Just how many rods should we pay for?

1 Dec

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

Surely kids should be able to fish for free?

 A personal view

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

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

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

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

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

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

What others think

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

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

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

 

What do you think?

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

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

http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=1060&sectionTitle=Should+carp+and+specimen+anglers+have+to+buy+two+rod+licences%3F

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

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

Books, blanks and barbel by the Loddon

4 Nov

It’s funny how certain rivers keep drawing us back, even after endless struggles and disappointments. When I first moved to Reading nearly 35 years ago the Loddon was regarded as very much the poor relation of the nearby Kennet. This was in the days before the opening of the canal and the spread of the cursed signal crayfish, when the Kennet was, as a friend of mine once wrote, as close to ‘fishing heaven’ as any river could be. It gave me five two pound roach on a memorable winter’s afternoon and twice I landed over 30 barbel in a days float fishing. For eight years my house backed onto the renowned ‘Jam Factory’ stretch on the outskirts of the town and it was possible to stand on my garden landing stage and get the roach boiling on hemp on a summer’s evening before casting a lead down for a barbel as the light faded.  Small wonder then the Loddon didn’t get much of a look in.

Times have changed and so have the rivers. The Kennet is sadly a shadow of its former self while the water quality has improved dramatically in the Loddon, to the extent that it now hosts an occasional seatrout run. That said the Loddon is no easy river to fish and although it it now contains some seriously big chub and barbel they are usually in low stocked stretches where blanks can be more common than good days. This season I decided to go all out to improve my personal best barbel and my goodness was it a struggle. I went seven sessions with just a couple of chub and an eel to show for my efforts. Friends fared much better and I got to photograph some fine fish. Apart from a handful of modest Wye fish early on, by the time mid October came around it was shaping up to be my worst barbel season ever.

Despite near perfect conditions I nearly didn’t go out that evening but these Loddon blanks were irritating the hell out of me and I knew of a swim with a bit of form that had been left alone for a while. Three hours after making my first cast at dusk all the blanks were forgotten as the rod tip carted round and, after a powerful tussle, a big beautiful barbel  of 12.11 rolled over the net. Job done and a PB as well.

A Loddon Lunker at last!

A Loddon Lunker at last!

 

For those that are interested in the technicals – I got the big one on two 10mm fish meal boilies over a light bed of hemp and pellets on a combi-rig comprising 2 foot of  flourocarbon and 5inches of braid to a size 11 Drennan barbel hook and a short hair. The whole lot was pinned to the bottom and backleaded to avoid spooking the fish. I baited, waited an hour and made only four casts all evening with little pva bags on the lead.These Loddon barbel are big old wary fish that spook off tight lines and have learnt to avoid of large beds of bait. It was hugely satisfying to finally get one and the Loddon love affair looks set to continue.

 

Big Roach 2 by Mark Wintle

 Now if there’s one species that doesn’t thrive in the Loddon it’s the roach – I’ve no idea why but they just don’t do well and are scarcely seen in there above a few ounces. Ironic then that the venue for the launch of the latest book on big redfins is a pub on the banks of Loddon at Charvil. However, landlord Steve Collier has made the Land’s End Pub a home from home for fisherman with a fine collection of stuffed fish and angling portraits and in recent years it has become the place to launch a new angling book.  http://www.thelandsend.co.uk/index.html

 

Roach enthusiasts will be gathering this Saturday for the launch of Mark Wintle's latest book on  their favourite species

Roach enthusiasts will be gathering this Saturday for the launch of Mark Wintle’s latest book on their favourite species

The respected roach angler Mark Wintle has written a follow-up book to his acclaimed Big Roach and very kindly invited me to contribute a chapter. Feel free to come along and meet Mark and some of the other well-known roach anglers at the book launch at The Land’s End on Saturday 8th November, starting at noon.

Having written one book on big roach, Mark had the challenge of putting an entirely new book together to complement his first one. It was clear that this new volume would need a different focus; new waters, anglers, methods, bait and tackle. With a wealth of research material to hand and plentiful assistance from many other equally keen roach anglers there’s no doubt that he has once again succeeded.

