On the road again

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Bass anglers on the march in Cornwall in protest against unfair and disproportionate restrictions on our sport

It feels like my feet have barely touched the ground since returning from my Australian trip in April. Once I had ploughed through the inevitable backlog of emails and got my diary into some sort of order it was clear that I was going to be on the road a fair bit over the next couple of months. The Angling Trust were holding their first ever forum in Cornwall and the timing was perfect, coming soon after the well attended demonstration by bass anglers outside the constituency office of Fisheries Minster and Cornish MP George Eustice. I was due to share a platform with the highly respected long time bass campaigner Malcolm Gilbert.

Now I can get to Paris or Brussels from my home in Reading far quicker than I can to Cornwall and without needing to stay overnight. But seeing that the forum was on a Saturday morning, and I had long promised myself a day out with the well known Cornish bass guide Austen Goldsmith, this was too good an opportunity to miss. Which is how it was that Regions Organiser John Cheyne and myself found ourselves heading down the M5 at an ungodly hour on a Friday morning to rendezvous with Austen at a jetty somewhere near Falmouth.

It was still early in the season for bass and although they had been showing in numbers off the Eddystone Reef near Plymouth Austen had yet to see them in his local waters. Sadly an easterly wind ruled out a trip to the Eddystone in Zen 2 – a well appointed 20 ft centre consul that has accounted for some great catches over the years – so we stayed close to the shore fishing the Manacles and the ground outside the Fal estuary. Plenty of fine pollack and a few chunky wrasse came our way, particularly to John who is in a class of his own when it comes to lure fishing. Although we remain untroubled by bass it was good to spend time with one of the UK’s best known bass guides talking over the issues that have so concerned anglers and conservationists.

Angling Trust Regions Manager John Cheyne with Austen Goldsmith and a chunky Cornish wrasse.
Angling Trust Regions Manager John Cheyne with Austen Goldsmith and a chunky Cornish wrasse.

The commercial overfishing of bass stocks was the main topic at the forum the following day as Malcolm and myself went through the catalogue of stock mismanagement that has afflicted this fine fish over the last 30 years. And although anglers are justifiably angry at the unfair and wholly disproportionate restrictions that have been imposed on us by Eustice and his colleagues, with a zero bag limit followed by a one fish only limit in the second half of the year, there remained some reasons for optimism. At long last politicians and the EU had woken up to the fact that bass stocks were under threat and that action was needed. The winter trawling of spawning aggregations has been banned, there is now a new, more sustainable minimum landing size of 42 cms and vessel catch limits are in place for the first time. Best of all has been the agreement we wrung out of ministers ahead of our bass debate in the House of Commons that has seen Defra officials commence work with us on a long term management plan for bass. Something that bass angling groups had been calling for since the 1990s. It is not enough but it is a start and we made it clear that the Angling Trust will not rest until we secure a fairer deal for both anglers and for the long term future of bass stocks and that means getting the nets out of the fishery.

Dream fish from far off places

On May Day in 1997 I was elected as the MP for Reading West and was Westminster bound, on the same date some 19 years later I found myself heading up the M40 to be one of the guest speakers at the Barbel Society show. My job may have changed but I was still doing what I love – campaigning for fish, fishing and the environment upon which our sport depends. While Steve Pope and his colleagues were happy to give myself and my new colleague James Champkin a stall for us to promote the work of the Angling Trust they were more keen for the presentations in the main auditorium to focus fishing rather than politics. This was probably best given that Steve and I are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to issues like our membership of the EU with me being a paid up supporter of Environmentalists for Europe and Steve favouring Brexit. (You can find out more here: http://www.environmentalistsforeurope.org/)

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It might not be a barbel but who wouldn’t want to catch a beautiful golden mahseer like this fine Himalayan specimen caught by film maker Stu Walker

Consequently, my talk was a collection of overseas fish porn from my various expeditions since I retired from Parliament in 2010. After all there was little point me talking to a room full of barbel experts about pellets and hair rigs so I thought it would be better to take them on a tour of some of the ‘giant barbel’ to be found out there beyond our shores starting with the mighty mahseer of India. As it happens I followed on from fellow travelling angler Stu Walker who showed a brilliant film of his latest trip to the Himalayas in search of the golden mahseer so the audience may have overdosed slightly on bucket list locations. You can find the trailer for Stu’s film here and it’s well worth a look: http://youtu.be/d5K3rfzSzJA

London Bound

At times I have considered moving further into the country to be closer to some of my favourite fishing locations but the work that I do requires me to be close to London since this is where most of the decisions are made that impact on angling. In any case the fishing around Reading is pretty good and with Paddington just 29 minutes away by train I am hardly likely to find anywhere more suitable. I had invitations to several events in the capital, including an opportunity to see Sir David Attenborough open the Woodberry Wetlands in Hackney, so I was glad to have an easy commute. It’s worth giving a mention to the London Wildlife Trust and to Thames Water whose partnership and successful Lottery bid has created a wildlife haven on a reservoir site in the middle of a densely populated part of London.

Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the Woodberry Wetlands in London
Sir David Attenborough at the opening of the Woodberry Wetlands in London

If there is ever a living legend the epitomises all that is good about British broadcasting and the BBC it is David Attenborough and I felt privileged to be watching the great man speak so eloquently and passionately about the importance of protecting our wildlife in the week of his 90th birthday.
My good friend and film maker Hugh Miles has written a lovely account of his time on the road with David Attenborough when, in 1971, he was chosen as the cameraman to head into the jungles of Papua New Guinea to try and meet up with tribes who had yet to encounter white folks. You can read about Hugh’s adventures here: http://hughmiles9.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/exploring-new-guinea-with-david.html

Surrey Stunners

I’ve been delighted at the way our Crucian Conservation project has captured the imagination of anglers and fishery managers. The EA’s excellent fish farm at Calverton has turned out record numbers of pure bred crucians and new, bespoke crucian fisheries are starting to spring up across the country.

The other week I drove over to Surrey to help launch Catch a Crucian Month at an Association of Crucian Anglers fish-in at Godalming Angling Society’s splendid Marsh Farm fishery. Crucian enthusiasts from around the country were spending two days targeting their favourite species and promoting a new ID guide to help entrants in the Catch a Crucian Month photo competition identify the difference between true crues and the various hybrids that have become all too commonplace.

There are two versions of the new guide which have been produced by the Environment Agency fisheries experts and they can be found at http://www.anglingtrust.net/crucian

Launching Catch a Crucian Month down at Marsh Farm in Surrey with members of the Association of Crucian Anglers
Launching Catch a Crucian Month down at Marsh Farm in Surrey with members of the Association of Crucian Anglers.

The competition is open to all and runs throughout June. It is designed to promote crucians as a species, to assist in the recognition of true crucians, to encourage more anglers to take up crucian fishing and to highlight the need to develop specific crucian waters in line with the aims of the National Crucian Conservation Project. The competition is sponsored by Bait-Tec and Angling Direct with some great prizes and entries will be judged by a panel of leading crucian crusaders including Chris Yates, Hugh Miles, crucian expert Peter Rolfe and Angling Artist Chris Turnbull.

There’s still time to get those photos submitted and all details, including rules and information for entrants, can be found at http://www.catchacrucian.wordpress.com

The following week saw me heading for Surrey again but this time for pleasure rather than work as I was to join friends Will Barnard and Phil Morton in a hunt for a big golden orfe. Both these guys had big six pounders to their names but I was an orfe virgin which was something I intended to rectify. The lake was fishing patchily and although Phil had a few fish the rest of us could only tempt the odd tench. Finally, I found a spot in a deeper channel into which the orfe had retreated as the sun climbed higher in the sky. I laid a trap for them with a mix of sweet fish meal groundbait, dead maggots and casters and an hour later a couple of fine fish made a mistake and another species was ticked off the list. At 5lbs 6ozs each these were chunky specimens and although the orfe look stunning they are indifferent fighters and I can’t really see myself spending too much time trying to improve on these weights.

Stunning colours make the golden orfe an impressive capture although great fighters they are not.
Stunning colours make the golden orfe an impressive capture although great fighters they are not.

Summer of Shows

Next month sees back to back shows and the Angling Trust team will be at the Game Fairs at Stoneleigh Park July 22-24 and at Ragley Hall on July 29-31. The following weekend we will be at the BBC’s Countryfile Show at Blenheim Palace so there’s a good chance we may bump into you at one of these great events.

One thought on “On the road again

  1. Hi Martin – great report mate, just the right balance of detail and story telling! I have always wanted to re-trace my Great Grandfather’s footsteps on the Mahseer trail and that pic with Stu just increases my desire to get out to India and have a go! On the home front – I have been Bass fishing on and off for over 40 years all over the UK and Ireland but I have only recently seriously considered conservation. Whilst anglers have to hold the moral high ground and lead by example, it is the lack of joined-up thinking for commercial quotas that is most worrying. Giving the Bass a breather once every 4/5 years should be tabled, allowing a huge amount of spawning to take place uninterrupted by trawlers and producing at least two strong year groups every decade. A total Bass ban twice a decade?

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