A Tasty Silver Lady and a Top Ten of Sorts

4 Feb

A freezing day on the Frome didn’t deter the ‘Silver Ladies’ but the gap between bites gave plenty of time to reflect on those developments that have helped us keep on catching the fish we love.

I must confess that I get a little weary of the modern tendency in journalism to reduce everything to a series of top ten, top five or top three killer facts or tips. But I guess it saves space and makes the point in an era where attention spans become ever shorter.

I say this by way of an apology for the top ten list I’m about to espouse but in my defence the inspiration came from a freezing fishing trip I had last week in the company of my good friend and lifelong journalist Keith Elliott. To say the weather conditions were adverse would be something of an understatement. The UK was in the grip of freezing fog with night time temperatures down to minus seven in some parts of the normally temperate South. Unfortunately, and with the sort of timing for which he is famous, Keith had booked five days in a cottage on the banks of the Hampshire Avon at Burgate. This was actually an auction prize in the annual Avon Roach Project fundraiser – a great cause that myself, Keith and the Angling Trust enthusiastically support – so it seemed rude not to take up his offer to join him for part of the time.

I could only really afford one day out of the office so the plan was for me to drive down the evening before and for us to make an early start. As the only species likely to feed would be grayling and since these are now sadly absent from the middle reaches of the Avon we had decided to push on further west to the beautiful Dorset Frome – home of some particularly fine ‘silver ladies’. With driving likely to prove hazardous in the dark I left early and even so I had trouble finding the cottage in the gathering gloom. Dawn barely arrived the next day and as grayling are not lovers of low light levels we had a leisurely breakfast and didn’t arrive at the river until mid morning when conditions had improved slightly.

It was a fair old walk to the bottom of the stretch but we elected to start towards the downstream end and work our way back to the car. This was not a day for sitting still and the exercise would keep our ageing bones working and help fend off hypothermia!

The fishing was hardly hectic but by concentrating on the the deeper pools and glides on the swift flowing chalk stream we were able to winkle out a few nice grayling along on trotted red maggots with a bit of dramatic sea trout action which rarely ended well.

We both had a sprinkling of tasty two pounders with the best weighing in at a very respectable 2lb 6ozs. A few lumpy ones never quite made it as far as the landing net which is par for the course when catching these twisting, muscular grayling in fast flowing water on small hooks.


Ageing scribe Keith Elliott put the bait dropper top of his list and knowing how he plundered those Thames barbel by float fishing at Maidenhead in the 60s and 70s I can see why.


During a lull in the sport Keith and I mused that we had collectively been fishing for over a hundred years between us and started listing the most significant developments in angling over our fishing lifetimes. So, in no particular order, here’s our top ten.

Ten things that improved our fishing

Bait droppers

Back in the time when small to medium sized barbel were prolific enough to be targeted on float tackle this bait delivery system was a crucial innovation and could be the difference between a good and a very average days fishing. We made larger versions out of sieves and lids from tin cans but it’s now possible to buy them in all shapes and sizes. I rarely catch barbel on the float these days but my dropper comes out regularly when fishing chopped worm for perch and even when targeting roach with liquidised bread on deeper stretches of the Thames.

Fluorocarbon and copolymer lines

In the 70s most anglers I knew used Bayer Perlon for float fishing and Maxima for ledgering or when a sinking line was needed on the float. Hook links where usually just a lighter version of the same product. Now we are blessed with lines so thin and supple that I can’t remember the last time I needed to tie on a hook link of less than two pounds and I regularly float fish with four pounds straight through which was almost unheard of in the old days. Less chub trailing around broken hook lengths has to be a good thing!


As a kid I shall never forget the day I watched a guy catching barbel after barbel from the Thames near Staines on a homemade feeder comprising a plastic tube and some plumbers lead. My own fishing was revolutionised as a result and soon after commercial versions of these early prototypes started to appear in the tackle shops. It’s difficult to think of anything that changed coarse fishing as much as the advent of the swimfeeder.


Nowadays I can’t envisage lure fishing with anything other than a braided mainline. This thin, limp, low stretch material makes all the difference in being able to feel the action of the lure, detect the plucks and pulls and to cast distances that were impossible with springy, stretchy and much thicker mono lines. It has also featured heavily in hook links for specimen carp, barbel, bream and tench and has been responsible for many record breaking captures.

Carbon fibre rods and poles

When I look back to the horrible things we used to wave around on the bank, causing arm ache and sometimes worse, many other anglers of my generation say a silent prayer of thanks to the inventors of carbon fibre. The Hardy Matchmaker and the Mark IV Avon might have been the bees knees in their time but I can see no use for them these days other than for growing runner beans. Back then who could have ever imagined that one day we would be holding twenty foot float rods one handed or fishing 16 metres of ramrod straight pole up against the the far bank? By all means collect and revere your cane rods, if that’s your thing, but please don’t try and tell me that they are superior fishing tools!


Modern nets and unhooking mats ensure that prime roach like these can be returned looking as good as the moment they were caught.

Knotless mesh and unhooking mats

Not everything in ‘the good old days’ was that good. Fish care certainly wasn’t and I still wince at the memory of the fish scales floating on the surface as net after net of once prime roach and chub were tipped back from their knotted prisons at the end of a competition or when specimen fish were allowed to thrash around on stony ground. Thank goodness we have seen advancements that ensure that our fish can be returned safely and undamaged.

Hair rigs

When Lenny Middleton came up with the hair rig he did much more than revolutionise carp fishing. The tench and barbel anglers were quick to catch on and the popularity of pellets and artificial baits saw more and more anglers using this devastatingly effective method. Hair rigs are no longer the preserve of the specialist angler and are now a regular feature in match angling, particularly on commercial venues.

Spods and Spombs

What the bait dropper did for river anglers the Spod (and the much improved Spomb) achieved for those anglers tackling large still waters and needing to get a sizeable bed of bait out to a distant mark. And once again it’s not just a tool for carpers as I personally wouldn’t dream of trying to catch a gravel pit tench without having at least a medium Spomb in the bag for getting my hemp, dead maggots and pellets into those gaps in the weed or onto the gravel bars and gullies that the fish like to patrol.


Who goes coarse fishing these days without some or all of these in the bag?

Quiver tips and Bite Alarms

When was the last time you saw a swing tip or dough bobbin used in earnest? Ok I still have an old Fairy Liquid bottle top bobbin in the box but that’s purely for the sentimental value. Like most keen river anglers I’ve given lots of money to the likes of Messrs Drennan, Fox and Shakespeare to ensure that I’ve got a quiver tip to cover every species and every occasion. My half ounce glass tips will fool the most resistance adverse big perch and the five ounce carbons will handle big feeders for barbel on the Wye or the Severn when in full flow. Whilst I don’t often use buzzers I wouldn’t be without them on large still waters where bites are at a premium or on the rare occasion I fish through the night. More to the point is the fact that they’ve become so popular that there’s a generation of young anglers out there who scarcely know any other form of bite indication!