The stories of the waters include the Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour, Frome, the Taw, the Test, the Tweed and Tay, the Cork Blackwater, the Ebro, the Trent, and the Thames, together with the exploits of Kevin Ashurst, Vic Beyer, Geoffrey Bucknall, Fred Buller, Pete Burrell, Colin Dyson, Colin Graham, Bryan Hewitt, Dave Howes, Luke Jennings, Mick Lomas, Ivan Marks, Graham Marsden, Dave Moody, Dan Sales, Pete Shadick, Dave Steuart, Wayne Thomas, Mike Townsend and Jonathan Webb.

This book costs £25 (plus p&p). There are 40 special cloth-bound numbered first-editions only available on the day of the book launch, one per customer, at £45. If you can’t make it on Saturday you can contact the Calm Productions hotline on 0845 408 2606 or visit www.calmproductions.com to obtain a copy.

A word of warning – this big river roach thing is a dangerous obsession. Think carefully before taking the plunge!

 

A Keepnet Full of Dreams by Kevin Grozier

The Fish Inn at Ringwood, appropriately located on the banks of the famous Hampshire Avon was the venue for the launch of Kevin Grozier’s follow up book to his widely acclaimed Avon Days and Stour Ways. I’ve known Kev since the 1970s and happily agreed to his request to come and say a few words at the gathering. Kevin has never fallen out of love with either the Avon or the Dorset Stour and describes these rivers as his spiritual home. And it’s this passion for these iconic streams, for their environment and their wildlife, that flows through every page of this, his second book. For sure there are tales of monster barbel, chub, perch and roach, with plenty of fine colour pictures to match, but there is also another side to Kevin’s writing. He attempts some fictional stories, some of which paint a nightmare vision of the future for the rivers of England unless we start taking our stewardship of the natural environment a good deal more seriously. These fictional elements might not be to everyone’s taste but they make this more than just another fishing book.

 As much about fishing stories as it is about stories of fish - 'A Keepnet full of Dreams' will keep the angling fires burning through the long winter to come

As much about fishing stories as it is about stories of fish – ‘A Keepnet full of Dreams’ will keep the angling fires burning through the long winter to come

I particularly liked the descriptions of the amusing, but usually unwelcome, encounters with some of the strange individuals that stalk the banks of our rivers. We’ve all met them – the ‘local expert’, ‘the curiously oblivious to requests for silence’, the mad, the bad and the sad – they all make a beeline for an angler with a willing ear and no visible means of escape. I guess there must be something about Kevin Grozier that attracts these characters and it is no surprise that they get more than an honourable mention.

Like it’s predecessor this a beautifully presented book that will enhance any anglers collection and which can be dipped into on days when either the weather or other irritants keep us away from our favourite pastime. I can thoroughly recommend A Keepnet Full of Dreams to anyone with a love of running water and a penchant for some of the more quirky tales from the riverbank.

Copies can ordered from: http://www.keepnetfullofdreams.com/

Save our Bass – Time to contact your MP

29 Oct
With surveys continuing to show bass stocks plummeting beautiful fish  like this could become a rare sight - although perhaps not in Ireland, where this one was caught, as they had the sense to ban commercial bass fishing and adopt sensible conservation policies.

With surveys continuing to show bass stocks plummeting beautiful fish like this could become a rare sight – although perhaps not in Ireland, where this one was caught, as they had the sense to ban commercial bass fishing and adopt sensible conservation policies.

No apologies for returning to the campaign to protect bass stocks in the UK. The Angling Trust continues to work with our colleagues in the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (B.A.S.S.) to persuade our politicians of the plight of of British bass and the need for action, not just at a  European level but in our inshore waters as well.

