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There’s more to fishing than catching fish

In his September Blog, Malcolm Greenhalgh discusses the effect of repeated catch-and-release on trout. He also drinks ale, has a lovely lunch, goes fishing and drives a Bentley... not a bad month, all in all!

Does repeated catch-and-release have an effect on trout?
Does repeated catch-and-release have an effect on trout?

The 2016 wild brown trout season came to an end on 30 September, and Thank Goodness! I have had a few great days out with the dry fly... perhaps five great days... in the past, it would have been twenty-plus great days. Why so few? The hatches have generally been poor, with the exception of mayflies and the mayfly streams I fish, and with the exception of grannom on the Ribble. I have caught quite a lot of trout on my dry flies, but I have had to work for them. In contrast our sea trout run in Lune and Ribble/Hodder have been great, with some big fish (2lbs-10+lbs) being followed by a good run of herling. In November I will give a more detailed breakdown of the season as a whole.

The 30th? I was picked up by Mark and Roger in the Bentley and chauffeured to our lower Hodder beat. We got there shortly after eleven, hoping for a few flies on the water and trout and grayling rising. But it had rained in the Forest of Bowland, and our arrival coincided with a short cloudburst. The river was at least a couple of feet up and had its coffee au lait spate hue. We tackled up and I tried a 3” Snake Fly in the slack water. Nothing. I then sat on a bench and watched dippers, grey wagtails, four goosanders and a cormorant, and the river rise by 5” in 20 minutes. I returned to our hut, detackled and sat in the sun nattering to two other members for a few minutes before Mark and Roger returned. Then we headed to the great gastro-pub near Whalley, the Three Fishes, where we enjoyed a pint of great Pendle ale, Mark devoured their superb fish pie, and Roger and I got them to do us both a double starter (four instead of two) of sautéed woodpigeon breasts in a stock and red wine reduction with a side salad. Magnificent. We have started our season on 15 March with a late lunch there for several years and now we ended this one similarly.

There’s more to fishing than catching fish.

Now for something that concerns me. A few years ago, Geoff and I went to fish the Dove but found it in spate so headed to a small rainbow trout stillwater fishery not far away. It was the Wednesday after the Easter weekend, and the fishery had been stocked the previous Wednesday.  The fishing was difficult because the fish reacted badly to the fly: we both fished dry/emerger, and rainbows would come up and swirl at the fly, rise to beneath it and then sink back, rise and stay on the fin for a short while an inch or two below the fly and then swim away, and the two fish I caught swirled once or twice and then took whilst swimming fast through the surface. I looked through the record book for the previous six days, including Easter. The total catch was way over the thousand, only three had been killed and taken, and I reckoned that some of those fish had been caught four or more times in that period. It was clear that those trout behaved the way they did because they had been conditioned NOT to take anything. Repeated catch-and-release had affected the behaviour of those trout, resulting in them not taking our imitative flies. Would they still take real foods, the foods that they must take if their body tissues are to be maintained?

I am sure the answer to that last question is, NO!

There have recently been cases of large numbers of rainbow trout in small well-stocked fisheries that have not been taking the artificial fly (they have been conditioned not to take anything after multiple catch-and-release), that have lost condition, that have atrophied guts (“Just like salmon that have not fed since they left the Greenland feeding grounds,” as one fishery officer put it to me), and that have developed kidney disease because of a loss of condition.

Catch-and-release is an important conservation tool, by which we try to ensure a thriving population of our grayling, wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon. But they are not enclosed in small, open stillwaters. They have vast river systems, or (especially Scotland and Ireland) huge lochs/loughs to roam in. In small rainbow trout stillwaters catch-and-release is nothing to do with conservation. It just means that the catcher of a trout doesn’t have to take to home to eat. Goodness knows why. In a well-run fishery the trout are superb to eat. Try my smoked rainbow trout pate, or my baked rainbow trout, if you don’t believe me.

I might argue that catch-and-release of trout in small lakes is cruel, and that the last thing a ‘Sporting Ticket’ is, is Sporting.

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