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

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

http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=1016&sectionTitle=The+River+Close+Season+Debate

 

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

http://www.selectafly.com/

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 !

 

 

 

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