The Shortest Month – Rene’ Harrop

Noted mainly as being the shortest month of our longest season, February is a continuation of deep winter on the Henry’s Fork. Precipitation mostly in the form of snow averages more than in January while temperatures in the early part of the month can be among the coldest of the year. Still, there is benefit to a fly fisherman when daylight stretches toward 6:00 P.m., an addition of 1 ¼ hours from the lowest point in mid-December to February first.

A Hope For Spring

A Hope For Spring

For much of the month ice will continue to chill the river and fishing is mainly limited to deep nymphing for bottom hugging trout still locked in winter’s lethargy. Eventually, however, the occurrence of severely frigid days begins to thin and the river enters a period of reawakening.

While midges exist almost exclusively as the basis for February dry fly opportunity, the days of rising fish increase proportionately to increasing air temperatures as the month progresses.  Though spring Baetis are a rare feature prior to early March, there are occasional years when the first mayflies can make a token appearance in late February. Usually, this uncommon event portends an early spring which in the high country can mean returning to our mountain cabin in April rather than May. However, in a place where general prosperity is measured by the abundance of snow, only a foolish person would welcome the temporary comfort of a short, dry winter.

February Brown

February Brown

Fortunately, we now approach February with snow continuing to accumulate and the expectation of that trend extending into the foreseeable future. Accessing the river will be come more not less difficult until average daytime highs rise well above the freezing mark and rain becomes the common form of precipitation.

In the interim, I will savor the incremental process of achieving spring while enjoying even small advancements in outdoor comfort.

Back on the water

Back on the water

As the water warms and winter releases its icy grip, the activity level of trout responds proportionately to the change. Hungry from winter’s dormancy, the big guys will go on the prowl and the methods of capitalizing of this new-found energy begin to expand.

By February’s end, I will be pulling a streamer at least as often as fishing a nymph and the dry fly rod will seldom be left at home.

While warm days and green grass lie well into the future, the shortest month will not be time wished away nor will it include long strings of days spent indoors away from the water. And at this point in winter, that is good enough.

February Distraction

February Distraction

5 New Years Fishing Resolution’s For 2019

2019 is going to be a great year for fishing!! We all have New Years resolution’s, but how about some fishing ones? As an angler, these suggestions should hopefully improve your fishing year to come.

1. Fish more often

Did you fish as much as you had hoped for last year? Probably not. So set aside a target number of days to spend on the bank this year. For example, a minimum of 5, 10 or 20. Tick them off as you go so you know how many you have done. Tip: Why not tell the other half about your target, whilst she’s still in a festive mood?

2. Visit a new venue

Visiting a new water can change your mindset and get you thinking outside of the box. It’s always worth making that long drive to a place you’ve always wanted to fish, but have never visited. Instead of ‘maybe next year.’ plan a day and get in the car and do it when the time comes.

Dedicate a day to visiting a new venue

Dedicate a day to visiting a new venue

3. Get somebody into fishing

Our sport needs new members, so why not take somebody with you? A friend, child or relative might appreciate fishing and it could lead to a life long passion. So why not dedicate a day or two for sharing and instruction this year rather than for yourself.

family fishing

Image source: Tide Lines
Letting the kids come with you is a great way to catch their interest.

4. Get involved with a clean up

Whether you area member of a carp syndicate, an angling club or simply on a day ticket our rivers and lakes need a bit of TLC. Even if its a few hours of your time sweeping the bank with a bin bag, a clean up makes your venue a much better place to fish and inspires respect from others.

A river clean up. Image: Wandle trust

5. Take stock of your fishing tackle

The New Year is the perfect time to check through your fishing gear. Make a resolution to give it a good sort out – be ruthless and sell or giveaway the stuff you never use, or if it is past it’s sell by date chuck it out. If find you need near fishing gear, then indulge yourself – it’s better to have everything ready for 2019 than not.

It’s 2019 – time to sort out this mess and treat yourself to some new gear! Image: Ifish.net

Angling Trust And Fish Legal Fundraising Dinner

Worried about the state of our freshwater environment? We are and so are The Angling Trust.

Did you know that half of all aquatic species including many fish are in decline and 13% are threatened with extinction?

To help turn this around, Angling Trust have launched a new joint initiative with The Rivers Trust and WWF. YOU can help them raise vital funds to protect our freshwater environment and fish.

There are lots of ways to get involved with this joint initiative  – join them at their fundraising dinner, donate an auction lot or take part in the auction itself which has a fantastic range of lots to suit all budgets and tastes.

The Angling Trust 2019 Dinner Fundraiser

The Angling Trust 2019 Dinner Fundraiser

More information on the Angling Trust dinner event can be found here.

A Time of Plenty By Rene’ Harrop September, 2018

The departure of summer in the high country is a process that begins well before the Autumn Equinox. It may be something as small as adding an extra blanket on the bed in late August or a morning layer of thin ice on the dog’s water bowl at about the same time. At the fly shops, river guides may linger with clients for an extra hour while waiting for temperature that may not be sufficiently comfortable until well past eight a.m.

Breaking The Calm

Breaking The Calm

Early September brings a change for many residents of the Henry’s Fork community as shotguns and bows join fly rods as tools for a season that adds hunting to the list of opportunities for outdoor activity. With these changes comes an alteration in the rhythm of daily life as noticeably shorter days prompt a sense of urgency for mountain dwellers.

