, was at odds with everything he had learned about fish and fishing over his 65 year angling career – the importance of lightweight, finely-balanced tackle and that the biggest fish were the trickiest to catch of all. Most of Frank’s big specimen chub, barbel and roach were caught light-ledgering, a tactic that he perfected over the years. He could hold bottom in raging flows with a minimum of lead, by fine-tuning the bow in his line and position of his rod and I am certain Frank regularly caught fish that an angler using heavier leads wouldn’t have even known were there.

In recent years he used these tactics to devastating effect on the Thames, landing 9 Chub over the 7lb mark. His best of 8lb 2oz is one of the largest ever recorded on the river. This personal best was landed only 3 months before his death and proves it is always worth ‘one last cast’, even if the odds are gravely stacked against you.

Frank’s personal best barbel of 13.10

His other angling achievements include a 9lb plus Tench – which I think was at the time the second largest ever recorded – and also Rudd up to 3lb 5 oz, but river fishing was his true love, especially the Thames and its tributaries. In total he caught more than 200 Roach of over 2lbs, with a personal best of 2lb 14oz 8drms from the River Windrush in Oxfordshire. He caught many other personal bests on these rivers too – Barbel up to 13lb 10oz on the Thames and Perch of 4lb 4oz and Dace of 1lb from it’s tributaries.

Fishing Stories

Since his cancer diagnosis in March of 2013, Frank didn’t do much fishing. He blamed a lack of energy most of the time and suffered from anxiety. An old friend did get him out to fish from a mate’s garden that backs onto the Thames on the last day of the season in 2014 and he only went and caught yet another 7lb chub. That was pretty much it for fishing until this year when his old mate Chris Tarrant, almost literally, dragged him out to fish from the same garden. This time he bagged his fish of a lifetime, a chub of 8lbs 2ozs, despite the jibes from Chris shouting “Come on, stop playing about with it, Guttfield!”

The one fish that Frank really didn’t like was bream and on the last day of the 2015 season he went with the same friend back to the same garden swim. He had a bite and struck, but when it had surfaced his hopes were dashed as a beautiful pale golden bream of around 8lbs+ came into the net. It wasn’t weighed because he wasn’t interested, it was a bream after all, and he wouldn’t even lift it for the photograph. The irony is that the very last fish he ever caught in his life was one of his most disliked species, a bream.

The very last fish Frank caught – a dreaded bream – captured with his friend Jeff Woodhouse

As regular readers of this column will know at the Angling Trust we have set up a special tributes page on our website so that people like Frank Guttfield, who have made a significant contribution to the world of angling, can be acknowledged and remembered. It is called “A Life Well Fished” and on Frank’s page we have some lovely tributes from his son Fred and his friends and fishing partners Chris Tarrant and Jeff Woodhouse. Their words also form some of the basis for this piece.

You can read the tributes in full here

If anyone else who knew and fished with Frank wants to add some thoughts and reminiscences of their own please get in touch with me through the Angling Trust office in Leominster.

I can’t remember exactly when it was that I first fished with Frank – probably around 17 years ago when I joined the Red Spinners. We both enjoyed fishing the smaller Thames tributaries around Oxford. Sadly they were already in decline but both the Windrush and the Evenlode still held a few fine specimen chub, roach and perch if you knew where to look. That was one of Frank’s great strengths, he really was quite expert at not just catching fish but at tracking them down. For several years he ran a small syndicate on the Windrush of which I was a sometime member and he guided me on to a number of very welcome two pound roach which are still my favourite species today. But I guess it was chub fishing that was Frank’s speciality and he was certainly one of the finest exponents of light ledgering that I’ve ever seen.

Frank was a man interested in many things including politics and persuaded me that I should have him up to lunch in the House of Commons during my time there. I was happy to oblige and I shall never forget him pulling out a musty old file and regaling me with some conspiracy theory he had about corporate wrong doing that I should be investigating. I asked him when all these shenanigans were alleged to have taken place and he said: “Oh .. sometime in the 1960s but I was just waiting until I met the right person to take this on!” Although I politely declined Frank’s kind offer to immerse myself in a 30 year old case many miles from my own constituency we remained on good terms and he particularly enjoyed fishing with some of my angling MP friends including Charles Walker who now chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling. Frank even persuaded me to offer a work experience placement to his super bright young son Max who proved to be a great asset to my parliamentary office.

Frank could be awkward and irascible, charming and warm, grumpy and witty but there was scarcely a dull moment when he was around. There was always something going on in that sharp brain of his and it is a great shame that he has fished, written, spoken, loved and laughed for the last time.

