A Life Well Fished – Roger Wyndham Barnes

7 Sep

A Life Well Fished – Roger Wyndham Barnes

 This will be the first in an occasional series, to be hosted on the Angling Trust website, of tributes to anglers who have made a remarkable contribution to our sport and who have recently passed on to that ‘great river in the sky’. It is not intended to be an encyclopaedia of the famous, rather an opportunity for friends and colleagues to mark the passing of those who touched their lives in a particularly special way.

I can think of few more appropriate souls whose passing typifies the allure of this shared watery world than Roger Wyndham Barnes – the last of the Thames professional angling guides whose recent death, following the diagnosis of a brain tumour in 2013, prompted a flood of affectionate tributes from far and wide. John Bailey, Keith Arthur, Jon Ward-Allen, Keith Elliott, Ian Welch, Steve Wozniak and many more have penned generous memories of this lovely man. But we start with the words of his good friend John Buckingham.

Roger was many things, artist, writer, bluesman, biker and great storyteller, but above all he was a natural countryman and had the ability to read a river or a landscape. He wasn’t just in the countryside he was a part of it, and the spirit of the river, its moods and its seasons, flowed in his blood.

Although an accomplished writer Roger never sought a high profile for himself, preferring simply to pass on his skills and love for the river to others. He wrote not to deadlines but when the spirit grabbed him and some of his observations in publications such as Waterlog and Thames Guardian and for the Golden Scale Club are heartfelt celebrations of the natural environment. Hardly surprising then that he was a staunch supporter of the old ACA and subsequently a member of the Angling Trust. I first came across his musings in a series of delightful contributions he provided for our local Twyford & District FC newsletter. I loved the way he always signed off with the words ‘Enjoy the River’ – something we should do over and above just catching fish.

http://www.tdfc.org.uk//documents/newsletters/TDFC%20Newsletter%20September%202004.pdf

Roger featured in a number of broadcasts including weirpool fishing with Chris Yates, and in this rather lovely episode of On the Fly with John Bailey:

http://www.horseandcountry.tv/episode/fly-john-bailey-episode-11

And it was not just anglers like Peter Wheat, Keith Elliott and myself who packed into that church in Twyford for Roger’s funeral on August 12, for Roger Barnes was known for his music as much as for his fishing. As lead singer for Jive Alive he has performed with some of the best Blues artists of his generation, including Alexis Korner and members of the Yardbirds, as this great obituary by Alan Clayson in the Guardian illustrates:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/aug/26/roger-wyndham-barnes-obituary

Whilst, sadly, I never had the opportunity to fish with Roger, as a fellow Thames angler I have been aware of his exploits and his remarkable effect on those who did have the chance to share a little magic with Old Man River.

 

Goodbye Old Man River

Roger Wyndham Barnes - The Last of the Thames Proffesionals ?

Roger Wyndham Barnes – The Last of the Thames Professionals?

 

John Buckingham – Roger’s fishing friend

 Roger invited me out for a days fishing in his boat, (a small dinghy called Natty Dreadnought) and we fished all those wonderful places that you can’t reach from the bank; I found him to be an easy companion, as happy to be quiet as to talk (a much underrated quality), and with a real desire to put his companion “on the fish” and give them a memorable day. In addition he could name pretty much any bird, butterfly, insect, tree or plant, had a comprehensive knowledge of the history of the river, the origin of place names and a ready supply of wit and humour. A day in the boat with Roger was never dull.

It was the first of many trips and we had some great adventures (and a couple of very close shaves) in that boat. He also took other friends out and one of these suggested that he could become a fishing guide and make some money from his expertise and offered to lend him the money for a bigger boat Muddy Waters. On our next few trips I was his practice client and it wasn’t long before he started to build up a list of regular paying clients, setting out from Lower Shiplake where he kept the boat. After some time one of his clients, who was disabled, offered to help Roger buy a boat that would be more suited to his disability and Roger bought a Suffolk Punt The Compleat Angler which is the boat you will be familiar with at Marlow. At about the same time Roger managed to get himself installed as the “angling guide in residence” to the Compleat Angler hotel in Marlow, hence the name of the boat and it’s location. From then on his trips were centred on Marlow weir and Temple and Hurley, the two weirs upstream, and his knowledge of these three weirs, and the waters in between, grew with every trip. His main focus seemed to become pike fishing, at which he was very successful, but he could also find you perch, roach, barbel, chub, pretty much whatever took your fancy. Roger was an old-fashioned fisherman who had a preference for simple methods and traditional baits; although he did experiment with pellets occasionally he couldn’t tell you what a helicopter rig was to save his life. It was this approach, and his writing, that led to his induction into the Golden Scale Club where he fully embraced their enthusiasm for centrepin reels, “creaking cane” and the “pink indispensable” (luncheon meat!). Much of Rogers’ tackle had seen better days but his success with it proves that it’s not what you use but how you use it that counts. His disdain for the modern world included technology and many of us tried to explain to him how e-mail and the internet could help to boost his business. Instead he steadfastly stuck to a landline telephone and beautifully written letters to communicate with his clients which became part of the charm of the enterprise. It was one of Rogers’ regrets that as his business grew he had less time to take friends out on the river or to fish himself but he was proud, and I think a little surprised, to have become the latest chapter in the long history of fishing guides on the Thames, which he researched in detail for a possible book.

Chasing barbel for clients in Marlow weir

Chasing barbel for clients in Marlow weir

Although it was probably his dream occupation being a fishing guide was not always easy. In adverse conditions when the fish were not cooperating it could be a long and hard day to keep a client satisfied and send him home with the feeling that the day had been worthwhile. I accompanied Roger on a couple of these trips and it is not something that I would want to do twice, but Roger would work tirelessly and with infinite patience to secure some sort of result. Even when fish were abundant there were some clients who lacked sufficient expertise with the tackle or the technique to succeed, and again Rogers’ patience and fortitude were put to the test but he would always remain upbeat and humorous whatever the challenge.  If he hooked a good fish on his own rod he would always hand it to the client to land; he gave up some of the best fish of his angling career that way. Again, it is a measure of the man that these days never dented his enthusiasm for the job in hand. Summer days could be long, with an early start and 12 hours or more in the boat, and in winter he could find himself out in all weathers, and river conditions, sometimes three or four days in succession which began to take it’s toll in later years (Roger was 65 when he made his last trip). Over the years he featured in several T.V. appearances with such people as Chris Yates and John Bailey, his first appearance being on Countryfile where he came across as a quietly spoken and knowledgeable waterman. He could have made more money than he did from his endeavours but never really had an idea of what his expertise and service were worth in the modern age. Many of his clients would provide a generous tip at the end of the day (sometimes as much as the daily fee) and Roger was always reluctant to accept and never really understood what he had done to deserve such largesse.

A day in the boat with Roger, even a blank, was always a joy, a delight and an education. His company, knowledge and humour was worth the fee alone; the fishing was a bonus. It is a testament to the man that several of his clients visited him during his illness and attended his funeral, including one who came all the way from California to pay his final respects. (Roger would be completely bemused that nearly 300 people attended his funeral). There is no doubt in my mind that the world is a poorer place for his passing but for me his spirit will always be alive in the river. I have only covered his angling life as I know it, but he had as deep an influence in his other roles, especially as a blues musician. His band, Jive Alive, are one of the tightest and most accomplished little house bands that you will ever see, and all members of it, both permanent and transient, pay tribute to Roger as one of the best band leaders that they have worked with, without any of the ego or self regard that usually accompanies the role of lead vocalist; he only cared about the music. Roger called their output “The Loddon Delta Blues”, and to those of us who knew him well, especially the anglers, there is no doubt that the Loddon Delta exists as an identity, and that Rogers’ spirit was, and always will be, woven deeply into it’s very roots.