We have been well supported in these efforts by prominent figures in the bass world including Matt Powell from Wales and Henry Gilbey whose recently wrote a great blogpost which you can find here:

http://www.henry-gilbey.com/blog/could_there_be_a_total_collapse_of_our_bass_stocks

Welsh bass guide Matt Powell joined Martin for a day's fishing on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. Matt fully supports the Save our Bass campaign and is already lobbying the Welsh Assembly Government

Welsh bass guide Matt Powell joined Martin for a day’s fishing on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast. Matt fully supports the Save our Bass campaign and is already lobbying the Welsh Assembly Government

Successive Fisheries Ministers from both sides of politics have been well aware of the increasingly parlous state of bass numbers and the long overdue need for the introduction of measures to prevent a catastrophic stock collapse. Sadly, it now seems that this collapse could be about to happen. The results from the recent Solent bass survey in the English Channel confirm that there have been five poor year classes in a row (2008 – 2012) which offers a bleak prospect for the future.

With the exception of Labour’s Ben Bradshaw, who tried unsuccessfully to raise the ridiculously inadequate bass minimum landing size (mls), and the Conservative’s Richard Benyon, who instigated the current mls review, other ministers have been reluctant to either heed the warnings or follow scientific advice. This is partly because the commercial sector consistently sets it’s face against any restrictions on their activities and they are effective lobbyists to which politicians have become accustomed to listening. However, we are hoping that the current incumbent, George Eustice, will be prepared to finally grasp the nettle and introduce long overdue conservation measures for this most iconic of sportfish.

The reason we are now in this unhappy place is because for the last 10 years our politicians have been ignoring the evidence from the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and their own scientists and listening to the loudest and most self-interested voices. The scientific advice from ICES in 2013 for a 36% cut in total catches was not acted upon and now the latest recommendation is for an 80% cut in catches of bass across the EU in 2015. Increasing commercial fishing effort and successive years of recruitment failure are cumulatively driving bass stocks towards a precipice. Unless action is taken immediately to protect the remaining stock a total moratorium on bass fishing in Europe will soon be the only option available to protect and restore this important fishery.

A collapse in bass stocks or a total moratorium on all forms of bass fishing would be disastrous for recreational sea angling which, according to Defra’s own Sea Angling 2012 report shows there are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy and upon which 10,400 full time jobs are dependent. If induced and indirect impacts are taken into account these figures soar to £2.1 billion and 23,600 jobs. The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England. In purely economic terms, we would be better off if bass were retained as a line caught species only with the bulk of the market demand met by farmed fish. This would immediately revive the UK fishery for both the inshore under ten metre commercial fleet, who would be in position to provide a premium product caught in a sustainable way, and the recreational sector –  the majority of whom practice catch and release.

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

Hopefully, one day, we will see a reduction in commercial over fishing of bass stocks with recreational anglers playing their part by fishing to sensible bag and size limits.

Will Europe Deliver?

Despite some encouraging signs that the European Commission has finally woken up to the unfolding disaster that is happening across the North Atlantic Fishery we remain concerned that their proposals will inevitably get watered down once the commercials get to work on their individual parliamentarians. A number of welcome measures are on the table at the moment and relate to the main bass stock in the Celtic sea, Channel, Irish Sea and North Sea. The interested Member States (i.e. France, UK, Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal) agreed on the following key factors:

  • acceptance of the assessment of the state of the stock;
  • a total allowable catch (TAC) not being the best option;
  • the need for immediate action to reduce fishing mortality significantly, with specific limits on targeted fisheries, both commercial and recreational;
  • the need to protect spawning aggregation areas;
  • the need to take into account socio-economic factors; and,
  • beyond immediate action the need in the medium term for a management plan.

There is no doubt that Mr Eustice’s fisheries officials at Defra are pushing hard for conservation measures at a European level. In recent correspondence they said:

This consensus is important as it now paves the way for action to be taken forward by the Commission, with the intention of including proposals in the Fishing Opportunities Regulation for 2015 for agreement at December Council. There is still further discussion expected with the Commission on whether the restrictions on commercial vessels will include entry and effort limits or catch limits for vessels, the latter being preferred by the UK.