Air Under A Rainbow

Air Under A Rainbow

With signs of a colder season blending with the remnants of summer the pulse of all creatures seems elevated into heightened awareness that time is short before the arrival of winter. It is a rare September that does not feature a substantial snowstorm which, though always a temporary disruption, is a stark reminder that preparations must be made for the six months or so when that form of precipitation becomes standard.

As with all wildlife, trout are instinctively alert to a behavioral necessity that will determine the ability to survive during the lean months when food becomes scarce and existence is largely reliant upon fat stored prior to that precarious period.

Free & Proud

Free & Proud

In autumn, trout become opportunistic in a constant search for food and at times can appear almost indifferent to its identity or timing of availability. This is a time of plenty for a fly fisherman as virtually all local waters are at their best in terms of condition and productivity. Always severely tested in this regard, personal discipline for responsibility nearly evaporates during the thirty days that span my favorite month of the year.

With so much happening on the rivers and lakes of Yellowstone country, the biggest challenge in September is making a decision on where to fish on any given day. But is that such a bad problem to have?

Henry's Lake Monster

Henry’s Lake Monster

Fishtec Blogger Joins The Angling Trust

Keen all-rounder and author Dom Garnett is writing a new chapter for the Angling Trust

Keen all-rounder and author Dom Garnett is writing a new chapter for the Angling Trust, in search of untold stories and unsung heroes. Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Regular readers will already know our blogger Dom Garnett is as passionate about conservation and inspiring the next generation as he is about his own fishing. In his new role at the Angling Trust, he’ll be travelling the country to cover the stories and issues that matter. Here’s a flavour of what to expect, in his own words…

Dom’s mission

Are we living in the best or worst of times for fishing? I guess you could say it’s a bit of both at the moment. We’ve never had better value tackle or more choice of places to fish. Then again, the sport is faced with more hurdles than ever, from environmental threats to a lack of young recruits.

Fishing is so much more than just a hobby for me. When a new role in blogging and digital media came up with the Angling Trust, I had to go for it. Little did I know the huge amount of stories to cover and good work going on behind the scenes – and that’s just after the first couple of months!

Is angling in a good place in 2018?

Social media isn’t always healthy for angling.

Social media isn’t always healthy for angling. The sport needs togetherness and positive action, rather than yet more keyboard warriors!
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Catch a typical pub or Facebook conversation and you might think fishing is going to hell in an illegal keepnet. All the big fish have been eaten. The rivers and canals are empty. By 2050, there will only be crayfish and cormorants left. I could go on, but you’ve probably heard it before and, I hope, realised that much of it is way over the top or pure nonsense.

Of course, there are still serious challenges, but these won’t be solved by keyboard warfare. In fact, the biggest problem angling faces is not otters or immigrants but good old-fashioned apathy. That’s why it can feel that, in spite of being a sport with a giant following, we punch like a toddler. So, if I can highlight some of the positive things going on and rally more anglers to do their bit, that in itself would be a result. So where do we start?

Rewriting the story of fishing

A lot of the good work in fishing is not very visible. In spite of claims to the contrary, there are more volunteers, projects and campaigns than most of us are aware of. Sadly, the real heroes of fishing tend to get on quietly and determinedly, while those who contribute little more than spleen feel the need to make an awful lot of noise.

My first aim is to show anglers what really goes on behind the scenes – whether it’s the many ways their EA fishing licence money is spent, or the great projects and people out there making a difference.

Sometimes this needs a fresh angle, and so I’ve aimed to make my blog posts for the Angling Trust’s “Lines on the Water” unashamedly entertaining. It can be hard to catch readers in this digital age, so I’m keen to uncover the eye-opening truths and human interest stories behind the serious stuff. Here are just a few recent examples:

Police, thieves and fishy goings on…

From firearms to stolen carp, fisheries enforcement staff see it all!

From firearms to stolen carp, fisheries enforcement staff see it all! But the picture is changing, thanks to joined-up thinking and better practice.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

One of the greatest positive changes in fishing for decades has been the vast improvement in the way fisheries crime is tackled. The Angling Trust’s enforcement team has been instrumental in making this happen – from closer working with police and the EA, to creating a nationwide army of 500 Voluntary Bailiffs. This is a massive step in the right direction!

Of course, we can all help by reporting crimes and incidents. You never know what you might uncover and would not believe some of the cases that have come up in recent years! Actually, take a look for yourself in my recent post about Amazing Fisheries Enforcement Wins. Did you hear the one about the wanted murderer, or the bathtub of stolen barbel? I kid you not!

Random rubbish and bizarre finds

Not what you’d hoped to catch; but litter is no laughing matter!

Not what you’d hoped to catch; but litter is no laughing matter!
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

The media have been going nuts about litter and plastic pollution lately. About blinking time, too, because it is atrocious and so unnecessary! The moment you start to lecture people about tidying up, they tend to switch off.

So, instead of dishing out a sermon, I decided to do some homework and ask all my angling pals about their most bizarre catches. The results were strange to say the least, from body parts to erotic toys! You can see the worst and weirdest of them here. Better still – do your bit and join our “Take 5” campaign.

