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)


It’s good to be fishing back home

6 Mar

Apologies for the radio silence of late, but after best part of three weeks in India chasing mahseer in one of the remotest of Himalayan rivers, it has taken me a while to get back on top of the work and email backlog that greeted me the moment our plane touched down at Heathrow airport.


Mahseer Madness

The Himalayan Golden Mahseer has to be one of the finest freshwater fish in the world - sadly their habitat is under increasing threat.

The Himalayan Golden Mahseer has to be one of the finest freshwater fish in the world – sadly their habitat is under increasing threat.

It was an amazing trip and we caught some great fish in the stunning surroundings of one of the last pristine wildernesses left on this planet. But as anyone who has spent time in this vast and diverse country knows, India not only assaults your senses it leaves you with a melting pot of confused emotions, memories and images and it takes a while to get your thoughts back into some sort of order. We are still sorting out the photos and videos and all will be written up in due course but in no particular order my flashbacks include: crashing down thundering rapids with the inflatable rafts squeezing between giant boulders that could pitch us into the foaming white water in an instant; trekking ever upwards on a jungle track to visit a mountain top village and drink rice beer with the wonderful Adi tribespeople; camping on silver sand amongst the leopard prints under a clear starlight sky with no sign of human presence beyond our tents and campfires; the electrifying thump on the rod as a mahseer attacks the lure, feels the hooks and turns downstream in a bid for freedom and the sadness at end of the trip as we approach the half built giant hydro electric dam which will wipe out a huge part of this beautiful river valley forever.

The water was, at times, a tad turbulent!

The water was, at times, a tad turbulent!

So the mahseer stories can wait for another day but there’s plenty of fishing to enjoy back home, particularly at this time of year when the rivers are in good nick and the close season is approaching fast. The Kennet has benefited from the past two wet winters and the chalk aquifers have been at a healthy level for a while now. This is marked contrast to the situation in January 2012 when I was doing TV interviews standing on the dried up bed of the river near Marlborough and railing against the twin evils of drought and over abstraction. The Angling Trust campaign, fought in partnership with our colleagues from Action for the River Kennet, to limit the damaging abstractions from the boreholes in the upper Kennet catchment has finally produced results and substantially less water will be taken during those crucial low flow periods as a result of the decision by Thames Water to proceed with the pipeline from Farmoor to Swindon.

Increased flows means cleaner gravels and better spawning conditions. Already the grayling are on the increase and there are signs of a dace revival in places. Keen to show off some rare good news from the Kennet I suggested to Angling Trust Ambassador Dave Harrell that he might like to pit his float fishing skills against some chunky upper river grayling for his excellent Angling Times column. Dave had caught grayling before but not to any size and had certainly never targeted them deliberately. We had a wonderful day on a stretch near Hungerford catching fish all day long and with Dave landing a two pounder on only his second trot through.

Dave Harrell in grayling heaven with a rare hen fish on a day when only the big males came out to play

Dave Harrell in grayling heaven with a rare hen fish on a day when only the big males came out to play

An interesting observation from our day after grayling was the almost total absence of hen fish. Every grayling we caught over a pound was a male, and all were colouring up nicely in preparation for their annual spawning ritual. I asked the river keeper why the big girls were absent and he laughed saying that you never catch them at spawning time. More food for thought to feed into the debate over the dates we currently use for the river close season.

Much as I love the foreign fishing adventures it's good to be back fishing my own rivers

Much as I love the foreign fishing adventures it’s good to be back fishing my own rivers

A few days earlier I was able to take advantage of a period of dropping water levels to visit some favourite stretches of both the Hampshire Avon and the Loddon. The chub came out to play in the late afternoon with some chunky fish to over five pounds falling to trotted bread and legered cheese paste. I love the simplicity of winter chub fishing. No need for fancy high tec baits or self hooking rigs. Just a bit of watercraft, the right conditions and tried and trusted methods that work as well today as they did 50 years ago.

These chunky cheese loving Loddon chub are fighting fit this time of year. This one went 5.06 and did a fine impersonation of a barbel for while !

These chunky cheese loving Loddon chub are fighting fit this time of year. This one went 5.06 and did a fine impersonation of a barbel for while !

Signing off in style?

