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A 2018 look at catch-and-release

Catch-and-release on stillwater can result in a population of reluctant fish – how can we solve this?

Are we putting too many stocked fish back in commercial fisheries?
Are we putting too many stocked fish back in commercial fisheries?

As I look back on over half a century of fly-fishing I note some tremendous changes, the most interesting being the reluctance of large swathes of the fly-fishing community to kill fish and, instead, to return them to the water alive. When it comes to wild fish – brown trout and sea trout, grayling and salmon – catch-and-release is often a vitally important part of conservation. Indeed, we are seeing that C&R is no longer voluntary, but imposed by rules and sometimes the law, especially where salmon are concerned. Then it is vitally important that C&R is carried out properly and I have carried out a review of studies on the success of C&R that will appear in the magazine shortly.

However, C&R is also carried out where the fish stocks are not under threat, for instance in the great trout lochs of the Scottish Highlands and Islands and loughs of Ireland. There a crop is taken that puts no threat on the future stocks. And why not? Enjoying a grilled trout is a privilege of being a trout fly-fisher.

The situation is somewhat different when it comes to stocked rainbow trout lake fisheries – the reservoirs and small stillwaters that offer fly fishers sport to those who do not live close to wild rivers and lakes.

Years ago, I used to pop down the M6 to Draycote, in the days when it was possible to keep 70mph up for the 100-mile journey between Lancashire and Rugby. Today, I wouldn’t consider the drive, as half a day’s crawl seems today’s norm. In those halcyon days a day ticket on Draycote had, if my memory serves, a six-fish limit, there was no C&R so you had to kill all you caught, and if you caught six you packed up or bought another six-fish ticket. I used to enjoy taking a bag of rainbows home from Draycote, for in the 1980s they were of top quality and we used to eat them filleted and fried, wrapped in tinfoil and baked, and hot-smoked and turned into lovely smoked trout pate. Today, I nip up to Barnsfold Water, where Frank and Richard Casson’s rainbow trout are wonderful to eat. No horrid M6 traffic queues!

But I find that most stillwater fly-fishers rarely if ever take a trout or two home to eat. Why not?

Intensive C&R on small stillwaters is now providing problems for the managers of these fisheries. Rainbow trout that have been caught-and-released several times in quick succession become ‘conditioned’ to not taking our flies. Then they associate the taking of any item from the water with getting played out, removed into the foreign medium of the atmosphere and handled. So they stop feeding and lose condition quickly. They then sink deep into the depths of the stillwater and their guts atrophy (one scientist looking at the situation in a Cheshire fishery told me that the guts of scores of rainbow trout he examined were as wasted as those of spawned salmon). When this happens in warm conditions, parasites (especially the freshwater louse Argulus) thrive and this adds to the fishes’ dilemma.

The answer, it seems, is for every fly-fisher to remove at least the first rainbow trout that they catch on every visit. Why not? If the fly-fisher does not want to take a fish home, then we need to find a way to use these fish, for they are top quality food. Why not get the small rainbow trout fisheries to link up with the local Food Bank? And note that the small lake fisheries most under threat are in the English lowlands close to the big conurbations where there are most Food Banks.

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It may not have struck you yet, but 2018 is a WORLD CUP Year! I believe this third-rate event is being held this year in sport’s Number One doping country of Russia. I predict there will be mass violence, and England will not win the Cup. So it won’t be worth watching.

As I have done for the last many World Cup competitions, I plan to have an interesting session fly fishing when England play and when the final stages are reached. Great fun! Some of you will recall my 2014 diaries? Well, get ready for this year’s. I am planning to travel a bit more widely this time, to sample as many trout fisheries, both river and lake, as I can.

As for a New Year resolution: I need to get my trout kit ready for the new season. And tie some Suspender Buzzers (the ones in my boxes are dead tatty) and CdC dries! And...!

Happy New Year to you all.

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