Turning the “problem” of immigration into a positive

Polish kids learn to fish with the Building Bridges scheme

Polish kids learn to fish with the Building Bridges scheme – an excellent Angling Trust project supported by Environment Agency rod licence money.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

You only need to mention the word Brexit these days to conjure up fierce debate on immigration. But could our neighbours from the continent be a positive for fishing in the longer term? Granted, there are still a few bad apples; but thanks to efforts from the Angling Trust and others, the tide is now turning.

Not only is the Daily Mail style “immigrants have nicked all the fish” line getting pretty tired, the statistics no longer back it up. Non-British anglers carry out only a small proportion of fisheries crimes; and I don’t hear many calls to have middle aged Englishmen hung, drawn and quartered.

Part of this is down to much better education, from multi-lingual signs to special events and wider enforcement. The Angling Trust’s Building Bridges project has been crucial here, too. In fact, there’s growing evidence that immigration can be hugely positive.

I recently attended a fantastic event with Wellingborough Nene and District Angling Club where dozens of Polish kids and their families came together with local coaches to learn fishing skills and laws. It was one of the most uplifting experiences of my fishing year. The result of more events like this could be huge. Migrant anglers now provide a substantial boost to the tackle trade, while the fishing clubs get much needed junior members. Make no mistake; if we can work together, we can create long term, positive change here.

How you can help

Together, we can protect our fisheries and build a brighter future for angling.

Together, we can protect our fisheries and build a brighter future for angling.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

In a sport that has a huge number of participants, it’s a crying shame that such a small percentage play their part and join the Angling Trust. As you might have seen from my previous Fishtec blog post on why it’s so important to get involved, there are simply too many positive reasons not to do just that!

There are far too many great things going on for one blog post, it’s fair to say. We haven’t even touched on Fish Legal, and its huge wins against polluters. Not to mention the Angling Improvement Fund, injecting many thousands of pounds of rod licence money into helping angling clubs and freshwater fisheries. Nor have we mentioned the huge number of coaches and free fishing events every summer with the “Get Fishing” organisation.

I’m well aware that doing your bit is not as sexy as talking about huge fish or the latest tackle; but the future of angling depends on all of us to show that we care. I’ll say it again: apathy is by far the biggest threat to angling. We won’t win the longer battle overnight, but joining the Angling Trust is a bloody good start! Signing up today costs less than £30 and brings a whole host of discounts and other benefits too.

In the meantime, do follow your regional Angling Trust Facebook page and keep an eye on the “Lines on the Water” blog for current goings on and inspirational stories. It’s only together that we can beat apathy and build a better future for fishing. What do you say?

Read more…

For more of our blogger Dominic Garnett’s stories and articles, his website has books, blog posts and more to enjoy. Crooked Lines (£9.99), his collection of fishing tales, makes especially enjoyable summer reading. Or, discover the flies and innovative tactics used to catch a wide range of freshwater fish in his highly acclaimed Amazon Bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish.

10 Reasons You Need To Join The Angling Trust

Are you a member of angling’s most important organisation? If not, there’s no time like the present to join Angling Trust & Fish Legal, says Dom Garnett. With more threats than ever to the fish and fisheries we depend on, there’s never been a greater need to support the future of the sport you love. Here are ten excellent reasons to get involved, from protecting fish stocks to superb member benefits.

1. Because we’re stronger together

Angling_Trust_Blog - 1

Game and coarse anglers meet on the bank. Angling is stronger when the different branches unite!
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Does it sometimes feel like fishing has too little say as a sport, given how many of us are out there? In the past, we tended to split up into many different groups, fighting our own little corners. The Angling Trust is the only body to bring everyone together, from sea anglers to carp fishers. The result? A more powerful voice and real progress for us all.

2. To inspire the next generation of anglers

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Angling Trust coaches have inspired thousands of youngsters to go fishing.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Perhaps the most important reason of all to join the Trust is to inspire and encourage the anglers of tomorrow. By giving quality, affordable training to coaches in sea, coarse and fly fishing right across the UK, we can bring in the new blood that fishing depends on. You might even want to get involved yourself.

3. To get discounts on tackle, day tickets, bait and more…

If you thought that joining the Trust was all about supporting fishing and doing the right thing… well, you’d be correct, but it’s also more than that. Members also get some cracking discounts, whether that means tackle, bait or the latest fishing books for less.

4. To help fund projects and bring angling into the community

Even in times of austerity, there are funds available to strengthen the vital work done by fishing clubs and organisations. The Angling Trust works hand in hand with a range of brilliant projects to bring the positives of fishing to communities right across the UK.

5. To fight polluters and restore fisheries

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Without Fish Legal, many cases of criminal pollution would go unpunished, with no compensation to restore damaged waters.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

Have you ever wondered who puts things right when waters are polluted or damaged? In so many cases, it’s Fish Legal, which you support by joining the Angling Trust. With Environment Agency success rates for prosecuting offenders and getting compensation as low as 3%, Fish Legal is not just important – it’s vital!

6. To make sure angling isn’t ignored by the politicians

Even if you consider current politics as dirty and divided, it’s absolutely vital that fishing is brought to the attention of decision makers. The Angling Trust works tirelessly to communicate and lobby key figures at local and national levels, effecting real change. Never mind Facebook rants, the Trust takes coordinated action on the issues that matter to you.