I’m hoping to end the river season in style with a six pound Thames chub, a big net of chunky dace and perhaps a rare specimen sized roach from the upper Kennet. I’ve got three trips left and if the weather stays as forecast Old Father Thames will be sock on for chub with some decent flow and the water carrying that lovely greenish tinge that screams ‘fish me now’. The dace are all but guaranteed, as I know a spot where they shoal up at this time of year, but the roach are a long shot. There’s this little shoal on the upper river but the trout move in the moment almost any lose feed is introduced and wreck the swim. I’ve got a plan to feed the trout out of the pool and prime the swim with an occasional bait dropper of hemp before sneaking in at dusk with some link legered casters. It will probably all end disastrously but isn’t the joy of fishing as much in the planning and anticipation as it is in the catching?

I'll be on the Angling Trust stand on the Saturday and giving a talk on Mahseer fishing at 4pm in the Seminar Theatre. Do come along.

I’ll be on the Angling Trust stand on the Saturday and giving a talk on Mahseer fishing at 4pm in the Seminar Theatre. Do come along.

See you at The Big One

My job takes me to more tackle shows than is healthy for my wallet but I always look forward to The Big One at Farnborough. Colin and Vince have created a superb event with just the right balance of retailers, wholesalers, displays, talks, activities and exhibitions.

The Big One takes place at FIVE Farnborough, GU14 6AZ, over the weekend of 21st and 22nd March and is now the UK’s Largest Fishing Show and Tackle Sale. For more info on The Big One go to

I’ll be joining the Angling Trust Membership Team and a host of angling celebrities, including members of the England Teams, on our stall all where we will be holding a fantastic fund raising raffle and signing up new members. I’ll be there all day Saturday so do come along and let us know what you want the Trust to be taking a stand on – whether it be the river close season, the 3 rod licence issue, poaching, predation, pollution, fracking, over abstraction, bass conservation, estuary netting or any of the other work that the Angling Trust carries out in our fight for fish and fishing.

I will also be presenting a talk on Mahseer Fishing in the Seminar Theatre at 4.00pm so I guess I better get those photos sorted out sooner rather than later. Seriously though, it would be great to see you on the Angling Trust stand or in the seminar where I shall be singing the praises of one of the most sought after targets in freshwater big-game angling.

Finally, I wish you all a cracking end to the river season and hope that at least some of your plans lead to tight lines and wet nets!

Catching those dream fish – this much I know….

16 Jan
A golden mahseer like this from a remote Himalayan river is Martin's next target - but with the nearest tackle shop 500 miles away preparation is crucial

A golden mahseer like this from a remote Himalayan river is Martin’s next target – but with the nearest tackle shop 500 miles away preparation is crucial

We should welcome the news that the BBC Natural History Unit, the world’s leading producer and broadcaster of nature programmes, is applying its considerable expertise to bringing angling back to mainstream television with the forthcoming series The Big Fish. The Angling Trust is proud to be supporting and promoting this exciting new programme which will see anglers from the UK pitting their wits and skills up against some unfamiliar species in six exotic, but challenging, locations around the world.Talking to the programme’s production team about how the anglers will have to prepare themselves for fishing in far off waters got me thinking about my own foreign fishing adventures and how much I’ve had to learn about tactics, travel and tackle along the way. As it happens I’m right in the middle of another ‘fish frenzy’ in preparation for my first ever trip to the Himalayas to try and catch both golden and chocolate mahseer. The dining room table is a mass of lures, braid and various items of luggage that will hopefully withstand the rigours of white water rafting and possibly the hardest fighting freshwater fish on the planet. Back in the 1990s I caught some huge mahseer in Southern India and although these mountain river battlers of the North may be a little smaller, they inhabit such remote and hostile environments that this was one challenge I wasn’t going to let pass me by. Since standing down from the UK Parliament in 2010 I’ve been lucky enough to have landed some cracking fish on my travels including: marlin, kingfish, tuna, shark, barramundi and silver Trevally in Australia; snapper, kahawai and trout in New Zealand; sailfish, amberjack and wahoo in Kenya; giant Trevally and bonefish in the Seychelles; bass and pollack in Ireland; golden dorado in Argentina; salmon in Scotland and tarpon, barracuda and grouper in Cuba.