The Angling Trust and Fish Legal

Perhaps I’m biased but I make no apology for including the formation in 2009 of a single unified national representative body – the Angling Trust – covering all forms of angling. After years of ineffectiveness and internal rivalries at last our sport had a strong and credible voice in the corridors of power. We have been able to successfully fight off threats to angling and attract much needed funding into angling development and extra resources for clubs and fisheries to improve their waters. Our partner organisation Fish Legal (formerly the Anglers’ Conservation Association) was set up by enlightened fishermen over 60 years ago. They were not prepared to see their fishing destroyed with impunity by polluters. Their vision was that through creating a co-operative association they would have an organisation with the expertise and financial strength capable of supporting members to take legal action against those who damage our rivers or waterways.

Fish Legal has successfully fought everyone from rogue farmers to multinational corporations on behalf of its members while in many cases the government and statutory bodies have done little or nothing. Over the six decades of our existence we have built up not only a large fighting fund that allows us to take on the biggest polluters but also a unique expertise and an enviable reputation.

So as well as enjoying the benefits brought by all the advances in fishing tackle over the years why not invest a fraction of the money that we all spend on carbon fibre rods and poles, swimfeeders, bite alarms and all the other paraphernalia that we can’t seem to do without, on an annual subscription to support the work of the Angling Trust and Fish Legal?


It’s way of putting something back into the sport we all love as well as ensuring that together we remain strong enough to be certain that angling will still be here in another 60 years. I’m sure that our fish catching equipment will continue to improve and develop but without clean waters and healthy fish stocks the finest tackle in the universe is absolutely useless.

Don’t Look Back in Anger

26 Dec The year that began with the much mourned death of David Bowie ended with a horrendous fish kill on the beautiful river Teifi in Wales - another victim of poor farming practices.

The year that began with the much mourned death of David Bowie ended with a horrendous fish kill on the beautiful river Teifi in Wales – another victim of agricultural pollution.

In the circles in which I move most people won’t be at all sorry to see the back of 2016. Losing the likes of David Bowie, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Terry Wogan, Leonard Cohen, Rick Parfitt and now George Michael was a salutary reminder that even those who have been a constant presence in our lives will eventually fade away. But why so many in a single year? And with Brexit, Donald Trump, Aleppo and the massacres in Nice and Berlin, at times it felt like 2016 was the year that the lunatics really had been handed the keys to the asylum.

It’s not been a bed of roses on the fishing front either. Earlier this month the River Teifi in Wales, which was once one of the premier salmon and sea trout rivers in the UK, was polluted with farm slurry and thousands of these fine fish were killed. The impact on fish stocks is likely to be very severe for up to a decade, and both local and the visiting anglers who bring money into the Welsh economy have had their sport destroyed.

The Angling Trust partner organisation, Fish Legal, a membership association for angling clubs and fishery owners, is investigating the Teifi pollution to see if it can make a compensation claim for its member angling clubs and riparian owners who have been affected. However, many elderly anglers who have fished the river all their lives may not live to see it restored to its former glory and hundreds of anglers have gone onto internet forums to express their fury at the pollution of this beautiful river. Perhaps none more poignantly than Charles Jardine – possibly the most respected fly fisherman in the UK – who wrote:

When in God’s name will people realise, that rivers are the threads that bind us all together – land, people, life. And when will agencies (supposedly) working on the environments behalf – and ours – take polluting these vital strands of life seriously enough to hand out fines so harsh, that people will REALLY think twice about destroying such precious resources

This tragic incident is the latest in a rising tide of major pollutions from farms affecting rivers in England and Wales. Government figures show that farming – not sewage or industrial discharges – is now the top cause of major pollution incidents in the majority of rivers. At the Angling Trust we have repeatedly called for tougher regulation of farming but our governments in Westminster and Cardiff have chosen to take a light touch to regulation.

Soil erosion in the Wye Valley

Poor farming practices are the major cause of problems with our rivers

Back in September, following the referendum decision to leave the European Union, we brought together all the UK’s major angling and fisheries conservation groups and published a joint paper setting out our concerns over any moves to water down EU environmental legislation and urged the government to seize opportunities for reform of policies regarding farm subsidies and fisheries management. The paper – BREXIT, FISHERIES AND THE WATER ENVIRONMENT – produced by the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, Atlantic Salmon Trust, The Rivers Trust, Countryside Alliance, Salmon & Trout Conservation UK and the Wild Trout Trust argues for urgent reform of the wasteful and environmentally damaging system of agricultural subsidies which in some cases can even encourage and reward farmers who cause pollution. We called for the Common Agricultural Policy  to be replaced by payments that reward environmentally sensitive practices delivered through farmer-earned recognition and voluntary accreditation. The report also identified a number of opportunities arising from Brexit which could potentially benefit both the aquatic environment and rural businesses.

We called on ministers to make provision for the safeguarding of standards of environmental protection derived from European Union legislation, including for water, air, soil, flood protection, and climate change, after Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
The full report can be found here: http://www.anglingtrust.net/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=7863


Slow progress on bass
On the marine front 2016 has been marked by battles over bass and netting. It all came to a head at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in December which decides the catch limits for the following year.

Right across Northern Europe bass stocks are in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing and the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice and introduce the necessary conservation measures. The Angling Trust and Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society have pressed hard for ban on bass netting and we were delighted when the EU Commission published proposals for 2017 for a sustainable and well managed recreational and commercial hook and line only bass fishery.

The annual fisheries debate in the House of Commons saw strong representations from all parties in favour of the Commission’s proposals to help rebuild bass stocks following the damning ICES scientific assessment for 2017. Over 11,000 people signed a national Save Our Sea Bass petition and at long last it looked like we might see the end of the bass nets that have done so much damage to this fine sporting fish.

Anglers have been at the forefront of the campaign for bass conservation measures to rebuild threatened stocks. Unfortunately 2016 saw disproportionate restrictions on anglers but increased commercial catch limits which were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses, bad for the tackle trade and damaging to our sport. The Commission’s proposals for 2017 would have not only seen the removal of the damaging bass nets, which also kill sea birds, porpoises, dolphins and seals, but the introduction of a more flexible monthly bag limit for anglers. This would be good news for the struggling charter boat fleet and for the fishing tackle trade as more anglers would once again go bass fishing, putting more money back into the coastal economy.

I never tire of reminding politicians that the VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England and that sport fishing for bass delivers up to 40 times the economic and employment impacts of the commercial bass fishery.

So what actually happened? Well there is no doubt that the pressure paid off and EU Ministers came up with a better deal for bass in 2017, recognising that targeted netting for threatened bass stocks is no longer an acceptable form of fishing. But it was also a missed opportunity. The politicians agreed to restrict bass fishing to commercial hook and line and recreational angling only but also authorised  a series of over generous by-catch ‘allowances’ which we have slammed as a political fix.

Recreational fishing rules for bass remain the same at one fish a day per angler for the latter half of the year. A proposed monthly bag limit for anglers was rejected meaning that anglers have once again been disproportionately affected when they have by far the lowest impacts on stocks and deliver the greatest economic benefit from the fishery.