7. For healthier seas, rivers, lakes and ponds

With threats like pollution, over-abstraction, hydropower, overfishing and habitat destruction, it’s crucial that angling is represented in discussions about the future of our waters. We can’t win every battle, but without an organised body to represent thousands of anglers, who will fight for change and sustainability?

From protecting marine fish populations, to working directly with policy makers and groups like WWF, the Angling Trust makes sure we are heard. Find out more about some of the Trust’s current campaigns.

8. To educate European anglers and reduce poaching

Building_Bridges.asp

Image courtesy of the Angling Trust.

With more European anglers than ever living in the UK, it’s crucial that those from other cultures are made aware of British laws and the importance of catch and release fishing. Along with better information and signage, the Building Bridges project has been a huge success, bringing anglers together to create better understanding and create a clear message.

9. To put more bailiffs on the bank and protect fisheries

Whether it’s the theft of carp, pike or threatened populations of salmon, our fisheries need protection. As important as the police and Environment Agency are in this, they need information to target their scarce resources. Set up directly with Angling Trust, the Voluntary Bailiff Scheme (VBS) has been an innovative and effective answer to provide really valuable intelligence and help the police tackle waterside crime. Nearly 500 volunteers have been recruited and they are making a big difference.

10. To combat predation and invasive species

Cormorant_Watch.asp

Image courtesy of the Angling Trust.

With populations of creatures, including cormorants and goosanders, rising to alarming levels in some areas, there has never been a greater need to campaign for sensible measures to protect fisheries and, where necessary, reduce numbers of predators. The Angling Trust is one of the only major organisations that campaigns for this on a national scale, using an evidence-based approach with projects such as Cormorant Watch.

Don’t delay, join the Angling Trust today!

At just £29 a year (or less for OAPs and young anglers), membership doesn’t cost a fortune and makes a huge difference to the sport you love. In fact, for the sake of all the great work the Angling Trust and Fish Legal do, it’s an absolute bargain! It’s easy to get onboard too; all you need is five minutes to join online or call directly on 0343 5077006.

The Green Menace – Invasive Plants

Giant-hogweed-warning

Invasive non-native plant species can quickly take over and spoil local fishing spots
Image source: Lance Sagar

If you haven’t settled on a New Year’s Resolution yet, why not make 2018 the year you start your very own fightback against alien plants like Himalayan Balsam, Giant Hogweed, Floating Pennywort and Japanese Knotweed?

Invasive non-native plants like these can cause real problems for your favourite stream, river or lake – and even spoil your fishing season completely. And while some of their worst effects don’t become visible until the spring and summer months, it’s never too early to start planning your campaign against them…

Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan-Balsam

Himalayan Balsam can destroy bank-side structure causing erosion
Image source: Shutterstock

Also known as Policeman’s Helmet or Poor Man’s Orchid, Himalayan Balsam is probably one of the most widespread invasive plants in the UK. But the good news is that it’s also one of the easiest to tackle.

It’s very shallow-rooted, which is why it’s so damaging when it dies back in the winter (after shading out all the native plants and killing their root systems) and lets seasonal spates dump all the bankside soil into our rivers as silt.

However, it’s easy to pull up or strim from May onwards. Just make sure that each stem has been snapped below the first node, then pile up the plants somewhere dry and shady to desiccate. Start as far upstream in your river’s catchment as you can, to stop seeds floating down to recolonise areas you’ve already cleared.

For best results, you should plan to revisit each infested area once a month until around October, to pick off later-germinating plants which will otherwise produce up to 800 seeds each, causing even more problems next year. Monnow Rivers Association volunteers have successfully applied this approach for a number of years, even asking visiting anglers to pull up 50 plants as part of their day on the water.

For more information about Himalayan Balsam, visit the GBNNSS website.

Giant Hogweed

Giant-Hogweed

Removing Giant Hogweed requires careful handling and protective eyewear
Image source: Shutterstock

Once made famous by Genesis in their song ‘The Return of the Giant Hogweed’, this highly dangerous plant is steadily rampaging along the banks of urban jungle rivers like Manchester’s Irwell.

During the 70s, 80s and 90s in Northern Ireland, it turned whole rivers into no-go zones every summer. Each hair on its towering, purple-blotched stems holds a bead of phyto-phototoxic sap, and if you get this on your skin, any exposure to sunlight will produce blisters and third-degree burns which can keep coming back for years.

In the past couple of years, volunteers from the Mersey Rivers Trust have started spraying young giant hogweed plants from around March onwards. If you don’t want to use chemicals (not least because you’ll need permission from the EA to use them near water) you can stop older plants from seeding by cutting off seed heads into a bin bag and incinerating them carefully. You can also dig out young plants by cutting their thick tap roots at least 15cm below ground level with a sharp spade.

Always wear full personal protective equipment when you’re working on Giant Hogweed, including eye protection to stop squirting sap and prevent permanent damage to your eyes.

For more information about Giant Hogweed, visit the GBNNSS website.

Floating Pennywort

Floating-Pennywort

Floating Pennywort can completely choke waters in a very short space of time
Image source: Crown copyright, GBNNSS

First found in the wild in the UK as recently as 1990, Floating Pennywort spreads over still or slow-flowing water a rate of 20cm a day, so it’s a particular problem on canals and impounded areas behind old mill weirs.