My first River Cauvery monster came in 1996 in the company of the late and legendary fishing guide Bola

My first River Cauvery monster came in 1996 in the company of the late and legendary fishing guide Bola

What follows is hopefully a handy guide to making the most of a trip of lifetime and ensuring that you put yourself in with a fighting chance of actually landing those fish you’ve spent so long dreaming about.

Rods for Travel

The arrival of good quality, affordable, multi-pieced travel rods couldn’t come quickly enough for those of us fed up with lugging huge, extendable ‘Bazooka’ style rod cases through international airport terminals. Being able to pack your rods away in your luggage is not only convenient, it’s one less thing for the airlines to lose, or send to the wrong continent. It also enables the traveling angler to disguise to would be thieves the fact that those bags may be worth pilfering. For heavy duty work I can personally recommend the Deep Blue range from Snowbee and the Trek travel rods from Fox. These tough workhorses will land anything from tarpon to giant marlin.

For lighter work, and by that I mean using 30 to 50lb braid and lures up to 50 grams, I’ve become a huge fan of the Shimano Exage and the Sonik new SK4 ranges. The Exage was probably the first quality travel rod on the market and I’m packing their new 9ft 11inch model, rated at 20 to 50 grams, for the mahseer trip as a back up to the heavier Snowbee tarpon rod which can throw lures and spoons up to 100grams. Sonik are relatively new kids on the block but I took the SK4 to the Scillies last summer and it was just the job for firing out light soft plastics while retaining enough power to bully some pretty powerful wrasse out of their rocky homes.

My good friend Al McGlashan with a lovely Australian kingfish - these are some of the toughest fighters around

My good friend Al McGlashan with a lovely Australian kingfish – these are some of the toughest fighters around

Reels that last

The big learning curve for me came during my time in Australia when my previously ‘indestructible’ Shimano baitrunner literally exploded as I tried, unsuccessfully, to keep an angry kingfish out of the reef. I’m afraid the clutches on our standard freshwater reels are rarely up to the job of using heavy braid on hard fighting sportfish. A great place to check out informed and unbiased reviews of various reels is the American striped bass forum Stripers Online – but don’t make the obvious spelling mistake when googling their site or you could be in for a shock!

The Yanks take their tackle seriously and it was this review that decided me to track down a nearly new Shimano Spheros 8000 on eBay at a bargain price.

Penn also have an excellent range of spinning reels and their Fierce 5000 is reasonably priced but with a drag that pulls an impressive 25lbs. Again, both models are in the bag for India and have been spooled up with 65 and 50lb braid in readiness for tackling muscular mahseer in a powerful and rocky river.  If your pockets are deep enough then it’s worth taking a peek at Daiwa’s Saltiga range with their mag sealed, carbon clutches that can slow down a London bus if required. These are top quality bits of kit that have landed huge fish all over the world and will last half a lifetime.

Circle hooks even allow you to unhook a shark!

Circle hooks even allow you to unhook a shark!

Hooks that hold

Coming from an environment where I rarely caught anything with teeth it took me a while to adjust to some of the creatures I was encountering Down Under. There was one fish, known as the Bluefish in America -the Aussies call them Tailor – which also went by the nickname of ‘chopper’. Whether using bread, prawn or fish baits in Sydney Harbour, the result was invariably the same. A savage bite and a missing hook. They wouldn’t look at a bait on a wire trace so I resorted to using long shanked hooks in sizes 2 and 4 and the problem was all but solved. These days I always carry a few long shanks with me on my travels as even some of the baitfish intended for larger quarry can have sets of tackle robbing teeth. I like to release the vast majority of the fish I catch and deep hooking has no place the fishing I do. I learned to use circle hooks for live baiting and, once I got over the urge to strike and simply tightened into the running fish, I don’t recall ever hooking anything, even sharks, anywhere other than in the corner of the mouth. The hook is the last item of tackle that should be compromised and it’s worth spending the extra on brands like Owner, Gamakatsu and Eagle Claw to ensure that when that dream fish finally comes along you are not going to be reeling in a crushed or straightened piece of useless wire. One final tip that I learned the expensive way – chemically sharpened and super strong hooks like the Owner ST66 are brilliant until you bounce them across the rocks a couple of times. Then you discover that they are virtually impossible to sharpen so it’s worth also packing a brand that can be filed back into shape.  