Operation Leviathan – An important part of improving fishery protection.

23 Jun

There has been a somewhat mixed reaction on social media to our story about sponsored carp angler Myles Gibson receiving a prosecution for fishing where he shouldn’t. He was accused of illegally catching the 52lb Common Carp known as ‘Jim’s Carp’ at Tatton Mere on 5 August 2014. Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court handed out the conviction to Mr. Gibson on June 11th and found him guilty of a Schedule 1 Theft Act offence for fishing without permission at Tatton Park. He received a £240 fine and £620 costs.

It was reported by the BBC that Mr. Gibson climbed over farmer’s fences in the early hours of the morning, negotiated a 12ft hedge and ignored “no access” signs to reach the mere on private land owned by the National Trust where he fished from a reserved area which is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

Many anglers have welcomed the fact that at long last the police are taking wildlife crime, fish theft and poaching a lot more seriously thanks to the Rural Crime Strategy which has enabled the Angling Trust to engage with the Association of Chief Police Officers and UK National Wildlife Crime Unit to raise awareness of poaching and fish theft, and work with an ever-increasing number of police forces to initiate high profile and ongoing initiatives such as Operations LEVIATHAN, TRAVERSE, and CLAMP DOWN

The recent conviction has led some anglers to question whether the decision was proportionate in light of other threats facing fisheries. Let us be absolutely clear that Operation Leviathan, which was launched earlier this month, is the largest multi-force and multi-agency operation to target illegal fishing. It came in response to anglers concerns over poaching, fish theft, illegal fish movements and stockings and the unauthorised taking of fish for the pot. For years anglers have quite rightly been complaining that the Environment agency and the police simply weren’t taking issues like poaching and fish theft seriously. As a result of Operation Leviathan we now have the relevant people working together to apply the law and bring offenders to court. And yes this may well mean that alongside those getting nicked for stealing or smuggling fish could be one or two more well-known specimen anglers who get caught ‘guesting’ on someone else’s water.

The illegal movement of fish remains a threat and needs strong enforcement

The illegal movement of fish remains a threat and needs strong enforcement

What we can’t do is pick and choose where, when and who the police decide to prosecute as the law has to be applied without fear or favour. However, it would be a great shame if anglers were to think that the only priority for enforcement action will be targeted on those fishing for pleasure where they shouldn’t. We want to deter the illegal movement of fish which is massively irresponsible and can spread lethal diseases and infections. We also want to clamp down on fish thefts including taking fish home for the pot, whether it be by migrant anglers or those who are born and bred in the UK.

You can find more information on operation Leviathan here:

Nasty Ranters

There’s something about the ‘Facebook Commentariat’ that brings out the worst in people and it doesn’t take much for a debate about fisheries enforcement to degenerate into some pretty unpleasant comments about people of different races and backgrounds. Reading through some of the nastier online rants one would think that Myles Gibson had been forced to climb those fences around Tatton’s Mere at gunpoint by a gang of angry Poles!

I’ve been a coarse fisherman for nigh on 50 years and yes, there have been times when I’ve strayed into places I shouldn’t have been. However, we all know the rules and have to accept the consequences of our actions.

And of course it is fair enough for anglers to ask what actions the Angling Trust are taking in respect of complaints about migrant anglers taking fish without consent or in contravention of the fishery bylaws and what else are we doing to improve stillwater fisheries or for carp anglers in general.

The vast majority of anglers in the UK, from whatever background, abide by the rules and fish within the law and there can be no selective application when it comes to enforcement. People who knowingly and deliberately break the rules can have no cause for complaint when they are found out. This applies as much to poaching as it does to fish smuggling or theft of valuable fish.

The Angling Trust's 'Building Bridges' project has done valuable work in getting out the catch and release message to migrant anglers.

The Angling Trust’s ‘Building Bridges’ project has done valuable work in getting out the catch and release message to migrant anglers.

Building Bridges

The Angling Trust’s Building Bridges Project, has made great progress in educating migrant anglers about fishery rules and bye-laws and has encouraged these anglers to fish legally and in accordance with UK traditions.

Building Bridges Manager Radoslaw Papiewski said:
“Migrant anglers are also fed up with the minority of migrant poachers who do not care about any laws and regulations regarding fishing. In our eyes these people are criminals and we strongly support enforcement actions taken against them when they are caught. Migrant anglers are also signing up as bailiffs in their own clubs and for the Angling Trust’s Voluntary Bailiff Scheme which is proving to be a successful way of overcoming some of these issues.”