At first, in some of these straight-sided brick and concrete areas, it can even look like a welcome addition of soft green structure. But it soon makes fishing and boating impossible, shades out native plants, and increases the risk of serious flooding.

Treating fully-established infestations in deep water can cost thousands of pounds, but if the water is shallow enough to wade safely, it’s perfectly possible to clear smaller areas by hand. Gently follow the fleshy stems back to where they’re growing out of the bank, and pull them up by the roots, leaving all the foliage safely on the bank to compost down. Best practice also includes setting nets all around your working area to stop small pieces of stem and leaf from floating off and starting new colonies of their own.

To start dealing with the other plants in this article, you’ll need to wait a few months until spring or summer. However, if you’ve noticed Pennywort on your patch, winter is a good time to tackle it, when growth is slow, frost has driven the leaves below the surface of the water, and the plant’s total biomass is lowest.

For more information about Floating Pennywort, visit the GBNNSS website.

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese-knotweed

Japanese Knotweed has heart-shaped leaves, bamboo-like stems and white flowers
Image source: MdE (page at dewiki | page at commons) – own photo, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

Once loved by Victorian gardeners for its bamboo-like stems and pretty, lacy flowers, Japanese Knotweed is one invasive species that’s best left for the experts to handle.

Having evolved to grow through hardened lava on the slopes of volcanoes like Mount Fuji, it makes short work of tarmac and concrete, and can destroy dams, paths and boat ramps – even fishing huts if it sprouts up through the floor. New plants can regenerate from thumbnail-sized pieces of stem or root, so even the smallest fragment is classified as controlled waste.

As a result, it’s best not to touch Japanese Knotweed yourself at all – instead, you can make a real difference by noting its location and telling your local council or rivers trust. They’ll send a specialist to treat it with glyphosate in late summer or autumn, when the plant is drawing nutrients (and thus any pesticide) back down into its deep root system. The Wye & Usk Foundation has already scored some notable successes in clearing Japanese Knotweed from the Afon Lwyd in this way.

For more information about Japanese Knotweed, visit the GBNNSS website.

Other tips for fighting invasive, non-native plant species

  • Download the PlantTracker app, and start submitting geolocated photos whenever you see one of these invasive non-native plants.
  • Find out if your fishing club or local Rivers Trust runs an invasive non-native species programme – if not, volunteer to help them start one.
  • Get to know the Check, Clean, Dry protocols – these will help to stop you accidentally spreading alien plants as well as invasive shrimps and other invertebrates.
  • Always try to get the landowner’s permission before starting to tackle Invasive Non-Native Species of any kind. If you plan to use pesticides like glyphosate anywhere near water, you’ll also need consent from the Environment Agency or SEPA.

A Beginner’s Guide to Fish Care

Releasing your quarry unharmed is one of the most important things any angler can learn. Dominic Garnett shares essential tips to help you safely catch and release your fish so that they’re ready to do battle another day!

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If a fish has fought hard, you may need to support it in the water until it gets its breath back
Image source: Dom Garnett

While it’s great to learn all about rigs, methods and tactics for big fish, one of the most important aspects of modern angling is one of the least written about. Handling and releasing your catch safely should be one of the first things an angler learns; sadly it’s not always the case.

Why do we release fish in the first place? It’s simple. To preserve our sport. If we took our catch home every time we went fishing, we would soon run out. That’s the reality of living on a small island country with lots of anglers and only so many fish to catch! A fish that is dead cannot give another angler pleasure. It cannot grow bigger or, crucially, breed and produce more fish. Furthermore, there is a deep satisfaction in returning a fish safely, knowing it will live to fight not just another day, but possibly many years.

Preparation and essential equipment

FC-ROGUE-CRAD

Featured product: the new Leeda Rogue Carp Unhooking Cradle from Fishtec is just £39.99

Besides the right gear, good fish care is all about anticipation and being prepared. Do you know where your forceps or scales are at a moment’s notice? Is your tackle strong enough, and have you earmarked a safe place to land a fish in advance?

Having the right gear is another must. Two of the most commonly neglected pieces of equipment are the correct unhooking tools (a pair of pliers is no good) and the right landing net (a generous sized net of soft mesh). A large, quality landing net also doubles as a good investment for retaining fish in the water for short periods. Last but not least, nobody fishing for carp, pike or other larger species should be without an unhooking mat or cradle – and many clubs and fisheries won’t let you fish without one.

Many anglers also debarb hooks or use barbless patterns these days too. In 90% of situations, barbless is best. The possible exception is with large fish, the argument being that a barbless can move around and cut more during a long fight. In this situation, I believe a “bumped” hook is best (i.e. one where the profile of the barb has been reduced by pliers, but there is still a slight “bump”). This stops the hook moving around during the fight, but can still be removed without any tearing.

12 golden rules of fish care

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The right way to pose for a quick picture; low to the ground and with a mat underneath
Image source: Dom Garnett

When it comes to safely handling and releasing fish, there are a few golden rules. Advance knowledge and preparation are key here; the time to wonder about best practice is not when a fish is kicking on the bank! Here are some of the universal rules of responsible catch and release angling:

Always handle fish with wet hands: This avoids removing their protective slime. NEVER use a towel. You will notice fish behave much better if you have wet hands (think about it – they have come from somewhere cold and wet, while your paws are dry and warm!)

