Seasons Greetings and a New Year Wish List

Looking forward to some winter action

The coloured water could make winter roach fishing an option
The coloured water could make winter roach fishing an option

This time last year we were praying for rain as our rivers stopped flowing and in some cases dried up. Now we are praying for the rain to stop so we can get near enough to the bank to cast a line or two over the Christmas holiday season. Luckily I’ve got all sorts of floodwater hotspots around me in the Thames Valley so the high water isn’t going to stop me catching a few fish – I hope. There are some some lengthy lock cuttings and Thames backwaters not too far away from my home in Reading which can be good for a bag of roach, bream or even the occasional barbel in the right conditions. These are all species that don’t mind the extra colour although I suspect my normal winter quarry of  chub and grayling are going to be off the menu until the water clears a little.

A personal best Kennet perch is one of Martin's target for the Xmas hols
A personal best Kennet perch is one of Martin’s target for the Xmas hols

I find myself fishing the Kennet less and less these days which is a shame. Although the river is a shadow of its former self in terms of numbers of fish it does still hold some exceptional specimens and there are some lumpy barbel to be had in these warm winter floods. The other species that is still worth targeting are perch. Perhaps there aren’t the four pounders around in anything like the numbers of six or seven years ago but there is still a reasonable chance of beating my current  Kennet PB of 3.09. Consequently the bait fridge has a good supply of lobworms and red maggots should the opportunity present itself to go chasing stripies once the family festivities are out of the way.

The other great thing about perching in this part of the world is the ability to catch big ones in the Kennet and Avon canal should the rivers be out of sorts. My good friend and local perch expert Will Barnard has shared a couple of his favourite spots with me and I’ve got a few of my own in mind. The barbel are going to be more hit and miss but I’m tempted by a now unfashionable stretch on the lower river which should put me in the frame for at least the chance of a winter double. Casting out a heavy method feeder or huge lump of flavoured meat onto the edge of a raging torrent on ‘cod gear’ is not the most exciting form of fishing in my book but when that tip crashes over and a dirty great barbel heads east for Reading town centre then the hours of mind numbing inactivity are quickly forgotten.

I hope you manage to find somewhere fishable in your neck of the woods over the holiday period and that the fishgods smile kindly upon you.

Looking ahead to 2013

We’ve got masses of work on at the Angling Trust with quite a few important projects coming to fruition. First and foremost will be the conclusions of the Defra cormorant licensing review that we persuaded the government to undertake and which is due to report early in the New Year.  These birds have exploded in numbers over the last 20 years and done untold damage to silver fish stocks on club and commercial fisheries as well as to roach, dace and eel populations in many of our our rivers. Let’s hope all those  Action on Cormorants postcards, letters and petition forms have had an impact and the government finally allows fishery managers to protect their waters from these unsustainable levels of predation.

Thousands of Action on Cormorants postcards have been sent in to MPs
Thousands of Action on Cormorants postcards have been sent in to MPs

On the saltwater front we have the Angling Trust inspired review of the bass minimum landing size. The ”Let our Bass Breed’ campaign that we have been running with our friends from the Bass Anglers Sportfishing Society (BASS) has really struck  a cord with Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon and I’m feeling hopeful of a positive outcome. But that’s not all we want for recreational sea angling. We are campaigning for much better protection for our important estuary habitats which are currently subject to far too much netting and commercial exploitation. We are also pressing for important species like smoothhound, gilthead bream, wrasse and mullet to be designated as recreational only. Another area of work is keeping a close eye on the process for designating the network of Marine Conservation Zones to ensure that anglers are not unnecessarily locked out of their fishing grounds for no good reason.

Both game and coarse anglers have welcomed the historic victory over the hydropower developers at Sawley Weir on the Trent and our attempts to get new guidelines in place so that these schemes cannot proceed if they adversely affect fishing or the environment. Our battles over hydropower and the condition of the nation’s rivers,  including our iconic chalkstreams, are set to take a lot of  our time in 2013. Particularly as the government has recently published a draft water bill that could, if passed, make matters such as     over-abstraction worse not better. I’m also sure we will be kept busy by the antics of the canoeists who will continue to flout the law until and unless we can secure a couple of exemplary prosecutions.