Roger knew every secret spot there was on the middle Thames from Shiplake to Marlow

Roger knew every secret spot there was on the middle Thames from Shiplake to Marlow

John Bailey – Writer and Broadcaster

Roger was the most lovely, gentle, unassuming, generous and fun angler
you would ever fish with. Old School is an overly used phrase and I
don’t really know what it is meant to convey however Roger was the time
of decent values personified. I first saw the man fish for roach all
day from a boat in Northern Ireland. The fish weren’t especially large
but Roger put style over weight and just enjoyed himself, in a boat,
away from the worries of his world. And he was bloody good at it too.

I fished with him on the Thames, from his punt and I count myself hugely
lucky. It has been said Roger was the last of the Old Thames
Professionals and there is truth in that. A day with him was what the
Victorians would have recognised and cherished. It was like Roger rowed
us back in time, to a better age somehow.

Roger would have been amazed at this outpouring of tribute I know. He saw himself as nothing special
but we all know differently. Special does him nowhere near justice.
Uniquely magnificent I would say and the angling world is poorer and
will miss him.. The loss of Roger is a loss to us all who know what
fishing at its best truly is.

Keith Arthur – Tight Lines Presenter

I was lucky enough to be invited, a few years ago, to fish a match outside the beautiful Compleat Angler Hotel situated on the Thames at Marlow Weir. My traditional Thames luck held on the day and I somehow spangled eight bream and two barbel, including the Quasimodo of barbel, aka Lumpy.
Seven years later I was back in the same spot on June 16th with a Tight Lines camera crew to film an opening day piece with former England goalkeeper and excellent angler David Seaman and Lumpy must have remembered me, because he once again somehow made it into my landing net at an increased weight of 11lb 1oz.
In between those times I also fished the pool with Bruno Brookes, who presented Tight Lines for the first nine years of its life and it was then I encountered Roger Wyndham Barnes. I could have slipped back in time a century because he was angling from a traditional Thames skiff, with tackle perfectly suited to tweed-suited gentry. It was suggested by the hotel management that Tight Lines might like to film a piece with Roger but the logistics of fishing from a boat is nightmarish and I had to demur.
Roger then offered to take just me out and, as happens so very often in my life, I took the rain-check and never got round to it. That’s a regret because we would have fished and talked Blues. Although I am no great aficionado, having been brought up in the 60s it is difficult NOT to have indulged in either Blues or Rock and rocker I was not. That would have been a double-whammy for sure. Legendary angler and musician. Don’t hear that often.
Rest in peace Man.
Weirpool pike were a specialty

Weirpool pike were a specialty

Steve Wozniak – The 1000 species angler – Dateline: July 29, 2014 – Twyford, England

Roger Wyndham Barnes died on a Tuesday, on a bright summer day west of London. We knew it was coming – he had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor a year before, and he had been on borrowed time for a good while. It was quiet when it came, peaceful. But the world is a sadder place because of it.

I got the news well into the California evening, when a grieving John Buckingham, one of Roger’s best friends who had been by his side every step of the way, sent me the email. I didn’t read it at first. I knew what it was going to say, and I cried before I read it and cried after. Roger was a fishing guide west of London, who I met in 2003 and who became a close friend, even though I only saw him a few times a year. He was a quiet, gentle man, a great friend, truly a kindred spirit, and he deserved more time than this.

DO READ THE REST OF STEVE’S MOVING TRIBUTE HERE

http://1000fish.wordpress.com/2014/07/29/old-man-river/

 

Steve Wozniak with Roger at Marlow weir. Steve flew in from California for his funeral

Steve Wozniak with Roger at Marlow weir. Steve flew in from California for his funeral

 

Ian Welch – Editor Fishing Magic

Although I met Roger on a few occasions I fished with him just the once; writing a feature for my angling column in the local newspaper, the ‘Maidenhead Advertiser’.

At that time I was, I am ashamed to now admit, a brash ‘big fish or bust’ angler, totally obsessed with size and really not at all interested in angling other than the result.

So what if a kingfisher settled on my rod, who cared if a herd of deer swam across the river in front of me? Certainly not me. The sort of angler I was back then found a cane rod only suitable for growing beans up, luncheon meat was a barbel scarer, not a barbel catcher, and a 5lb chub was a damn nuisance if it picked up my milk protein barbel bait; indeed a 10, 11 or 12lb barbel was a damned nuisance too if I was in a swim that I knew could produce one over 15lb…

Roger was, of course, my antithesis at the time. His delight was for the moment, not the result; for the beauty, not the beast and for the pure delight of being at one with the environment, not for what he could get from the environment. Our tackle was poles apart, there was a chasm between our philosophies and our ambitions and I was impatient to get the session over so I could head off to the venue my current campaign was centred upon.

It was a collision of different worlds.

Now is not the time, or indeed the place, to go into the exact details of our day perch fishing in and around Marlow Weir all I need to say is that, although I will still never qualify for Golden Scale Club membership, I am now, I hope, much more the angler Roger was back then.

Although I would not go so far as to say that particular day spent in his company was my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment it certainly helped to show me that there was indeed more to fishing than just catching fish; and for that I shall always be grateful.

Thank you Roger.

 

A first pike for a happy client

A first pike for a happy client

Jon Ward-Allen – Medlar Press
Just got back from holiday to the awful news that Roger had died. I first met him many years ago whilst fishing the Thames, and we were in fairly regular contact, mainly over his writing, and though he only penned a few articles for Waterlog, they were quite superb. He was always a real delight to talk to, especially about his music and the history and heydays of the professional anglers who plied their trade on the Thames. Everyone I know who spent a day with Roger on the river came back with tales of how fishing should really be conducted – at a gentle pace and with a serenity that only true anglers posess. He will be sorely missed – the last of the Thames Professionals.
Writer, raconteur and muscian

Writer, raconteur and muscian

 

Keith Elliott – Chairman of the Angling Writers Association

 

We should probably have given the Bernard Venables Trophy to Roger. This was a rather elegant award named after our one-time president and presented to the writer who most embodied the principles that Bernard represented.

Roger won it year after year.

Our annual get-together and prizegiving was once held at Belle Isle in Northern Ireland. Then area offered a superb choice of fishing, from trout and salmon to pike. Even sea-fishing only meant an hour’s drive.

Being both journalists and anglers, most of the motley crew just dangled a line in the river and lough in the estate’s wonderful grounds. John Bailey, I recall, caught a pike of at least 25lb. But Roger anchored his boat 20 yards from the main bridge over the river and spent all day. trotting for roach.

When I chugged past him in the late afternoon sunshine, he was smiling beatifically, at peace with the world, running a stick float down to the bridge and catching roach to 12oz every cast.

“Well, Roger?” I asked.

“Wonderful,” was all he said.

Another time, another trip. We had a fly-fishing day on Grafham and I allocated the boats. Mischievously, I thought about pairing Roger, who as many will know, was profoundly deaf in one ear, with Mac Campbell, the Angling Times journalist whose left-ear hearing was permanently damaged by an IRA bomb.

The idea of the two of them shouting at each other all day and never hearing a word the other said filled me with mirth, but in the end I decided it was too cruel.

I told Roger about the jape that never happened at the end of the day. He convulsed with laughter, and said: “You should have done it! You should have done it!”

That was Roger.