Commercial trawlers are to be allowed a 3% bass bycatch – well in excess of the suggested 1% and fixed gill nets are to be restricted to a by-catch allowance of 250kgs a month. Currently they have a monthly vessel allocation of 1300 kgs so this represents an 80% reduction which has to be welcomed.

However, the danger with granting these excessive by-catch ‘allowances’ is that the inshore commercial netters will just treat this as their own personal quota rather than a measure to reduce discards in response to ‘unavoidable by-catches of seabass’. In fact several of them have been boasting on social media that this is precisely what they intend to do. I foresee some interesting times ahead now that the legislation has been published for 2017. Bass netting is a largely targeted activity and the new rules state quite clearly that it will be illegal to deliberately target bass with nets: “no fishing for sea bass by commercial vessels targeting sea bass, except for long lines, pole and lines”.

It may well be necessary to call upon anglers to photograph, film and report any commercial fishing activity that is clearly targeting bass shoals with nets in order to ensure that the unavoidable by catch provision is not abused in pursuit of profit.

There’s a lot more information available at: http://www.anglingtrust.net/nomorebassnets

Reasons to be cheerful

I like to think of myself as an optimist – an essential trait in any angler I would suggest – so, forgetting the disappointments and tragedies of 2016 here are three reasons to be cheerful as we head into a New Year.

Despite the best endeavours of politicians, bureaucrats and the all too powerful farming lobby many of our rivers are fishing particularly well at the moment. The Thames and the Trent are definitely on the up and the dace have returned in numbers to in both the Severn and the Wye. I’m hoping this will see more anglers returning to running water and that the art of float fishing a flowing river will not, after all, become consigned to the angling history books.


The roach have made a dramatic comeback on the Thames. The highlight of my year was my first ever two pound roach from the river caught in the middle of London !


Let’s celebrate the perch revival – Sean Geer with a winter beauty from the Kennet and Avon

Secondly, as someone who remembers the dreadful perch disease that all but wiped out stocks of these lovely fish in the 1970s, I cannot help but celebrate the revival of these striped warriors the length and breadth of the country. Monster perch approaching five pounds can now be found anywhere from tiny farm ponds and sedate canals and drains right through to mighty rivers and huge gravel pits and reservoirs. With the growing popularity of drop shotting and lure fishing there’s now so many different and fascinating ways to target a species that once many of us thought was in terminal decline.


Good to hear that angling participation is on the up. There’s some great work going on in my region led by my good friend Will Barnard – Angling Development Manager for Thames Water

And lastly, how good it was to read the news that after a two year decline in angling participation, the figures are on the increase? The latest government statistics show that angling participation has increased over the last 12 months as anglers head out to the banks more often.

Latest figures show more people getting ‘out there’ and going fishing which is good news after several years in which angling numbers declined.

The Active People Survey is carried out by Sport England to establish how many people are participating in sport. The survey, looks at all sports, including angling, as part of the government drive to keep people engaged in sporting activity. 164,500 anglers were canvassed as part of the regular study to find out how often people go fishing and what is their background. For the past two years, the survey has revealed that angling participation has been dropping but an about turn this year has shown an up-lift in the figures and the frequency that people are “getting out there”.
I’m not a great one for New Year’s Resolutions but I am determined to do my bit to continue to drive up those angling participation figures by getting ‘out there’ as much as I can. So let’s close the door on ‘Two Thousand and Bloody Sixteen’ and go fishing !

Bass Battles

30 Nov


richard returning

An Irish bass is returned to fight another day. In Ireland no netting is allowed for bass – could the same be about to happen in the rest of Europe?

Things are certainly hotting up in the battle to protect declining bass populations from continued exploitation by the netsmen. With scientists at the widely respected International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) warning that bass stocks in northern Europe are now in deep trouble because of commercial overfishing the EU Commission have for once listened to anglers and conservationists and proposed that in 2017 there should be a complete ban on netting for bass.

This is something we at the Angling Trust have been seeking for a number of years as you can read here:

A boatful of bass that will never have a chance to breed and replenish

The science tells us there’s no room any longer for gillnets in the bass fishery

Not surprisingly angling groups across Europe have launched a national campaign, backed by the angling trade and some of the biggest names in the sport, to persuade EU Fisheries Ministers to adopt the Commission’s proposals to end damaging gill netting in favour of sustainable commercial hook and line and recreational fishing only. Here in the UK angling TV presenters Matt Hayes and Henry Gilbey are amongst those urging Britain’s 800,000 recreational sea anglers to back a national petition in support of the net ban. The campaign is also supported by the European Fishing Tackle Trade Association (EFFTA) and the Angling Trades Association.

Over 7000 anglers have already logged on to the special Save Our Sea Bass campaign page to add their names to the petition and to lobby their MPs and the Fisheries Minister George Eustice ahead of the EU Council meeting on December 12th. Anyone reading this who wants to show their support for bass conservation and a fair deal for bass anglers can find the campaign details here:

Send an Email

Despite the clear scientific advice issued by ICES in 2014 for an 80% cut in bass fishing mortality across the EU area, recorded bass landings by UK commercial vessels actually rose by 30% (from 772 tonnes to 1,004 tonnes). The current ICES advice is for a complete moratorium on all harvesting of bass. There is no doubt that inshore gill-netting has played a significant part in the decline of bass stocks. For example, in 2014, UK gill netters landed 646 tonnes of bass – more than the ICES 2016 Northern Stock advice of 541 tonnes for whole of the EU.

EU scientists told us in April 2015: “The spawning stock biomass is declining towards the lowest historically observed level.” In 2016, we reached an all-time low for the spawning stock biomass: 7,320 tonnes and the estimate for 2017 is even worse at just 6,219 tonnes. The Commissions proposals, although seemingly tough, actually exceed the scientific advice for a sustainable catch limit and leave absolutely no scope whatsoever for netting to remain within the European bass fishery.

Political failure

It is clear that we are paying the price for the repeated failure of politicians and fishery managers to follow scientific advice on bass conservation measures. Last year’s disproportionate restrictions on anglers, which saw us reduced to a zero (Jan – June) then a one fish bag limit for the remaining six months of the year while commercial catch limits were actually increased, caused huge outrage leading to demonstrations outside the constituency office of George Eustice and condemnation in parliament. There is no doubt that last year’s measures were bad for bass, bad for coastal businesses and damaging to our sport.

The Charter Boat Sector was particularly badly hit by the anglers bag limits and a survey carried out by the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA) showed that an estimated £2.87 million is likely to be lost by those charter boat businesses which take anglers to sea to fish recreationally for bass. These losses amount to more than 50 per cent of the total value of commercial bass landings in the UK, with individual charter skippers reporting an average of 22 fewer bookings and losing more than £8,000 in revenues.