 In addition, the Commission indicated that it would want to provide for closed fishing seasons for the commercial sector, and will be exploring the best legislative means to do so promptly for 2015.

This should mean closing the main spawning aggregation areas in South West waters to directed fisheries, consequently ending the pair trawl fishery during the spring months, targeted fishing which alone accounts for 25% of the EU catch.

 The Commission is also likely to propose catch limits for recreational fisheries (e.g. bag limits).

Most of the interested Member States already have some sort of bag limit. An EU standard would, we think, be a new approach and an appropriate level would need to be set, for example, we have an estimate that a two fish bag limit per fisherman a day would reduce the UK recreational take by a third.

 In my view this is good stuff but how much of it will survive the inevitable political trade-offs remains to be seen. That’s why both B.A.S.S. and the Angling Trust are pushing hard for the UK to adopt a management plan for bass in our territorial waters. After all, this is primarily an inshore species and other EU countries such as the Netherlands and Ireland have introduced bass minimum landing sizes and other management measures rather than leaving it all to Europe. Unfortunately, ‘leaving it to Europe’  has been our own government’s preferred position up until now but there’s some signs of a welcome shift. At a recent Angling Summit at Defra we challenged George Eustice and showed how reports from his own scientists demonstrated that bass displayed considerable site fidelity and that domestic technical measures could make a real difference.

These results, taken with those of an earlier study on the recruitment patterns of bass from UK nursery areas (Pickett et al., 2004), suggest that the main benefits (in terms of yield) of management aimed at protecting juvenile sea bass in coastal waters of England and Wales accrue chiefly to fisheries operating within the UK 6-mile zone. (Pawson et al 2007)

 This is why now is the right time for everyone who cares about the future of this wonderful fish to to pick up a pen or start tapping on a keyboard in order to let our MPs know that we are expecting to see action to save British bass stocks, not just in Europe but here at home. We have made it as easy as possible for anglers to get involved with a special Fishing Lines briefing on bass conservation from the Angling Trust and a draft letter to MPs which can be downloaded from our website here:

Letter template -   http://bit.ly/basstemplate

Fishing Lines briefing -  http://bit.ly/bassbriefing

In addition it would be helpful to remind the government of what their own officials are saying about  UK bass management measures:

George Eustices confirmation of the previous Ministerial undertaking to review the domestic minimum landing size for bass still stands in this regard in recent correspondence. Against the background of EU developments our domestic management role remains particularly important in consideration of the site fidelity characteristics of bass, meaning local management will make a key contribution.

To make a difference we need thousands of letters and emails from concerned anglers pressing parliamentarians to raise the issue with the Fisheries Ministers and to table parliamentary questions demanding action to save our bass. Most importantly we need an immediate increase in the current minimum landing size from 36cms to 45 – 48cms in order to allow bass to successfully reach their initial spawning size of 42cms and to complete their life cycles. Many of us would like to go further with the introduction of slot size limits to protect the bigger, more fertile, trophy fish which are of such value to any fishery. We also want to press for an end to commercial harvesting during the spring spawning period, restrictions on pairs trawling and trammel netting, which have done so much damage already, and for a significant expansion in estuarine bass nursery areas where juvenile fish can be afforded greater protection.

It would be great if you joined the Angling Trust and B.A.S.S. in order to contribute to the fight to save our bass but if you do nothing else this week please at least find ten minutes to download the info and ping off some choice words to your local MP.

You can get their details from:    http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/

To join the Angling Trust go to: http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=32&sectionTitle=Join+Angling+Trust

And for B.A.S.S. go to:  http://www.ukbass.com/join-us/

Remember – our bass are in trouble and they need all the help we can give !