Always have the right tools: You should never fish without the means to extract a hook. For small fish, a disgorger is the answer and for larger species, forceps are better. If you fish for pike, these should be a minimum of 12” long. Buy quality and always pack a spare set (they are easy to lose on the bank and lots of companies make the damned things green or dull coloured!)

Use sensible tackle: A totally knackered fish is a fish in danger. Try not to play your quarry to exhaustion, but be as quick as reasonably possible. Large fish like carp, pike and barbel need strong gear. If the fish has fought like fury, you could give it a few seconds to rest in the water before you handle it.

Handle fish carefully and as little as possible: The less faff the better here. The more handling, the more slime you remove and the more risk.

Be prepared: Have your unhooking equipment, camera and other essentials ready and close to hand at all times.

Keep time out of water to a minimum: If you want to weigh a fish or take a picture, you can always keep it immersed using your landing net (or perhaps in a carp sack briefly) while you set up the shot and zero your scales. Avoid keeping your catch out of water for more than is absolutely necessary.

Use the right net: Landing nets are often essential for all but the smallest fish. Avoid small nets and harsh mesh materials (modern rubberized mesh is excellent). A large net can also be used to briefly retain your catch in the water to let it recover or give it a breather if you want to take a picture.

Never stand up or walk around while holding a big fish: A fish dropped from standing height is often a dead one; it may swim off, but you will have damaged its internal organs. Instead, kneel with it over the mat or the water for safety. And use your net to carry fish back to the water, lowering gently back.

Handle with care (cradle, don’t clench): A fish is a living thing, not a bragging item. Hold it as you would a little baby, not some macho trophy. If it’s really heavy, supporting closer to your body is safer than thrusting out to the camera. Try to “cradle” a large fish, and avoid clenching or squeezing around the throat area because this is where many of the vital organs are.

Weigh safely and keep your catch wet: The easiest way to weigh a fish is in the net, and then deduct the weight of your net later. Make sure the fish is lying “flush” (i.e. evenly in the bottom of the net with no fins trapped) before lifting the scales. Specimen hunters often prefer a sling. If you use one of these, make sure it’s well doused with water.

Lower, don’t drop: Although non-anglers will ask if you’re going to “throw” it back, this is not something a caring angler would ever do. Every fish should be lowered back into the water if humanly possible. If the spot is awkward and this is impossible, use your net to lower the fish back safely.

Support if necessary: Sometimes fish will swim off strongly right away. Other times they may be tired and need some help. If a fish has battled hard, never just let go of it right away. Hold it upright in the water for a few seconds to let it recover (this could be a few minutes for some fish).

First aid for fish

Last but not least, some anglers go even further with fish care, especially for carp, by applying a little first aid. Products such as Klinik can disinfect any nicks from hooks or scale damage, assisting recovery. Gel-based products are the most effective, as they stick to the target.

Another tip for those who need to retain a net of small to medium fish for photography is to use a little clove oil mixed with water and douse the fish; it is a natural anesthetic and calms them down. In fact, Environment Agency staff have been known to use it in fish surveys to de-stress fish.

Pike and other special cases…

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The right way to do it: cradle and support your catch , avoid dry hands or clenching at the throat.
Image source: Dom Garnett

Another important point to make in our guide is that not all fish are created as tough as each other. Carp, the most cared for of the lot, are tough as old boots (obviously this is still no reason not to treat them with total respect!)

Grayling, trout and others can be very brittle though, and need extra care. Pike are perhaps the most misunderstood and fragile fish of all, in spite of their fierce appearances. For a thorough guide to pike unhooking and handling, it’s well worth checking out the Pike Angler’s Club’s code of safe practice.

What about sea fish and stocked trout?

While coarse anglers are very much at the forefront of catch and release, a lot of sea and game anglers are now just as passionate about fish welfare. Indeed, if you’re not going to eat it, why on earth wouldn’t you want it to go back unharmed?

Most coarse fish, and indeed many wild game fish, are protected by law these days and removing them is a criminal offence. However, with some stocked trout, as well as sea fish above a set of minimum size limits, you may choose (or be obliged) to take the fish.

We would strongly advise returning slow-growing and precious fish such as salmon and bass, even if you may legally take them. But if you must kill, do it quickly and humanely – a “priest” is the tool to do it, with a short sharp blow to the skull on the top of the head.

How else can we make sure fish go back safely?

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We all have a responsibility to protect our fish stock
Image source: Dom Garnett

Feelings can run quite high when it comes to catch and release practice these days. Facebook pictures of fish handled with towels or without an unhooking mat in sight quickly attract a barrage of critical and angry comments.

While we all want to see responsible fishing, there should be no place for abuse. We can learn from each other and often those targeted by angry comments on social media are just inexperienced, rather than deliberately cruel. Don’t immediately castigate those who show poor practice – the last way to make anyone listen and learn is to start a fight with them. Be helpful and friendly, and remember you were once inexperienced too.

There are of course other cases where anglers know the rules but are still negligent or even criminal – and we can and should help to protect our waters. On the vast majority of coarse fisheries, taking fish is illegal and you should report any poachers or law-breakers to the Environment Agency hotline. The number is 0800 80 70 60 – have it stored on your phone!

