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John Bailey: Why angling could do with a bit of Daniel Farke treatment

If we want  more stunning river roach like these next season then we need a bold rethink on restocking Picture: John Bailey

If we want more stunning river roach like these next season then we need a bold rethink on restocking Picture: John Bailey

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What I like about Daniel Farke is that he has brought fresh ideas and faces into a relatively tired Norwich City set up.

Also, he goes for it, he’s bold and City are never out of things till that final whistle. I wish we could say the same for my other sporting passion. Fishing is stuck. It is pedestrian when it comes to attitudes on conservation. Dull. Unimaginative. Playing it all safe.

All this has featured in my thinking because at midnight tomorrow us river coarse anglers must put away our gear for nigh on three months till the season opens again. The sensible ones will get out their fly tackle and enjoy the delights of a dozen or more trout rivers and streams in our region and, my, are there fish to catch.

This weekend a friend had an eight pound brownie on a roach session from the river Bure. This was possibly, even probably, a wild fish showing just what our rivers are still capable of producing. If they are given a sporting chance that is.

Another consideration is that it is licence renewal time once more when the Environment Agency are again after our dosh. Do we pay it over? Should we pay it over? Do the EA actually deserve not only our pounds but also our trust and confidence that they are working for our fisheries, our beleaguered rivers in particular. I’m sort of thinking the EA has the players but they need a new approach. They have been flirting with relegation for a while, not doing a whole lot to make our river fisheries much better and perhaps a kick up the back side is what their big wigs need?

Jez Wood is an EA Fisheries Technical Specialist and I have a great deal of time for him both as a bloke and as a hands on conservationist. We have been talking and meeting recently with a view to enhancing the woody debris, fallen trees to you and me, along a stretch of river I have been renting. There is no doubt that Jez’s time, expertise and plans will benefit the fish along the whole stretch, not just my few hundred yards.

I applaud him and others like him from the roof tops yet, note that deep down, I feel there is a whole lot more we could and should be doing. I feel we are limping along. We need to be bolder if we are to make a difference. This might be old-man-in-a-hurry syndrome but it is no less valid for that.

If you ask me and most other practising anglers we will say that a lot of our rivers need to be restocked with fish, especially roach and barbel. But no. The EA sits on the fence over this one. Does restocking work they ask? What about the genetic purity of our roach? Shock horror that we should muddy our gene pool. Even dafter is the new scientific idea that stillwater roach will not survive if transferred to our rivers.

We are talking meandering streams like the Wensum here not the Amazon. And, whisper it, we have been putting stillwater fish into our rivers for centuries with serious success rates. We just need to grasp the nettle and get doing it again.

We have got to be equally bold about predators on our rivers, especially those thousands of over wintering Eastern European cormorants that have hoovered up our fish over the last quarter of a century. All anglers know they are a massive disaster but can we get the EA to agree and do something positive to combat the menace? You know the answer to that one. Talking predation, how about illegal fishing, long lining, netting and large scale fish removal? This a curse that winds up like no other but if a culprit is caught it is a slapped wrist that is doled out, not a big fine, confiscation of gear and vehicle and even a prison sentence. That’s what happens in the States and many European countries but not here. That would be a bit extreme. We might upset people and we don’t want that.

Our whole view of what is actually happening in the aquatic world needs a Farke - a spring clean. Let’s take otters. I don’t have a serious problem with them but the public should be made aware of what these swimming foxes are actually about. A great and wise friend of mine was overjoyed to see a pair of grebes back on his lake for the first time in ten years. He was worried too, anxious that the otters now so rampant would be having them. He was right. Those glorious birds lasted a week. Can’t the EA and Natural England make it clear to the wider public that otters are not the cuddle pots of popular imagination. They are killers, pure and simple.

How about swans? In river conservation circles there has been much gnashing of teeth and hand wringing over the decline of weed growth in our rivers.

Pretty much everything and everyone has been blamed from signal crayfish to farmers pesticides but the unpalatable truth is simple. In my life on the river Wensum we have never had such a colossal swan population. Hundreds of these birds are now eating the weed from the roots up and are doing incalculable harm to fish and insect life wherever they go. That great river man Tim Aldiss knows this and recently conducted fencing experiments to prove it. But of course knowledge like this is just a bit hard to digest. Despite Tim’s pioneering brilliance, nothing has been done and more PhDs and expensive projects will be dreamed up to try and prove the weed has been eaten by Martians or some such.

Just recently my friends and I have been catching some superb river roach. It has almost been like the 1970s all over again and all because some enterprising individual I hear has been restocking with roach and then actually protecting from cormorants. In short, he, or she of course, has actually been doing something and been getting out there and going for it. It makes you wonder if Daniel Farke is a roach man in his spare time, doesn’t it?

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