On the Road Again – Campaign Diary

13 Oct
Tidefest 2014 champion Clive Westwood receives his cheque and trophy after catching 34lbs of tidal Thames bream

Tidefest 2014 champion Clive Westwood receives his cheque and trophy from Cllr Corinna Smart, Mayor of Hounslow, after catching 34lbs of tidal Thames bream

I’ve been on the road, actually more often on the railroad, a fair bit lately. Two days after returning from a fabulous time holidaying in the Scilly Isles it was up to London at the crack of dawn to get everything ready for our inaugural TideFest Competition on the Thames at Kew Bridge.  The early high tide meant a 7am draw and we had the guys fishing from 8.15 by which time the levels had dropped sufficiently for all competitors to be able to access the foreshore at Strand on the Green. Sadly I couldn’t fish the match myself as I needed to keep things ticking over at our HQ at the Brentford Boating Arch. TideFest is a new part of the Mayor of London’s Totally Thames Festival and we had a full programme of events to deliver including kayaking, paddleboarding, river dipping and a sailing race. It was sponsored by the Thames Tideway Tunnel and will take place every year on the last Sunday in September to coincide with World Rivers Day. As well as bringing together all manner of river users TideFest aims to highlight the recreational and environmental potential of London’s river in order to keep up the momentum for a cleaner Thames.

 

With the river fishing well this year and some top quality anglers in the field I had no doubt that some impressive weights would be on the cards. Despite bright sunny conditions the bream fed well in the first half of the match and Farnborough matchman Clive Westwood’s 34lbs net of bream saw him go home £500 richer and clutching a nice trophy presented by the Mayor of Hounslow. There were some good back up weights and a real enthusiasm to extend the event next year to other sections of the Thames Tideway. I’m currently talking to people about the possibility of a pairs event with 30 pegs at Kew and 30 further downstream at Barnes where roach and dace will make up the bulk of the catches rather than bream.

Angling Trust CEO Mark Lloyd telling the politicians a few home truths about the plight of bass stocks in Britain

Angling Trust CEO Mark Lloyd telling the politicians a few home truths about the plight of bass stocks in Britain

 

Enemy Territory

 Travelling up to spend two days at Conservative Party conference was not top of my list of fun things to do but the Angling Trust enjoys excellent relations with supportive MPs in all the main political parties and we always organise a joint reception with our colleagues from the British Association Shooting and Conservation for delegates, MPs and ministers. With the news of yet another Tory defection to UKIP I was inevitably teased by my former parliamentary colleagues as to whether I was planning to switch my colours from Red to Blue in order to help them even up their numbers!

Mark Lloyd and myself put a strong case for the introduction of immediate and unilateral UK conservation measures to halt the predictable and alarming collapse of bass stocks. This triggered a rather heated exchange with a particularly dim individual who appeared to be nothing more than an apologist for the commercial sector and their race to catch the last bass in the ocean. Never mind if over fishing causes a total stock collapse just as long as that last bass is caught in an English net and not by a beastly foreigner!

 

North,West and Midlands

 After a day in the office on Wednesday it was time to pack another travelling bag as I was due to speak at the North Yorkshire Angling Trust regional forum up in Humberside. It was a lively meeting and particularly good to catch up with Mike Lee from the local fisheries team who do a great job for anglers and fisheries with ever shrinking resources. With my next meeting scheduled for the following morning in Bristol it was pointless, if not practically impossible, to think of returning by train to a Reading that night so I tapped up our Regional Officer John Cheyne for both a lift and a bed in Worcester. John is a fine angler and good company so despite arriving back after 1am the long drive passed quickly enough.

With our head office based in Leominster, and staff spread around Wales and the Midlands, Bristol is a sensible place to hold occasional meetings and on Friday we were assembled there in order to pick the brains of our colleagues from Fish Legal on what measures we can realistically press for to ensure greater protection for estuaries. These diverse and dynamic habitats are vitally important to both marine and freshwater species. They are the missing piece in the conservation network and serve not only as gateways for migratory species but as a nursery area for many sea fish. On Saturday morning I swapped the train for the car for the trip up to Warwickshire for the Angling Trust AGM  and conference. The conference theme was on angling participation and the National Angling Strategy with an interesting perspective on the creation of community waters. It was particularly pleasing to hear of the support the angling projects are now attracting from local councils in intensely urban areas.

