With the new year upon us, Chris Ogborne takes a hard look ahead at what the coming season may hold for anglers of all disciplines.
“I don’t much like January. Never have. Whilst I’m an eternal optimist about pretty much everything in life, it’s hard to escape the fact that January is the coldest, wettest, most miserable month of the year. It’s grey too as there’s little colour in the landscape, with short days and long cold nights. Oh yes, and none of us has any money left after Christmas either. We should hibernate, like sensible animals do.
Spring on the stream: Still a bit early to daydream about!
But maybe I’m being a little harsh. The upside of January is that I can spend a lot of time armchair fly tying, in front of the wood burner and probably with a glass of warm red wine at my side (and if tying is your thing, you might also enjoy my blog post from last winter
With every completed fly that heads to the box I can let the mind wander to a happier time, not so very many months away, when that pattern will be called to action. Whether it’s a sand eel for the beach, a dry for the river, or a hopper for Blagdon – the enduring glory of fly tying is that it takes your mind to warmer days and fishing!
But even daydreaming has a bit of a shadow over it this month, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not overstating the facts to say that fishing as a sport is under threat, as is our angling liberty, as never before. The trouble this year is that there are clouds on the fishing horizon. Dark clouds. And these are just a few:
What future for UK bass fishing?
In spite of all the talk of “taking back control” and other bluster from all sides, it’s fairly painfully clear how ineffectual our politicians continue to be when it comes to protecting sea bass, still allowing EU bureaucrats to walk all over us. The worst example of this, by a long margin, is in the new regulations that are laughably supposed to protect sea bass stocks.
In a nutshell, we leisure anglers can’t take a single fish home whilst commercials boats (of ANY nationality!) can land five tonnes each. Nor does this take into account their ‘personal’ allowance of 15kg a day, or the fact that they throw back dead fish that don’t command the right price at market. It’s utterly crazy. There’s a large and coordinated protest day being planned for early summer against this madness – watch this space for more info and do support the Angling Trust
, about the only major body directly fighting for angling on this issue.
Stillwater Fly Fishing: Use it or lose it!
It’s not hugely better news on stillwaters, where the sport that anglers have glibly taken for granted for so many years is under serious threat. The Bristol waters have won a reprieve (for the moment at least) but the hard facts are that the accountants in the big water companies can’t fail to see that predator, carp and coarse fishing offer a much better financial return than stocked trout fishing.
The beautiful Exmoor lake of Wimbleball (above) is now essentially a watersports centre with sailing, rowing and kayaks replacing the old fishing fleet. BEWL water is now a multi-discipline fishing centre and it won’t be long before Anglian Water take a long hard look at Rutland and Grafham. So many of the sport’s classic venues urgently need our support to continue as we know and love them, as you may have read from my blog on Blagdon
. The simple message is plain to flyfishers – use it or lose it. If we don’t support our fisheries this year and stop moaning about summer weed growth or stocking levels, then we soon won’t have them at all.
Online vs local tackle shops
The shop at Garnffrwd Fishery, Wales. These places are so important to fishing, delivering so much more than bargain tackle!
Another thing we all take for granted is our local tackle shop. Well, the message here is ‘enjoy it while you can’ because tackle retailers, probably more than any other type of shop, are suffering massively from the growth of the online giants. Far too many shops have already closed. The tackle trade is polarising like never before and if we aren’t careful we shall soon lose the luxury of going into our favourite retailer. As convenient as online ordering is, these dealers cannot offer us local information from knowledgeable staff, getting solid free advice and a hands-on ‘try before you buy’ scenario with tackle.
It saddens me hugely when I hear anglers say that they’ve been into a shop, talked through an outfit of rod reel and line with the owner, maybe even cast the rod as well, only to go home and order it all online for the sake of a few quid discount. Support your local tackle shop, or you won’t have them much longer!
New Blood Needed
By far and away the biggest threat to our sport of all, however, is the next generation of anglers – or rather, the lack of them. It seems harder and harder to get young people involved in this great sport of ours, and whilst the elements of costs and availability are relevant, it ultimately comes down to the CURRENT generation of anglers to involve and inspire the next.
Youngsters at an Angling Unlimited event, proudly supported by Turrall. The project does vital work- but we must all do more.
Depending on whose figures you believe, the average age of anglers in the UK is around the 50 to 55 mark, which is a terrible indictment of us all. PLEASE make one of your New Year resolutions this year to take a youngster fishing, get them into the countryside and off their Playstations, and get them hooked.
This isn’t just a moan, I promise you. We all need to do our bit at the moment and I’m personally putting my money where my mouth is. In my guiding business, ALL youngsters under 16 years of age will fish for FREE in 2018. No exceptions and no conditions, other than the stipulation that they’re accompanied by an adult.
I’m also setting up a tackle recycling scheme, based on the fact that so many anglers upgrade their tackle on a regular basis, often simply discarding old gear that’s still perfectly usable. That same tackle can be the difference between a youngster being able to go fishing or not. Again, watch this space for details. If we ALL do our bit, it WILL make a difference.
Optimism and action
In spite of all these challenges, I’m more determined than ever to have a positive outlook and support fishing proactively- as I know many others will. Ultimately, I guess the eternal optimist in me will win out! Lots of small actions can and do make a big difference- so get out there and support our shops and fisheries this year!
Next month I start the glorious process of getting my boat ready for the new season, always a pleasure and not a chore. A good steam clean, polish the gel coat, new deck paint, and maybe new rod holders and she’ll be ready for April. Thank goodness – Spring, sunshine and days afloat aren’t all that far away, while those suffering the most severe withdrawl could always have a crack at grayling fishing
or pike on the fly
(both subjects you’ll find covered with lots of tips on the Turrall blog!).
Here’s wishing one and all of you enjoyable fishing and a very Happy New Year. Let’s make 2018 a proactive one for supporting angling.”