Cornish bass guide Austen Goldsmith is a strong supporter of the proposals by the EU Commission to ban the bass nets

Well known Cornish bass guide Austen ‘Oz’ Goldsmith is fully behind the proposals to get rid of the bass nets. Here’s what Oz told me:

“As a professional bass fishing guide I have seen first hand the effects that gill netting can have on our bass fishery along with all the other marine life it entangles in the process. I have seen gill nets strung across beaches only yards from the shoreline where children play in the water. I have witnessed officers from my local Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority spend tens of thousands of pounds in man hours in a bid to catch a small group of commercial fishermen who bend and break the laws by netting in protected Bass Nursery areas under the cover of darkness . I have seen commercial boats landing thousands of kilos of bass in single a week as the fish shoal up in January prior to spawning and more importantly I’ve personally experienced the negative effect that this irresponsible practise has had on my local Manacles reef in the following years.”

Like the Angling Trust Austen believes that it is economic madness to allow gill netting to continue and that a sustainable commercial hook and line fishery working alongside a rejuvenated recreational bass sector will deliver a far greater return whilst contributing to the recovery of the species. He added:

” I have seen hook and line caught bass fetch £18 a kilo on the open market and gill netted bass fetch £ 2 a kilo. There are many stakeholders dependant on the Bass fishery who are extracting high value with low impact so why, when stocks are threatened, should we continue to allow a relatively small group of netsmen to generate far less value from the stock at the price of a huge and damaging impact on the environment? Quite frankly nobody can expect to see the netting of bass continue for much longer.”


Welsh bass guide Matt Powell believes that unsustainable gill netting is a prime cause of the worrying decline in bass stocks

Recent studies have shown that a bass caught recreationally is worth up to 40 times that of the same fish taken by a netsmen and more generally, recreational sea angling in the UK is far more economically significant than the commercial fishing sector. We’ve been working with our colleagues at the European Anglers Alliance to produce a short film entitled Sea bass – Crisis, Value, Solution, about the long-term management of bass and the economic case for getting rid of the nets.

Sea Angling 2012, the study of Recreational Sea Angling (RSA) carried out for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that:

* There are 884,000 sea anglers in England who directly pump £1.23 billion p.a. into the economy (£2.1 billion including induced and indirect impacts)
*10,400 full time jobs are dependent on sea angling (23,600 jobs including induced and indirect impacts)
*The VAT alone which is collected from sea anglers dwarfs the entire value of all commercial fish landings in England yet RSA is consistently well down the list of government priorities when it comes to resource sharing and allocation.

However, this could all be about to change if, at long last, we see an end to the dreadful gillnetting that has done so much damage to fish stocks, seabirds and cetaceans.



Sign the bass petition here

We are pushing hard to ensure that, at the EU Council meeting on December 12/13,all the European Fisheries Ministers – including Britain’s George Eustice – implement the Commission’s proposals in full, without any backsliding or watering-down as happened last year. For anyone needing more information Angling Trust has set up a special bass campaign page with full briefings on all the issues.

Most importantly of all we need every angler to sign our petition and show the politicians that we are serious about giving this fantastic sporting fish a future. If you’ve not already done so please take two minutes to sign the petition today. It’s available here:


Autumn Gold

16 Nov

I love this time of year. The colours changing with the season, the nip in the air and the fish on the munch before the really cold weather moves in and food becomes scarce. It’s surprising therefore, with so much good fishing to be had, that the tackle shops are emptying out and fewer anglers are on the banks. So for those of you who have packed your rods away far too early here’s a little taste of what you’ve been missing..

Tidal Thames Milestone

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy some great sport recently on several of my local rivers but pride of place has to go to my first ever two pound roach from the Thames.

Martin's first ever two pound roach from the Thames - and in the middle of London !

Martin’s first ever two pound roach from the Thames – and in the middle of London !

I was checking out a new stretch of the tidal Thames in Chiswick, in West London, as a prospect for next year’s Thames TideFest Angling Championship in the company of good friends Will Barnard, Angling Development Manager for Thames Water and local writer and river specialist Sean Geer. The tidal Thames is a big, challenging place to fish with powerful currents and sometimes treacherous banks requiring specialist equipment and a careful approach. It really is a far cry from the gentle flows and comfortable grassy edges to be found further upstream on the middle reaches. The fishable spots are where there’s a sloping gravel shoal that gradually becomes uncovered as the tide drops. Google Earth can point you in the right direction but the only way for us to find out if the area we had in mind was suitable to host a match section was to get in the river and fish the tide down to slack water.

Having watched the tidal specialists at work at the last three TideFest Championships I knew better than to turn up with a seat box and all the usual match fishing paraphernalia. This is a place where the angler has to move every twenty minutes and across ground so hard and stoney that most bank sticks won’t even scratch the surface. I borrowed a tripod from my mullet fishing mate Paul and hung a groundbait bucket in the middle with all my other bits and pieces in a bait apron. This way I could follow the water down and be re-positioned within seconds without any fuss.

The tidal Thames is no place for comfortable seat boxes - the tripod is the way to go

The tidal Thames is no place for comfortable seat boxes – the tripod is the way to go

Sean and Will opted to fish the float while I went for the feeder. As it turned out this was the right choice for although the float can produce some tremendous sport with roach, dace and bream, on this particular October day the fish remained further out in flow. I began with a heavy, solid groundbait feeder with worm and maggot on a No12 hook and after a slow start I started picking up a few modest bream before the roach put in an appearance as the tide slackened off a little. I was missing too many bites on the heavier gear so I switched to a lighter cage feeder, shorter hook length and just three red maggots on a No14. This seemed to make a difference as I began to connect more easily with the tentative bites, landing first a roach/bream hybrid then a brace of specimen roach with the biggest a real beauty weighing in at 2lbs 2ozs.

Now I’ve been lucky enough to have caught two pound plus roach from 8 different English rivers but never one from my beloved river Thames. To be honest I never really expected to get one as although there’s some great roach fishing to be had on this river it’s rare to hear of fish in excess of a pound and a half much less to catch them. However, the Thames has been on unbelievable form this season so I guess if I was ever going to catch a two pounder from this wonderful river then this was the year it was going to happen !

Test at its Best

Being a river roach fanatic is a tough gig in these days of increased cormorant predation, although to be fair there are some signs that the fish are learning to adapt their behaviour to better survive the ‘Black Death’. There were nearly four years between my last two pounder and the one in October from the Thames but, just like buses, two came along at once. Not for me this time but to my Angling Trust colleague Dave Wales who joined us for a special guest day on the fabulous Broadlands stretch of the River Test in Hampshire. This was the same venue that produced a specimen roach last year for Jon Cruddas MP, another guest and great friend of angling.
I have a bit of a love/hate affair with the Test. It is a truly wonderful chalk stream but some of the fishery management practices further up the river are not a great advert for our sport. Sure enough cutting down most of the marginal habitat, mowing the grass to bowling green standard and stocking the river with over sized trout will ensure guaranteed action for the wealthy fly fisherman with more money than skill. Luckily, Jon and Neil who run Broadlands are more than just fishery managers. They are both accomplished anglers who understand and care about the river and who ensure that vital habitat is retained. As a result their stretch is full of truly wild fish of all species and provides some wonderful winter coarse fishing for chub, roach, dace and grayling.