The Angling Trust has produced a free “Guide for Anglers Reporting Offences to the Police” which includes guidance on how to ensure call-takers understand how serious angling offences are.

And here’s a list of yet more fisheries enforcement and improvement work that the Angling Trust is delivering on behalf of all anglers.

Ten Things the Angling Trust is Doing About Fisheries Enforcement and Improvement

The Angling Trust has raised awareness of tackle theft by educating police officers at forces throughout the country about the value of fishing tackle and how anglers, who often fish in solitary in isolated places, have been the target of theft and violence. The Angling Trust has also worked in partnership with crime fighting company SmartWater – a world leader in forensic technology – to address tackle theft. A bespoke forensic taggant, unique to each individual customer, has been developed for anglers and made available to Angling Trust members at a very generously discounted price.

The Angling Trust fought a long drawn out campaign to negotiate on behalf of anglers tor new measures to tackle predation of fish by cormorants and goosanders. Fish eating birds not only take small fish, they can damage large specimens too, leaving them exposed to disease. This campaign has been successful in securing funding to employ 3 Fishery Management Advisors who help clubs and fisheries with the issues around fish eating birds and advise those encountering other predation problems.

The Angling Trust has set up a Voluntary Bailiff Service in the South East of England and has so far trained over 90 Volunteer Bailiffs to support the Environment Agencies Fishery Enforcement team in this area. The VBS has already successfully contributed evidence and has found illegal angling equipment, drugs, guns and money stashed along the waterways. Nationally there are over 500 more anglers waiting to become Volunteer Bailiffs if we can secure more EA funding to roll out this campaign nationwide.

The Angling Trust publishes a list of Environment Agency prosecutions each month at Every angler, regardless of the offence they commit or their nationality, appears on this list and this has raised awareness of the issues around fishing out of season, taking fish for the table, fishing without permission, fishing without a licence and so on

There have been some high profile cases involving migrant workers which we have been involved in such as and these have been covered in our press releases and in angling media and in national media and we have contributed quotes for these on behalf of angling. However, the list of Environment Agency prosecutions (see point above) demonstrates that migrant anglers are a small minority of those prosecuted with just 12 out of the 121 cases listed on our website possibly being offences by migrant workers.
The Angling Trust has set up its Building Bridges Project which educates migrant anglers about angling’s rules and bye-laws and encourages these anglers to fish legally as part of angling clubs and at commercial fisheries. The Angling Trust has employed Radoslaw Papiewski, a respected Polish angler to run this project. Migrant workers, who come from cultures where coarse fish are regularly taken to eat, have taken quantities of fish, both legally and illegally, in recent years but the Building Bridges Project has made real progress integrating these anglers into UK clubs and getting them fishing according to UK customs. As part of the project we have produced multi language signs and posters that are available free at

The Angling Trust has also taken the migrant angler issue to Westminster, requesting a Parliamentary Debate to identify further sources of help. This work is supported by Daniel Kawczynski MP, the Prime Minister’s Envoy on the Polish & Eastern European Diaspora in the UK, whose office is currently arranging meetings with the Polish and Lithuanian Ambassadors in London to help get the message out.

The Angling Trust works with Cefas to crack down on illegal fish movement, fish theft and the spread of disease that this can cause. No responsible angler wants to see illegal fish turning up in our waters and we are key supporters of Cefas in their conversations with the angling community on these issues that enables those with information about illegal fish movements and imports, fish theft, tackle theft and other angling related crime to anonymously report these practices. For example, a KHV outbreak can kill all the specimen carp in a fishery very quickly. KHV is often spread by illegal fish movements.

The Angling Trust has begun discussions with the Environment Agency on the controversial issue of the coarse angling licence for the use of multiple rods, which has been a long-standing complaint of many carp and specimen anglers who feel aggrieved at having to buy two separate rod licences. Should Carp and Specimen Anglers Have to Buy Two Full Rod Licences to Fish With Only 3 Rods? Well, the Angling Trust believes that the current arrangements need to change as they don’t seem fair to carp and other specimen anglers using three rods, but being charged for four. The moves by the Angling Trust and the Environment Agency have been welcomed by leading figures in the carp world. We hope to report back on progress in September and any changes might come into place in 2016.