Lines and Braid

You can take your pick from the mass of braids available but you won’t go far wrong with bulk spools of PowerPro or Berkley’s Whiplash for your heavier work. Check out Henry Gilbey’s blog for an in depth analysis of what else is on the market and for his favourite 8 strand braids which will deliver extra yards on the cast – but at a price.

Unless I’m targeting beasties like barracuda, dorado, wahoo or sharks I prefer to use tough, clear mono or fluorocarbon for my leaders. Again there are plenty of top quality brands to chose from but I’ve settled on Seaguar flouro for anything below 35lbs and Berkley Big Game for when towrope is required. Remember that mono is far more abrasion resistant than braid and a decent length of leader can reduce losses from rub offs on rocks or even from contact with the sharper parts of the fishes bodies.

Balls Pyramid - home to some tackle testing fish and where a valuable lesson was learned.

Balls Pyramid – home to some tackle testing fish and where a valuable lesson was learned.

 Essential Knots

 I’ve become a bit of an anorak about sportfishing knots in recent years and this probably has something to do with an epic, but frustrating session, in the shadow of the famous Balls Pyramid – an ocean rock stack far out in the Tasman Sea. We were actually hunting yellow-tailed kingfish on the surface when I spotted a shoal of big silver trevally hugging a reef some 20 metres down. These things pull like trains but the first fish was eventually landed. I broke on the second and retied the 30lb braid to a 40lb leader using the usual Albright knot. In less than an hour I had eight more hook ups but only landed two more fish due to the leader knot popping or getting cut off on the reef when I eased back on the clutch. Those trevally were between ten and twenty pounds and I’m sure the gear would have been sufficient if only I had used a stronger knot.

One that didn't get away !

One that didn’t get away !

Braided Doubles

A large braided loop at the end of the mainline has two advantages. It enables the use of the strongest of all braid to mono knots and it provides some additional security at the business end of the outfit when bringing a fish to the net or boat. The simplest double of all is the Surgeon’s Loop which is nothing more than a double overhand knot but I prefer to use the Bimini Twist. This favourite of big game anglers can be tied with braid or mono but takes a bit of practice and involves the use of both hands and at least one foot. Check out this clip below and you’ll see how and why:

The GT Knot

Just the name of this knot should inspire confidence for if there’s a fish in the ocean that pulls harder pound for pound than a Giant Trevally then I’ve yet to find it. It is easy tie to a braided loop, it will never slip, and importantly, the mono tag ends up pointing up the line meaning that it can be cast through the rod rings without catching. It is the perfect knot for those long, wind on, leaders necessary for bringing big fish safely to the boat. Check it out here:

The FG Knot

The FG is now Henry Gilbey’s favourite and can be tied to a single strand of braided mainline. This one is fiddly to tie but has such a low profile it runs through the rod rings so smoothly you will barely hear it. This is because there’s no loop in the mono as instead, the knot relies on a cross weave of braided wraps digging into the leader in the manner of a Chinese Burn. I’ll leave to Henry to sing its praises and show you the instructional video.

Lefty’s Loop Knot

I’m assuming everyone reading this can tie a Grinner or Uni knot and these are perfectly good for use with swivels or eyed hooks. However, there are times when you want a reliable non slip loop knot to allow the fly or lure more freedom of movement than a stiff mono or flouro leader will permit. Named after the famous American fly fisherman Lefty Kreh this is a knot well worth learning and one in which I have complete confidence. It also ties up easier than the Grinner in thicker diameter lines so I often use it as an alternative.

More Knots

There’s a heap more knots out there and you can find a selection below but if you master these four you won’t go far wrong.

The travel arrangement will require some thought !

The travel arrangement will require some thought !

 Creature Comforts

 The Himalayan trip will involve rafting through some none too warm water and sleeping in tents on shingle beaches. Keeping warm and enjoying a decent nights sleep are priorities for me these days which is why I’ve handed over some more cash for a blow up mattress and some neoprene long johns. I’m told we may suffer from sand flies at dawn and dusk so those light trousers which zip apart at the knee are going into the bag along with a couple long sleeved tropical sportfishing shirts. Fashionable we will not look!