This two pound Test beauty was truly a fish of lifetime for Dave Wales

This two pound Test beauty was truly a fish of lifetime for Dave Wales

Dave had been having a bit of rough time with his health of late so we suggested he went in a renowned roach swim which also had the advantage of being close to the fishing hut and car park. Despite a bright sunny day and clear water, more suited to chub and grayling than the shy biting roach, Dave managed to extract a couple of beauties by long trotting maggots and corn through the swim. The best went 2.04 and was his first two pound roach in over 50 years of angling. We all gathered around to witness the weigh in and the smiles say it all.

These moments are all better if shared with friends

These moments are all better if shared with friends

MPs at the Castle

I’ve written before of how lucky we are to have a group of MPs in parliament who are always ready to pick up issues on behalf of angling. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling is something I set up in 2005 with my Conservative opposite number Charles Walker MP and I’m delighted that it is still going strong. Two or three times a year I try to get a few members of the group together for a days fishing and to bend their ears regarding the Angling Trust’s current campaigns.

Last month we were extremely fortunate to be offered a chance to take them on the famous Castle beat of the Hampshire Avon just south of Salisbury. This hallowed stretch was made famous by the writings of the then Longford Estate river keeper, the late Tom Williams, whose regular Angler’s Mail column ‘My River’ was essential reading for those of us of a certain age. In addition to Shaun Leonard of the Wild Trout Trust and Avon Roach Project co-founder and organiser Trevor Harrop we were joined by Labour leadership contender Owen Smith MP and of course Jon Cruddas and Charlie Walker. For some inexplicable reason most of the guys wanted to join my boss Mark Lloyd in fly fishing for pike but I knew this stretch held a massive head of chub which should be a far more reliable target on a low clear river.

Once again our love of fish and fishing crosses all political differences

Once again our love of fish and fishing crosses all political differences

And so it proved as Jon Cruddas and I set about plundering a shoal that had taken up residence in the shadow of the Castle Bridge. I set Jon up with my favourite Drennan Acolyte rod and a dumpy waggler rig to catch on the drop as I fed a steady stream of maggots down the the run. I had a feeling it might turn out to be a red letter day when I ran the rig through without any bait to test the shooting and depth and the float buried as a chub took the bare hook !

One happy MP - Jon Cruddas with one of a huge chub haul taken in the shadow of Longford Castle

One happy MP – Jon Cruddas with one of a huge chub haul taken in the shadow of Longford Castle

We actually only fished the swim for a little over four hours but in that time Jon and myself amassed a huge bag of fish, and, when we got tired, we invited the struggling fly fisherman to have a go at trotting with our ‘young flies’ rather than the fluff they were chucking around with little success. Both Owen Smith and Charlie bagged their share on the float and Owen even decided to take advantage of my careful feeding by pinging out a fly that looked suspiciously like an imitation red maggot and promptly landed the biggest fish of the day at 6.03.

Three MPs (one retired), a bridge and a shoal of chub. What could possibly go wrong!

Three MPs (one retired), a bridge and a shoal of chub. What could possibly go wrong!

The keeper, Pete Orchard, was keen to relocate some of these chub further down the fishery so we used a keep net. By the time we packed up there were 36 chub for 140lbs ready to be loaded into the aerated transfer tank. A truly amazing day in great company that we will all remember for a long time.

Avon chub spectacular

I avoid writing about otters on rivers because all it does is bring out the knuckle draggers from under the stones. My own views are well know but for clarity let me state that otters are a real problem on some rivers where there is an imbalance between predator and prey or where there are other factors that have lead to poor fish recruitment. There was never any excuse for either rearing them or undertaking the irresponsible release programmes that we saw in the eighties and nineties. These are apex predators with a legitimate place in the food chain. They do not need humans to survive. If we stop poisoning them they will recover without our help and they’ve certainly done that.

We just have to accept that we live in a world where the vast majority of the public would rather see an otter in the wild than a fish so if anyone thinks that any government is going sanction any form of otter cull then they need a serious reality check.

The Avon has always had otters on it and nowadays it’s got a lot more. So how has this affected the fishing? There is no doubt that there are less barbel about, although they are a hell of a lot bigger than 20 years ago, and there are welcome signs this year of some successful recruitment which augers well for the future. I think the pike are less plentiful as one predator feeds on another. There’s plenty of dace about and, speak it softly, there’s the beginning of a roach comeback, partly due I’m sure to the great work of Trevor and Budgie at the Avon Roach Project. But without a shadow of a doubt the chub fishing on this river has never, and I mean never, been so good. My friends are landing some phenomenal catches on the Somerley waters north of Ringwood and now almost expect to catch a couple of six pounders in a bag of ten or so fish on any half decent day in a good swim. This really is as good as chub fishing gets.

Despite the otters the chub fishing on the Hampshire Avon has never been so good.

Despite the otters the chub fishing on the Hampshire Avon has never been so good.

To prove the point let me end by a brief description of my last outing. I needed to catch up with Trevor to discuss some work related matters and, since it was a nice day, I thought we could best do this on the river bank. We arrived at 11am at a spot with some form for good bags of chub. The wind was off our backs so I could comfortably fish alongside the far bank bushes with a three gram bolo float. Three pints of maggots and five hours later Trevor had netted 26 chub for me for over 80lbs. As we walked back across the water meadows in in the fading light he turned to me and said: “You know what mate? Those guys are right. The river is f**ked. The otters have eaten all the fish!”

So forget the doom mongers, get out there and enjoy some of the great autumn river fishing that we have in this country.

Why all the fuss about this great big carp?

3 Oct

‘The Big Rig’ caused a big fuss but Tom Docherty deserves congratulations for landing the largest ever carp caught in the UK

I see it didn’t take long for the recent story about the new British Record carp and the so called online death threats to the lucky captor Tom Docherty to be twisted out of all proportion by our wonderful tabloid media and to be pinged around the world.
Within 24 hours I had requests from colleagues in Australia to explain what on earth was going on. The Aussies by and large hate carp, quite unreasonably in my view, and are trying to resist the spread of this non-native species which they blame for damaging both the habitat and recruitment of their indigenous fish. As a consequence, they think it beyond parody that British anglers could get worked up over something they consider to be nothing more than a pest which is only fit for garden fertiliser.
Now whilst I’m not by any means a dyed in the wool carp angler I do enjoy catching them from time to time as they look good and pull hard. This season I’ve spent some enjoyable time catching fish well into double figures off the surface and by float fishing in the margins. A few years ago I spent some time targeting carp in my local River Thames which was challenging but fun. I’ve even been on the occasional carping holiday abroad and was lucky enough to land one or two whackers including a brace of French fifty pounders. So I have huge respect for those dedicated guys who are prepared to spend them time trying crack hard waters for big carp that have seen it all before. Of course, it’s a bit bonkers that certain fish get given names as if they were pet cats but we all know that while smaller carp can be almost suicidal in their desire to be captured there are plenty of bigger, wiser specimens swimming around in our waters that are the very opposite of pet fish.


