Angling: Closed season regulations need bringing into the 21st century

Closed season rules halt river fishing for three months from March 15. PIC: Malcolm Billingham
Closed season rules halt river fishing for three months from March 15. PIC: Malcolm Billingham
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IT seems that every year the debate about the closed season for fishing on our rivers raises its head with arguments both for and against it.

I can understand the frustration of anglers who have braved the elements of our winter with rivers permanently in flood often carrying up to 10 feet of extra water, but still those hardy people carry on trying to catch fish in impossible conditions.

Then comes the spring and with it the rivers return to normal level and for a couple of weeks the fish feed ravenously and everything in the garden is lovely.

Then comes the dreaded March 15 and all angling stops for a three-month period, leaving anglers very frustrated. I can well understand their anger and I have been asked many times why do we have a closed season.

The time honoured answer to this question is to allow the fish to breed in peace. Now, I am no expert on the subject, but I do know that the breeding period for any species lasts only for a few days, a week at the most.

As an example, just look at the carp. You can fish a lake all year and then for a couple of days the fish go berserk splashing about all over the place and refusing to feed as they perform their yearly rituals.

The times I have heard anglers moaning that their swim was alive with fish but they just refused to take a bait!

But back to the main point of breeding: it takes up only a short time, so why a three month closure? The answer to that is quite simple as the assumption is that all fish will breed at some time in that 12-week break. But I have caught species such chub in August which have been full of spawn and pike breed in late December.

I assume that information is available to tell us just when certain species are liable to breed and just, say for instance, that barbel usually spawn in the first two weeks in May, then as just a guess, for that period close all fishing on that stretch of river so that the fish will not be disturbed.

That surely is the sensible answer.

The big question is, who decided that there should be a closed season in the first place?

Apparently it was first approved and brought into force in the late 1870s. At that time there was hardly any private transport as very few owned a car and all travelling by anglers was done by coach or charabanc as they were known in those days.

And in the spring just before the fish were preparing to spawn they were feeding ravenously and the hundreds of anglers who descended on places such as the River Witham from Sheffield nearly filled their boots.

Now, at that time, keepnets were relatively unknown and those that were available were only very small – a couple of feet long – and so the retained fish were cramped, many perished and when they were returned to the river after the match the place was covered in dead and dying fish.

There was so much protest about this that an Act of Parliament brought in new laws which, surprisingly, we still follow to this day.

It is about time that such organisations as the Environment Agency set up a referendum on the subject.

It could be simple. Next year when they send you your fishing licence just enclose a voting slip – easy.

Daz Ratcliffe of Forum AC with a winter barbel that fell to summer tactics from Hammertons Horseshoe Bend on the Nidd.

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