 David Mitchell and I with a nice Tralee Bay bass from Ireland where they have sensible conservation policies
David Mitchell and I with a nice Tralee Bay bass from Ireland where they have sensible conservation policies

Our partnership with the tackle trade continues to produce results with the excellent National Fishing Month allowing thousands of people to try angling for the first time and the launch of the new ‘Fishing for Life’ strategy providing a pathway to moving first time anglers into getting the fishing habit for life.

I have no doubt that Fish Legal will be taking more polluters to court and that the Angling Trust will continue to grow in both numbers and influence as we provide the type of professional representation and leadership that our sport has been needing for years. Of course it would all be so much easier if we had more resources and that comes through individual rather than club membership fees. So if you are not a member of the Angling Trust already please make joining us one of your New Year resolutions for 2013.

Fishing Targets for the New Year

In April 2010 I gave up politics to ‘spend more time with my fish’ and that meant ticking off a whole load of species from my personal bucket list. I already had my giant mahseer in the can and 15 months in Australia saw me add large marlin, kingfish, snapper and barramundi to the roll call.

In 2012 I took up and fell in love with bass fishing and a trip to Scotland with the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group saw me take my first fly caught salmon. Also last year I got acquainted with some amazing sailfish in Kenya and I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be when I land my first bonefish and attempt to catch a Giant Trevally on the fly. Look out for tales of success or failure over the coming months.

Battling a Kenyan sailfish last February
Battling a Kenyan sailfish last February
..and this is why...amazing colours  and spectacular airborne fight
..and this is why…amazing colours and spectacular airborne fight
Is it really possible to land these brutes on a fly rod ?
Is it really possible to land these brutes on a fly rod ?

Back closer to home I’m hoping to add to the brace of two pound roach that came my way last month before the rivers close on March 14th and I’m hoping that my fifth Thames Valley tench over nine pounds, when she comes, will this time break into double figures.

I'm hoping this tinca , or its sister, will weigh in at over ten pounds this spring.
I’m hoping this tinca , or its sister, will weigh in at over ten pounds this spring.

Whatever your plans, your hopes or your fishing dreams – here’s wishing you a very Happy Xmas and tight lines and a singing reel in 2013.

23 thoughts on “Seasons Greetings and a New Year Wish List

      1. Excellent. Since it can be shown through both historical evidence, legal statutes, and empirical evidence that all rivers have are capable of being navigated by small vessels have been used since at least Roman times, that the water is public/common and cannot be owned by anyone, I look forward to giving you a friendly wave and wish you good fishing on any river that will happily float my kayak. Just as I can in pretty much every other country in the world that understands the profound fairness and morality of allowing free and open navigation without conflict. See you on the river, Martin, and I wish you well in your angling.

  1. Nice fish Martin, though they would look far better in the water where they belong. Maybe see you on the river some time. I’ll be in the green canoe.

  2. Martin
    I am not a lawyer, amateur or professional… As far as I can tell neither side in the Angler/Canoeist conflict is prepared to risk starting a legal battle over access, because no one is sure enough of the outcome, versus the financial risk involved.

    The game has changed since forums and social media have got involved.

    Additionally, the two main organizations, BCU and Anglers Trust are both in receipt of Government hand outs. This complicates matters, I suppose.

    Can you see anyone actually suing for civil trespass in 2013?

    One is for sure, nothing else is going to stop canoeists exercising what they perceive as their right… To paddle on our wonderful heritage of English rivers, notwithstanding the objections of anglers and landowners who have a different understanding of the legal status quo, and who want to keep the rivers to themselves.

    1. Doug
      Sadly I’m coming to the view that a ‘legal battle’ is becoming a distinct possibility given the refusal of the BCU to recognise either the law of the land or to embrace voluntary access agreements in line with consistent government policy. I wish it wasn’t so but the militant canoeists can no more impose a statutory ‘right to paddle’ anywhere they chose than the anglers can insist on a statutory right to fish anywhere that takes our fancy.