Jeff Woodhouse – Compleat Angler Hotel

I suppose I’d known Roger for around 16 years, ever since I became involved with The Compleat Angler Hotel and, in a sense, run the syndicate there now. It was always good to touch base with him and try to find out what was being caught in parts of the river that we couldn’t reach from the banks of the weir. One day in 2008 I’d just had my ailing spaniel euthanised in Marlow and had gone to the weir for some time to reflect, Roger was there, sympathetic and very helpful.

We’d also meet up sometimes whilst he was giving his boat a make-over. Once he’d told me how he’d taken his lunch up to the weir shelf and sat high on the wall overlooking the shallow water there. He said he’d seen this bulky shadowy shape mooching around when it came up in the water and it was, as he described “Like the back of labrador and about as long.” It was a carp that he’d estimated around 35+lbs, it saw him, turned and slipped back into the depths.

Since then I’ve seen that same fish, unless there are more than one which is always likely, and it seems to turn up every year being seen by someone. Even this year it was seen by one of the hotel employees together with 2 x 20 lbers. Roger never did catch it and I don’t believe anyone else has, unless it was that unseen, unbanked monster that one or two have hooked and it stripped them of 70 yards of line before throwing the hook.

What Roger did catch was lots of other really good specimen fish, pike on the fly was one of his specialities. He also had a nice trout of 4lbs in there, or rather directed a youngster to catch it and that must have made the day worthwhile for the kid. Roger was never selfish with his information either, if he knew something he would share it.

One of his last trips was when he took out the actor Timothy Spall and another associate whilst they were researching fishing for Timothy’s part in the film Mr. Turner, about the artist who was also an avid angler. Again I caught Roger as he was loading his car after the event so I asked had it been a successful day. Roger gave me one of his exasperated looks and said he’d spent most of the day untangling their lines and freeing them up from snags. He was worn out.

He’s been badly missed for a year or so already due to his illness. We still have his boat, which was brought onto dry land by one of his friends just prior to this year’s floods when a crack willow came down almost sinking it. Someone at the funeral suggested that it should be installed in a museum, but that will be up to his family. For me it’s still a reminder of a fellow angler who was always keen to share his experiences.

From the hotel management and all of our syndicate members we extend our deepest sympathies to his remaining family and would say to Roger – ‘ farewell old friend and thanks for the sharing.’

Roger Wyndham Barnes died, aged 66, on 29th July 2014. He is survived by his daughter Katy.

Why the Hell can’t we have action on Bass?

20 Aug

I love catching bass on lures. They are a great surface predator that hits hard and they are the nearest thing we’ve got in the UK to some of the warm water sportsfish that I have been lucky enough to tangle with in other parts of this wonderful planet of ours. However, catching  these silver bullets of a decent size from the English shores has become increasingly challenging in recent years due to the abject failure of successive governments to implement a proper bass management plan that includes protection for juvenile fish and a sustainable minimum landing size.

For the last three years I’ve made an annual pilgrimage to the wonderful west coast of Ireland and on every occasion I’ve caught bass substantially larger than anything I’ve ever had from the shore back home. In fact the average size of Irish bass seems to be between four and five pounds compared to less than half of that in England. Now I’m not saying that there aren’t lunkers to be caught here in Blighty but the vast majority of the bigger bass come to those able to fish from a boat rather than from the rocks or the surf. This is not how our bass fishing should be and is why the Angling Trust will not rest until we have seen these fantastic fish granted the protection they both deserve and need.

In Ireland there is no commercial exploitation of bass stocks and anglers have bag and size limits.

In Ireland there is no commercial exploitation of bass stocks and anglers have bag and size limits.

Heavenly Shores

Anyway, back in the land of mist, mountains, bass beaches and Guinness I found myself again heading along the Kerry shoreline with a sense of anticipation. Bass are now protected by law in the Emerald Isle and increasing numbers of visitors from all over Europe are spending considerable sums chasing trophy size specimens from the rocks and surf beaches of the south and west coasts of this beautiful country.

I had a couple of sessions organised with my friend Richard on the Dingle Peninsula before driving round to snatch a few days in the company Irish bass supremo John Quinlan before he was joined by Henry Gilbey and a group of clients on one of their occasional ‘Fishing with Henry’ guided trips. If you fancy the experience of combining heavy metal music, sleep deprivation and top quality fishing in great company then this could be the chance you’ve been waiting for.

 

http://kerrybassfishing.com/brochure/media/Fishing_With_Henry.pdf

 

Sometimes just being there is enough...

Sometimes just being there is enough…

John and his wife Lyn provide wonderful accommodation at the Thatch Cottage set in the stunning surroundings of Ballinskelligs Bay. As well as being a tireless campaigner for Irish bass conservation John also provides a first rate and affordable guiding service for bass, pollack, wrasse, salmon and sea trout. All within a few miles of their cottage just outside Cahersiveen. You can find out more here..

 

http://www.thatchcottageireland.co.uk/

Unfortunately the savage winter storms which battered the west coasts of both Britain and Ireland had ripped out an awful lot of the weed that the bass like to use as cover. Some previously productive marks were not producing this year and there was an abundance of floating weed on some beaches that made the fishing difficult to say the least. However, my travelling companion Paul and I were lucky to be fishing with two people who know their patch intimately and were able to put us on fishable marks.

Richard returns a gorgeous shore caught Dingle bass

Richard returns a gorgeous shore caught Dingle bass

The first morning on the Dingle saw us up at 4am and trying out a new sheltered mark. Our host Richard was first to score with a lovely 4.12 bass on a 12 gm Black Fiiish Minnow. Neither Paul nor I could get a response in the main channel but I did notice some movement in a large patch of bladder wrack that had survived the winter pounding. The guys at Spro had very kindly sent me some of their Komodo shads, possibly the best weedless soft plastic around, which I had packed for precisely this opportunity. Two casts later and the water exploded less than six feet from my rod tip as the Komodo was engulfed by my first Irish bass of the year. Not a huge specimen but a really exciting capture from a new spot.

First bass of the year brings a big Irish smile after an epic take on a Spro surface shad

First bass of the year brings a big Irish smile after an epic take on a Spro surface shad

 

Over at Cahersiveen we initially found the going tough so we asked John to take us out in the bay for pollack fishing. This was great fun and casting towards the rock ledges rather than from them meant that cuts off were largely avoided, even though we were hooking into some fish that were just shy of double figures.

Fishing Kerry really is the 'Dog's Pollocks'!

Fishing Kerry really is the ‘Dog’s Pollocks’!

 

The best was saved to the end and our last morning saw us casting into the Atlantic surf from a heavenly cove an hour before the sun came up over the mountain behind us. The fish all came in a magic half hour to a Storm Thunder minnow hurled beyond the second breaker and slow rolled just beneath the surface. The rods just loaded up and the reels screamed as five pounds of angry bass charged through the waves throwing up plumes of silver spray in the half light of an Irish dawn. Just being there, in that place, at that time, with that view was enough to make to make the spirits soar. The fish were a bonus but one that will keep me coming back for more.

 

 

Martin's fishing mate Paul with a dawn caught bass from an Irish surf beach

Martin’s fishing mate Paul with a dawn caught bass from an Irish surf beach

 

What the Hell ?

 There is no reason why the bass fishing back home should not be equal if not better than that to be found in Ireland. And if you can afford a boat, or a boat and a good guide like Austen Goldsmith –  http://www.bassfishingcornwall.com/  – there are still times when it can be. But overall the picture is far from healthy.

