Starting the ‘Season’ with a mixed bag and plans for a Silver King.

18 Apr


Martin has plans for a birthday tarpon in 2014

Martin has plans for a birthday tarpon in 2014


Bit of a crazy period coming up with lots of engagements, prize givings and talks to deliver. I guess it’s that time of year and a throwback to the days of the old close season when angling clubs held their award nights at the end of one season and before the start of the new. Talking of the Close Season we’ve had a significant response to my blog asking if it was time for a rethink on the river closure dates. There have been some really interesting and thoughtful contributions on both sides of the debate and you can read a selection of views on the Angling Trust bespoke webpage here


After a rather wonderful last session on the river, which saw me put together a seriously nice bag of chunky upper Kennet dace, I’ve been having a bit of a break from the bankside. But the onset of this welcome early spring weather has seen some of my favourite species switching on sooner than usual so I’ve dusted down the tackle, replaced a few well worn lines and got at it again. A close season of about four weeks for me – not quite as long as my other half was hoping for !

Some chunky upper Kennet dace ended the season in fine fashion

Some chunky upper Kennet dace ended the season in fine fashion

I saw from various Facebook postings that the bass are starting to show off the South Coast and that the mullet are shoaling around the pontoons on one of the most productive Hampshire estuaries. Then, just to add to the confusion of where to go next, a friend had been catching some rather tasty Thames Valley tench from a lake that was particularly kind to me last year. Obviously these are nice problems to have and I decided to chase all three species in my next three fishing sessions. The bass were to be first as I had a longstanding commitment to take a young Aussie guy out for the day to show him that we do have some decent sportsfishing up here in the frozen north. Jack Harnwell is the son of my mate Jim who is editor of Australian Fishing World, a magazine that I still write for from time to time. Jack is over here on a working gap year and as much as I would have loved to have sent his dad pictures of his firstborn proudly holding a ‘stinking carp’ I decided that a proper saltwater bass caught on a lure would make the old man both jealous and proud. Although the forecast looked good for the weekend in question, with the wind easing back, the colour from the winter floods had yet to drop out of the inshore waters so our planned lure fishing session was switched to a nearby reservoir with pike in mind. Unfortunately, the pike were not having it but a few chunky trout with a liking for soft plastics made for a fun day and my young Aussie mate left a happy chappy.

Aussie 'fisho' Jack Harnwell chasing some pommie pike.

Aussie ‘fisho’ Jack Harnwell chasing some pommie pike.

I did squeeze in an early morning tench session but managed to pick the day after a cold night and sat biteless and bemused in what is a normally highly productive spot. Things were hardly going to plan at this point and I was hoping that Hampshire a mullet trip could rescue the situation. These fish need a bit more planning as the tides have to be right to justify the longer drive and to maximise fishing at the most productive times. I had also promised Thames Water’s Angling Manager Will Barnard a chance to catch his first ‘Grey Ghost’ so we picked the day with care. Arriving just as the tide was peaking we popped our heads over the sea wall to see the most promising of all sights – a shoal of big grey mullet, with several over four pounds, happily swimming around the pontoons right beside our chosen fishing spot. As ever, seeing mullet and catching them is not necessarily the same thing but I did manage to tempt a beauty of 3.15 to open my account for the year. Sadly Will missed the couple of chances that came his way but has definitely caught the mullet bug and is keen to return to the salt. Even if he did end the day losing his footing and collapsing into the tidal goo like a stranded seal !

The first 'Grey Ghost' of 2014

The first ‘Grey Ghost’ of 2014

Much as I love my roach, chub and barbel fishing on the rivers it really is great to have a change and pursue other species using different techniques. I have never been a single species angler and I don’t think I ever could be. One of the different techniques that I had to learn pretty damn quickly when I arrived in Australia in 2010 was how to fish with soft plastics. Lure fishing was just something I had never done with any real intent until I arrived in Sydney on my post parliamentary fishing sabbatical. Having learnt a few crucial knots and how to tell the difference between a jerk bait and a paddletail I can now call myself a lure fishing enthusiast, although certainly not an expert. Consequently when the Lure Anglers Society got in touch to ask me to be one of the speakers at their LureFair I was happy to oblige, having learnt their strange ways and with a few rather nice pictures of lure caught critters from around the world to pad out my talk.

The first person I bumped into was river guide and Zimbabwean exile Mark Anderson who was there promoting some of the great products in the Spro catalogue. Mark knows that my ambition for this year is catch myself a tarpon on my forthcoming trip to Cuba to celebrate a particularly significant birthday. And of course I will be taking a fly rod complete with the finest selection of tarpon ‘bunnies’ that the guys at Selectafly have on offer. However, much as I enjoy chucking the fluff at tropical sportsfish my fly casting is agricultural to say the least – particularly with a twelve weight rod and ‘half a dead chicken’ on the end into a stiff breeze. Given that we might only manage a couple of shots a day at the silver king, in between all those annoying bonefish and jacks, I figured that I wanted to have another option rather than miss the chance of a lifetime. Consequently I was on the hunt for some shallow water lures that could be worked over the top of the flats with a chance of attracting any tarpon that were beyond my limited fly casting range.

Mark took me through his range and we settled on the Spro Komodo Shads which I’ve seen my Angling Trust colleague, and well known lure guru, John Cheyne, use to great effect on pike in shallow weedy water. The next challenge is to find some weighted weedless hooks strong enough to cope with a big tarpon.

Komodo Shads - they work for pike but will they be tarpon candy?

Komodo Shads – they work for pike but will they be tarpon candy?