      1. Martin
        This thread seems to being high jacked by canoeists. Please feel free not add this post… My problem with the VAA solution is the practical impossibility of getting one in place on most rivers. My local river used to be the River Mole south of Brockham. Between Horley and Brockham, a days paddle, there might be a hundred different riparian land owners, from householders to farmers… It would take a very long time to merely identify these landowners, and then to get every single one to agree to let canoeists paddle would be impossible. Only one or two have to refuse to make the whole thing pointless.

        I now live on the Colne in Middlesex and the same situation applies.

        Please tell me I am wrong, and there is a simple practical way whereby a VAA could be obtained on these rivers.

      2. Martin you say,
        “I wish it wasn’t so but the militant canoeists can no more impose a statutory ‘right to paddle’ anywhere they chose than the anglers can insist on a statutory right to fish anywhere that takes our fancy.”

        I apologise if I am being pedantic, but your example forgets that fishing has always been regulated because it is hunting, while historically there has always been a right of public navigation along our natural waterways. There is no parallel to be drawn between them. Canoeing and kayaking on a river compared to an angler is as a countryside rambler compared to a grouse moor hunter or Pheasant shooter.

  3. In your post above you say this, “I’m also sure we will be kept busy by the antics of the canoeists who will continue to flout the law until and unless we can secure a couple of exemplary prosecutions.” I was wondering exactly what it was you were wanting to prosecute canoeists for exactly?

  4. A canoeist is not trespassing when navigating a river. Kayakjournal puts it better than I can.
    Happy fishing and I too will be courteous when I pass you and others on our rivers.

    1. Case law. The trespass position was confirmed by Lord Denning in the 1972 River Wear case. But as minimal damages were awarded no riparean owner has been prepared to fund another case.
      Canoeists have no rights but riparean owners cannot afford to prosecute. The canoeists are exploiting this. On small rivers they are seriously damaging the game fishing. I am not against sharing but we need to sort out the parameters. We cannot continue with the present situation we need it sorted. Only a prosecution would do this.

      1. And that Bob is where Fish Legal could come in. FL and its predecessor the Angling Conservation Association (ACA) have won substantial damages on behalf on angling clubs and riparian owners. I would rather we spent our time prosecuting polluters and could resolve any problems with canoe trespass through voluntary access agreements but Canoe England have made it clear that this is not an approach they favour. A strange position for a national body in receipt of public funds to take !

      2. I’m afraid that isn’t the whole story of that case. Lord Denning made a statement about rights of way always being rights of way in direct relation to this case. Further. the reason why the 50p damages were awarded was because the judge had no choice because the canoeist did not turn up to court to defend his position. In addition to this the canoeist did not claim a right of navigation in his defence. Something he should have done using the evidence we have now regarding historical navigation rights, that have not been superseded by any subsequent statute. There is also a case for a conflict of interest given the Judge’s connection with angling.

        Martin, you should tell us where in Riparian or fishing rights the right to control navigation is stated that supersedes all previous statutes? Riparian rights give the owner the right to navigate, but it does not give permission to prevent others from navigating or to block navigation (for which Riparians have been historically fined for).

        It can be shown unequivocally that rivers have always had a public right of navigation since Roman times, through to Magna Carta, and subsequently the Act For Wears and Fishgarths among many other pieces of evidence. Since it can be shown that this is the case, in conjunction with the fact that the water is common/public the laws of trespass simply cannot apply because the common/public right overrides private rights.

        If we are to move forward on this, the vocal minority of anglers who wish to physically intimidate, vandalise cars etc and the Riparians need to accept the right to navigate that has always been in place throughout the history of this country. Then, *if* there is a truly environmental reason or otherwise why a river needs some controls in place an agreement can be made. But until everybody comes to the table as an equal these sorts of conversations cannot possibly take place while one party thinks that they have the power of God over the other.