We all have a part to play in protecting the sport. It might seem ironic, but the folks who want to stick a hook in fish are usually also their greatest protectors. We will inevitably cause fish some brief stress, but with modern barbless hooks and careful handling, virtually every fish we catch will swim off happily and continue to thrive. I should know. There are several times when I’ve re-captured the same fish years later, bigger and in rude health. What a great feeling!

Read more from our blogger…
A weekly Angling Times columnist, Dom Garnett is also a South West fishing guide and author of several books, including the Amazon Bestseller Flyfishing for Coarse Fish, Canal Fishing and his recent book of angling tales Crooked Lines. Read more at www.dgfishing.co.uk

Pacific Salmon: The Pink Peril

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Pink salmon are being caught all over the UK
Image source: Shutterstock

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make most conservation-minded anglers’ blood run cold, it’s the idea of yet another invasive non-native species coming to join the Himalayan balsam, floating pennywort, American signal crayfish, Ponto-Caspian shrimp, and other unwelcome visitors which are already wreaking havoc on our rivers and lakes.

Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing here in the British Isles this summer – with alien Pacific pink (or humpback) salmon showing up in unprecedented numbers in rivers around our coastline.

So why has this happened? And is there anything we do about it?

Far from home

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An Alaskan pink salmon in its freshwater spawning phase.
By Bering Land Bridge National Preserve – Pink Salmon, CC BY 2.0

As their name suggests, Pacific pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbusca) evolved in the rivers and seas of the northern Pacific rim, from Oregon all the way up to Alaska, and down the coast of Russia to the Korean peninsula.

Like the four other species of Pacific salmon – chum (dog), coho (silver), king (chinook) and sockeye (red) – they’re genetically programmed to thrive in hostile Arctic conditions without the beneficial warmth of the Gulf Stream.

Mature adult fish run into rivers in mid to late summer, spawn quickly, and die almost at once, boosting the rivers’ ecology with all the remaining marine nutrients in their bodies. The fry hatch within 80 days, and migrate to sea at a young age (unlike juvenile Atlantic salmon, which live in their rivers of birth for much longer).

Year classes are strongly defined in two-year cycles, and don’t mix at all – a characteristic which has led to some runs of Pacific salmon being completely obliterated by natural or man-made disasters. Maybe to make up for this, pinks are happy to stray some distance from their own rivers to colonise new water. But like so many other alien invaders, they’ve now moved far beyond their native range as a result of human intervention…

Starting in the 1960s, and continuing for about 40 years, it’s believed that Russian scientists started stocking them into the Barents and White seas with the intention of creating a commercial net fishery and canning industry.

From here, pink salmon started spreading to Finland and Norway (where breeding populations have become established) and then to Iceland, Denmark and Germany. Occasional two- to five-pounders have appeared in Scottish, Irish and English east coast rivers since the earliest years, but it’s the scale of this summer’s invasion which has started to cause concern.

What’s the problem?

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Pink salmon crowded in Alaska
Image source: Shutterstock

Hundreds of pink salmon, from around two to five pounds, have been caught in more than 40 rivers around the British Isles in 2017 – from the Helmsdale and Ness to the Tyne, and even the Cong and Galway fisheries on Ireland’s River Corrib.

In England, they’ve turned up in Yorkshire’s Driffield West Beck, too, where David Southall was surprised to catch a hard-fighting 3lb specimen in August on a streamer intended for chalkstream trout.

Native Atlantic salmon are already under serious threat in most British rivers, and many anglers fear that a major influx of Pacific salmon could put them under even more pressure – either from competition, or via the introduction of pathogens and diseases still unknown.

Others argue that the earlier timing of pink salmon runs means that the adults will be long dead by the time our native salmon start trying to spawn, and any remaining redds are likely to be overcut. Juvenile pinks will migrate to sea much sooner, and at a far smaller size, than Atlantic salmon smolts, so it’s not so likely that significant competition will occur at this life stage either. Dying Pacific salmon could even contribute valuable nutrients to oligotrophic Scottish and Scandinavian catchments, making more food for Atlantic salmon parr.

Yet having said all this, if invasion ecology teaches us one thing, it’s that the potential for unintended consequences is almost limitless. So the wisest course is probably the precautionary approach.

More information is certainly needed, and fisheries scientists have already started researching the viability of pink salmon eggs in UK waters, by excavating redds in the River Ness and moving the eggs to incubation chambers for further observation. Empty egg shells were also recovered, suggesting that some alevins might already have hatched.

What else can we do?

In smaller rivers, controlling pink salmon by disturbing their very obvious redds might be an option, but in huge rivers like the Tay, this simply wouldn’t be possible, even in low summer water.

More than anything else, the UK’s fisheries authorities need information about this year’s pink salmon run, so they can prepare to deal with the next one (possibly even more numerous) in two years’ time (2019).

