I recall talking to Mark Lloyd not long after he took over the Angling Trust which rose into being out from the ashes of the crisis-ridden Anglers Co-operative Association (ACA). With no money, little organisation and mainly hope to sustain him I don't think many people gave Mark much chance of success. But six years on Mark has confounded his doubters to create what he set out to achieve; an Angling Trust which speaks with a single voice for game, coarse and sea angling.
He has every reason to be proud. I am sure out there in the bigger world beyond angling there is a plum job ripe for him, but for now he may rest on his laurels having landed a £1m a year contract from the Environment Agency (EA) to increase angling participation, tackle illegal angling and manage a fund to improve angling facilities.
It is a mighty task he has set the Trust and one I suspect will give him as many sleepless nights as he had when the infant Trust lived life from day-to-day. And I'm sure he is being assailed from every side with not only advice but snouts heading for the trough of public money.
I have no interest in the latter, but this opportunity to change the landscape of fishing for the generation to come deserves some radical thinking.
Know your market You will often hear it said angling is the biggest participation sport/pastime in Britain. It isn't and not by a long way. Natural England, the quango tasked with protecting rural England, carries out a quarterly participation survey. Guess where angling ranks in the activity list? 16th. You might not consider some of the things listed as true sports or pastimes e.g. dog walking but twice as many people went horse riding as went fishing and five times as many road cycling (4.5m vs. 26.3m) in the last three months.
We have to come to terms with the fact that angling, however passionate we might be as anglers, is a minority sport. I wrapped my head around this some years ago when the marketing director of a well known fishing tackle retailer slipped me some data that showed there were only 150,000 regular fly fishing participants in the UK. If you are in the fly fishing business I can tell you that is a sobering fact.
However, it is not all gloom - as a nation we love our rivers, lakes and canals. In the same Natural England survey people were asked where they chose to spend their leisure time when visiting 'green spaces'. Beside those same rivers, lakes and canals they said, ranking it 4th in the table with 102m visits in the most recent three months. By the way the top place to go is a park, with just over two and a half times that number. The message is clear; you will get people passionate about rivers for reasons other than angling.
Reform the fishing licence Two things scream out for reform - criminal convictions and the abolition of licences for children. Taking the second first I truly cannot think of another sport in Britain were we tax a 12 year old to take part in a healthy, life fulfilling activity. OK maybe it is only £5 for the 12-16 year olds, but a fiver is a fiver and maybe not that easy to squeeze out of Mum or Dad. And once you are sixteen it jumps up to £27, which is a lot of money in a cash-strapped household where that is half a days' pay on minimum wage. The income from child licences is paltry - something like 2% of the total. It should be abolished as of now for anyone under 18.
The acceptable face of angling?
The decriminalisation of the rod licence is a more nuanced argument. Currently if you are caught fishing without a rod licence you risk a criminal conviction and a fine. In the world of carrot and stick this is most definitely the stick approach but you have to ask how effective it is. By all the estimates only one in three anglers bother to buy a licence, with just 2,800 convictions in 2013 from 70,000 checks by wardens. When you add up the huge manpower this took, the cost of court and police time you have to wonder whether we have this one right.
In much the same way as the debate surrounds the BBC licence a radical solution is required. Let's face it the licence in itself is useless - no more than a simple ruse, backed by the force of law, for raising money by taxing fishermen. I have nothing against cyclists, but when was the last time they paid a cycling tax?
Put that way I think it is hard to win any goodwill for the current system, but as I said it is more nuanced. Every single penny that is raised by the licence (roughly £18m) goes to fishery management though the EA, which is matched in turn by another grant from the government of £12m. It doesn't sound quite so bad now.
I think the trick here is to talk to anglers like adults, decriminalise the licence and put our future efforts into persuasion rather than enforcement.
Treat every pound as if it was your own Earlier this year I bumped in an Angling Trust camera crew making a promotional video to promote their new app. It was the full works: script, cameraman, lights, soundman, makeup and director, featuring a well known comedian.