Here in the UK we are reaping the inevitable consequences of years of unsustainable commercial exploitation which has removed tonnes of juvenile bass from the inshore fishery before they have had a chance to breed. There are no restrictions on the amount of bass that can be taken and the current bass minimum landing size for both commercial and recreational fisherman is a ridiculous 36cms. Yet all the evidence shows that the fish do not reproduce until they reach at least 42cms and sometimes larger. It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that killing immature fish on an industrial scale is a recipe for disaster.

And it is not just recreational anglers who have noticed the decline in bass stocks. The governments own experts at the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) have been publishing regular assessments highlighting the increasingly parlous condition of this once plentiful species. Their latest report calls for a staggering 80% reduction in the commercial take and the urgent implementation of a coherent management plan. The Angling Trust and the Bass Anglers Sportsfishing Society (B.A.S.S) have been lobbying furiously for our politicians to heed the warnings and introduce a sustainable minimum landing size along with other conservation measures to enable stocks to recover.

Although we came close to achieving a breakthrough in 2007  the then Fisheries minister, Jonathan Shaw, capitulated to pressure from the commercial sector and overturned the decision of his predecessor, Ben Bradshaw, who had actually signed off the order to increase the bass MLS.

The ICES report published in June of this year illustrates just how short sighted and stupid it was to carry on removing immature fish and to allow the pros to drive bass stocks down to dangerously low levels. They could not have been clearer on the need for urgent action:

‘Recruitment has been declining since the mid-2000s, and has been very poor since 2008. The combination of declining recruitment and increasing (catches) is causing a rapid decline in biomass.’

And…

‘ICES advises that a management plan is urgently needed to develop and implement measures to substantially reduce fishing mortality throughout the range of the stock.’

You can see the full assessment here..

http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2014/2014/bss-47.pdf

Of course none of this should have come as a surprise to the government as ICES has offered this advice before, calling for a 20% reduction in catches in September 2013 and yet no action was taken. We are left wondering if our politicians are waiting for a complete collapse in bass stocks before they will acknowledge that we have a problem.

There was a glimmer of hope in July 2012 when the then Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, agreed to order a review of the bass minimum landing size following a joint delegation and presentation from BASS and the Angling Trust.

Together with Ian Misslebrook and Nigel Horsman from B.A.S.S., John Quinlan, Chairman of the Irish Bass Protection Group and Charles Walker MP and George Hollingbery MP, chairman and vice-chairman of the APPG on Angling, we presented Mr Benyon with our paper ‘Bass Stock Management and the minimum landing size’.

John Quinlan (left) swaps his waders for a suit and joins the Angling Trust and BASS delegation pressing for bass conservation measures in England

John Quinlan (left) swaps his waders for a suit and joins the Angling Trust and BASS delegation pressing for bass conservation measures in England

Using the latest data, including Solent Bass Survey figures showing frighteningly low survival rates for young bass for 2008 & 2009, we argued for a new minimum landing size of 48cms to allow for the maximum number of fish to successfully breed before running the risk of harvesting. At this size a corresponding increase in net mesh sizes would also reduce discard levels – something the commercial sector had always claimed would be a consequence of increasing the bass mls.

Mr Benyon heard first hand of the collapse in Irish bass stocks in the late 1980’s and how the introduction of a statutory close season, a two fish bag limit and a minimum landing size has allowed stocks to recover to the point where the recreational bass fishery is now worth over €18 million to the Irish economy. We also highlighted the similar situation that occurred with striped bass in the USA and how a tough management regime coupled with effective conservation measures has led to a remarkable stock recovery and huge economic benefit.

Following last year’s ministerial reshuffle which saw Richard Benyon replaced by George Eustice I wrote to our new minister to see if the bass MLS review was still underway. We received the good news that…

“I can confirm the Government’s commitment to review the current MLS in territorial waters.

 However, this was somewhat tempered by the caveat that nothing would happen until an interminable EU process had come to a conclusion. This is nonsense in my view as bass are primarily an inshore species, and, as the Irish have shown, there are plenty of measures that the UK can take within the 6 and 12 mile limits that could help limit the alarming decline. The facts are clear, the scientists have provided the evidence, and over many years – so what the hell are our politicians going to do about it?

Whilst the Angling Trust will be ensuring that the plight of our bass is again raised in the House of Commons once Parliament returns, I am worried that with a General Election on the horizon our politicians will try to run away from making any meaningful decisions. Our job must be to remind ‘the greenest government ever’ there is a conservation crisis happening in our inshore waters on their watch and that anglers will be looking for action from those who want our votes.

Hosting Foreign Anglers

9 Aug
Where do you take a guest who has fishing like this in his backyard?

Where do you take a guest who has fishing like this in his backyard?

We Brits have always liked our foreign fishing trips. Perhaps it is throwback to the days of far flung empire when our officer class would venture out into the bush with their greenheart fly rods and try and emulate the pleasures to be found on a much missed Scottish salmon river or English chalk stream? We have these pioneers to thank for the ‘discovery’ of mahseer fishing in India and the presence of trout in Kashmir and New Zealand. It seemed that wherever we went we tried to re create another England and could it be that some of this rubbed off on the modern angler?

Like most anglers of my generation my early fishing adventures, beyond the comfort of our native shores, were somewhat less exotic. In the 1970s a spring trip to Ireland was as about as exciting as it got except for those with particularly deep pockets. Budget airlines and designer travel rods had yet to emerge so our sights were set on wherever it was possible to travel by car ferry.

We had a three month close season for all coarse fishing from mid March to mid June so the urge to find somewhere to wet a line as the weather improved was often irresistible. In those days Ireland was a fishing Mecca. 100lbs hauls of bream, huge pike, big nets of roach, rudd and hybrids were not just possible but at times commonplace for visiting anglers with half an idea and enough bait and local knowledge. Travel companies sprung up offering everything from angler friendly accommodation and block ferry bookings to bait fridges and weekly maggot deliveries. The Irish Tourist Board rose to the challenge and even installed road signs indicating what species could be caught in which lakes. I don’t use Sat Navs but I have often wondered where someone would end up if they typed in ‘bream’ whilst driving west from Dublin!

The years have rolled by, the world has got smaller and perspectives inevitably change. I’ve been lucky enough to have fished parts of the planet that I never dreamed I would ever see back in the days when we were smuggling pillow cases full of live maggots aboard Irish Ferries. And along the way I’ve picked up some good fishing mates in Europe, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and India. Trust me; this is a good thing to have as nothing beats local knowledge and local connections. Exotic fishing locations might look good in travel brochures but no matter how competent we are at our craft no one can catch fish that are not there.

Showing the new Environment Secretary some of the finer points of lure fishing at the Angling trust stand at this year's Game Fair.

Showing the new Environment Secretary some of the finer points of lure fishing on the Angling Trust stand at this year’s Game Fair with Sam Edmonds and Sarah Collins.

As in any relationship we have to put in what we take out. This means that when my foreign fishing friends land on these shores I feel honour bound to ensure that they don’t leave without a bent rod and a half decent angling experience. This is not always easy when trying to provide a good day out for someone whose staple fishing diet is leaping marlin, angry snapper or reel screaming tuna. And so it was that last month I found myself hosting Aussie fisheries expert and big game angler, Dr Ben Doolan, who was over here on a work trip. His early impressions of the UK were not going to be the best as he was spending three days at a conference in Hull. However, in return for helping us out on the Angling Trust stand at the Game Fair in the pristine grounds of Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace I agreed to give him a taste of what the local angling scene had to offer the foreign visitor.

Although Ben (or Dools) now lives three hours north of Sydney in the marlin capital of Port Stephens, he began his fishing career in more humble surroundings. He is one of the few Aussie anglers I’ve met who actually enjoyed catching carp and perch, so perhaps it would be possible to convince him that English coarse fishing did have more to offer than just an efficient method of collecting livebait for more worthwhile species?

