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River fishing season comes to a memorable conclusion for Carl Whitehouse

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With the river fishing campaign closing this Sunday, Bury AA member Carl Whitehouse made his last visit of the season to the club’s Redmere stretch of the River Little Ouse last Monday, and he was rewarded with a catch of five pike.

Carl has been a regular visitor to Redmere since the Bury AA pike season started at the beginning of November, but this was his best day. Five pike were landed with the biggest weighing in at 19lb, the best pike reported from this stretch of the river this season.

The coarse fishing season for rivers officially re-opens on June 16 and for pike on October 1, but Bury AA’s pike season does not start until November 1. This raises one of the most passionately debated issues in angling in England: should the closed seasons (rivers, drains and some canals) be retained, amended or scrapped?

Bridge on the River Little Ouse at Redmere Picture: Carl Whitehouse (44983175)
Bridge on the River Little Ouse at Redmere Picture: Carl Whitehouse (44983175)

The closed season used to include all fisheries but was removed, by the Environment Agency, in 1995 for most still waters and in 2001 for canals. The agency’s website states: “The coarse fishing close season dates back to 1878. Its primary purpose was to protect coarse fish stocks from excessive exploitation and was set to coincide with the time that they spawn. The evidence behind the start and end date was fairly sparse in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the three months from March 15 to June 15 fit fairly well with the period when most coarse fish species spawn in most rivers in most years.”

The last review was carried out by the agency in 2018 and published in 2019 with nearly 14,000 anglers and fishery owners taking part. The outcome was as follows: 38.8 per cent were for keeping the close season, 9.25 per cent were for changing the dates and 49.8 per cent were for removing it completely. Despite the majority of those that took part in the consultation being in favour of removing the close season, the Environment Agency decided to make no change.

From 1980 to 1995 I personally did a lot of coarse fishing. Most years I averaged around 50 matches plus practice and pleasure trips, and this was over a nine-month period, allowing for the close season. It was a real shock to the system when coarse fishing stopped every March (14th), and several of us would go fly fishing for trout instead which was permitted (different close season).

Close Season for Redmere. No anglers until June 16 Picture: Michael Brown (44983179)
Close Season for Redmere. No anglers until June 16 Picture: Michael Brown (44983179)

We all used to complain loudly and often about the close season but most of us agreed that it was essential to give the fisheries a break. The banksides needed to recover, the fish needed a stress-free spawning period and after suffering a bad winter we needed to rekindle our enthusiasm. Also, there was something magical about starting up again on June 16. The thrill of your first cast at just after midnight in a tench swim fringed with lily pads.

The fly-fishing fishing was ok but for us it was a poor substitute. We tried a variety of fisheries. Locally, we frequented West Stow Trout Fishery (now sadly closed). Further afield we fished at Narborough, where I caught an 8lb 12oz trout and had my photo in the Angling Times for some best fish of the week competition. But catching tame trout in a commercial fishery, having to despatch them, and being charged by the pound of weight when I don’t even like eating trout was not ideal. We also made visits to Grantham, Rutland and Ardleigh reservoirs which were certainly a lot more challenging than small commercial trout venues.

For health reasons I have been unable to go fishing for more than 10 years now so maybe as a non-participant my opinion has little weight, but I will give it anyway. I think the river close season should stay. It is pleasing to hear that many syndicate waters and an increasing number of commercial fisheries and clubs put restrictions on fishing when carp are spawning.

Deputy director of fisheries at the Environment Agency, Kevin Austin, said when the 2019 decision to retain the river close season was announced: “Our priority is to find the right balance between angling and protecting fish stocks. The current close season is risk-based and maintains protection for the majority of coarse fish. We recognise that some anglers will be disappointed with this outcome, while others will welcome it. This reflects a shared passion for fishing.”

Carl Whitehouse and his 19lb pike from the River Little Ouse at Redmere Picture: Carl Whitehouse (44983146)
Carl Whitehouse and his 19lb pike from the River Little Ouse at Redmere Picture: Carl Whitehouse (44983146)

A quick reminder that Tackle-Up in Bury St Edmunds is now providing a click and collect service until further notice but only on Fridays and Saturdays between 9am and 5pm, commencing today. Enquiries can be made, and orders can be placed by calling 01284 755022 or emailing tackleupcollections@btinternet.com or via their Facebook page. In line with the current lockdown travel restrictions, this service is intended for local customers only.

Bury St Edmunds AA club memberships for the year commencing April 1 can also be collected from Tackle-Up, but initially only on Fridays (12, 19 and 26) through March between 12pm and 3.30pm, plus Saturday, March 27 between 8am and 2pm at Middle Reservoir. Contact Steve Bull on 07831 494001. Dates to be announced for click and collect from Barrow Lake and Badwell Ash.

Email your reports and pictures to chrisboughton@outlook.com

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