Seemed a great idea I thought. Where was the video to be used I asked; for all the effort a TV campaign seemed the natural choice. Nobody really had any idea. Maybe we'll put it on the web site somebody ventured.
Well, yes it is currently on the Angling Trust web site and at the current number of viewings (7,000) it has cost £7 for each viewing thus far.
The relentless pursuit of purity The Angling Trust is doing a lot; one look at its (rather messy) web site proves this and with the new contract with the EA it will expand further. However, the Trust should never forget its roots in the ACA which was dedicated to protecting rivers from pollution, seeking out wrongdoers and giving a voice where needed.
In an increasingly crowded island, where a growing population demands more use of water, protecting our rivers and lakes will prove harder with each passing year. The relentless pursuit of purity should be forever the reason for the Trust's existence.
Can we trust them do this? I think and hope so.
It takes the eye of a stranger
Sometimes it takes the eye of a stranger to remind you how beautiful your home patch really is; Tom Moen's short film not only has stunning spey casting footage but some wonderful chalkstream action.
I am fairly certain the chalkstream section was shot on the River Avon at Heale House. A majority of it was clearly filmed in late September but they have, rather mischievously, cut in some Mayfly which is just a little confusing.
However, that rather pedantic comment does the film a great disservice as it is well worth watching. Click here ....
Bob Church 'Memories & Reflections'
Bob Church made himself an angling brand. Nothing unusual about that but he did it across both fly and coarse fishing which does make him unusual, following in the footsteps of Dick Walker.
In the 1980's virtually every fishing magazine was by default the Bob Church special edition. If there wasn't an article about him there was an article by him. Failing that there were pages of advertising for his mail order firm.
As world fly fishing champion team member in 1987 and 1988 Bob proved you could be a good all rounder and his legacy will be that he broke down the class divide between coarse and fly fishing.
Now largely retired Bob has just published 'Memories & Reflections' a sort of autobiography that charts his life through his fishing adventures including the up and downs of the world championship that at one point saw him almost banned from taking part.
It is good to see for both him and angling that he was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours earlier this summer. The book is available fromwww.calmproductions.com or Amazon at £25.
Plants of the riverbank
Hemp Agrimony will be in flower all along the riverbank from July to September. The frothy, pinkish flower heads are a magnet for nectar seeking insects (watch out for wasps) and with its thick green foliage all manners of moths and butterflies call it home.
The Latin name Eupatorium cannabinum gives a clue to the shape of the leaves, but it shares only a resemblance to the Cannabis plant rather than any other 'qualities'.
The usual random selection of questions to confound and amaze. Answers at the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!
1) What is lepidoptery?
2) In traditional quoits how heavy is the steel quoit?
3) Based on the past 30 years averages which is the wettest month of the year?
What size is the largest freshwater fish ever caught on a fly? Now I happen to know this as a new record has just been set by an intrepid Brit, but in the spirit of being a know-all I quizzed the office and the Guides. To start off a big Pacific salmon variant in Canada or Alaska got the nod. Then someone proposed that Asian salmonid, the taimen. Mmmmmm most people thought that is a good call. But how about a giant catfish from one of those legendary Spanish rivers? Without reverting to Google nobody really had a clear idea which of the two grew bigger but in the end a catfish at around the 150-200 pound mark got the thumbs up.
Richard Hart with his guide and record fish
Well, actually thumbs down all round. The record caught last week now stands at a staggering 415lbs and the fish is an arapaima. Now I can't pretend to having ever heard ofArapaima gigas that lives in the remote jungle rivers of Guyana and Brazil. It is probably the world's largest freshwater fish which unusually for a fish has to surface to breathe, an adaptation it has acquired over millions of years of evolution to cope with the hypoxic or low oxygen levels of the Amazon floodplain.