And just to add to the pressure, next week I’ve promised a day out to another Aussie who certainly won’t be fobbed off by a quick session at the local carp puddle. Young Jack Harnwell is the son of my good friend Jim Harnwell who edits Australian Fishing World, the leading angling magazine Down Under. Jack has inherited his father’s loathing for all things carpy and, I suspect, will only be impressed by the best we have to offer.

So where do we take our foreign guests to show them a good time on the water given the inevitably constraints of time and unpredictable weather?

Most of these guys hardly ever fish with bait nowadays and wouldn’t know a waggler from a wallaby. With a few exceptions lure fishing in the UK is miles behind that practised in the USA and Australia and we simply don’t have the range of white knuckle, surface striking predators that are so sought after in other countries. However, when I do publish a picture of a nice bass from the South Coast or Ireland there are usually a few murmurs of approval from the Aussies and the occasional ‘cool looking fish mate’ type comments. So bass is clearly an option but I don’t have ready access to a sea going boat, Ireland is too far away and dawn and dusk sessions from the shore aren’t that easy to arrange when you live in Reading. Besides which bass stocks are in trouble in the UK meaning that success would be by no means guaranteed.

Pike are a possibility but they would need to find another guide as I only fish for the things out of necessity when they are attacking my beloved roach.

An easier option would be barbel. The Aussies have nothing like it; it pulls hard and lives in rivers with decent flow and good habitat. Not something that is exactly commonplace over there. And so it was that a plan was hatched to show Dr Dools what his Mother Country still had to offer in terms of freshwater fishing. He was due to spend some time with my mate Dominic Martyn from the Environment Agency, learning about how we undertake river basin management planning. Dom is a fine barbel angler and kindly agreed to take Ben out for an evening session on our local River Loddon.

Now the Loddon holds some very fine fish but is no easy river. However, at 11.30pm, just when hope was receding, Ben’s rod tip crashed round and a lovely barbel gave a fish starved Aussie a lively battle in the confines of a snaggy small river swim. With the job half done the pressure was off so I decided to offer our visitor something completely different. Stick float fishing on two pound line with hemp and tares is about as far removed from hurling heavy poppers at warm water predators as you could possibly get but Ben was up for the challenge.

Ben's barbel

Visiting Aussie angler Ben Doolan looking pleased with his first British barbel

Despite never having fished with a fourteen foot rod or a closed face reel I was impressed how quickly Ben got the hang of what must have been a totally alien way of fishing. Within an hour that lightly shotted float was being inched down the flow on the River Thames at Wallingford as if he had been born to it. Some careful feeding saw the fish lined up and before long a steady stream of roach, dace and small chub were coming to the net. These fish weren’t particularly big but Ben understood how even minor adjustments to presentation and shotting patterns could make a real difference to catch rates

Showing our guest how to trot hemp and tares - not quite what they do on the Great Barrier Reef !

Showing our guest how to trot hemp and tares – not quite what they do on the Great Barrier Reef !

Later on in our session we were joined by a few chunky roach/bream hybrids with a liking for sweetcorn before a feeding pike gate crashed the party, scattered the shoal and ruined proceedings. Not one to miss an opportunity our intrepid visitor marched up the hill to the van to collect his spin gear and promptly began throwing lures around.

You can't keep an Aussie out of his lure box for long!

You can’t keep an Aussie out of his lure box for long!

It goes without saying that the pesky pike was captured, and, much as I admired the skill and adaptability of my guest it holds true that you can take the angler out of Australia – but you can’t take the Aussie out of the angler !

Roll Up Roll Up…For all the fun of the Fair

16 Jul

Here at the Angling Trust we’ve been busy helping organise some pretty major events in the fishing calendar for the summer and autumn. Our competitions staff were quickly overwhelmed with applications for the now popular RiverFest which sold out in no time. We’ve also got a brand new river match on the tidal Thames at Kew with a £500 first prize and an opportunity to raise funds for the fabulous angling charity Get Hooked on Fishing.

See here for details of TideFest on September 28th…

Another great new river match which will help assess the health of the improving Thames Tideway

More Fishing at this year’s Game Fair

This weekend sees us decamping to the Game Fair set in the wonderful grounds of Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace. Chris Ogborne, the dynamic new Director of Fishing at the Game Fair, has asked us to help ramp up the House of Fishing which had begun to look a little stale in recent years.

We are unveiling our new stand which will contain a host of activities and displays and which we are sharing with our partners from Selectafly, GHoF, The Environment Agency and Cefas. As you can see below there’s some great new member benefits on offer for new recruits and even a chance to have a go on a fish fighting machine. A good range of our Angling Trust Ambassadors will be there covering all aspects of angling and we are active participants in the Fishing Talks which will be hosted by John Bailey in the House of Fishing directly behind our stand.

 

Game-Fair-banner-flyer

 

What’s also on at the House of Fishing ?

If you are coming to Blenheim check out this year’s new look House of Fishing in the heart of the Fishing Village where you can discover a treasure trove of knowledge, info and advice for all ages and abilities on almost every aspect of this wonderful world of fishing.

The Advice Centre and Casting Pool

Managed by Andy Smith (Shimano Loomis pro guide and angling instructor ) with top quality advice for all angling disciplines. Come and enjoy illustrated talks and videos on Pike, Predator, Saltwater, Carp, Coarse, Kayak and Sea Bass fishing, as well as on all the regular fly fishing styles. There is a static Kayak display plus rig clinics on knots and leaders. The casting pool will be offering useful hands-on fishing demos throughout each and every day.

Fly Dressing

Visit the Fly Dressers Guild at their huge fly tying station where youngsters, newcomers, ladies and anglers can come to tie their first fly. Ladies can wear the finished product as a brooch, kids can wear them as cap badges or lapels, or they can actually fish with them. There’s even a great prize for the best fly tied each day. They will be displaying the very latest tying materials and fly patterns and there’s one-to-one instruction for all would be fly tyers.

The ‘Fishing Talks’ area

If the sun (or the rain) gets too much for you, or if you’d like to talk formally or informally about fishing, then this is the place to be. Each day there will be light-hearted but informative talks, hosted by celebrity angler John Bailey.

Jon Ward Allen from the Medlar Press will be launching of several new books throughout the Game Fair, enabling visitors to get their hands on the latest titles hot off the press

There will be guest appearances from: Andy Field on the art of float making; Clive Collier,  Tony Baldwin, Paul Angell, Mark Withyman with chance to look into the fly boxes of England Team members; Christine Penn and her colleagues from Orvis USA ladies team will talk about their role in the sport along with John Tyzack, Team England medal winner.

 

‘Fishing Talks’ Programme with host John Bailey

Friday 18th July

1100 – THE NEXT GENERATION –  With Charles Jardine and Sarah Collins (from Get Hooked on Fishing).

1145 – Presentation – The Alan Faulkner Memorial Award (Wheelyboat Trust)

1215 – THAT FEMININE TOUCH - ORVIS USA LADIES team – Jackie Jordan,  Christine  Penn, Laurie Kunz.

1315 – THE TROUT’S TALE – Chris Newton on the amazing travels of our favourite fish, the brown trout.

1415 – GREAT PIKE STORIES – Neville Fickling talks  about his passion for catching and writing about big pike.

1515 – THE ANGLING TRUST – National Campaigns Chief Martin Salter and England manager Chris Clark

Saturday 19th July 

1100 – THE LURE OF THE LURE – Top Water Lures supremo Nick Roberts on the popularity of modern lure techniques.