The irrepressible Mark Anderson at the Lurefair

The irrepressible Mark Anderson at the Lurefair

Before I go on any foreign fishing expedition where fly fishing might be required I make a point of contacting my mate Martin Webster who now runs the impressive Selectafly operation. There is very little Martin and his team of consultants don’t know about fly fishing in even the remotest corners of our planet. I’ve caught my first bonefish and first GT on their products and I daresay the first tarpon will be added to that list if the Fish Gods are smiling on me next month.

They’ve just revamped their website and added several new product ranges which you can check out here

So, the new ‘season’, whatever that means nowadays, is up and running. The sun is shining and the water is warming up nicely. I hope you are making the most of it – I certainly intend to !




Not Fracking Fit

14 Mar
The launch of 'Are we fit to Frack?' outside Parliament with MPs Alan Whitehead(Lab), Tessa Munt (LibDem) and Zac Goldsmith (Con)

Martin Salter (right) at the launch of ‘Are we fit to Frack? ‘-  Outside Parliament with MPs Alan Whitehead(Lab), Tessa Munt (LibDem) and Zac Goldsmith (Con)



It takes something to get groups as diverse as the RSPB, The National Trust, the Angling Trust and Salmon and Trout Association, and the Wildlife Trusts to sit around the same table for weeks on end to hammer out a shared position on a key issue. Perhaps we should thank the frackers of the UK shale gas industry for bringing us together to focus our collective fire on what they have got planned for our countryside?

Here at the Angling Trust we share the concerns of other wildlife groups about the impacts of fracking and the potential for water contamination, close to a range of fragile ecosystems and habitats including our beloved chalk streams.  Given that many of the licensed areas are uncomfortably close to the chalk aquifers of Southern and Eastern England we believe there is a strong case for designating particularly sensitive areas as ‘no frack’ zones. Obviously as anglers and conservationists we are concerned about the health of all our river systems but the English chalk rivers are particularly vulnerable due to the permeable nature of their aquifers.

85% of the worlds chalk streams are located in England and our stewardship of them has been lamentable. Many of these iconic rivers are suffering from over abstraction, habitat destruction, pollution and invasive species. Both our development control and water resource planning processes are woefully inadequate. Chalk aquifers have been over exploited as an easy and cheap source of ready filtered water at the expense of the environment in general and chalk streams in particular. There is an urgent need for abstraction reform and to restrict the depletion of groundwater sources.

As we said in our Charter for Chalk Streams, published last year:

“How can we lecture countries like Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo on their lack of care of the world’s rainforests when our own stewardship of the majority of the world’s chalk streams is so poor?”

A large proportion of the areas designated for fracking in the next licensing round are on top of the chalk aquifer

A large proportion of the areas designated for fracking in the next licensing round are on top of the chalk aquifer

And the situation across other catchments gives no reason to suggest that these rivers are capable of withstanding any further shocks to the system that fracking might bring. At the last count we had less than a quarter of all rivers achieving ‘good ecological status’ and over a third of catchments either over abstracted or over licensed for abstraction.

Rather than doing something positive about this parlous state of affairs in their current Water Bill the government has ducked the opportunity to address demand management through universal water metering, has failed to follow through on promised abstraction reform and is now trying to drive through wholesale fracking without first putting in place the necessary regulatory framework.

‘Are we fit to Frack’ is a serious, peer reviewed study which should be essential reading for every politician, planner and citizen who is either charged with making decisions on fracking sites or who cares about our countryside and wildlife. It is not an anti fracking polemic, in fact we have been accused of being defeatist by one, all too predictable, MP for even countenancing the prospect that fracking might go ahead at some point in the future. No, this is an evidenced based study which draws on the experiences of the USA and elsewhere and lays out sensible pre conditions which must be addressed before fracking is rolled out across our green and pleasant land.

Who can argue against proposed fracking sites being required to have a full environmental impact assessment or for the cost of regulation being met by the industry not the taxpayer?  Is anyone seriously suggesting that full transparency of the shale gas industry and its environmental impact is a bad thing or that monitoring and testing of shale gas operations should be anything other than rigorous and independent?

If I was an investor in shale gas, which I’m not, I would want to know that the industry was operating to the highest possible environmental standards. There’s no point politicians and the frackers bleating on about what tough rules we have here in the UK when this is a new industry with new challenges which is seeking to operate in some of the most sensitive locations in our countryside. Furthermore, the current regulatory structure, which is split between four government departments and agencies, was never designed to cope with the demands of up to 30,000 new applications to extract fossil fuels from deep underground shale seams using a process that has the potential, not only to use up precious water resources in already water stressed areas, but which could, without proper oversight, end up discharging polluted waste water into rivers, streams and the groundwater itself.

I don’t think for one moment that we will stop fracking, or even that we necessarily should, but I do think that until we sort out a regulatory regime that is fit for purpose we have to say, loud and clear, that we are simply not yet ‘Fit to Frack’.

You can download a copy of the summary report from the Angling Trust website here…

River Close Season – Is it time for a rethink?

3 Mar
With many rivers now effectively shut to fishing for six months anglers are once again asking if the river close season is due for review

With many rivers now effectively shut to fishing for six months anglers are once again asking if the river close season is due for review

Looking back through my diary since the turn of the year showed how few opportunities there has been in 2014 to grab a days fishing on a falling river over this backend period. For us river roach fanatics the weeks between Christmas and the end of the season can be a golden time. The weed has gone, natural food supplies are low and the fish, if you can find them, are in fine fettle. In a normal year the rivers have had at least one good flush through and are usually carrying sufficient height and colour to make for some promising prospects. And of course it’s not just roach that are in their prime at this time of year. Chub, dace and perch are all viable targets and will oblige if conditions are right. The problem being that with record rainfalls, approaching biblical proportions across much of the country, the conditions for backend fishing this year have been anything but right. Anglers on the larger rivers like the Thames and Severn have barely been able to get within half a mile of their favourite swims, much less fish them. All of which gives the annual close season debate a fair bit more intensity this time around.

