This particular gripe was spurned by the forum threads on the close season, but it’s not meant to be entirely about the close season. It’s a few issues I have, but because they seem to criss-cross each other it’s difficult to know where one issue ends and the other begins.


So the question is, where are all the river anglers these days?

I don’t just want an answer like “They’re all fishing commercials” or “muddy ponds”, as some would have it. Yes, I know some of them must be fishing those instead now, but when I think back as recent as the early 90s, our sections of the middle Thames were crammed with anglers most of the time, even weekdays. Yet now (well, not ‘now’ as such because it IS the close season), you can walk along the Thames path and you would be lucky to see an angler at all unless there was a match on and those are as common as a Sheffield flood. (Pun not intended.)

I forget the year exactly, maybe ’94 or ’95, no later because it was late in ’95 that the EA Navigations built a new very costly landing stage for boats in our lock cut. It was at the same time that the local Council decided to plant various trees and bushes, not indigenous ones either, along the towpath thereby blocking all or most access to the river for anglers.

Just prior to that though, I remember the river was flooded as usual in late February and in one short stretch of 120 yards of the lock cut there must have been 30 or more anglers. Almost shoulder to shoulder they were, all chucking in groundbait and loose feed and most of us were catching something. Well, you wouldn’t see that nowadays even if the shrubberies and the landing stage weren’t there.

So, where has everyone gone?

Our section around Marlow (a lot of it is free fishing) was renowned for its dace shoals, even recommended by John Wilson, no less! I well remember in 1994 taking a young lad fishing for the first time and I wanted him to catch something, I didn’t care what. We went to the Thames free stretch (downstream of where I’ve just mentioned) and there were still so many anglers in the cut-outs that were taken as swims that we had to perch in between them whilst still leaving enough room.

I rigged up a whip for him, to keep it simple, and showed him how to cast it whilst I kept it fed with loose maggots. It was maybe the third trot through that he caught a small dace, then a roach, then a dace again, then another dace and so on. After three hours he’d caught over 40 fish including an odd perch and a chublet and truly enjoyed himself.

Could that be done today? I doubt it and not just because of the cormorants issue, or the ‘Eastern Europeans’ taking our fish (spurious excuse that), or the invisible contaminations in the river. I doubt it mainly because we don’t have the anglers present in such numbers to prove whether the fish are still there or otherwise.

I get all sorts of charts from the EA about these stretches and what results they’ve had from sonar, electro-fishing and seine netting and according to them, the river is as healthy as it ever was. One theory is that because there are not the anglers fishing any longer and introducing their baits, the fish have found alternative feed on the bottom and will now refuse stuff offered on a hook. Could that be true same as on the Jubilee, a new man-made river where very few anglers have ventured so far?

I don’t buy it completely, however ……..

When you walk along the river now, even in high summer as it was on that trip, there are hardly any anglers (with any skill) to speak of. In winter it gets even worse and yet I fully remember Dave Agass (of the A4 Vikings team) catching lots of chub from under one particular bush on the opposite bank in the worst of weathers. As I said, when the river was in flood then the lock cut was the place to go and you were damned lucky if you found a space there after 8 am. I well remember one New Year’s Day when no-one was really bothered about how many fish (I caught two specimen gudgeon and a roach of 1 oz) you caught, it was the camaraderie and good company that we all shared, and fed the greedy robin at the same time.

Now the banks are deserted. Mark Wintle recently wrote, “there are many waters that have the capacity to accept more anglers than is currently the case with the extra pressure causing no problems in any shape or form.” I believe that to be not only true, but I think there would be many obvious benefits if we could only get more anglers fishing rivers again.

However, I can already hear the voices of descent. “I like the empty banks.”, “More room for me.”, “Less pressure on the fish.” Are these the voices of greed and jealousy? The ones who want the banks and best swims all for themselves?

Just coming back to the close season, if there are so few anglers who want to fish, then why would it be so dangerous and/or have such a deleterious effect on fish recruitment if the river stayed open all year round? How many more do you think would fish rivers throughout the year? Doubling, or trebling the present numbers wouldn’t even come near to how many used to fish the river at one time.

I just can’t see that at the moment. As my friendly EA fisheries man said about whether catching a gravid fish would cause her any harm, he replied that it would be unlikely unless she was subjected to multiple captures as the fish in commercial waters are? Even there, do they manage to breed successfully (I know it is the case on one lake managed like a commercial) and if so why aren’t the EA aware of this fact? Isn’t fish care as we know it today, capable of returning even pregnant fish to the water without any due harm whatsoever and if not, then what are we doing still fishing at all?

So if we scrapped the close season and encouraged more anglers to fish the rivers, would this not lead to better catches all round as well as all year round? I don’t want this to simply focus on a ‘scrap the close season’ tirade, but I do genuinely wonder what harm such a strategy would cause. If, as some people suggest, the fish are not breeding as well as they used to for whatever reason, the how much extra harm could the few anglers that would fish throughout the year cause?

I am becoming growingly convinced, NO harm at all. You would have to calculate the chances of multiple catches of the same gravid fish right up to and including her shedding spawn and as some have said, fish won’t take feed at such a late stage. What then are the chances of the number of anglers gaining increasing use of the river to the extent where they are equally as popular as the commercial ponds and likely to cause any long lasting damage, if that was ever the case anyway?

Set aside that against the benefits that maybe more anglers fishing the rivers at all times of the year might wean the fish off their new-found natural feeds and back onto good old maggots and casters. Do you think we could ever again enjoy the catches we once had? Even better now that some say the chub are much bigger, the roach are fatter, the perch are enormous, but I still ask – what’s happened to my lovely dace shoals?

Opinion Piece

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