1145 – Presentation – The Fred J Taylor Award (Angling Trust)

1215 – WHERE HAVE ALL THE BARBEL GONE? –  Dr Mark Everard trys to shed some light on a missing favourite.

1330 – TROUT FISHING OUTSIDE THE BOX -  Peter Hayes delivers his sometimes controversial views  on trout fishing.

1430 – NOMADS OF THE TIDES - Chris McCully and Malcolm Greenhalgh on the sea-trout, that most mysterious of game fish.

1530 – OPEN FORUM – Chris Ogborne, John Tyzack, Malcolm Greenlagh, Barney  Wright and Martin Salter on the prospects for angling.

 

Sunday 20th July

1100 – TENKARA AND MORE –  John Tyzack on the ‘new’ methods of Tenkara and French nymph fishing.

1145 – Presentation – The Arthur Oglesby Award (Salmon & Trout Association)

1215 –  THE REDFIN DIARIES – John Bailey and Dr Mark Everard talk about this most beautiful of coarse fish

1315 – SALMON IN TRUST – A discussion on the state of British Salmon fishing.

1400 – ANY QUESTIONS? Charles Jardine, John  Tyzack, Chris Ogborne, Mark Lloyd take your questions on the future of fishing.

 

Tickets for the Game Fair are still available at http://www.gamefair.co.uk

See you there !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanted: An Effective Policy for Water. A Guest blog from Rod Sturdy

2 Jul
Rod Sturdy - Angling Trust volunteer and activist - shares his thoughts on how our rivers and watercourses could be better managed in a changing climate

Rod Sturdy – Angling Trust volunteer and activist – shares his thoughts on how our rivers and watercourses could be better managed in a changing climate

As regular readers will know I have been particularly exercised by some of the knee jerk reactions of both politicians and the media to last winter’s floods. There is still a chance that wholesale dredging could be back on the agenda, even though it seldom makes any difference to flood risks and can make matters worse in some catchments buy moving flood peaks more quickly down the valley. It was therefore refreshing to receive this thoughtful and well argued piece from Rod Sturdy which I felt was worthy of a wider audience.

Martin Salter

 

Having read the comments made by Martin Salter (1 July 2014) and his guest blogger Charles Clover (12 February 2014) on the subjects of floods and dredging, and having read and heard so much discussion and comment on flooding in the media, it strikes me that the UK has no proper overall water policy. We have as a country been focused on either flooding or on drought as and when these events have occurred. Various ambitious schemes to move water up and down the country have at times been mooted, but nothing much has actually happened.

The weather events of recent years have in fact made the fact glaringly obvious that the UK has no joined-up water strategy. Such a strategy would of course need to be a long-term, joined-up project. It would therefore attract few votes in the way that short-term, ‘quick fix’ measures might. Nevertheless it is essential that government takes the issue seriously.

Experts are now virtually in agreement that our climate is changing. In broad terms, this means rising temperatures, greater evaporation from the earth’s surface and hence increased precipitation and more frequent flooding. It also implies more frequent and longer periods of drought.

Massive amounts of rain last winter (2013-14) produced spectacular flooding in many parts of the country. It highlighted the folly of building on or near flood plains, and also the futility of farming such areas. The long drought of 2010-12 highlighted the parlous state of the UK’s water reserves.

Recent flooding produced a knee-jerk reaction from the general public, the media and certain politicians that a return to the discredited, widespread, environmentally destructive, and extremely expensive practice of dredging of rivers was required.

Few if any commentators saw huge amounts of rain falling in a short time as in any way a blessing. Given also the likelihood of regular, more frequent droughts in a warming world, the arrival of abundant water could, and indeed should, be seen as an opportunity to hold back, store and use what is by any standards a precious resource.

As things stand, vast quantities of water are channelled directly into streams and rivers, and directed into the sea in short order. The idea that this already artificially accelerated draining process should be further speeded up seems nonsensical when seen in context.

In current practice, water companies abstract water from rivers and sell it to the domestic, industrial and agricultural consumer. Many, if not most, UK rivers are now over-abstracted, and a crisis point has been reached. There are many anomalies in the system as it stands. Water companies can for example demand compensation from government if they agree not to abstract water from chalk streams (which needs very little processing to be fit for drinking), on the grounds that they will need to spend more on processing the water they abstract elsewhere. Many abstraction licences are no longer realistic given a diminished resource and are badly in need of overhaul.

Few politicians appear to understand the need for more rational water management. The recent pronouncement by the current Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, that ‘the purpose of waterways is to get rid of water’ is as nonsensical, when seen in proper context, as it is frightening. Caroline Spellman’s frank confession on air during the 2010-12 drought that there was no drought plan, let alone a long-term drought strategy, was as depressing as it was disarming. Nothing has really changed much, it seems, since the 1976 ‘drought minister’, Denis Howell, rather limply urged us to ‘save water – bath with a friend’.

The aims of an effective water strategy should be (a) to ensure adequate water for industrial, agricultural and domestic use, (b) to protect the environment, and (c) to manage the effects of flooding and drought. I believe that these aims are achievable without great expense or the need for costly, grandiose solutions.

It is vital that future governments:

  • Encourage the development of simple, inexpensive means of storage of rainwater for agricultural and domestic use.
  • Introduce universal domestic water metering of utility water, and encourage the population in more disciplined, enlightened and effective use of water
  • Ensure that concreted areas in new developments are made porous,  and make retro-adaptation of existing areas of concrete mandatory
  • Encourage the ending of farming practices which cause the ingress of soil and silt into rivers and other watercourses
  • Encourage the suitable planting of trees in upland areas by watercourses in order to slow down the progress of surface water
  • Encourage schemes which re-connect rivers with their flood plains
  • Impose an effective ban on flood plain development, and assist existing inhabitants of flood-prone areas to relocate

 

Simple, cheap and effective rainwater collection methods are already in use in parts of the developing world. There is no reason for the developed world not to make use of them. Water so collected can be used for domestic washing and garden irrigation, the latter being an activity which places heavy demands on utility water supplies.

These simple methods will help to obviate the need for such labour- and cost intensive schemes as pipelining water over great distances, and also the building of dams and reservoirs: such schemes are of course hugely expensive and themselves likely to trigger further environmental problems. Large reservoirs involve an immense volume and surface area of water which will inevitably add to evaporation in a warming climate, involving the escape of huge amounts of water into an atmosphere already laden with moisture.

The issue of ground water is one which is equally important as visible water at the surface. Areas which are concreted over and hence made impervious should contain enough sink-holes at regular intervals in order to channel rainwater into the soil and hence the water table, such that built-up areas behave as nearly as possible like open land. Existing areas of concrete tend to cause rainwater to run off in a sudden surge into the nearest watercourses, causing flash flooding.

The farming lobby has over past decades worked to make sure that arable land has been drained to allow crops to be grown. Rivers and other watercourses have been treated as little more than drainage ditches to carry away unwanted water. Farming practices which involve the compacting of soil by heavy machinery have caused surface water, along with large quantities of silt to run off directly into rivers. In order to correct this situation, government should incentivise farming methods which allow water to find its way downwards into the soil, rather than being channelled sideways into the nearest watercourse, thus replenishing groundwater levels.

Poor farming practices have made flood worse and contributed to siltation over the years

Poor farming practices have made flood worse and contributed to siltation over the years. We need to change the way we manage the land in the upland catchments.