But first it’s confession time. Back in 2000 the Independent Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Review proposed that the close season on rivers should be lifted other than “where its retention is necessary to avert serious risk of damage to fish stocks” but intervention by Parliament confirmed that it couldn’t be lifted until supporting scientific evidence was available. I’m afraid that I was part of that intervention as I’ve long held the view that the close season was necessary on rivers given all the other pressures on this fragile environment. The flaw in this argument is that the current three month closure between mid March and mid June has precious little basis in science.

Now there is absolutely no doubt that the river close season is a live issue amongst a minority of anglers, particularly focused around the Midlands, but there are strong views on the other side of the argument too. Here at the Angling Trust we have two of our most respected and valued ambassadors who who take diametrically opposed positions. Keith Arthur is a passionate supporter of retaining the existing close season whilst Dave Harrell has been arguing for many years that there is no logic in stopping anglers fishing during a period when the rivers are in prime condition and the fish are, in the main, nowhere near ready to spawn. With climate change delivering more and more extreme weather we are now facing the prospect of an effective six month shut down on many rivers. Not something that was ever envisaged in the 19th century when the current closures were introduced.

The devastating floods of 2014 have impacted on the tackle shops and the tackle trade as much as on any other business that relies on participation in an outdoor pursuit for survival. This has led the Angling Trust to write to the Prime Minister arguing that these businesses should be included in the floods compensation measures. It has also caused others to ask us to re-ignite the river close season debate and to make formal approaches to the Environment Agency and to government.

Now I don’t deny that issues that divide angling opinion are more tricky for us than those on which there is a broad consensus but that is no reason not to engage with them. The job of a national representative body is to take up important mainstream issues and to see if we can find a way through which would benefit our sport without harming the environment and the resource on which it depends. So that is precisely what Mark Lloyd and myself want to do. We first want to facilitate a serious debate within angling prior to approaching the EA and this article is our way of kicking things off. We very much hope that others will contribute their own thoughts and ideas.

 Some key points

We are not treading new ground here. The EA did conduct a very limited survey in 2003 to gauge anglers’ opinions on the river close season. Out of 173 responses from river anglers, 55 per cent supported the removal of the close season and 45 per cent didn’t. The subsequent National Angling Survey confirmed a division of opinion whilst polls in the angling media have shown weakening support for the current arrangements. More recently Steve Pope, the respected chairman of the Barbel Society and previous strong advocate of the close season, announced that his position has shifted and that he believed it was time for a rethink. So I reckon it’s fair to say that the ground is shifting in angling but what about the science?

The Environment Agency’s position on rivers remains that it feels it must take the precautionary stance of retaining the close season, until such time that it can be confident that removing it wouldn’t have a detrimental effect on fish populations. Its view is that this evidence could only be provided by an appropriate study being undertaken.Those advocating change need to accept that there is no way the close season will be altered in this country until such a study has been carried out. I hope all anglers will agree with this for as much as some may want to be able to fish on rivers all year round they certainly shouldn’t  want to do anything that might detrimentally affect the very fish populations that our sport relies upon.

Dace are one of the few coarse fish that can spawn before March 14th but we never seem to catch them once spawning begins

Dace are one of the few coarse fish that can spawn before March 14th but we never seem to catch them once spawning begins

What I think

I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do get to talk to lots of anglers, politicians, fishery managers and EA staff. I’m also a mad keen river angler who cares about the future of angling. My views on the river close season are evolving with the climate and the changing circumstances of river fishing which sees a lot less pressure on stocks nowadays. So here’s ten key points to kick off the debate…

1) There is no point expecting a risk averse organisation like the EA to do anything without testing both opinion and the science.

2) This is a live issue amongst a minority of anglers, particularly focused around the Midlands, but there are strong views on the other side of the argument too.

3) There are risks attached to compromising the conservation credentials of angling. The impacts of any disturbance to spawning areas are clearly more acute in smaller streams than in larger ones. And of course we use the presence of the river close season to argue against unfettered canoe access to smaller, non navigation, rivers and streams.

4) Issues that divide angling opinion are more tricky for us, however, that is no reason not to engage with them but it is a restraint.

5) There are differing close seasons on different game rivers, depending on local fish spawning patterns, so why not on coarse rivers?

6) Although close seasons are about protecting fish rather than tackle shops there is an issue about impacts on businesses.

7) The existing close season does not have a huge basis in science and is overdue for a review

8) Part of this review could include an experiment in a specific catchment. Perhaps the Severn?

9)  Some fish do feed when spawning. At the start of the 2013 season captured Wye barbel were secreting milt in mid June. On the other hand species like dace, whilst readily caught when shoaled up prior to spawning, seem to disappear once spawning commences.

10) Dace and pike are the early spawners, often in March, followed by a lull in April. Roach  and perch tend to spawn next and then chub and barbel in the May / June period. So I guess there’s an argument for closing the river pike season off on March 1st and shifting the river break to May and June. This way we would be delivering a longer river season at the optimum time for both anglers and fish and without compromising our conservation credentials.

These are just a few of my personal thoughts but I hope people find them helpful. Although I am clear that the EA should lead the process of reviewing the river close season I believe that the Angling Trust should stand ready to facilitate, as we have in the past.

The Angling Trust  is keen to hear anglers views on this subject. So … it time to rethink the close season on rivers?