 Staying Safe

A bit of danger and excitement are a big part of these trips but it makes no sense to take unnecessary risks. The sea and the jungle can be dangerous places so go with people who know what they are doing, wear life jackets where appropriate, respect the wildlife – particularly those that might want to eat you, protect your head and skin from the sun and never travel without a first aid kit and a means of escape.

I’m counting the days until that plane takes off on the next bucket list adventure and I like to think I’ll be prepared for whatever challenges the river and the fishing has to offer. I hope the contestants in the BBC’s Big Fish programme become just as excited and that they get, not only to hook, but to land some fish of their dreams.

Note: We are hoping to feature a video of the Himalayan adventure in a future edition of Fishing Britain on the You Tube Channel




Happy New Year – Some Reasons to be Cheerful

24 Dec

I guess one of the downsides about working as a campaigner is that I am forever dealing with problems and trying to get action to put right the many wrongs that the ever expanding human race are doing to our fish and fisheries. It’s not as though people deliberately set out to wipe out fish stocks – at least not as a primary purpose for their actions. The industrialist just wants to make stuff as cheaply as possible without the ‘burden’ of environmental legislation stopping his factories from polluting the waterways. The commercial fisherman just wants to make a living harvesting the sea for hungry consumers whilst the keen gardener wants a green lawn and healthy flower beds without having to think to much about the consequences of turning on that hose or sprinkler system.

Looking back through my Angling Trust work schedule for the year just ending I could easily easily pen a piece about human greed, political incompetence and pending environmental catastrophes. However, Christmas and the New Year should be a time of comfort and joy, and you know what? There really are some reasons for us anglers to be cheerful.

Here’s my personal Top Ten for 2015 – if you think about it I’m sure you can find ten of your own.

River Roach Revival?

I say the words with some trepidation but after a generation of decline, in part caused by a massive increase in cormorant predation there are encouraging signs that river roach are making something of a comeback. Whether it’s down to better controls, improved water quality and habitat or the fish simply learning how to adjust to predator pressure I wouldn’t like to say but increasingly there are welcome reports of the return of my favourite species in both size and numbers. In Yorkshire the once polluted River Calder is throwing up some lovely bags of redfins while in the Midlands the Trent is making the news for all the right reasons. In the East I hear of good catches from parts of the Ouse system while in the South the Thames continues to deliver good sport in the right spots. Further West the Wessex rivers are stirring again with more regular reports of two pounders from the once famous Hampshire Avon and the reappearance of some of those fabled three pounders from the Dorset Frome.


2) Plentiful Perch

Although my first fish was the inevitable small perch I’m also old enough to remember the perch disease, which annihilated stocks across the country, making reliable perch fishing a dim and distant memory. Not so these days with four pounders now a realistic target in all manner of fisheries and waterways, ranging from mighty rivers like the Severn to humble canals, or from tiny, over-looked commercial carp puddles to massive reservoirs like Grafham or Chew. Has there ever been a better time to catch a big stripey?

3) Water, water, everywhere

When I returned to the UK in 2011 the country was in the middle of a two year drought. The consequences of a hot summer and third dry winter in 2012 would have had a cataclysmic impact on fish stocks and the forecasts where alarming. Luckily, one extreme weather pattern was followed by another and the low flows and dried up river beds were refreshed by the wettest summer on record followed by some serious winter floods. These may have brought misery to a number of vulnerable communities but they brought life back to our rivers and have recharged the aquifers and groundwater supplies. My local rivers are in cracking condition as we approach the Christmas break and in a few hours time I shall be swapping this keyboard for a float rod and centre pin to take advantage of the good flow and colour.


4) Clean gravel and growing grayling

Plentiful water in my part of the world means clean gravel on the riverbed and a much better chance of seeing successful spawnings. I’m told the fry count in the Thames has been tremendous and I’ve seen for myself just how well fast growing fish like grayling have been doing over the last couple of years. Two keepers from separate beats on the upper Kennet have told me that they can’t remember a time when they’ve witnessed so many young grayling in the river.