Wherever possible, the aim should be to reconnect rivers with their floodplains. A functioning floodplain is an effective means of storing and moving floodwater. It will counteract the tendency of dredged, canalised rivers which are disconnected from their flood plains to transport huge amounts of floodwater within a very short time, often causing devastation in downstream urban areas. A flood plain will also allow groundwater – also an important source of water for human needs – to replenish, and also give greater biodiversity, although farming will need to adapt to new circumstances.

The flooding the UK experienced last winter highlighted the plight, in human terms, of those living in flood-prone areas, with a specific concentration by the media and politicians on the Somerset Levels.

Whilst we naturally think of the problems of those striving to exist on flood plains with sympathy, there is in the long term no realistic option for those people but to move away. Indeed, it would be better if they were helped to do so sooner rather than later. No amount of dredging of rivers on the Somerset Levels will alter the fact that the area is below sea level, floods virtually every winter, and is a hostile environment for traditional forms of agriculture.

Idyllic as a home close by the lower Thames may seem, the fact needs to be faced that flooding there will become an increasingly regular occurrence. A future government should strongly consider withdrawing the current guarantee of insurance cover for buildings sited in flood-prone areas, thus removing what has effectively been the subsidising of flood plain development. This will clearly not win many votes in the short term. This does not change the need for policy changes, however.

As for new housing, it is imperative that new developments on flood plains are subject to a total ban. As things stand, the Environment Agency has advisory powers only, and is frequently overruled when it attempts to prevent such developments.

On a broader front, politicians will eventually have to accept, as will everyone, that climate change will increasingly set limits to human habitation, activity and numbers.

Rod Sturdy
Rod began fishing in his local park lake at the age of twelve, and from there he graduated to chub and roach from the river Tees in North Yorkshire. He now lives in Surrey within striking distance of the river Mole, as well as the Medway and the Eden in Kent and does a lot of surface carp fishing on small waters in the area. Latterly he has enjoyed winter fishing on the Test in Hampshire.

He has contributed numerous articles on various angling subjects and personalities to ‘Waterlog’ magazine and remains a passionate angler as well as a member, volunteer and promoter of the Angling Trust.

 

Isn’t it all about the take?

13 Jun

As regular readers of this column will know I occasionally pen a few ramblings for our cousins Down Under at Australian Fishing World following my post parliamentary sabbatical out there a few years back.

The Fisho website is updated twice a week and this great little video clip of an enthusiastic barramundi following a lure and smashing it under the rod tip reminded me of some of the debates I’ve had recently with angling friends over what exactly it is that gives us the greatest buzz in our fishing.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hjDboad-AGo

What feeds this fishing obsession? Is it reel screaming runs or leaping fishing - Martin's first tarpon did plenty of both - or is it simply the thrill of the take?

What feeds this fishing obsession? Is it reel screaming runs or leaping fishing – Martin’s first tarpon did plenty of both – or is it simply the thrill of the take?

Whilst the lure of fishing for many is about the wonderful places it takes us and the friends we make along the way there has to be that extra ingredient that gets the heart pumping and keeps us coming back for more. Perhaps, for the dyed in the wool specimen hunter or match angler, it really is  all about the size or quantity of the fish caught? For the purist, perhaps it is how they catch their quarry – whether this means a wild trout on an upstream dry fly in surface film or a chalk stream roach on a stick float and centre pin?

I think it was Bernard Venables that once wrote that there are three phases in the development of an angler. First we want to catch the most fish, then we want to catch the biggest we can and then, in our later years, we reach that ‘state of grace’ where it is no longer solely about numbers and far more about where and who we fish with and how we catch them. Whilst I still get a thrill out of notching up a new personal best for a species I’m now very much in this latter category.

I’m lucky to live within a 20 minute drive of some of the best swims for specimen chub, barbel and tench in the South of England yet increasingly I find myself favouring venues that allow me catch in a preferred style or location rather than those where bigger fish can eventually be ‘bored into submission’. It’s not that I no longer enjoy catching quality fish, far from it, it’s just that I get that extra thrill from hooking barbel on a float, stalking chub on a small stream or catching tench from more intimate waters where I can see them fizzing and bubbling and the excitement builds as I wait for the float to lift and slide away or the bobbin to rise.

But irrespective of the place fished or the angling style employed there is another ingredient that keeps us coming back for more. I now argue that it is all about the take. Think back to those personal angling highlights indelibly etched in your memory and how many of them feature a rod top crashing round, a huge pair of lips engulfing a surface bait as time stands still or a float disappearing at the end of a trot and the answering strike being met by that satisfying thump of a good fish as it battles for freedom? I guess we can all shut our eyes and replay these magic moments again and again.

I used to contend that most adrenaline filled experience in fishing was a screaming reel and a hard battle with a quality fish. And having just returned from Cuba with my first tarpon under my belt, a fish that took over a hundred yards of line on its first run, I’m certainly not decrying the thrill of the battle. It’s just that what is it we all want to do once our fish is landed – surely it’s to cast out again to see if we can get another take?

The fascination of fishing is fooling a wild, and sometimes wily creature, into taking our carefully presented lure, fly or bait. It maybe the thrill of the chase that keeps us coming back for more but I contend that it’s that moment of contact with the quarry, when the plan and the technique come together, that delivers the essential buzz that fuels the obsession that is fishing.

My first barbel came from the Thames at Windsor in the 1960s and whilst I can still picture those three pounds of bristling muscle lying in the schoolboy landing net the image I’m left with is the violence of my first barbel bite which came close to catapulting that old bamboo and solid glass fibre rod halfway to London. Even now, half a century and several thousands of barbel later, that ‘three foot twitch’ never fails to excite. At the other end of the spectrum the bream, a species hardly renowned for its fighting qualities, still holds a fascination for me. To a great extent this is due to the leisurely and sometimes finicky bites they give which only prolong the pleasure before contact occurs.

However, old we get and however many barbel we catch, that 'three foot twitch' never fails to excite.

The Author as a Young Man – “However, old we get and however many barbel we catch, that ‘three foot twitch’ never fails to excite.”

Much of my fishing in Australia and New Zealand was with surface or shallow diving lures and there is no doubt that this style delivers some thrilling takes. I’ve had barramundi come clean out of the water and headbutt the mangroves in their determination to be first to the feed. Watching a pack of angry yellow-tailed kingfish chasing a popper towards the boat is one heart stopping thrill of which I will never tire. And of course seeing a marlin or sailfish light up in attack mode as they swing in behind the teasers before seizing the lure and greyhounding over the ocean is one of the greatest angling experiences of all.

A pack of angry New Zealand kingfish homing in on the lure

A pack of angry New Zealand kingfish homing in on the lure

And there are fish that take a bait or a lure with an aggression that is simply frightening. I’ve been lucky enough to tangle with one two Giant Trevallys, or GTs as they are more commonly called, and the sheer violence of these creatures can be breathtaking. On one trip with Aardvark McLeod to the Indian Ocean atoll of St Francois we were privileged to witness what the guides call the Cappell Shoal, named after the guy who first spotted this extraordinary aggregation of GTs that patrolled the reefs like a menacing band of desperadoes. They came past in pairs in a long line just a few metres from us, flanked at times by much smaller reef sharks, and in a manner that reminded me of those huge military processions in Red Square during the Communist era. Our guide Devan was up to his waist in water holding the front of the boat steady and giving instructions to my fishing partner ‘Crunchie’ on where to cast his fly when a particularly angry brute of a fish broke from the formation. Incredibly it charged at his legs with malicious intent causing this normally tough and calm a South African to yelp in surprise and to leap back into the boat in the nick of time. It was at that moment I realised why GTs are so famous for the aggression with which they hit a lure and why they are called ‘Gangsters of the Flats’.