The Angling Trust has set out an action plan to address the problem of otter predation. We have called for an increase in the funding made available from the Environment Agency for fencing of still waters, and for it to be made available to club and syndicate waters, investment in research into methods for deterring otters from still water fisheries, recognition by government agencies that reintroductions of otters were misguided and mismanaged, and that lessons must be learned for any future release programmes for other species, an end to the release of rehabilitated otters which have been injured fighting with other otters, or on the roads, for Defra and the Environment Agency to accept that there is a serious problem from otter predation on many still-waters and Defra and to stop referring to otter numbers as evidence of successful restoration of water systems.

The Angling Trust’s new Fishery Improvement Fund is helping to ‘protect fish stocks from predation’ and ‘get kids into fishing’. This fund re-invests part of the proceeds of Environment Agency rod licence sales in England into projects directly benefiting anglers. Applications are welcome under two themes: ‘protecting fish stocks from predation’ or ‘getting kids into fishing’. With its award from the Angling Trust’s Fishery Improvement Fund, Deeping St James Angling Club erected otter-proof fencing and gates after losses from otter predation had reached a point where fishing was becoming unsustainable. Clubs and Fisheries do not have to be Angling Trust members and can apply at:

Funding for Otter proof fencing is available through the new Fisheries Improvement Fund

Funding for Otter proof fencing is available through the new Fisheries Improvement Fund

Join the Angling Trust

So there you have it – we can sound off on social media as the mood takes us or we can do something positive to help fish and fishing by joining the Angling Trust for as little as £2.50 a month or £25 a year.

The Angling Trust is here to represent you and protect angling. The more anglers who join, the louder our voice becomes. By becoming a member, you fund our work to promote angling and its future, to fight for better fish stocks in both the marine and freshwater environment and to campaign against threats to angling.

Join or Renew Online – click HERE – pay as little as £2.50 a month

Join or Renew by Phone – call 0844 7700616

To join the Angling Trust over the telephone by Direct Debit or using your credit/debit card, please call 0844 7700616 (Option 1) – calls cost no more than 5p per minute. Please pay by Direct Debit, it’s quicker and helps keep our administrative costs to a minimum. Just call with your account number and sort code – it’s that easy!

This year tench really is my ‘doctor fish’

18 May

Apologies for the recent radio silence and I know I promised to write up the Himalayan mahseer trip as my next blog entry but I’m afraid things got overtaken by the backlog that greeted me on returning from the mountains. I then allowed myself to get dragged into the General Election campaign, firstly on behalf of the Angling Trust with our Manifesto for Angling that was sent to all political parties and then for myself as I tried, and failed, to help win back my former seat of Reading West for my colleagues in the red corner.

The polls were wrong and there was a clear blue winner at the General Election

The polls were wrong and there was a clear blue winner at the General Election

Thinking that the outcome of the General Election was on a knife edge I completed a thorough review of what the main political parties were offering to do for fish and fishing. I was pleased that Labour signed up to the Angling Trust manifesto and sent in this quote from Shadow Fisheries Minister Angela Smith:

“Labour is proud to have a strong tradition of support for Angling.  We recognise not only the economic contribution that anglers makes but also the role they play up and down the country in working to improve our water and marine environment. The manifesto for angling contains some positive ideas for how the next Labour Government can both improve our natural environment and support Britain’s most popular sport. We worked constructively with the Angling Trust when Labour was last in Government and we look forward to doing so again.”

However, Labour’s own environmental policy was one of the weaker on offer and their own manifesto made almost no reference to fish or fishing. In any case it turned out that far from playing a part in government my former colleagues were consigned by the electorate to another five years in the political wilderness. And believe me I shared their pain, after all, many of these vanquished politicians are still personal friends of mine.

The Angling Trust maintains strong relationships on both sides of politics and we were happy to acknowledge the Conservatives record in government with new controls on cormorants and support for angling projects. They did agree, following a chance meeting between myself and the Prime Minister in the Commons cafe, to include a promise in their own manifesto to deliver ‘a sustainable bass fishery’. The Tories also committed to concluding important projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel to improve water quality.

The Conservatives’ most prominent angling MP and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group George Hollingbery was typically supportive and said:

”Angling is one of the biggest participant activities in the UK and important to the country at many different levels.  The Angling Manifesto hits all the right notes:  we know how beneficial angling can be to those that are involved and should encourage more people to pick up a rod; with so many people involved already, we know that a number of areas of government policy should always recognise this very large interest group; and we know that angling is a force for good when it comes to the environment and the health of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.”

As expected the LibDem and Green manifestos were strong on the need for greater environmental protection with commitments to reduce water abstractions through wider water metering and construction of new reservoirs. However, neither party had anything to say about angling and did not respond to the Angling Trust’s manifesto despite being chased on several occasions.