5) Living with otters

In some areas the return of otters has seen a decline in fish numbers. Big, slow old fish have little chance of avoiding this apex predator and we could well have done without the the artificial reintroductions of the 1990s. However, there are signs that populations are stabilising not least as a result of dog otters turning on each other to defend their territories. I’ve heard that a surprising number of reported otter road kills are in fact younger otters already injured by a dominant male. Fish and otters have lived side by side long before mankind discovered angling and nature does have a way of finding a balance. Yes I’d love to have more effective predator controls, particularly for mink which are vicious bastards who have no business being here, but we have to be realistic about what is ever going to be acceptable in this animal loving country of ours. There have always been otters on the Wye and Hampshire Avon, and yes there are a lot more around at the moment, but the Wye remains possibly the best fishing river in Britain and I can confidently state that, whilst the Avon barbel are not so numerous nowadays, the chub fishing has never been as good.

6) Happy Dace are here again

I’ve only ever caught one dace over a pound and I honestly thought I’d never see another one in my lifetime. Now I’m not so sure as reports are coming in from several Thames tributaries of some pigeon chested clonkers that could threaten the current British record. Certainly on parts of the Kennet the dace shoals are making a return and friends of mine have caught some beauties this year from several different southern chalk streams.

7) Crocks of Gold

Less than a year ago Chris Turnbull took his concerns to the Angling Trust about the rapid disappearance from British waters of one of our loveliest freshwater fish, the crucian carp. I jumped at the chance to pull together crucian enthusiasts from all over the country and in a very short space of time the National Crucian Conservation Project was launched. This brought together a host of crucian experts, including ‘Crock of Gold’ author Peter Rolfe, to work together at saving our crucians and the progress made in just a few meetings has been fantastic. Check out our new webpage to see how you can help create bespoke crucian waters in your area…

8) Cod piece

There’s not a lot of good news about on the marine front and the failure to reach an agreement in Europe on much needed bass conservation measures was a huge disappointment. However, there is a glimmer of hope that we may now get a sensible minimum landing size in UK waters to allow the fish a chance to spawn along with an expansion in bass nursery areas to aid recruitment. Where sensible fishery management measures have been introduced, such as reductions in quota for cod and greater protection for rays in the English Channel, we have seen some welcome upturns in sport for recreational sea anglers.

9) Follow the money

The Angling Trust has been working hard to get over to our politicians the economic benefits of recreational fishing and there are encouraging signs that they are finally getting the message. The recent parliamentary debate on bass stocks saw MPs from both the Conservative and Labour parties calling for bass to be made a recreational only species whilst others were extensively quoting figures from the Sea Angling 2012 report which showed that there are: “884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy and upon which 10,400 full time jobs are dependent. If induced and indirect impacts are taken into account these figures soar to £2.1 billion and 23,600 jobs. The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England”

10) The Angling Trust and Fish Legal

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal continue to grow in strength and influence as the value of having a single unified organisation to represent all branches of our sport becomes clear. We have strong links to senior politicians in all the main parties and are working closely with both Sport England and the Environment Agency to get more money and resources into angling. There is now a wide recognition of benefits of angling and a real willingness to support angling development projects. Of course the challenges remain huge and the pressure on fish stocks and fisheries is not likely to recede anytime soon but by having a strong, well funded body that will take polluters to court and tackle threats to fishing, we can ensure that the next generation can enjoy a fishing future.

You can play your part and join the Angling Trust here…

Have a very Happy and Fish Filled New Year

Just how many rods should we pay for?

1 Dec


Terry Hearn is still searching for that uncaught monster and is always likely to want two rod licences

Terry Hearn is still searching for that uncaught monster and is always likely to want two rod licences

Plenty to talk about with Alan Stagg at the Carp Society Show

Plenty to talk about with Alan Stagg at the Carp Society Show

I spent an enjoyable afternoon at the annual Carp Society Show at Sandown catching up with old mates like Dave Mannall, talking big barbel tactics with Alan Stagg, picking up a few tackle bargains and doing a stint on the Angling Trust stand. I also used the opportunity to take the temperature of carpers about the thorny issue of multiple rod licences.


As many people already know the Angling Trust has begun talks with the Environment Agency on the structure of the coarse angling licence. Subjects under discussion include the possibility of introducing a free junior licence in order to encourage more youngsters to take up fishing and introducing a 365 day rolling licence rather than the current 31st March end date.