 

South West for work and pleasure

 The following week was a little less intense but still involved clocking up the miles. Luckily the venue chosen for the Countryside Alliance’s excellent Fishing4Schools programme couldn’t have been closer to my home as Sportfish at Theale is just ten minutes away. I’ve had my run ins with the CA in the past but I’ve got nothing but praise for the work of Charles Jardine who brought down parties of youngsters from as far afield as Yorkshire, Dorset and Kent to sample everything that angling can offer from tying flies and making floats to catching, cooking and eating fresh trout.

A nice morning in support of the excellent Fishing4Schools programme at Sportfish in Theale

A nice morning in support of the excellent Fishing4Schools programme at Sportfish in Theale organised by Charles Jardine

 

On Thursday it was back on the road for a visit to the Cefas labs in Weymouth to discuss strategies to try and deal with invasive species such as signal crayfish and to explore how we can help them publicise the measures necessary to improve bio-security to prevent the spread of lethal fish diseases such Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) and Spring Viremia of Carp (SVC). It turns out that, lovely as it was to enjoy a long hot summer, 2014 looks like being a record year for reported incidents of KHV. Match fisheries with a high stock biomass are particularly vulnerable and the Angling Trust with be working with Cefas to encourage better practice in some areas of our sport.

 

I stayed with family on the South Coast as I had booked a days chub fishing on Friday with my old friend Andy Cowley on a beautiful stretch of the middle Hampshire Avon near Ringwood. As it happens I’ve had a rather lean time myself on the rivers this season so it was good to get the rod bent again. The river was in good nick after a bit of rain which had livened things up and got the fish on the munch. Heavy feeding with maggots brought the chub up in the water and I enjoyed some tremendous sport with fish up 5.14, which take a bit of landing on a size 20 Super Spade in a strong flow. All in all Andy and I had 17 chub with 7 over five pounds plus some bonus grayling. This perfect day ended when an angry seatrout took a liking to my double red maggot and dragged me forty yards down river. All I could say when I eventually gazed at this bar of silver nestling in the net say is that Mr Drennan makes exceedingly good hooks!

 

A golden day on the Hampshire Avon with this 5.14 beauty being the best of an eleven fish chub haul

A golden day on the Hampshire Avon with this 5.14 beauty being the best of my eleven fish chub haul. And Andy Cowley (below) weighing in four fish over five pounds to 5.12

5-12 10-10-14 1

 

Saturday saw the trusty Skoda heading back down the A34 to Hampshire for the launch of Kevin Grozier’s follow up book to his widely acclaimed Avon Days and Stour Ways. I’ve known Kev since God was a Boy and happily agreed to his request to come and say a few words at the gathering. Although I will be writing a full review of A Keepnet Full of Dreams in due course I can thoroughly recommend Kevin’s second book to anyone with a love of running water and a penchant for some of the more quirky tales from the riverbank. And of course these book launches are about far more than a single publication, however meritorious it might be. They are a good excuse to meet up with fellow river enthusiasts and chew the fat about monsters caught and lost and the condition of our favourite streams. Big Dave was there along with Mark Wintle, Dave Stueart, Chris Ball and the irrepressible float maker Andrew Field. To mark the occasion Andrew crafted a special edition dome topped stick float which, although less ornate than most of his range, looks just the job for trotting flake down some of my favourite winter roach swims.

 

Joining angling author Kevin Grozier at the launch of his new book on the banks of the Avon at Ringwood

Joining angling author Kevin Grozier at the launch of his new book on the banks of the Avon at Ringwood

Check out some of the most impressive floats you’ve ever seen on Andrew’s website at http://lureofthefloat.co.uk/

To order a copy of A Keepnet Full of Dreams contact Kevin directly at. k.grozier@btinternet.com

To join the Angling Trust and help us to keep fighting for fish and fishing please go to http://www.anglingtrust.net/default.asp  or call 0844 7700616

The more members we have, the stronger we become and the more we can do for the sport we all love.