So whilst the Angling Trust did a good job in getting fish and fishing on the broader political agenda it is just one party with which we will have to deal in government. It looks as if marine fisheries will be remaining with George Eustice at DEFRA, despite his elevation to Minister of State, whilst the freshwater side is likely to come under the new Parliamentary Under Secretary Rory Stewart who was as surprised as anyone to have landed a job in government following his outspoken interventions on defence spending in the previous parliament.

There's not much a good tench can't heal

There’s not much a good tench can’t heal

Taking a tench break

Despite my years in politics I was as shocked as most people by the decisiveness of the Conservative election victory. I really couldn’t see any result other than a hung parliament and I was hopeful that my team would make at least some modest advances. I was up all night at my local election count trying to support the defeated candidates and to put a brave face on what was a disastrous night for Labour. Clearly I was going to need some recovery time and as luck would have it I had booked a few days off with some fishing mates in an attempt to track down some of the large tench and carp that live in the Cotswold Waterpark.

Check out the tail on this chunky nine pounder

Check out the tail on this chunky nine pounder

Big gravel pit perch always have such great colouring

Big gravel pit perch always have such great colouring

I rarely fish for carp but I was hopeful that tench would be my ‘doctor fish’ and give me something to get over the disappointment of the previous week. I couldn’t have had a better start as on the first evening I had a chunky 9.04 which I caught on rubber casters. Several more tench between five and seven and a half pounds followed and other friends weighed in with some lovely carp and a surprise perch of 3.12 to Andy Cowley on a lobworm. We pulled off on the Thursday as the heavy rain closed in but it was a welcome break that put some nice fish on the bank and some necessary time and space between two very different experiences. It seems that a week can be a long time in both politics and fishing!

And the final fish of the trip was this lovely fully scaled mirror of 30.08 to my mate Mike Robinson.

And the final fish of the trip was this lovely fully scaled mirror of 30.08 to my mate Mike Robinson.

Making it Better

1 Apr
Trevor Harrop - Avon Roach Hero - someone who really is making things better for fish and fishing

Trevor Harrop – Avon Roach Hero – someone who really is making things better for fish and fishing

Anglers are legendary for finding things to have a good old moan about. Usually it’s the weather, the water conditions or a lack of fish as the reasons given for why we are not catching – never of course our own angling abilities. We are pretty good at expecting things to be done for us – after all we pay our rod licences and our club membership subscriptions so why isn’t everything just laid out on a plate, waiting for us to turn up and enjoy spectacular sport?

Well, if you are a millionaire who is prepared to spend a small fortune on a syndicate ticket for one of the heavily managed and manicured beats on the Test you can be pretty certain of catching plenty of half daft, stew fed trout for your money. The same applies to an over-stocked commercial carp puddle where fish welfare is well down the priority list. So yes, you can buy your fish but is it fishing you are after or just catching?

To me fishing is about much more than the act of persuading our quarry to take a lure, a fly or a baited hook. It is about our connection with the lakes, ponds and rivers of the landscape into which we love to escape. It is about our own stewardship of the waterways and environment upon which the fish depend for their survival and on which we rely for our sport. In short – it’s all about the habitat.

Every year my Environment Agency Fisheries Team organise a programme of Rivers Weeks in partnership with angling clubs, wildlife groups and the local fisheries consultatives. These involve willing volunteers, working with professionals to improve the habitat for fish and wildlife in our local rivers and streams. The work can be hard but it is always rewarding and it is a great way for anglers to put something back and to demonstrate that we really are ‘true guardians of the water’ as we like to claim.

Creating a gravel riffle to aid spawning habitat on the recovering  River Blackwater

Creating a gravel riffle to aid spawning habitat on the recovering River Blackwater

Loddon Rivers Week

A busy diary meant that I was only able to attend a couple of sessions of the excellent week long programme that had been put together on the catchment of my local river Loddon.

The Loddon Rivers Week is a partnership project between the Environment Agency, Loddon Fisheries and Conservation Consultative, Wildlife Trust, Wild Trout Trust, Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership, and Loddon Valley Residents Association supported by local anglers from Swallowfield, Aborleigh and other angling clubs in the valley. This year’s activities were coordinated by the EA’s Karen Twine, known to many anglers for her fascinating research work on barbel populations on the Bedfordshire Ouse.