It was clear from talking to anglers, and from the straw poll I conducted at the end of the Julian Cundiff forum, that most people see the sense in the rod licence running for twelve months from the date of purchase rather than someone having to pay for a whole year when they buy halfway through the season. There was also strong support for abolishing the £5 charge for 12 – 16 year olds but a feeling that getting youngsters into the habit of registering as anglers, thereby enabling them to be made aware of the rules and opportunities that exist, was a thoroughly good thing.

The charging for the use of multiple rods has been a longstanding complaint of many carp and specimen anglers who feel aggrieved at having to buy two separate rod licences, allowing four rods to be used, when most fisheries only permit three at most. The strength of feeling on this subject was illustrated in the recent Angling Trust angling survey and comes up in representations to both the Trust and carp fishing magazines and organisations.

The Angling Trust isn’t wedded to any particular system but we do believe 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.  On the other hand any changes must not reduce the funds available to the EA for the restocking of waters, tackling fish health issues and delivering fisheries improvement and habitat restoration works. Particularly at a time when the government is cutting grant funding to the Agency. We also don’t want to see any additional burdens placed on game or match anglers who only ever fish with one rod at a time.

We’ve also been very encouraged by the willingness of Sarah Chare, the new Head of Fisheries at the EA, to consider this and other possible reforms of the rod licence regime.  Any changes could not be implemented until April 2016 at the earliest however, because of the constraints of the commercial rod licence contract.

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

 A personal view

I floated some my own thoughts at Sandown and they go like this.

  • The existing two rod limit on the standard licence should remain
  • Anglers wishing to use a third rod should pay a 50% supplement
  • Juniors over 12yrs should be licensed for free
  • Rod Licence holders should have their own licence number, like a driving licence, and it should be renewable from the date of purchase
  • The EA should make it clear that the courts have the power to revoke licences in cases of serious transgressions. (Fishing out of season for a magazine feature perhaps?!)
  • The rod licence needs to rise as income is falling and the price has been frozen for five years.
  • Do we really want to carry on allowing the use of four rods for coarse fishing in rivers?

Now I’m only an occasional carper so have been happy enough, up until now, to limit myself to using two rods. But if I could buy a supplementary licence for a third rod, rather than having to buy two licences, I reckon I’d shell out the extra cash. And I can think of others who’d do likewise. There are plenty of tench anglers like myself, who usually fish with either one or two rods at a time, but who would sometimes like to use a third rod to switch quickly to a new method to stalk a fish showing in the margins or well away from our baited areas. We would represent an additional revenue stream for the EA which would go some way to balancing the loss of income from those carpers who would pay less under a new system.

And, as I’ve said before, I wouldn’t mind paying a bit more for my own licence if it meant that juniors could fish for free as anything that attracts youngsters into our sport has to be good for the future of our sport.

Simon Crow and Beverley Clifford from Carp Talk - these two certainly had something to say on the charges for multiple rod licences !

Simon Crow and Beverley Clifford from Carp-Talk – these two certainly had something to say on the charges for multiple rod licences !

What others think

These changes have been welcomed by leading figures in the carp world. Simon Crow, editor of Carp-Talk told us – “It would be so much more user friendly if a single rod licence was introduced.”

Sarah Chare, Head of Fisheries at the Environment Agency has said:

“This review may also affect the cost of rod licences, which have remained at the same level for the last 5 years. As part of this review we are talking with the Angling Trust and other partners to understand the views of the angling groups they represent. Within government rules we will be seeking the fairest deal for anglers that secures the best future for angling through the services the Environment Agency delivers both directly and through the partners we fund.”


What do you think?

 We’ve had a fair bit of correspondence on this subject already but we are keen to hear as wide a range of views as possible. For example, the Secretary of a well-known game angling club has written to me with concerns that his fly fishing members could end up paying for those who want to fish with three rods. Now at the Angling Trust we are quite clear that any changes we put forward will not mean that some anglers end up paying for another type of angling method.

To facilitate the debate we’ve set up a Hot Topics page on the Angling Trust website here:

As with the Close Season issue we would like to publish a selection of contributions so please feel free to pitch in. Alternatively you can post a comment here.

I would remind everyone that it will be the EA that makes the final recommendation to ministers, not the Angling Trust, but this is a really good opportunity for anglers to make their views known.


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