Happy New Year – Some Reasons to be Cheerful

I guess one of the downsides about working as a campaigner is that I am forever dealing with problems and trying to get action to put right the many wrongs that the ever expanding human race are doing to our fish and fisheries. It’s not as though people deliberately set out to wipe out fish stocks – at least not as a primary purpose for their actions. The industrialist just wants to make stuff as cheaply as possible without the ‘burden’ of environmental legislation stopping his factories from polluting the waterways. The commercial fisherman just wants to make a living harvesting the sea for hungry consumers whilst the keen gardener wants a green lawn and healthy flower beds without having to think to much about the consequences of turning on that hose or sprinkler system.

Looking back through my Angling Trust work schedule for the year just ending I could easily easily pen a piece about human greed, political incompetence and pending environmental catastrophes. However, Christmas and the New Year should be a time of comfort and joy, and you know what? There really are some reasons for us anglers to be cheerful.

Here’s my personal Top Ten for 2015 – if you think about it I’m sure you can find ten of your own.

River Roach Revival?

I say the words with some trepidation but after a generation of decline, in part caused by a massive increase in cormorant predation there are encouraging signs that river roach are making something of a comeback. Whether it’s down to better controls, improved water quality and habitat or the fish simply learning how to adjust to predator pressure I wouldn’t like to say but increasingly there are welcome reports of the return of my favourite species in both size and numbers. In Yorkshire the once polluted River Calder is throwing up some lovely bags of redfins while in the Midlands the Trent is making the news for all the right reasons. In the East I hear of good catches from parts of the Ouse system while in the South the Thames continues to deliver good sport in the right spots. Further West the Wessex rivers are stirring again with more regular reports of two pounders from the once famous Hampshire Avon and the reappearance of some of those fabled three pounders from the Dorset Frome.

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2) Plentiful Perch

Although my first fish was the inevitable small perch I’m also old enough to remember the perch disease, which annihilated stocks across the country, making reliable perch fishing a dim and distant memory. Not so these days with four pounders now a realistic target in all manner of fisheries and waterways, ranging from mighty rivers like the Severn to humble canals, or from tiny, over-looked commercial carp puddles to massive reservoirs like Grafham or Chew. Has there ever been a better time to catch a big stripey?

3) Water, water, everywhere

When I returned to the UK in 2011 the country was in the middle of a two year drought. The consequences of a hot summer and third dry winter in 2012 would have had a cataclysmic impact on fish stocks and the forecasts where alarming. Luckily, one extreme weather pattern was followed by another and the low flows and dried up river beds were refreshed by the wettest summer on record followed by some serious winter floods. These may have brought misery to a number of vulnerable communities but they brought life back to our rivers and have recharged the aquifers and groundwater supplies. My local rivers are in cracking condition as we approach the Christmas break and in a few hours time I shall be swapping this keyboard for a float rod and centre pin to take advantage of the good flow and colour.

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4) Clean gravel and growing grayling

Plentiful water in my part of the world means clean gravel on the riverbed and a much better chance of seeing successful spawnings. I’m told the fry count in the Thames has been tremendous and I’ve seen for myself just how well fast growing fish like grayling have been doing over the last couple of years. Two keepers from separate beats on the upper Kennet have told me that they can’t remember a time when they’ve witnessed so many young grayling in the river.

5) Living with otters

In some areas the return of otters has seen a decline in fish numbers. Big, slow old fish have little chance of avoiding this apex predator and we could well have done without the the artificial reintroductions of the 1990s. However, there are signs that populations are stabilising not least as a result of dog otters turning on each other to defend their territories. I’ve heard that a surprising number of reported otter road kills are in fact younger otters already injured by a dominant male. Fish and otters have lived side by side long before mankind discovered angling and nature does have a way of finding a balance. Yes I’d love to have more effective predator controls, particularly for mink which are vicious bastards who have no business being here, but we have to be realistic about what is ever going to be acceptable in this animal loving country of ours. There have always been otters on the Wye and Hampshire Avon, and yes there are a lot more around at the moment, but the Wye remains possibly the best fishing river in Britain and I can confidently state that, whilst the Avon barbel are not so numerous nowadays, the chub fishing has never been as good.

6) Happy Dace are here again

I’ve only ever caught one dace over a pound and I honestly thought I’d never see another one in my lifetime. Now I’m not so sure as reports are coming in from several Thames tributaries of some pigeon chested clonkers that could threaten the current British record. Certainly on parts of the Kennet the dace shoals are making a return and friends of mine have caught some beauties this year from several different southern chalk streams.

7) Crocks of Gold

Less than a year ago Chris Turnbull took his concerns to the Angling Trust about the rapid disappearance from British waters of one of our loveliest freshwater fish, the crucian carp. I jumped at the chance to pull together crucian enthusiasts from all over the country and in a very short space of time the National Crucian Conservation Project was launched. This brought together a host of crucian experts, including ‘Crock of Gold’ author Peter Rolfe, to work together at saving our crucians and the progress made in just a few meetings has been fantastic. Check out our new webpage to see how you can help create bespoke crucian waters in your area…www.anglingtrust.net/crucian

8) Cod piece

There’s not a lot of good news about on the marine front and the failure to reach an agreement in Europe on much needed bass conservation measures was a huge disappointment. However, there is a glimmer of hope that we may now get a sensible minimum landing size in UK waters to allow the fish a chance to spawn along with an expansion in bass nursery areas to aid recruitment. Where sensible fishery management measures have been introduced, such as reductions in quota for cod and greater protection for rays in the English Channel, we have seen some welcome upturns in sport for recreational sea anglers.

9) Follow the money

The Angling Trust has been working hard to get over to our politicians the economic benefits of recreational fishing and there are encouraging signs that they are finally getting the message. The recent parliamentary debate on bass stocks saw MPs from both the Conservative and Labour parties calling for bass to be made a recreational only species whilst others were extensively quoting figures from the Sea Angling 2012 report which showed that 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”

10) The Angling Trust and Fish Legal

The Angling Trust and Fish Legal continue to grow in strength and influence as the value of having a single unified organisation to represent all branches of our sport becomes clear. We have strong links to senior politicians in all the main parties and are working closely with both Sport England and the Environment Agency to get more money and resources into angling. There is now a wide recognition of benefits of angling and a real willingness to support angling development projects. Of course the challenges remain huge and the pressure on fish stocks and fisheries is not likely to recede anytime soon but by having a strong, well funded body that will take polluters to court and tackle threats to fishing, we can ensure that the next generation can enjoy a fishing future.

You can play your part and join the Angling Trust here… http://www.anglingtrust.net/page.asp?section=32&sectionTitle=Join+Angling+Trust

Have a very Happy and Fish Filled New Year

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