Martin doesn’t claim to be a ‘dyed in the wool carper’ but he does enjoy catching them from rivers like this lovely common carp from the Soane in France

The average Aussie angler wouldn’t believe the lengths we have to go to persuade these wily creatures to even pick up a bait. Consequently, there are carp fishers who are up there with the finest anglers I know and who could catch fish anywhere. And there are others who are just mono species specialists who only know how to fish one way – but what’s new about that? I’ve met plenty of fly fisherman who wouldn’t know one end of a stick float or fixed spool reel from the other and vice versa.
Like all branches of our sport carp fishing is not to everyone’s taste and it does have its critics but here at the Angling Trust we remain enthusiastic advocates for both carp and those who choose to fish for them. We have spent a fair bit of time successfully lobbying the Environment Agency so that carp anglers can benefit from the new rules allowing a three rod licence and we have secured increases in funding for otter proof fencing to protect fisheries at risk from predation. Only last week we were delighted to announce a new tranche of Angling Trust Ambassadors including Bev Clifford, the owner of Carp Talk magazine and the TV star and carp enthusiast Scott Maslen. Our ranks were recently boosted with the appointment of Carp Team England manager Rob Hughes as one of our Angling Promotion Officers and we are working on finding new ways to involve carpers in the work of the Angling Trust.


Rob Hughes, Manager of Carp Team England, now works at the Angling Trust


Carp Talk’s Bev Clifford has recently come on board as an Angling Trust Ambassador

But I digress.

There is no doubt young Tom Docherty landed the fish of his dreams when a new record carp weighing 69lb 13ozs finally rolled over his outstretched landing net at the prestige Avenue Fishery run by respected carp enthusiast Rob Hales in the beautiful English county of Shropshire. I wanted to congratulate Tom on a great fish and Rob on creating a great fishery and that really should have been the end of it. Sadly, we now live in the internet age that has enabled the sad, bad and mad to become overnight journalists and commentators. Sadder still is the fact that recreational fishing, that most relaxing and natural of all pursuits, is by no means immune from the outpouring of bile and vitriol that is all too often a feature of social media. Having spent over half of the 25 years I served as an elected representative in the UK in an web free environment I can tell you I was glad to get out of it in 2010 and leave the internet trolls behind. Our recent poisonous debate over Brexit was an unedifying spectacle in general, particularly so online, where the levels of naked racism plumbed new depths. So the point I’m making here is that carp fishing, like any activity enjoyed by large numbers of people, has its fair share of mal-adjusted followers who feel empowered by the platform, and anonymity, that social media provides.
Apparently, the charge sheet against Tom and his fish included claims that it was imported from abroad and stocked in a manmade puddle “not much bigger than a swimming pool” so it could be easily captured as new British record fish. The truth is obviously, somewhat different.
The Avenue is one of a number of specialist carp fisheries run by Rob Hales and is far from a puddle. Far from being a swimming pool it is a rich, 17th century estate lake of over ten acres in which fish thrive and prosper. Rob deliberately grows on fish he has selected for stocking in nearby reservoir and ensures that only the fittest and the best are stocked into his waters. He uses the offspring from the fastest growing and healthiest fish to ensure that the best possible genetic lineage is maintained in his fisheries. And what on earth is wrong with that? Stocked fisheries exist all over the world and are an important angling resource.
The Aussies have stocked barramundi into their water supply dams where they’ve grown to trophy sizes and provided great sport. In the USA largemouth bass are regularly stocked to supplement local recruitment and here in the UK most of our stillwater fisheries have received some form of stocking at some time in their history. To object to the capture of a fish just because once upon a time it was stocked from somewhere else is to object to the basis of a fair amount of what we do and enjoy as anglers.
Although, it was exaggerated out of all proportion there was a bit of jealousy and unpleasantness around on social media but as far as I’m aware the ‘death threats’ are not being taken seriously by either Tom, Rob, the police or anyone else who can hold a pencil the right way up. I’m afraid they are the product of the age in which we live and if you look hard enough on Facebook or in the unmoderated comments section of most major publications you will find the same trolls posting stuff online that they would never dream of saying to anyone’s face.
I hope Tom’s fish is accepted as a new British record carp and that he carries on enjoying his fishing just as much as he did before all this kerfuffle sprang up. As for the trolls and keyboard warriors – well I’ve always found the delete button a more than useful tool in these circumstances.

What a river !

19 Sep

As regular readers of this column may recall I only work part time as National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust and, when I’m not fishing, I do a bit of freelance work on other projects to pay the bills and keep me out of trouble. In recent years much of this work has centred around the campaign to clean up the tidal Thames in London. After flirtations with other streams, not least the Kennet, Hampshire Avon, Dorset Stour and the mighty River Wye, I am content to describe the Thames as my favourite river.

The tidal Thames - superb fishing in the heart of London

The tidal Thames – superb fishing in the heart of London

This might seem a strange choice at first glance, after all the Thames has not given me any of my personal best specimen fish. I may have grown up on its banks at Runnymede, Staines and Egham but it was the Kennet that delivered me those memorable catches that still burn bright in my fishing brain. Like the red letter day in 1982 when I had five two pound roach in an afternoon or the following summer when I was lucky enough to catch 30 barbel in a morning on a stick float and centrepin from the famous raft swim at Padworth. Back then the Avon and the Stour were the rivers to head for to seek specimen fish and much time and money was spent driving away from the Thames Valley and eating up the miles on the M3 in search of dreams. Even in their heyday these were not easy rivers but persistence and a modicum of ability eventually brought results. My first double figure barbel came from the Avon at Fordingbridge and a giant roach, a whisker under three pounds, slid over my outstretched and shaking landing net on the Stour just upstream from the New Weir at Throop.


From static canal to a foaming torrent – the Thames is a challenging river to fish

So what is about Old Father Thames that stirs the passions of anglers of a certain age? I can only speak for myself but this is a river that has everything – it has history, majesty, size and serenity. It can be a frustrating and difficult place to fish, yet at times incredibly productive with catches to match anywhere else in the country. The current is often so placid that many stretches in the summer resemble a giant canal rather than a mighty river, yet at times the Thames becomes a foaming torrent, the power of which can take your breath away. I’ve fished it in all conditions, in all weathers and experienced all its moods. I’ve seen the river on its knees through pollution with signs posted up warning swimmers not to endanger their health by entering the water. I’m old enough to remember when parts of the tidal river in London were declared biologically dead and yet I’ve seen it recover with salmon traversing Molesey weir and in recent years sea trout finding their way upstream to Thames tributaries like the Loddon close to my home in Reading.

Angling journalist Keith Arthur is a massive fan of Old Father Thames.

Angling journalist Keith Arthur is a massive fan of Old Father Thames.