With their prominent hump, male pink salmon are very obvious, but some of the other differences from Atlantic salmon are more subtle. If you catch a small salmon at the back end of this season, and you suspect it might be a pink, here’s what to look out for:

 

Atlantic salmon

 

Pacific pink salmon

 

No spots on tail

 

Large black oval spots on tail

 

Pale mouth and tongue

 

Very dark mouth and tongue

 

Usually larger (up to 110cm in length)

 

Usually much smaller (40 – 60cm in length)

 

One or two spots on the gill cover, plus spots on the back above the lateral line

 

Steel-blue to blue-green back, silver flanks and white belly

 

Thicker base of tail than Pacific salmon

Breeding males have a distinctive humped back

If you think you’ve caught a pink salmon, here’s what to do:

Don’t return it to the water, but dispatch it humanely and report it to the relevant authorities (listed below) to arrange for inspection. If this isn’t possible, please retain some scale samples for further analysis.

England and Wales: Phone the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60.

Northern Ireland: Tag the fish and phone the Loughs Agency on +44 (0)28 71342100: replacement tags will be issued.

Scotland: Contact your local district fishery board and fishery trust: information will be collated by Fisheries Management Scotland and Marine Scotland Science.

Ireland: Phone Inland Fisheries Ireland on 1890 347 424.

10 Summer Holiday Fishing Tips

Off on your travels this summer? Whether it’s a dedicated fishing break, or just a rod snuck away on a family holiday, a lot of us will be on the road this summer. But if you want to get the best from your trip, you’ll need to be prepared. We’ve asked Dom Garnett for some timely advice. Here are his top 10 tips for the travelling angler.

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Successful fishing abroad just takes a little careful planning.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

1. Make a list

Once you’re on the road, you can’t nip home, so be prepared. Make a list of all your basics, from rods and reels to lures and cameras. It’s worth doing just for peace of mind, and you’ll be able to use your list again next time.

2. Protect your neck

There are things that save your neck time and again on long haul fishing trips. I always store a few essentials in the boot and they come with me on any holiday: Bottled water; a hat (wide brim is best); sun block; spare socks and a towel. Get a simple first aid kit too.

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Local tackle shops might not be what you expected, so be prepared!
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

3. Map it out

Mapping out where you’re going will save you time and hassle when you get there. The internet is a great resource for maps, postcodes and so on. I tend to go low tech on holiday and have them written down too – if you’re in the middle of nowhere with a poor signal, a hard copy beats Google every time. Maps and directions can also be screen-shotted on your mobile phone, as can fishing licenses and addresses.

4. Be social

We live in a brilliant age for networking with other anglers. I’ve been on a lot of fishing trips simply through making friends on Facebook, messaging a blogger, or following up a conversation. So be friendly. Ask questions. You may get some great advice, or better still make a new friend.

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An American smallmouth bass, from a summer road trip.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

5. Bait’s motel

Don’t court disaster by travelling with too much bait, or filthy live stuff. It can smell worse than election expenses in a hot car. If you want to take maggots, worms or other fresh bait, it needs to be put in a cooler bag or box, and well packed! Boilies, pellets and groundbaits are much easier to manage. If you’re flying, get your bait when you arrive.

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Featured product: Savage Gear Tele Finesse Lure Rod from Fishtec

6. Travel light with lures and flies

If time is limited, or you’re juggling fishing with family time, lure fishing is probably my favourite method. A travel rod and a couple of boxes of lures take up little space and you can sneak in short sessions whenever the chance arises.

Fly tackle is similarly light, with a fly box or two weighing next to nothing. Chris Ogborne’s recent blog for Turrall has some great recommendations for hitting wild rivers and the coast this summer.

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Invest in some travel kit that won’t take up much space.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

7. Rods, bags and customs

Airport staff can be an utter pain when it comes to taking fishing tackle on holiday. They like slapping on extra charges, or going right through your things. Be polite though, and above all be prepared. Lures, scissors and bait can raise their hackles if included in hand luggage. Have everything well organised, smile and they shouldn’t give you too many problems.

Rods need to be well packed, padded and in tubes if you are on a long haul flight. Many airlines will insist that they go in the hold luggage, so do pack well. I swear they play football with some of the cases.

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Featured product: Airflo Multi Fly Rod Tube from Fishtec

8. Get a Guide

There is no substitute for local knowledge and guides are worth their weight in gold. OK, so you might not fancy paying extra. But a guide can save days of guesswork and put you right on the fish. Furthermore, the new skills and knowledge you pick up will last for more than just a day.

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Local guides offer know-how and experiences you’ll never forget.
Image courtesy of Dom Garnett.

9. Water-tight packing

Wet gear or water-damaged kit are bad news on any journey. Bring a large zip or plastic bag to store pongy nets and always take a waterproof hike bag for your phone and camera. I always wrap things like cameras in bubble wrap for the long haul.

10. Go boldly forth…

Finally, my last tip is to be brave, try something new and challenge yourself. There are so many amazing countries out there and not all cost the earth to travel to. Look for cheap flights and anything is possible. The same is true in your own country. If you haven’t already, why not try your hand at the Wye Valley and the Norfolk Broads. Or the Scottish Highlands and rugged coast of Cornwall (see last year’s blog on our top UK fishing destinations for five great options closer to home).

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Jason Coggins fishes the Isle of Skye. You needn’t travel far to find good fishing.

More from our blogger

Read two-dozen great angling tales from Dom Garnett in his most recent book Crooked Lines. With original illustrations and travels from Arctic Norway and the streets of Manhattan, it makes great summer reading. Find it at www.dgfishing.co.uk or as a £4.99 E-book for your tablet or Kindle at www.amazon.co.uk