Let’s not unlearn the lessons about dredging – A Guest Blog from Charles Clover

11 Feb
Charles Clover - telling it how it is.

Charles Clover – telling it how it is.

You don’t have to have spent half a lifetime as an angler, boater or wildfowl enthusiast to have a basic understanding of how river catchments work and what makes flooding more or less likely – but it helps. As the flooding crisis has unfolded, the lack of science and evidence in the public debate on these issues has become more and more apparent. In particular, claims that the widespread use of dredging can act as a flood prevention measure are not only unsupported by science and evidence, they can seem like an offer of false hope to those living in flood prone communities. Whilst addressing the immediate needs of communities must of course take priority at the moment, anglers in particular are concerned that politicians could be about to take us back to the 1960’s and 70’s and turn many rivers into straightened flood channels in order to be seen to be ‘doing something’. Never mind that the evidence shows that we should be holding water back for as long as possible at the top of the catchments, ending damaging farming practices and protecting the floodplains from development. Reclaimed marshland apart, the studies show that in many cases dredging can actually make flooding worse by moving the waters down too quickly and heightening the flood peaks in vulnerable, downstream areas.

All this is before we even begin to consider the ecological and environmental damage that dredging can do. Anglers know this but do our politicians?

That’s why the Angling Trust is working hard with other organisations to try and get some good, old fashioned evidence back into the public debate on what to do about flooding in the context of a changing climate. We are pleased to publish here a serious and considered contribution by Charles Clover, author of End of the Line, keen fisherman and a respected environmental commentator.

Martin Salter


 Charles Clover, a keen fisherman, is Executive chairman of Blue Marine Foundation –  a charity dedicated to marine reserves, also an author, a columnist The Sunday Times and the former Environment Editor at The Daily Telegraph.

People who work in flood defence dread the moment when the debate gets dirty and personal, when the floodwaters rise and the complaints and name-calling begins. That is the moment when years of meticulous planning to protect lives and property are tested and sometimes found wanting.  It happened in East Yorkshire and in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, in 2007 and in Cockermouth, Cumbria in 2009. In December 2013, after a summer of rain, it happened for the third time in 14 months in the Somerset Levels and Moors.

As 2014’s third wettest January on record turned to a wet February and some 62 square kilometres of the Levels were still under floodwater and likely to remain so for weeks, recriminations began. Strident voices challenged not only the management of the Levels by the Environment Agency and others, but the management of rivers all over Britain. The old 1960s cry of “dredge,” became the rallying call and the chant of landowners again.

When Lord Smith, the Environment Agency’s chairman, dared utter the obvious truth that Treasury spending rules limit the amount that can be spent on flood defence in sparsely populated countryside compared with heavily populated areas, his comments were received with outrage by the president of the Country Landowners’ Association, Henry Robinson. Robinson retorted “we simply cannot carry on like this” and called for the government to deregulate dredging for landowners everywhere.

Would defending farmland from flooding again be a good thing, or even possible, on the Somerset Levels or elsewhere? That is what we need to ask before the emotions of the sodden winter of 2014 lead us to unlearn lessons acquired over many decades. We now know that it is better in most circumstances to slow water down, to allow the upper reaches and the water meadows to flood naturally, as they have always done, instead of forcing water downstream to flood someone else and at considerable cost to the ecology of the river.

The Somerset Levels are a special case. Historically a swamp, where King Alfred hid from the Danes, the Levels have always been wet. Farmers there resisted drainage long after Cornelius Vermuyden drained the Fens. So the Levels and Moors were never engineered as much.  There isn’t anywhere like the Hundred Food Washes for the water to go – so it spills onto farmland. There is enormous sympathy for the 40 homeowners around villages such as Muchelney that have been flooded but figuring out what to do about it remains a conundrum. Dredging the rivers Parrett, Brue and Axe, which are above the level of the land, could increase their capacity to take floodwater but even the local drainage boards don’t think that dredging will provide the long term solution that the Prime Minister appears to believe it will. The drainage boards’ ten point plan also recommends storing more water in upper catchments, relocating vulnerable households, and providing support for farmers whose land is used as storage areas for water.  New evidence on the amount of silt caused by growing maize in the upper catchment indicates that as much work needs to be done on land management issues there as on the rivers that drain the Levels and Moors.

Why should we now have to contemplate dredging in rivers across the rest of the country, when expert opinion says it is only a partial solution for an engineered wetland?  Will there really be benefits for flood defence or will it just make flooding worse?  We need evidence on where dredging is appropriate, if at all. We will need to look very carefully at the conclusions of the seven pilot studies sanctioned by Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, in which farmers will be allowed to dredge rivers [delete: all over the country]. My feeling is that the experience of the past 50 years will be shown to be true, that channels dredged will never be enough to hold the results of a true downpour, while immense ecological damage will be done and floodwater simply moved down to the nearest town. That, unless we resist, could be the expensive legacy of this wet winter long after the strident voices have ceased.



Amplifying our Influence

1 Feb
 Dead trees and and a devastated fishery shows why we will never agree with the RSPB over cormorants but there's more issues that unite than  divide environmental groups from anglers argues Martin Salter

Dead trees and and a devastated fishery shows why we will never agree with the RSPB over cormorants but there’s more issues that unite than divide environmental groups from anglers argues Martin Salter

I’ve just penned a rather ranty piece for my old mate Jim Harnwell, who edits the leading fishing magazine in Australia, on why Aussie ‘fishos’ should grow out of their aversion to working with other environmental organisations, or ‘bloody greenies’ as they are more commonly referred to Down Under. This was in part inspired by several months of joint work on a whole range of issues with colleagues from the Blueprint for Water Coalition of which the Angling Trust is an active member. Although we are never going to agree with RSPB over issues like cormorant controls I would far rather have them on our side when we are campaigning on issues like the Severn Barrage, against a return to wholesale dredging of our rivers and streams and for an end to unsustainable abstractions that have damaged fisheries and destroyed important habitat for both fish and birds.

