– Ah, spring. Lambs in the fields, daffodils lining the hedges, bright green buds on the trees and the start of the fishing season….
– Wait, don’t you mean the end of the season?
– No, it’s the start of the season near the end bit of the season…
– We’re not even close to the start of the season…
– There’s seasons in fishing, really?
If you don’t like opinions, worms, or the word “season” I suggest that you don’t read any further…..
Great Britain, home of quirky idiosyncrasies, bastion of the baffling, the country of the confusing. Only beaurocrats in the UK could have come up with the rules, laws and byelaws that govern recreational angling. A system so complicated that when I looked a very eminent lure angler in the eye recently and asked him to tell me when the season for fishing for trout starts and ends he replied “I didn’t know there was a season for lure fishing for trout?”. I’ve been a little over-active recently an admonishing lure anglers for purposely targeting trout out of the season and it’s something I really don’t enjoy. The truth is I can’t even blame them because none of it makes the slightest bit of sense.
The coarse fishing closed season, or “The Closed Season” runs from 15th March to 15th June in England and Wales and that’s that, it’s as simple as we’re getting folks. Originally drafted to keep the riff-raff away from the aristocracy’s favourite salmon rivers during the spring run, the closed season now hides behind “giving them chance to spawn” or “giving the rivers a rest”. That’s misconception number one, as we all know that many of the coarse species will spawn beyond June 16th and trout spawn later in the year. The closed season also only applies to the rivers, right? Wrong! There are many canals and still waters in the UK that are protected by the closed season under SSI status and reams of regional byelaws. During the closed season all bait fishing is banned right? Wrong! On English watersheds other than the Thames an angler can use Minnows, Shrimp, and worms – as long as they claim to be fishing for salmon or trout, as no other fish eats minnows, shrimps or worms. During all or part of the closed season (depending on your regional byelaws) a game angler may fly fish for trout, sea trout and salmon (no other fish eat flies) and may wade through the rivers that are being “given a rest” to their heart’s content. The coarse closed season gives game anglers free reign – see!
Confused. You just wait.
Game anglers are not defined as fly anglers; this is a massive misconception. An angler using flies, lures, worms, shrimps, prawns or minnows who claims to be fishing for trout, sea trout or salmon is a game angler in the eyes of the law. Game anglers also have to follow their own season but have an advantage in that when the game season closes they become coarse anglers for grayling in many of the same rivers using the same kit – the game angler is the true angling chameleon.
The game season starts in January, February, March, April or May. Yep.
The hardy Scottish anglers kick of their game season as early as January 11th on the Helmsdale, presumably just in time to kick any spawning Troot in the the next field. Any trout that survive this then get what’s coming to them from March 15th. There is no coarse fishing closed season in Scotland. Down in Wales it all gets a little more exciting. Salmon season starts as early as Feb 1st on the Upper Severn and as late as May 1st on Gwynedd Fisheries – but be careful as there are further byelaws on what methods one can use to fish for them! Sea trout starts between 18th March and 1st May, while brown trout in rivers can be anywhere between 3rd March and 31st May depending on the byelaws again. Down in the south east of England your trout angler can kick off from April 1st on the Thames byelaw area but has to wait two days to fish the chalkstreams 20 miles away. Oh, and at the close of the trout season (which is to protect the spawning game species) coarse anglers can plow worms, maggots, bread and lures in rivers to their heart’s content. Trout don’t eat those, you see.
Got all that?
I could go on, the local byelaws stack up on top of each other in to a beaurocratic bundle of complete and utter nonsense. Never mind “giving the rivers a rest”, learning the laws governing our tiny little island is enough to make you want to giving fishing a rest, permanently. It’s hard to criticise good people for disobeying the rules when you need a microscope and a degree in regional law just to learn them. My beloved river Dove closes for grayling on the regular coarse closed season then reopens for brown trout just four days later. I’d love to meet the person who could see the sense in that and shake them until their brain either clicked in to life or dribbled out of their nose.
Finding a solution to this mess seems to be hot topic every year at this time and nothing seems to change. To me it’s totally obvious, but quite radical – scrap the whole thing. The current laws do nothing to protect anything. If a guy fishing for trout in February gets caught with a small Rapala then he’s “perch fishing Guv”. If a game angler finds two big chub spawning in May and casts a fly at them he’s “caught it by accident, your Honour”. As for “giving the river a break”; give me a break. The only ones getting a break are the fish eating animals that the presence of anglers deter, and the poachers who know they’ve got a three month hiatus from being caught in the act.
I can’t see what we could lose from scrapping the seasons but I can see so much to gain. How can coarse anglers be expected to invest in kit get out on the rivers when half of the warmer months are lost to red tape?! Why shouldn’t a trout angler be miffed that they can’t use their kit for half of a year?! It amazes me that the same faces who talk of the demise of the popularity of angling also support laws that actively prevent anglers from getting out and doing it. Everybody talks of the importance of accessibility of angling if we are to save the sport and I totally agree, but there’s no point in throwing open the doors to river anglers to only slap it shut in their faces for up to seven months of a year because “the river needs a break”.
I’m not saying go out and break the law here – laws are laws and while they are we should all obey them. I do believe though that it’s time to throw away the red tape and get real folks. The only way to save angling is to get people angling – what time of year they choose to partake should NOT be an issue. Scrap the seasons, make the key spawning areas SSIs and throw the byelaws in the bin – that’s how you get people back on the rivers.