These huge beasts, that can grow up to 15ft in length, haven't had a great time in the past century or so. Despite their size they don't seem very fearsome but having to surface every 5-15 minutes for air made them easy prey for spear fishermen who found a ready market for the boneless, nutritious steaks for which they became valued. Today the commercial fishing that remains is a fairly brutal affair but is confined to special areas for local consumption only with some arapaima farmed in river cages.
However, I am pleased to say the same fate has not befallen our record fish though all-in-all catching it and confirming the record does seem something of a palaver. To start with the angler, Richard Hart, a 45 year old auctioneer who lives in Orlando didn't exactly come upon this record by chance. He already holds or has previously set 50 IGFA (International Game Fishing Association) records and had been tracking down a monster arapaima for a month in the remoter regions of Guyana before he came across this one.
In a 20-foot dugout canoe, accompanied by three native guides Richard was geared up for a fight. His outfit? A 16wt Sage more normally used for sailfish, matched with a Tibor Billy Pate tarpon reel and a 100lb mono tippet. And the fly? A modest 7 inch big-game streamer with peacock bass colours that goes under the delightful name of the Chuck-N-Duck. I guess the moniker tells a story all of its own.
"I saw the fish come up for air, which is the way you fish them, and then I threw the fly and he sucked it in. It was an enormous fight." reported Richard, in what sounds fairly typical British understatement.
However to claim the record the fish must be weighed, in this case alive because the Government requires all catch-and-release for sport fishing, on certified scales. How do you do this in a primitive canoe? Well, by using a pulley, a makeshift sling and a heavy rope over a conveniently located tree. And the result 415lbs 8oz, 13ft 5 inches in length and 7 feet in girth.
Richard says he is going back next year to better his record. Somehow I think that might be a tough call; the biggest arapaima ever recorded is 440lbs but then again the Amazon basin is a mighty big place.
Deans Court (River Allen)
Just two this week to tempt the fishing buds, which includes our new beat on the River Allen.
2-for-1 on our teaching lake at The Mill which is stuffed with fish. Sunday August 23rd. £125 for two. Save £125.
Book on-line or call 01264 781988
Himalayan Balsam: the Asian invader
I find it hard to hate Himalayan Balsam; that heady sweet scent that hangs over the river bank on a still summer evening is both exotic and unexpected. I know it is a menace, but those pink/purple flowers are beautiful, so unlike anything native.
But it is an insidious guest, quick to grow and fast spreading. Like our native nettles it has that ability to crowd out everything else, creating the plant equivalent of scorched earth. Look down amongst the stems and all you will see is bare soil.
I think it is fair to say that I approached July with a certain amount of trepidation as the dry spell looked to continue and everyone assumed that the weed after the June cut wouldn't grow much. Happily on both counts I was wrong. Though the fish were resolutely picky some days, the rivers looked great and held up all month long.
The fates have decreed that the July winner, like that of June, was fishing at Compton Chamberlayne on the River Nadder. This time it is Graham Nicholls who has a choice: a signed copy of Life of a Chalkstream in paperback or a Union fly box. I will not be offended if you choose the latter. The end of season draw is for a wonderful Hardy Cascapedia reel.
A trio of questions to either confound you or confirm your brilliance. Answers as the bottom of the Newsletter. It is just for fun!
1) What does a herpetologist study?
2) What is the biggest ever fish caught on rod and reel?
3) Who lives in a holt?
Where are the British youth?
I did hope to bring you news of how the British or any of the home nation teams were doing in the World Youth Fly Fishing Championships that are taking place in Vail, Colorado, USA this week.
I scanned down the list of teams to see how we are doing: Canada, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, USA ...... it is not that we are doing badly it is simply that we are not there at all.
In the middle of what is National Fishing Month wouldn't it have been the coolest thing to have sent a team out to participate? It is not as if the competition is new; this is the 14th year. I don't know the whys and wherefores ofFIPS-Mouche who run both this and the World Championship (by the way in the USA in 2016) but maybe someone out there knows why we don't have a team.