The yawning chasm between many environmentalists and the recreational fishing sector in Australia genuinely shocked me during my time out there and led to me to write my Keep Australia Fishing report for the tackle and boating industry. It is a great shame in a country that is fishing crazy, that two groups of people, who, on the face of it, share much in common, should be daggers drawn.

This situation is certainly not so evident in Europe and the USA. Granted the relationships are not without tension but many campaigns to protect and improve the aquatic environment, on which fishing depends, are made all the stronger when there is an effective alliance between green groups and the recreational fishing sector. As I argued in my report…

‘There is no future in having recreational fishers in one corner and environmentalists in the other, for without a healthy aquatic environment and a sustainably managed fishery there will be no recreational fishing in the long term.’

But almost wherever you look, cormorants apart, the fact remains that what is good for fish is good for birds and other wildlife and those organisations concerned with protecting the natural environment see us anglers as great allies in a common cause. And that gives us greater political clout and influence without ever compromising our core role in fighting for fish and fishing.

One of our most best known environmental columnists is George Monbiot, not always someone I agree with, but here’s what he wrote about angling, conservation and commercial over fishing the other day.

It might seem strange for a lover of the natural world to come out in favour of a hobby that involves catching and killing wild animals. But anyone who has come to know a few anglers cannot help but make a couple of observations. The first is that many of the most effective campaigns to protect both marine and freshwater ecosystems have been launched or propelled by sport fishers. They have campaigned fiercely against pollution, dredging, dumping and overfishing. You cannot have healthy fish stocks without a healthy aquatic environment, and few anglers are unaware of that. ……Few people spend as much time outdoors watching and waiting. It is hard under these circumstances not to develop some interest in and love for the natural world. Perhaps as a result, many environmental campaigners were keen anglers when they were children: I count myself among them.

Given that the fierce debate over angling bans in Marine Parks which poisoned relationships between the two sectors in Australia, I was pleased to read Monbiot’s comments in the same article over allowing sport fishing in conservation zones when he said:

It would surely have made more sense to have allowed kinds of sport fishing that cause little damage inside the conservation zones. The anglers would doubtless have been prepared to accept catch limits and other restrictions, in return for much higher populations of fish.

Read the full article here…

Now I’m the first to admit that there are good and bad greens just as there both canny and dumb rec fishing advocates and I’ve been the first to decry those anti fishing groups as ‘lifestyle fascists’ for seeking to impose their personal choices on others. But the fact remains, as Monbiot says, those who love to fish are natural environmental campaigners. And of course it’s not just in the UK that environmentalists and anglers work together on common causes.

In the USA

One of the great American recreational fishing advocates is Tom Sadler, of the Middle River Group of Verona, Virginia, who has for decades worked with recreational fishers in conserving and rehabilitating fish habitat through joint ventures and alliances with conservation groups. This is what Tom wrote on the need for joint working following his recent Australian trip where he was a guest speaker at the 2010 Fishers for Fish Habitat in New South Wales.

The other thing that works, and admittedly it has not been easy, is working with the environmental groups. There was an undercurrent of disdain from some at the forum for the so-called greenies. The US went through, and in some cases is still going through, the challenges of working with our environmental colleagues.

While here in the US they don’t always share the exact same goals as the recreational fishing community, much of what they focus on benefits recreational fishing. Land conservation, water quality, habitat funding, and similar issues are some of the large-scale challenges that both groups not only care deeply about but are working for similar if not identical outcomes. It would be a mistake to ignore the opportunity to seek common ground with the environmental groups and look for the areas where the desired outcomes are in alignment and then work together to leverage each other’s strengths.

Trout Unlimited - Great conservation partners in the USA

Trout Unlimited – Great conservation partners in the USA

More recently I had occasion to get back in touch with Trout Unlimited, one of our sister organisations in the US, over the threats posed by fracking for shale gas to groundwater supplies and fisheries. I was not at all surprised to hear that the well organised rec fishing lobby in America was building broad alliances amongst themselves and with conservation organisations to face down a common threat. I can’t see something like this happening on a national basis in Australia anytime soon which is a sad state of affairs in my view.

Making common cause

Making common cause

Here’s what Chris Hunt from Trout Unlimited told me:

‘We’re working like dogs on fracking in the U.S., particularly as it relates to your exact worries—water consumption and water contamination.  Our mission, of course, is to mobilize anglers on conservation issues, and fracking is a big one for us, both in the Rockies, where the practice has, indeed, been blamed for tarnishing groundwater quality, and in the East, where the Marcellus formation in under Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia is attracting the gas industry like flies to flop.’


One of the big players in the battle over fracking is the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) whose mission statement states:


‘We guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish by uniting and amplifying our partners’ voices to strengthen federal policy and funding.’

I particularly like the concept of “amplifying our partners’ voices” to take an important issue beyond the confines of special pleading by the recreational fishing sector and into the mainstream arena by forging effective alliances. Check out the organisation listed in the TRCP and you’ll see how they are able to tap into constituencies that go far beyond those who just like to fish.

It rained a lot in January - closing Sonning Bridge on the Thames near Reading - and dredging the river would have brought down the floodwaters from the Cotswolds even quicker !