 

A perfect combination - a great new book about fishing two famous rivers and a special handmade Andrew Field float to catch a 'Keepnet full of Dreams'

A perfect combination – a great new book about fishing two famous rivers and a special handmade Andrew Field float to catch a ‘Keepnet full of Dreams’ 

 

 

 

 

Simply Wrassetastic

28 Sep
Wrasse Heaven - one of many uninhabitated islands in the Scillies

Wrasse Heaven – one of many uninhabitated islands in the Scillies

One of the things I love most about fishing is discovering something new. Like why the hell I didn’t go to the beautiful Isles of Scilly 30 years ago and why has it taken me this long to experience the fun of catching chunky wrasse on soft plastics? I’ve just returned from the UK’s largest collection of offshore islands, situated some 28 miles from the south west tip of Cornwall and home to probably the best wrasse fishing to be found in Britain.

 

These gorgeous fish come in a stunning array of colours, they fight hard and dirty and live in places that you’d want to visit even if you weren’t fishing. I was so impressed with the place and the fishing that I’ve booked to go back next year and I will be researching other wrasse spots along the south coast in the meantime!

Just add braid and a suitable rod and reel and this little lot will catch plenty of wrasse in the right spots

Just add braid and a suitable rod and reel and this little lot will catch plenty of wrasse in the right spots

 

Being brought up as coarse angler in the rivers, lakes and gravel pits of the Thames Valley I’m relatively new to chasing fish in the sea and to the weird, wonderful and totally addictive world of lure fishing. I guess it really kicked off for me in my time out in Australia where I had to learn a host of new techniques to catch hard fighting predators from the reefs and rocky headlands around Sydney. Using braid, jig heads, cone weights, soft plastics, Texas and Carolina rigs, vibrating blades, poppers and stick baits took some getting used to but it was a fascinating learning curve which totally changed my attitude to fishing back in the UK.

 

 

The Sonik Travel Rod -rigged and ready in a minutes - and tough enough to to keep the decent wrasse out of the rocks

The Sonik Travel Rod -rigged and ready in a minutes – and tough enough to to keep the decent wrasse out of the rocks

I now own a motley collection of lure rods and reels covering everything from drop shotting for perch in my local canal to powerful outfits capable of taming tarpon, golden dorado and mahseer from exotic locations in far flung countries. I’ve learnt those all important knots necessary for attaching braid to nylon and for allowing the lure or plug to retain life and movement on the retrieve despite being attached to stiff and heavy duty fluorocarbon leaders. I’m now perfectly confident at dragging a weedless shad through seemingly impenetrable forests of weed and kelp or  bouncing a Texas rigged soft plastic worm over limpet covered rocks that would swallow conventional tackle in the blink of an eye. Five years ago I wouldn’t have had a clue how to fish such spots yet this summer some of my best wrasse and bass have come from what I once considered to be tempting but unfishable habitat.

Like this...

Just rig it up like this…and twitch…and lift…and bang !

 

Lure fishing is the new rock and roll in the world of angling. It is growing in popularity when other arms of our sport are in decline. And it’s not just youngsters that like the cool gear that’s on offer. The highly mobile approach and the fact it is possible to grab a quick session on the bank without the hassle of getting hold of smelly bait and carting a barrow load of gear around is equally attractive to those of more mature years and weaker backs!

 

The UK tackle trade has been keen to meet the new demand and I’ve been impressed by the range gear that is now available through specialists lure fishing suppliers such as Art of Fishing or Lure Heaven. I spent some time at this year’s Game Fair with Ian McCormack of Sonik, a company who are relatively new entrants to this market. We were discussing the tremendous improvements in the range and quality of travel rods available and how the travelling angler has never had it so good. Before I knew it I was buying a new Sonik SK4XTR 9′ 15-40gram travel lure rod to team up with a new Shimano Aernos 4000FA spinning reel that Henry Gilbey told me I just had to have. Just to be on the safe side I also took over to the Scillies a lighter Major Craft Skyroad 10-30gram outfit – another Gilbey ‘must have’ item!