On the Monday there was an electro-fishing survey at several sites on the beautiful little river Whitewater, Hampshire’s least famous chalk stream, where trout, perch, chub, minnow and bullhead were caught. The event was open to everyone to watch, but the majority of people that came were landowners. It is hoped to plan a series of gravel cleaning days throughout the catchment to try and improve spawning habitat for brown trout and other fish as many of the gravels had become choked and very compacted.

Huge increases in fish populations followed habitat improvements on the upper reaches of the Blackwater in Surrey

Huge increases in fish populations followed habitat improvements on the upper reaches of the Blackwater in Surrey

On the Tuesday and Thursday volunteers from the local community, conservation and flood groups worked together on the Blackwater, an improving river that had had more than its fair share of problems. Over the two days there were more 25 volunteers making fagotts, cleaning gravels, adding new gravels, introducing and securing woody debris in the river channel. This is part of a larger project with the land owner, who is currently re-profiling the river banks to reduce flood risk. There are also plans to install low cost baffles on the gauging weir to improve fish passage later this summer.

Then on the Friday, workshops were held in two local venues to give members of the public the chance to visualise (with the help of the superb EmRiver model, which simulates river processes) how flood risk can be managed using natural processes such as floodplain connectivity, flood water storage and retention, which can also help to regulate erosion and deposition. It was good to see local councillors as well as residents at these events and to watch as they began to understand how dredging rivers can often make flooding worse and how important it is to work with natural processes to hold water back on the floodplain.

Installing woody debris as cover for young fish

Installing woody debris as cover for young fish

A Better Blackwater

Even though he has retired our old friend and former Fisheries Team leader John Sutton turned up in his new role as proprietor of Clearwater Photography to record our efforts to revive the habitat in the Blackwater. This river is particularly close to John’s heart and in the past had got into a terrible state thanks to sewage discharges upstream from the ever expanding urban footprint of Aldershot, Frimley and Camberley.

The images are all courtesy of John Sutton –

John’s video of our Blackwater improvements can be seen here

Best of all I received an enthusiastic report back from the landowner the other day which said:

I’d just like to say many thanks to all of you for giving up your time, energy and humour for a few days on the River Blackwater at Swallowfield earlier this month. The banks and channel are looking a lot better than they were, and have recently been seeded with native riverside plant seed. I shall be fencing the banks off shortly as well, to prevent livestock from accessing the channel as well as harrowing the fields to grade them properly. If anyone would like to see the finished results, please let me know.

The gravel in the weir pool is still there and has shifted around slightly to provide some much needed variations in flow and depth.

– The woody debris items in the weir pool are working well, and there is a noticeable difference in the flow now, along with some nicely scoured areas which will hopefully be used for spawning shortly.

– The woody debris margins and channel narrowing is working well, and after the addition of some larger timber and geotextiles, I pushed some of the bank down in the area to provide the connectivity between the river and flood plain.

The graded banks are starting to colonise and submerged weed growth is started to show, which means that hopefully the high flow channel will work when it comes to the higher flows later in the year.

– The new gravel added in the narrowed channel has also moved about, although the special stop log seems to be working very well in containing it on its journey downstream. I have since seen two trout holed up just downstream of the structure.

The coarse woody debris added on the marginal berm downstream of the pollarded willow is working well, and already debris is starting to build up behind it to create a narrowed channel. Hopefully it will grow and provide some cover for juvenile fish later this year.

A happy band of habitat volunteers working under the guidance of Andy Thomas from the Wild Trout Trust

A happy band of habitat volunteers working under the guidance of Andy Thomas from the Wild Trout Trust

Making A Difference

And of course it’s not just in the Loddon catchment where anglers and conservationists are making a difference. I’ve just heard from Trevor Harrop that the Avon Roach Project has had its best year yet for the survival of juvenile fish. Trev and Budgie are thrilled with the amount of true Avon roach that they have been able to re introduce to this once iconic river.

You can read and see more of their excellent work and experience Trev’s boundless enthusiasm on their latest blog here

I also hear that SKY TV’s Tight Lines will be filming some of the roach releases for a future programme.

A future Avon three pounder perhaps ?

A future Avon three pounder perhaps ?

Last Words

I’ve written plenty about how as anglers we need to moan a bit less and do a bit more. The Loddon Rivers Weeks, the Avon Roach Project and the very many other excellent fisheries and habitat projects that are crying out for resources and volunteers are one of the best ways that we can put something back.

I’m going to leave the last words to Karen and Trevor.

It’s been fantastic to see so many volunteers and interest groups coming together to improve this much loved river and enhancing the Loddon’s natural processes using low cost and simple techniques. It is essential to get the message across that managing flood risk can be achieved without compromising our beautiful rivers. The Loddon catchment is environmentally rich and an important resource for wildlife which needs protecting and enhancing for future generations.