It rained a lot in January – closing Sonning Bridge on the Thames near Reading – and dredging the river would have brought down the floodwaters from the Cotswolds even quicker !

Back to the Future?

Returning to my current bugbear about dredging, which is now nightly in the news as the mythical wonder bullet to solve all flooding, despite the fact that the figures show that the UK received 164.6mm (6.5in) of rain in January, 35 per cent above the long-term average, with 175.2mm (6.9in) in South East and Central England, more than twice the regional average and the highest since records began. Environmental groups, angling organisations, flood defence staff and water management professionals are becoming increasingly concerned that the political and media focus on the Somerset levels, with the constant clamour for increased dredging, has the potential to undo years of work in securing the adoption of more sustainable practices in watercourse management. There are many case studies and evidential reports that show clearly that dredging can often make flooding worse not better and in many cases simply increases the flood peaks creating increased flooding at the downstream end of the catchments. Dredging can also lead to a number of other deleterious, unintended consequences such as severe bank erosion and ecological harm.

This is evidenced in the EA’s recent study into the impacts of dredging here

And for a practical demonstration of the unintended consequences of dredging check out this brilliant little video made by our colleagues in the Wild Trout Trust. It would be nice if some of less informed politicians and commentators were to take time out to view it too.

In artificial and reclaimed landscapes like the Somerset Levels, much of which lies below sea levels there is an acknowledged role for dredging of some main watercourses but also a significant role for sustainable management of water on the floodplain. The concern is that as politicians seek to be seen to be ‘doing something’ in response to the media story in Somerset greater currency is given to calls for a return to a policy of wholesale dredging that caused so much damage in the past.

In situations like these it is of prime importance that the Angling Trust is in a position to work quickly and effectively with strong national organisations that share our concerns and who are similarly committed to protecting the rivers, fish and the wildlife habitat which they support. By ‘amplifying our voices’ we increase the chances of retaining natural watercourses rather than canalised and straightened river channels that are no good to neither man nor fish.

Floody Madness !

17 Jan
Government policies are making flooding more likely - and that's without Climate Change!

Government policies are making flooding more likely – and that’s without Climate Change!

I like to think of myself as a relatively even tempered sought of a bloke but I have to admit that listening to the garbage being spouted by the press, politicians and a fair few of general public over why rivers valleys are flooding this winter does wear my patience a little thin. Supposedly intelligent people come up with the most ludicrous theories when it comes to this subject and I am getting heartedly sick of politicians spouting facts about flood defence and dredging that simply aren’t true. This is one subject where us anglers usually know more than most about how river catchments work and why things happen the way they do.

I’ll never forget taking part in a debate in the House of Commons in the aftermath of the 2003 floods where the then MP for Marlow, not usually a stupid man, was trotting out some conspiracy theory about how the Jubilee River, a Thames flood relief channel which bypasses the vulnerable and low lying areas around Windsor and Maidenhead and discharges back into the main river below Slough, was causing the Thames to back up and flood his constituency. I couldn’t resist reminding the Honourable Member that water tends not to flow up hill and certainly not for some 10 miles and over several weirs!

Mind you this is nothing compared to what was posted on You Tube this month in the aftermath of the flooding in the Loddon Valley in Berkshire. The caption accompanying some impressive aerial photography of the middle Thames floodplain looking decidedly soggy claimed that the floodwaters were due to the operation of the Thames Barrier some 50 miles downstream below the Port of London. As my local EA fisheries officer pointed out, for the Thames Barrier to cause any significant backing up, even as far as West London never mind Berkshire, the top of St Paul’s Cathedral would have been under several feet of flood water.

A flooded river Loddon in Berkshire - Happy Xmas 2013

A flooded river Loddon in Berkshire – Happy Xmas 2013

Recently I have had to patiently explain to a number of otherwise sensible folk that the Environment Agency isn’t actually deliberately deciding to sacrifice community A to save community B. Once a major river is overtopping the weirs, banks and locks there is no control as to where the floodwaters go save for the force of gravity. Water finds its own level and no amount of fiddling with submerged lock gates or weir paddles is going to make the slightest difference in a critical flood event. The more relevant question to ask is why are we having more serious floods –possibly something to do with allowing irresponsible development and intensive agricultural practices on the floodplain?

I don’t always agree with the guy but there was a superb piece in the Guardian recently by George Monbiot that sets out precisely why draining the headwaters of river catchments, concreting over the water meadows and straightening and dredging river channels has seen floodwaters charging downstream at an ever more alarming rate… By failing to store floodwater higher up the systems in nature’s reservoirs we are quite deliberately creating more and more flooding misery. Worse still, we are incentivising farmers to carry on with the same damaging practices and we have a government which seems hell-bent on deregulating harmful dredging and loosening planning protections in the floodplain.

At the Angling Trust we have been working with other environmental groups to warn that government policies are making flood damage more, not less, likely and that their proposed cuts will limit the ability of the Environment Agency to offer help, warning and support to flood-hit communities. Both the Prime Minister and the Environment Secretary have claimed that flood defence work was being protected from planned cuts but it is now clear this is not the case. Here’s a particularly good piece from Friends of the Earth which takes apart the claims on flood defence spending.

Martin Salter with some of campaigners who have spent years protecting the Kennet water meadows from harmful development

Martin Salter with some of campaigners who have spent years protecting the Kennet water meadows from harmful development

And of course many of the 1,700 EA staff whose jobs are set to disappear in the next year are either working directly in flood defence, or have been seconded in from other parts of the Agency such as Fisheries, Planning, Waste Control or Mapping during the recent floods to help out. If their jobs are cut, there will be fewer staff to provide back up in future floods and other functions – such as pollution prevention and enforcement – will struggle to deliver their statutory duties effectively.