For me it’s where it all began. My first fish was the inevitable small perch on a worm from a stillwater but that wasn’t the place or the species that made me into a lifelong angler. It was on the Thames and its tributaries west of London where I learned my craft, starting with a trip, by bicycle as they all were in those days, to the tiny river Bourne near Chertsey. A six foot spinning rod and a metal centrepin reel that barely turned were hardly the best tools with which to run a float down the current but somehow I managed. And, a couple of hours later, when three small chub and the most magnificent roach in the world – all 10 ounces of it – lay quivering in the bottom of my tiny keepnet I was hooked for life.
These rivers became my world. The Colne at Wraysbury where I caught my first specimen roach, the Colnbrook just above the confluence with the Thames which threw up wonderful bags of fish when the main river was in flood and the Bourne from its source in Windsor Great Park right down to the main river. What I learnt on the tributaries I began to apply to the Thames itself. I caught roach and dace on hemp and elderberries at Laleham, I discovered how to beat the ever-present bleak by using the Dumpy float behind the gasworks at Staines and at Datchet, Windsor, Bell Weir and Penton Hook I caught barbel and chub on cheese and luncheon meat. Even when girls came along and priorities altered it was the Thames that kept calling me back. Returning home on holiday from University in the 1970s I would immediately dust the tackle down and plan a trip to a favourite swim to rekindle childhood memories.

The Thames is home to some monster chub but at long last the small ones are coming through again which is great news for the future.

The Thames is home to some monster chub but at long last the small ones are coming through again which is great news for the future.

Some 50 years later I still love the place and it is immensely satisfying to not only be working to improve and celebrate this wonderful river but to be witnessing yet another revival. Marlin, tarpon, tuna and bonefish are all very well, and I’ve experienced the thrill of all of these magnificent fish and many more besides, but river roach remain my favourite species and probably always will. On the Thames the roach seem to go through distinct cycles. In the early nineties we had some spectacular winter sport on bread punch around Reading as the fish shoaled up in the town centre. Very few were over a pound and a quarter but the quantity of fish between 6ozs and a pound made for some great stick float fishing. Eventually this died off, perhaps it was cormorants or perhaps the reasons were just cyclical – or more likely both – but the roach didn’t seem to be about in numbers. Yet a decade later they were back with a vengeance and we were enjoying great fishing at places like Goring and Wallingford. Again bread was the way to go in the winter with hemp ruling the roost in the warmer months. I think my best bag was around 40lbs taken one March afternoon, when I had sneaked away from parliamentary duties by accepting an evening speaking engagement in Oxfordshire, at a time when I knew the river would be sock on.

You never know what the Thames will turn up!

You never know what the Thames will turn up!

Salmon And sea trout can now be found in the river along with zander and even grayling.

Salmon and seatrout can now be found in the river along with zander and even grayling.

However, as any experienced Thames angler will confirm, nothing stays the same on this river for long. The massive summer floods of 2007 moved the fish all over the place. Carp were washed in from nearby stillwaters and the big shoals of roach seemed to have disappeared and we waited in vain for their return. But this remarkable river has the power to regenerate itself and Environment Agency surveys in 2011/12 -which were years of low flows and potential drought – showed the presence of successful spawning and a huge amount of fry in the margins. And guess what – the roach are back in numbers. Matches are currently being won around Reading and Oxford with anything between 15 and 35lbs – and a lot more than that if the bream put in an appearance. After a long absence, chublets are being caught up and down the river and the glory days of massive chub weights could be on the cards again. Down the road from me at Pangbourne the river is alive with hand sized skimmer bream so there’s obviously been good recruitment with these too. And just to add a touch of exotica to proceedings I heard last week of a grayling being caught in the main river – although this may have been a refugee from the tiny River Pang that decided to go for a wander – and of two big salmon turned over while electrofishing. Wherever and however these fish were spotted it speaks volumes for the water quality when grayling, salmon, sea trout can survive in the middle reaches of the Thames.
But there is one missing piece of the jigsaw of recovery and that’s the tidal river as it flows through London. The water flowing over Teddington Weir and into the tidal stretches may be the cleanest it’s ever been but the capital’s sewers, built in the 19th Century by the visionary engineer Sir Joseph Bazzalgette, were designed for a city of two million not the eight million that currently live here. Being a combined system that carries rainwater as well as domestic sewage Bazzalgette’s sewers needed some 36 storm overflows (CSOs) to discharge directly into the river to avoid flooding homes at times of exceptionally heavy rainfall. The massive increase in population means that these same CSOs now discharge millions of tonnes of untreated sewage into the river, each and every year. This does only limited damage in the winter at times of high flows but the impacts of a summer storm on a low and de-oxygenated waterway can be catastrophic. June 2010 saw a horrendous fish kill following such an incident and this is heartbreaking thing to witness on a river that has staged such a remarkable recovery that 127 different species of fish can now be found in the Thames estuary and along the Tideway. Even when there haven’t been mature fish floating dead on the surface we know that yet another year’s fry have been wiped out through lack of oxygen.

The Thames Tunnel will stop millions of tonnes of storm sewage overflowing into he tidal river

The Thames Tunnel will stop millions of tonnes of storm sewage overflowing into he tidal river

After years of study an expert panel came up with an innovative three part solution which would see big improvements at all the five sewage works discharging into the tidal river, plus the construction of the Lee Tunnel to deal with the massive CSO at Abbey Mills. That work is now complete and the benefits for the river are becoming clear. The final stage is for the remaining CSOs to be intercepted and the sewage put into a massive tunnel, or supersewer, which would run under the bed of the river before being pumped into the expanded treatment works down at Beckton. This huge £4 billion civil engineering project was not without its critics but it was incumbent upon those of us who care about the river and its wildlife to make our voices heard. I did my bit for the cause whilst in Parliament but I retired from the Commons before the final approval for the Tideway Tunnel had been secured. Consequently, I’ve spent the last four years campaigning for the scheme to go ahead, working with like-minded groups and individuals in the Thames Tunnel Now Coalition. Both planning and ministerial consent have now been achieved and construction is under way. So the focus of my work on this project has turned to ways in which we can try to reconnect Londoners with their river. We need the whole community to appreciate the value of a cleaner Thames, not just the anglers, bird watchers and environmentalists. That is how TideFest was born and part of my job is to organise the event working with many of the same groups who campaigned to make the Tideway Tunnel happen.
Tidefest, now in its third year, has become a successful annual event to celebrate the recreational importance of the Thames Tideway to Londoners. It is based at Strand on the Green, Chiswick and other locations along the tidal river and is a day packed with loads of great activities for all the family.
This year there was paddleboarding, kayaking, river dipping, guided foreshore walks, boat trips, an angling competition, nature reserve visits, artists displays, seine netting, live fish tanks, museum discounts, children’s games, stalls, music, and refreshments. There were children’s activities including river dipping, water testing and games designed to explain and increase understanding of what’s going on in the river run by the environmental charity Thames21 with support from the Institute of Fisheries Management and ZSL.
Local people showed up in huge numbers in response to the call to ‘come along and enjoy the river’. Plenty of glorious sunshine ensured a great turnout on an action packed day on the water. Local MP Ruth Cadbury was one of the visitors and tried her hand at kayaking as well as visiting the stalls and marquees along the riverside embankment. Nearly all the pre booked events were completely sold out and we are looking to expand the size and number of activities on offer for next year.