Karen Twine – EA Fisheries Officer and Loddon Rivers Week organiser

We are currently having the most extraordinary year in terms of sheer numbers of roach we have managed to release as adults from our stews into the river, and one year olds we have managed to raise in the tanks this year. It’s been our BEST EVER year.  What an amazing experience! “

Trevor Harrop – Avon Roach Project

Keith Speer – A Life Well Fished

9 Mar

There are people in this wonderful world of fishing who we might not know personally but whose exploits, comments and interviews leave us with the overwhelming impression of not just an angler with exceptional ability but of a really lovely, warm person who is liked and admired for all the right reasons. I only met Keith Speer a handful of times but for me he typified all these characteristics, and many more besides.

Sadly Keith passed away, all too soon at the age of 60, beside the banks of his beloved Upper River Lea in Hertfordshire, the scene of some of his phenomenal catches of specimen roach, chub and barbel .

Keith's float caught 17lb barbel in the snow - a rare capture in all sorts of ways

Keith’s float caught 17lb barbel in the snow – a rare capture in all sorts of ways




Keith’s float caught specimen list will probably never be bettered and includes barbel to 17lb 15oz, chub to 7lb 3oz and a three pound river roach. He was also a keen predator angler with many big pike, perch and zander to his name.

Keith was active in support of angling and fisheries serving as Vice Chairman of his local Verulam Angling Club and as a recent member of the British Record Fish Committee where he worked alongside former Angling Trust chairman Mike Heylin. He also attended and spoke at many angling shows and specimen group and fishing club meetings and it was at one such Association of Barbel Enthusiasts gathering a few years ago that I first shared a platform with Keith.

Keith Speer - 1955 to 2015 - perhaps the finest specimen float fisherman of his time

Keith Speer – 1955 to 2015 – perhaps the finest specimen float fisherman of his time

There is no doubt that angling has lost a great advocate, a fine ambassador and a superb fisherman. Here are a few words of tribute from people who knew him well.

Martin Salter
March 2015


Mike Heylin OBE – Angling Trust

I can’t speak highly enough of Keith. He was not only a great angler who would share any knowledge with those who wanted it but also a fantastic guy to work with, I brought him onto the BRFC because of the high respect I had for him as someone with no edge and no ego to get in the way of the important work done by BRFC, sadly not always the case in the past. He proved himself in no time as an incredibly useful member of the team, was knowledgeable about fish and able to make great assessments. I knew him through Verulam Angling Club and the local consultative before asking him to join BRFC, an invitation he accepted immediately and fulfilled with great aplomb. He considered it a great honour to serve angling in such a way but I always felt we were honoured by his presence. I was honoured to know him, enjoy his company and we had a fishing trip, our first, planned for today. Instead I am sitting here typing a eulogy for him rather than laughing about the fish we would have caught. I will miss him dearly, angling will miss someone who was very special and the local and national angling community is poorer for his passing. We were very lucky to have had him with us and to show us so many ways of taking specimen fish.

This was a man who only at Christmas 2013 discovered, by accident, that his mother had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. He was so proud to have a family member so closely involved but astounded that in all the years since, she had never mentioned it at all, even her husband had no idea of her service. Keith was a proud Englishman and immediately went to Bletchley to discover the shed she worked in and to find that people there still remembered her and her work. None of them were surprised that she had never mentioned it, she had, after all, signed the Official Secrets Act. Keith had the same integrity and I am deeply saddened that he is leaving us all too soon.”

Ian Crook – Chairman Twyford and District Fishing Club

I first came across Keith on “Barbel Fishing World” forum, he was called “Zanderman”, his posts were always informative and there was always a little wit thrown in. We exchanged private messages on many occasions, realising we both had a similar sense of humour, mostly taking the Micky out of others and their views!!

We actually met for the first time when he gave a brilliant talk and slide presentation on vertical jigging for Zander using a method he had been taught in Holland by Marcel Asbroek, we had such a laugh that night, he agreed to take me out on Rutland water to give it a try……….. That was the start of a good few years of friendship.

We fished together many, many times, for barbel, grayling and zander, every time laughing from start to finish. During the last few years we got into the habit of talking frequently on the phone, Keith calling me normally when driving and probably bored!! He would always make a point of sharing everything which had upset him since we spoke last………….