Furthermore, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s attempts to deregulate dredging in water meadows, so vital for storing flood water, flies in the face of advice from his own department who have warned that this could contribute to an increase in flood risk further downstream by creating higher flood peaks. In a study published last year the Environment Agency issued a dire warning against increasing dredging in the floodplain which concluded that far from reducing flood risk dredging can “speed up flows and potentially increase the risk of flooding downstream.”

And just when it seemed that things couldn’t get much worse came the well sourced report in the Telegraph this week that the Coalition Government is preparing to mount a fresh assault on planning laws by giving developers the power to push though applications without the need for council approval or environmental assessments, including the requirements to incorporate flood defences and to protect important water meadows.

Not a pretty picture is it? I can only repeat the message we put out to our politicians this week in the hope that as we wait for the inevitable next round of flood misery they begin to wonder whether their own policies might just have been part of the problem.

Rather than paddling around in the floodplain crying crocodile tears for the victims of the floods, politicians of all parties should start unwinding policies and plans that will make a bad situation many times worse. It is crassly irresponsible to be axing any posts in the already over-stretched Environment Agency when we know climate change is going to make extreme flood events more, not less likely. Relaxing planning consents and deregulating dredging on the floodplain is downright stupid and flies in the face of evidence and advice from the government’s own experts and advisors……As anglers we know how dangerous rivers can be and how important it is to avoid situations where water is running off the floodplain and into already overloaded river channels. We can’t dredge our way out of flooding but we can call a halt to policies that prevent the water meadows from doing their job and operating as natural reservoirs. Functioning water meadows are good for the environment, good for fish and wildlife and are the best flood defences we can have.

Is anyone out there listening?

Looking back on a good year

21 Dec


Martin Salter drumming up support from MPs for the Angling Trust's Action on Cormorants campaign

Martin Salter spent much of 2013 drumming up support from MPs for the Angling Trust’s Action on Cormorants campaign

This time last year I was looking ahead to my second full year of working for the Angling Trust and predicted that much time and energy would be expended on the battles over cormorant predation, hydropower and the Severn Barrage, canoe trespass, declining marine stocks, over abstraction of chalk streams and trying to improve the government’s draft water bill which was threatening to make a bad situation even worse. On the personal fishing front I was aiming to bag my first ever bonefish and my first Giant Trevally on the fly on a trip to the Seychelles. Closer to home the targets were another Scottish salmon, a big Irish bass, a five pound grey mullet, some more two pound roach and to finally crack that double figure tench. Nothing too ambitious then!

That first beautiful bar of fishy gold from the Uruguay River was a pretty unforgettable moment in 2013

That first beautiful bar of fishy gold from the Uruguay River was a pretty unforgettable moment in 2013

I’ve always liked to have targets, dreams and ambitions – they keep me positive and ensure that the childlike enthusiasm that infects us lifelong anglers remains alive. I left frontline politics behind me in 2010 so that I could travel the world, pursue some of these dreams and devote myself to campaigning about the things that matter most to me. I can honestly say that I’ve never had a moment’s regret from the day I retired from the House of Commons and threw myself into this new fishing life. One of the joys of now working as a freelancer is that I can make time to do the things that I never could when I was tied either to a career or a constituency.

With Christmas and the New Year celebrations just days away now is perhaps a good time to look back on the past twelve months and see how things turned out.

Like all good anglers I’m going to start by blaming the weather. Ten years ago the Climate Change scientists predicted a marked increase in extreme weather patterns and they weren’t wrong. We spent much of 2012 worrying about a record drought. Then came the record summer rains, and then the winter rains, and then an unseasonally cold and dry spring followed by a summer heatwave – at which point the fish lost all sense of time and place to the extent that the Wye barbel were still secreting milt in July and the tench in some lakes were carrying spawn as late as August. With the salmon rivers reduced to a trickle and the surf all but absent from the Irish coastline I could see that some of my fishing targets might be a little challenging to say the least.

Big Thames Valley tench were in short supply thanks to the cold Spring but a good sprinkling of six and seven pounders kept a smile on my face in the early part of the year.

Big Thames Valley tench were in short supply thanks to the cold Spring but a good sprinkling of six and seven pounders kept a smile on my face in the early part of the year.

It was however, a very good year for the Angling Trust. Our membership grew and both our funding and influence increased substantially. January saw me back in the ‘old place’ giving evidence to a Commons Select Committee on why the proposed Severn Barrage would be a disaster for both the Bristol Channel and the migratory fish runs on the Severn, Wye and Usk. In February we courted controversy with our attempts to prevent ‘Keith’ the seal from munching his way through the freshwater fish stocks of the Severn and Teme and with the publication of our ‘Dossier of Destruction’ on the impacts of unsustainable cormorant predation. In March we highlighted the disgraceful online Rod Licence Rip Off whereby cowboy companies were charging a 30% fee to unsuspecting anglers. This was a direct consequence of a stupid ban on marketing that the government imposed on the Environment Agency which we’ve now got lifted. April saw us launch Dave Harrell’s RiverFest competition which aimed to get competitive angling back on natural venues and offered the largest ever prize, £10,000, for a river match in the UK. In May the Angling Trust partnered up with the Salmon and Trout Association, WWF and the Wildlife Trusts to launch the Charter for Chalk Streams which proposed an action plan to halt the decline of these iconic environmental assets, 85% of which are situated here in England. We celebrated the halfway point of the year with the news that the government looked set to throw out the Severn Barrage plans in favour of more environmental and fish friendly solutions to harness the tidal power of this great estuary.