Is it about the fight or the bite ? And they don't come much better than this crashing kingfish take experienced by Phil Bolton

Is it about the fight or the bite ? And they don’t come much better than this crashing kingfish take experienced by Phil Bolton

Check out this great video of the same name for more heart stopping GT action ..

http://youtu.be/OS_hv_Y410A

Although I never saw it happen I’ve seen enough of GT behaviour to believe the following story to be true. Perhaps this could even win an award for the greatest take of all time? According to those who were there an American angler was on a surf walk, again in the Indian Ocean, and spotted a group of GTs  close in. He cast, stripped back quickly and his fly was charged by the shoal and he hooked up briefly on one of the smaller fish in the group. However, the hook came free and the fly shot back towards him and embedded in the legs of his shorts just above the water line. None of this deterred the rampaging fish who simply charged the bewildered angler, knocking him off his feet and grabbing the flapping fly from his clothing before ripping it free and belting back out into the surf!

The story has a happy ending as the fish was eventually landed and the angler’s honour restored. If there is ever a more enthusiastic take I’d like to be there to see it and although I have no doubt that, like all GTs, this fish would have given the angler a great battle, the enduring memory would not have been of the fight but of the bite.

Selectafly boss and champion fly fisher Martin Webster with a Seychelles GT. Martin just can't get enough of the brutal take of these 'gangsters of the flats'.

Selectafly boss and champion fly fisher Martin Webster with an impressive Seychelles GT. Martin just can’t get enough of the brutal take of these ‘gangsters of the flats’.

Like everyone else I go fishing to catch fish and have a good time along the way. And much as I will be pleased as punch whenever the scales register another roach over two pounds or the camera shutter clicks as a big tench, bass or barbel slides back into the deeps, it is the next bite I’m after. For me it really is all about that take. Is it the same for you?

 

Survey seeks worldwide views on habitat work

2 Jun
Hammering in the stakes to secure the woody debris flow deflectors - what would make you get in the water to improve habitat for fish and fishing ?

Hammering in the stakes to secure the woody debris flow deflectors – what would make you get in the water to improve habitat for fish and fishing ?

BACK in the day when men were men and political slogans still used verbs, the soon to be a two-term American president, Bill Clinton, put the words “It’s the Economy Stupid” on large banners that were displayed in all his campaign offices across the USA.

This was not so much a message to the American people but a reminder to his election workers and advisors of the importance of remaining focused on the key issue which would bring them success.

A few years later when I was asked to write the Keep Australia Fishing report for their boating and fishing tackle industry I shamelessly stole the Clinton words in order to emphasise the importance of protecting and improving habitat for recreational fisheries.

One of the key recommendations in my report sought to encourage angler involvement in habitat restoration:

“Most anglers recognise and support genuine environmental action to reverse habitat destruction, protect threatened species and change unsustainable fisheries and land use practices. We need to have recreational fishers fully engaged in promoting policies and programmes that benefit the aquatic environment on which our sport depends.”

Its funny how, on occasions, simply penning a few well chosen words can lead to good things happening and lasting friendships. I can’t quite remember the sequence of events but at some point during the compiling of Keep Australia Fishing I was contacted by Craig Copeland, a Conservation Manager working for the New South Wales state government. We had lunch with Jim Harnwell in Sydney and so began my involvement with the Fishers for Habitat project.

This was an excellent example of angling groups engaging positively with habitat restoration and fisheries protection and is a licence funded programme that had been operating successfully in NSW for a number of years. Here recreational fishers were rolling up their sleeves and helping to replace damaged and degraded habitats, removing barriers to fish migration and replanting the river edges to protect against erosion. Whilst this was pretty groundbreaking stuff in Australia, similar initiatives had been underway in the USA and Europe for some time.

Nonetheless Fishers for Habitat has attracted international recognition and praise from leading US angler and conservationist Tom Sadler. Following his visit in 2009 he said:

“It is incumbent upon people involved in hunting and fishing to be good stewards of the land. It is in fact the true measure of what makes a good sportsman. Not just going out for a fish, but making the fishing better for future generations.

“To be good stewards takes a lot of effort. It means giving time, money and energy to help restore the habitat that is vitally important. It means giving up something today so future generations can enjoy it, even if those who come later and enjoy the benefits of your sacrifice will never know it is you who deserves the thanks.”

Tom’s words still resonate as strongly today and directly led me to making common cause with Trout Unlimited and some of the other US based conservation groups of which he has been a part on important issues such as fracking.

Australian Conservation manager on his recent visit to the Uk where he was impressed by habitat improvement projects including this fish pass on Berkshire's River Loddon

Australian Conservation manager on his recent visit to the Uk where he was impressed by habitat improvement projects including this fish pass on Berkshire’s River Loddon

Last year it was my pleasure to help host Craig on the UK part of his Churchill Scholarship tour to discover best practice and to find out what motivates anglers in the USA, Ireland and Britain to get involved with habitat restoration. As well as learning about the work of the Angling Trust and our partners, Fish Legal, in taking action against those who degrade habitat and pollute fisheries, Craig was able to visit the beautiful River Wye catchment in Wales and learn about some of their groundbreaking work which has seen salmon returning to the headwaters in ever increasing numbers. He had some particularly kind things to say about the efforts of our own Wild Trout Trust (WTT), who, although not an organisation as large as their American cousins, have done some superb work in getting volunteers into rivers on projects to reverse poor farming practices and improve in stream habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Here’s what he said of his UK visit:

“Probably the most interesting and useful thing that I saw was the role that recreational fishing based organisations and the Government agencies played to support recreational fishers that become energetic on the habitat front. The WTT and various Rivers Trusts are in place across the UK on behalf of fish, delivering outcomes on the ground to improve fisheries. By their presence and organisation they allow recreational fishers to become engaged on complex habitat issues that might if looked at by an individual seem insurmountable.”

 

Happy band of volunteers - habitat heroes

Happy band of volunteers – habitat heroes working in the Thames catchment

 

For myself, having watched my own local river Kennet decline beyond recognition, I remain determined to try and engage my fellow fishers in fighting back. The Angling Trust has been working with WTT on a new Rivers and Wetlands Community Days programme to lever additional funding into habitat improvement work that gets angling and wildlife groups out in the countryside, installing woody debris and flow deflectors and helping to create productive spawning sites and fish passages to aid recruitment and migration.

Recently I was pleased to join my friend and colleague Del Shackleford, Fisheries Manager for Reading and District AA on a visit to the latest fry refuge that our local environment agency guys have installed on the Kennet at Padworth. It’s schemes like these that can make a real difference to tackling poor fish recruitment in our rivers. You can check out the video here..

I’m encouraged that across the planet recreation fishing groups are slowly starting to learn from each other as we bang the drum ever louder for fish habitat. Craig Copeland, of course, wants us to go further.

He is working on setting up an International Fish Habitat Network – to connect people and organisations carrying out fish habitat work and hopefully make the task a little easier by sharing knowledge and best practice. Craig has recently launched an international survey with partner organisations in the UK, USA, Ireland and Australia to try and find out what best motivates anglers to get involved with habitat issues.

The problems facing fish and fishing are no respecter of international boundaries. We can only applaud the efforts of people like Sadler and Copeland who urge us on to put something back into the habitat on which our fishy world depends. Please take five minutes of your time to complete the survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FishersandHabitat. You can even enter a prize draw on completion of the survey to win some free clothing form the Angling Trust online shop.

Note: This article first appeared in the international publications Classic Angling and Fishing World

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