My first three pounder

My first three pounder

 

The Skyroad was a positive joy to use as it is light and responsive, casts like a dream and allows the angler to impact real action into the lures. Whilst it is a great bass rod and was fine on the smaller wrasse up to a couple of pounds there was just too much give in it to keep some of the larger specimens out of the rocks and kelp during those crucial first three seconds of the fight. After a couple of days I upgraded to the slighty heavier Sonik and a 20lb leader and the losses were dramatically reduced.

 

Wrasse are certainly not tackle shy but they can be picky about which lures and which retrieving techniques will persuade them to hang on. Worm patterns are by far the most effective and I certainly had a better hook up ratio by using as light a cone weight on the line as possible. I suspect that this is because most of the hookable takes, as opposed to the inconclusive plucks, tend to come as the lure is falling back into the rocks following a lift and twitch retrieve. The lighter the weight on the nose of the rig gives the wrasse just a little longer to home in on the target.

 

My most successful patterns were the four inch Hawg Wild Lure worms in pumpkinseed and watermelon colours, the Spro Komodo worms and an American largemouth bass lure from Poor Boy’s Baits called an Erie Darter. However, there are countless other patterns that will catch wrasse and plenty of room for experimentation. I would also add that having a colour change available will often keep the wrasse coming longer after a few have been caught and released from the same spot.

 

The only other advice I can offer is to avoid turbulent water and big swells as wrasse, understandably, are not keen on feeding whilst being smashed against the boulders. Forget about dawn and dusk, this is a family friendly species that bites well in the middle of the day and in bright sunshine. And concentrate on the couple of hours either side of high tide over rocks with plenty of weed, limpets and other tempting morsels rather than smooth and lifeless ground which might be kinder on your tackle but which will be less attractive to the fish.

My wife and I stayed on St Martin’s, the smallest of the five inhabited islands, at Churchtown Farm, in a handily placed and well appointed self catering apartment in the middle of the island. It was a short walk to Higher Town quay where we had arranged for the guys from Bennetts Boats to leave our dingy for the week. Check them both out at http://www.churchtownfarmholidays.co.uk/ and http://www.bennettboatyard.com/boat-hire-scilly.html

A great way of accessing some remote Scilly rock marks

A great way of accessing some remote Scilly rock marks

 

They like those plastic worms !

They like those plastic worms !

Local expert Del Thompson with a real brute

Local expert Del Thompson with a real brute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had no intention of fishing from the boat but with scores of other islands and islets that are not served by the otherwise excellent Scilly Island Ferries I felt that having our own transport would give me the rare opportunity to explore some virtually unfished rock marks. As it happens I caught just as many fish from a cove less than ten minutes stroll from our apartment as I did from some of the more isolated spots. That said I would recommend having the flexibility of your own transport as it greatly increases the fishing options available and you don’t have to worry about packing up as the wrasse come on the bite in order to catch the last scheduled ferry back to your accommodation.

 

The fishing was at times a struggle, but only because it took me a while to cotton on to picking the right spots with the right habitat and that were sufficiently sheltered from excessive waves or swell. Once it all clicked into place I enjoyed some truly great sport the highlight of which was a 12 fish catch in a couple of hours before breakfast. I had plenty of smaller wrasse up to around two pounds and a handful of larger fish to just shy of four pounds. However, there are much bigger brutes out there as these pictures from local expert Del Thompson clearly demonstrate. Check out Del’s blog, Scilly Lure Addicts, for a flavour of some of the reel screaming action that the Scillies can deliver. http://scillylureaddicts.blogspot.co.uk/

Wrassetastic or what ?

Wrassetastic or what ?

 

My next expedition to the sunny Scillies might be a year away but I can guarantee that my next wrasse trip will be a damn sight sooner. A quick look on Google Earth and few phone calls to some helpful friends should set me on the road to some more ‘wrassetastic’  action a little closer to home.

 

 

 

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.

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