There were some impressive weights of bream at this year’s TideFest Championship


Martin and local MP Ruth Cadbury with a baby bass caught while river dipping at this year's TideFest

Martin and local MP Ruth Cadbury with a baby bass caught while river dipping at this year’s TideFest

TideFest 2016 – Record match weight in the London sunshine.
So with all this going on how did the river fish? Well I’m pleased to report that the Third Tideway Angling Championship saw a record weight of over 40lbs of bream for the winner Martin Davies who feeder fished maggots alongside Oliver’s Island below Kew Bridge.
32 anglers fished the two zones at Barnes and Strand on the Green and despite hot sunny conditions and the presence of over 2000 people enjoying walks, paddleboarding, kayaking, river cruises or simply strolling along the towpath, the bream fed well and there were three weights of over 30lbs topped by Martin Davies’s 46.11 of bream up to 8lbs. Second with the top weight at Barnes was Ricky Tomala with 32.11 followed by Steve Edwards with 30.09 then Gordon Bullock with 20.8. The top four shared a £1000 pay out. The event is sponsored by Tideway – formerly Thames Tideway Tunnel – and Thames Water and the match was organised by the Angling Trust with invaluable support from Will Barnard, Angling Development manager at Thames Water.
For me it was fabulous to see so many Londoners enjoying and learning more about this fantastic river. Although we had some stunning bream weights in our match the roach were quiet this year but I know there have been some great pleasure catches of red fins this summer and last year the section at Barnes threw up some real clonkers. The guys doing the seine netting at TideFest by Kew Bridge even managed to catch several baby bass which now use the tidal river as a nursery area. This all goes to show what a great river, wildlife and recreational corridor we have here in the heart of London – a river that has already received a boost from the huge investment programme at the five big sewage works and will be even cleaner and better once the Thames Tideway Tunnel is built.
And that, my friends, is why the Thames is my favourite river – it never fails to surprise and it just keeps on regenerating and getter better.

Check website or Facebook page at http://www.thamestidefest.net or http://www.facebook.com/thamestidefest for more information about TideFest.

Our Fishing MPs

11 Aug

This time last year I wrote about how the Angling Trust works to promote the benefits of angling to parliamentarians and how important the All Party Parliamentary Group on Angling has been in giving us both a platform and access to supporters in both Houses of Parliament. You can read it again here:



Labour MP Jon Cruddas with a fine pollack caught on holiday with Martin from an Irish rock ledge

Amongst the group are some pretty passionate anglers including Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas and Labour leadership contender Owen Smith in the red corner and chairman Charles Walker and former fisheries minister Richard Benyon from the Conservatives. We pick up new recruits after each General Election and in 2010 fly fishing enthusiast George Hollingbery joined our ranks making an immediate impact by taking over as chairman and leading the charge for proper conservation of threatened bass stocks. We also signed up Marcus Jones, the newly elected Nuneaton MP and accomplished coarse angler who is now the local government minister.


Parliamentary Angling Group Chairman Charles Walker (Con) congratulates his Labour colleague Jon Cruddas on his first ever two pound plus roach

After the 2015 election we have been pleased to welcome North Cornwall MP Scott Mann to the group. Scott has played a blinder on the bass issue and sponsored a parliamentary debate back in February which led directly to the government conceding the need to work with the Angling Trust and others on a long term management plan to conserve the species. We were also delighted when Mims Davies, the newly elected MP for Eastleigh in Hampshire, joined us as she has already been active in opposing options for a planned road scheme that could prove detrimental to important water meadows on the lower stretches of the beautiful River Itchen.

In addition to organising key debates the members of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group table parliamentary questions on issues important to fisheries and conservation, lobby government departments and help us arrange delegations to ministers to press home our arguments on behalf of our sport. They do this not for any other reason than because they have an interest in seeing angling thrive and prosper in Britain.


Newly elected MPs Mims Davies (Eastliegh) and Scott Mann (North Cornwall) at the APPG on Angling AGM with Charles Walker and myself

During the 13 years I spent in Parliament I was a member of a number of All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and I consider many of them to be examples of our democracy at its best. Party political considerations are put to one side as elected representatives come together to espouse causes and issues of common interest. They cover issues as diverse as drought in Africa, breast cancer and abused and neglected children right through to sporting and cultural subjects such as cricket, jazz and art. You can find a full list here


In common with many of the other APPGs the Angling Group has its secretarial services delivered by the appropriate national organisation for the area – in this case the Angling Trust, or more specifically me as National Campaign Coordinator. I fully admit that it is an important, but nonetheless enjoyable, aspect of my job enabling me to catch up with old friends in Parliament and keep the angling flame burning in the corridors of power. I started the group with Charles Walker back in 2005 and it’s great to see it going from strength to strength more than ten years later.

The 'offending' photo of Labour Leadership contender Owen Smith fishing two Conservative MPs !

The ‘offending’ photo of Labour Leadership contender Owen Smith daring to go fishing with two Conservative MPs !

And of course it’s not all meetings, reports and parliamentary questions as we do organise a handful of fishing trips every year to bring everyone together and as a way of saying thanks for all that they do for angling. Over the years we’ve been barbel fishing on the Wye, trotting for roach, dace and chub on the Test and Kennet, fly fishing for trout on the Itchen and Pang and for carp on a Berkshire lake. This year I’m taking them piking on the Hampshire Avon and we’ve already had trips targeting trout and carp.

Labour Pains

So what’s not to like about all of this? Surely we want our politicians to put party differences to one side, to be real people with real interests and to occasionally speak up for issues that matter to those of us who share the same passions? But apparently not so if you can use a harmless fishing trip to attack a political rival – for that is what happened this month to Owen Smith as Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters posted on Twitter and social media one of those stupid meme things deriding Owen for appearing in a photo with Conservative group members Charles Walker and Richard Benyon. They claim that Owen’s socialist credentials are damaged by such dreadful associations with the other side of politics, obviously unaware that angling is a sport enjoyed by millions of working people or that Corbyn himself is an enthusiastic member of numerous APPGs on which he too associates with the dreaded Tories!

I know of these things because I took the offending photo which the Corbynistas pinched from this blog and I felt obliged to respond to a Facebook post along these somewhat intemperate lines:

Of course what is not said that also on this angling trip were Salter and Cruddas whose socialist credentials are a tad stronger than all the public schoolboys and dodgy Trotskyists who run Corbyns office !

Owen Smith MP with a nice fly caught carp.

Owen Smith MP with a nice fly caught carp.

To their credit our MPs have just laughed this nonsense off but it has given me the excuse to remind anglers that we should be pleased that we have some good friends in Parliament and that if anyone happens to have a vote in the forthcoming Labour Leadership election there is one candidate, Owen Smith who is actually a real live angler – as Margaret Thatcher famously said: “One of us”!