The Angling Trust's Charter for Chalk Streams hit the national headlines this year and framed the discussions around the government's water bill.

The Angling Trust’s Charter for Chalk Streams hit the national headlines this year and framed the discussions around the government’s water bill.

Things were less successful on the home fishing front. I came nowhere near repeating that stunning brace of two pound Hampshire Avon roach which was the undoubted highlight of the previous year. The tench were slow to wake up and after five consecutive blanks at my specimen Thames Valley gravel pit I migrated towards some easier venues which saw me land plenty of tincas but none over eight pounds. The salmon fishing trip up North was good for a suntan and not much else and likewise the Irish bass although I did nail a reasonable fish at night. The mullet were more obliging and I did have a decent bass session in the Solent which included a surprise personal best 4.5lbs wrasse.

My best wrasse by some way even if it was caught accidentally while bass fishing!

My best wrasse by some way even if it was caught accidentally while bass fishing!

Even without casting a line the trip to the Alphonse Island in the Seychelles was going to be awesome but those screaming bonefish runs and the brutal power of a GT on a fly rod have burnished images into my brain that will never fade. My wife had a special birthday coming up in March and we still had a few savings left in our Australian bank account so a trip back to see our friends in Sydney and a return to the paradise that is Lord Howe Island seemed the best way to mark the occasion. As ever the fishing was outstanding and this time I was able to realise a long held ambition to fish around Ball’s Pyramid – the tallest ocean stack in the world. For once the famous kingfish of Lord Howe were nowhere to be seen but some crazy silver trevally more than made up for it. These brutes absolutely annihilate any weak point in the tackle and although our 30lb outfits could tame the smaller fish up to around ten kilos far too many bigger specimens made it down to the reef below.

The impressive Ball's Pyramid, the largest 'ocean stack' in the world and home to some serious fishes !

The impressive Ball’s Pyramid, the largest ‘ocean stack’ in the world and home to some serious fishes !

I thought that was going to be it for foreign travel but later on in the year I was lucky enough to be invited by Classic Angling editor to take up a spare place on a long planned trip to the Uruguay River after the beautiful golden dorado. Despite 5 metres of filthy floodwater the fish obliged and several stunning bars of fishy gold were added to my personal bucket list.

It was at the Game Fair in July that soon to be departed Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon made his announcement on a new scheme to allow for better controls on cormorants and goosanders and the following month saw us again working with Benyon to try and restrict the sale of the deadly pesticide Chlorpyrifos which caused a 15 kms wipe out of invertebrates on the upper Kennet. In September we weighed into the fracking controversy with a warning that the environmental protections were too weak to adequately protect rivers and groundwater supplies. This was after consultation with our colleagues in Trout Unlimited who have been fighting the frackers for years in the US.

Like these tackle busting silver trevally

Like these tackle busting silver trevally

Whilst the water bill arguments are still on-going the year ended with a flurry of activity including a trip to Lisbon to speak at the Pure Fishing workshop on conservation, the launch of our evidence dossier on organised canoe trespass, the publication of Sea Angling 2012 which estimated the economic value of recreational sea fishing to be close to £2 billion per annum, confirmation from new Fisheries Minister George Eustice that Benyon’s bass minimum landing size review was still alive and the start of an exciting project to promote and protect crucian carp fisheries.

Thames Water's angling development officer Will Barnard helping out at the Ufton Adventure charity fishing lake

Thames Water’s angling development officer Will Barnard helping out at the Ufton Adventure charity fishing lake where the baby tench are growing well

As it happens in my ‘spare’ time I chair a charity in Reading that provides enrichment activities for kids from challenging backgrounds. This has included a big fundraising drive to build an outdoor education centre at Ufton on the outskirts of Reading. And of course fishing is outdoor education, at least it should be, so we have developed one of the ponds on the estate into a fishery for youngsters staying at the camp. The small tench we stocked two years ago are now of a catchable size and this winter we’ve added a healthy sprinkling of crucian carp. I’m a huge fan of these quintessential English fish and I’m looking forward to playing my part in teaching young people to fish the proper way – with a float !

Crucian carp, the fish of the future, if I have my way!

Crucian carp, the fish of the future, if I have my way!

RiverFest founder Dave Harrell and Angling Trust boss Mark Lloyd present the cheques and trophy to 'Spud Murphy and the other winners of a great two day final on the Wye at Hereford

RiverFest founder Dave Harrell and Angling Trust boss Mark Lloyd present the cheques and trophy to  the winners of a great two day final on the Wye at Hereford

Perhaps one of the real highlights for me in my Angling Trust role was the successful RiverFest final on the wonderful Wye at Hereford. The river was in perfect nick and fining down nicely after rain the week before. It was great to see our highly skilled finalists practising their art on a fish filled river with some great catches of roach, dace, chub and barbel all earning serious prize money for the lucky winners. The prize giving was a sea of happy faces as the video here shows and it really was something to see competitive angling returning to the rivers. One of my targets for next year is to help Dave Harrell secure some significant sponsorship for RiverFest so that it can become a regular event in the angling calendar.



As for plans and predictions for 2014 ? Well I intend to celebrate my 60th birthday with a tarpon from Cuba and a big tench from the Cotswold Water Park. I’m going to try for a big chub and a barbel from my local River Loddon and I’m determined to bag a decent bass before the netsmen crash the fishery.

On the work front I’m looking forward to the start of the Thames Tunnel to finally clean up the tidal river in London and I’m confident the Angling Trust will go from strength to strength as the body that fights effectively for fish and fishing.

Isn’t it about time you made it a New Year’s resolution to join us?

Go to or call 0844 7700616


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