Having heard great things about his stick float clinics, I asked if he would do one for Twyford and District Fishing Club, which he did for the past three years, and very popular they were too. All on the T&DFC committee were so impressed with Keith, we asked him to become a club Ambassador, which he took on with his usual enthusiasm, he will be very hard to replace. Keith became a regular on our Big One stand as well, in between chatting up Andy Ford of Sky TV & Keith Arthur as well as popping off constantly to buy more Dave Harrell stick floats.

Sky TVs TightLines loved having Keith on the show and he thoroughly enjoyed taking part. He called me every time he was on his way to yet another filming, casually dropping the fact into conversation………. We all gave him stick about his new found stardom, and Sky TV baseball cap!

The next big event was Lucy’s wedding, I had an almost daily commentary in the build-up, including the shoes which hurt his feet, followed by a massive, massive out pouring of pride. That pride was nothing next to the news he was going to be a granddad, then a double granddad when it was discovered Lucy was expecting twins……..

Words to describe one of the best people I have ever met: Funny, Confident, Helpful, Sharing, Selfless, Supportive, Humorous, Hairy, I miss him already…

Dave Harrell – Angling Times columnist

I got to know Keith a few years ago after we met at the Big One Show and I always looked forward to contact with him as we shared the same enthusiasm for float fishing. It was a real shock to learn that he’d suddenly died after a fishing trip and I can only hope that he’d had a good day on the river beforehand. He will be missed by many.
Andrew Nellist – British Record Fish Committee

I knew Keith for more than 30 years having grown up in Park Street where he lived in the same road as our mutual friend Neil Watson. Way back then Keith was already an extremely good float angler and was as ever very funny with a great sense of comic timing.

Recently Neil and I introduced Keith to the delights of bread fishing with light gear on the upper Thames for Roach. Keith got well and truly hooked and was back most weekends including just two days before we lost him.

Keith had not been on the BRFC for long but he was a real asset to the committee with his “lets make it happen” attitude and his infectious sense of humour. The last meeting of the BRFC in December was the best I’d ever been to and the reason for that was the humour and warmth Keith brought to the meeting.

Angling has lost a really big character and someone who would otherwise have continued to make a huge contribution to our sport.

Keith was always a popular guest on Keith Arthur's  SKY TV show Tight Lines

Keith was always a popular guest on Keith Arthur’s SKY TV show Tight Lines


Keith Arthur – Sky TV presenter

When I received a message that Keith Speer had passed away it took a long time to sink in. Keith was certainly a character that couldn’t be ignored, a larger-than-life bear of a man with a seemingly fixed smile on his face and a ready laugh.

I met Keith, as with so many great anglers, through Tight Lines, the Sky Sports’ angling programme I have had the honour of presenting for nearly 20 years and we hit it off immediately because we both love stick-float fishing.

Keith was a superb match angler who went on to develop his match-honed stick-float style to target big fish and boy was he successful at it. His record with barbel, chub, roach and dace – the classic quarry for river anglers – was simply amazing. He seemed to be able to sort out big fish and present his bait to them in such a way as to make it irresistible. Although he fished for carp in stillwaters he had no thoughts of taking the more sedentary style, sitting behind alarms with baits in the water for many hours, to seek out barbel and chub. He simply trotted for them.

We fished a few times on his spiritual home: the tiny Upper Lea in Hertfordshire, on stretches of river that he and his Verulam club were responsible for their magnificence. Some days it was impossible to get through the barbel to catch the roach…on the stick of course. On my first visit and after Lord-knows how many barbel, many of them on hemp fished off bottom, I had three fish come into the margins of my peg after packing up to scavenge on the bait I’d dropped. One was a barbel, maybe pushing ten pounds. Another was a chub that would have been described as huge 25 years ago, probably a mid-5lber. The other was a decent bream…but then I looked again and saw it was a roach. Yes, a roach as big as a decent bream. Quite possibly it was the 3lber that later the following winter Keith slipped his landing net under. On the stick float of course

He explained to me how his father drummed the ’12 pieces of hemp’ rule into him so as to not overfeed and bring roach too high in the water, giving them just enough grub to keep them competing. It was always a joy to sit and listen to stories from Keith and I was privileged to fish with him a few times and also to host him twice in the Tight Lines bothy. Believe me when I tell you that an hour simply wasn’t enough and we continued to talk rivers and stick floats as the cameras moved out and the lights dimmed.

Now the lights have dimmed for Keith.

More information

Verulam AC are producing a tribute book for Keith and their website will be updated after his funeral on March 12th
      Keith J. Speer R.I.P. (November 1955 to February 2015)



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