        Kayaking and canoeing is such a healthy way of getting people out in the countryside. Yet people such as Martin are quite happy with the status quo that forbids 98% of the rivers from the vast majority of the population. It’s our natural heritage that should be enjoyed by the many, not the privileged few. Which is why I am constantly surprised that Martin was a member of the Labour party. Are you sure you shouldn’t have picked blue?!

  5. Actually I’d like to see more people canoeing…but lawfully and with respect for other water users who have paid hard earned cash for the privilege. That’s why angling organisations and both Labour and Tory government’s want to see us entering into the voluntary access agreements that canoeists are currently boycotting.

    1. Martin, I can see where your points come from, but you must understand that you pay a rod licence because it is for hunting. Your hobby needs subsidising, what with fish stocks etc. We also contribute through our taxes through the EA. When you pay a private land owner for fishing rights, you are paying for a service. This model simply does not work for canoeists as it is equivalent to going for a walk in the countryside.

      The impact on the environment is minimal, and by expecting us to pay the landowners and the EA could you explain what service and facilities we would gain in return? Unless this can be explained then it is simply a tax. The same as when the grouse moor hunters used a similar argument to try and stop hill walkers in the earlier part of the 20th century.

      Do you think that people who wish to walk along public footpaths or countryside should have to pay a license because others have to pay for a hunting license? Should we go back to those days or VAA’s for ramblers?

    2. In addition, we do respect other users. We want to see all users enjoy the use of the river. I have no quarrel with anglers, and nor do most canoeists to kayakers. What we do object to is elitist attitudes of wanting to own something that is a natural heritage when historically no such precedent has been set or put into statute.

      1. VAA when they seemed to be the only way forward, were just a version of severe restriction. VAA’s offered little respect for canoeists.

        Perhaps, we canoeists should suggest a counter to the proposals put to us.

        Anglers may fish on canals only, There are 2000 miles of them, surely that is enough!

        Anglers may fish during the months of July to October but only on alternate Sundays, between 9 o’clock in the morning and 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

        Anglers may fish on two weekends during the months of July to October and at no other time.

        Anglers may fish only after gaining written permission, two weeks in advance, from the estate, with a group size not exceeding 12. This is only allowed to take place, if no other group has previously booked and may only take place at the estate’s discretion, the answer from the estate is final.

        These comments are based on once real VAA’s, except the months for canoeists were November to February. Of course canals are open to all and I have received some anglers abuse while paddling them.

        I agree that would very silly.

        Or maybe not!!

        VAA in the past, have been withdrawn at a moments notice because those that offer them take umbrage.

  6. Good evening Martin
    You have referred to the “law of the land” quite often recently, and have been kind enough to confirm your understanding of this as being the “civil law of trespass and […] the criminal law of aggravated trespass” in this blog. Would you be further kind enough as to advise if you regard this as meaning just when canoeists cross private land to access a waterway, or whether you regard it as being ‘trespass’ when they canoe on a waterway.

  7. Hi Martin,
    I’m worried that you claim canoeist’s are breaking civil and criminal trespass laws. As a keen kayaker of over 30 years, I know of no one that would do this. Everyone I know uses public rights of way to access and egress to and from rivers. If you know of cases where people are trespassing, especially aggravated trespass, please publicise specifics.

    If however you are claiming that trespass occurs when a kayaker or canoeist navigates a river, then I regret to inform you that you are in error. There is an excellent website here: that explains the relevant laws. It is pitched at the layman, I’m sure you will find it most informative.

    Should you still disagree with the viewpoint, the website owners are inviting informed comments, they appear open to having some one explain why and where their interpretation of the law is incorrect.

    I’m sure you will agree that an informed, rational discussion of the laws surrounding access (such as this website offers) is needed. I for one look forward to seeing your reasoned legal position appearing on the river access for all website, or to seeing a retraction here of your assertion that canoeists/kayakers have committed trespass.

    I hope to see you on the river sometime for a friendly chat!
    Happy New year.

  8. THANKS EVERYONE – closing comments on this one now
    Will return to this subject in the not too distant future after some further discussions with t
    the men in wigs !

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