Trout, pike and the search for balance

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Pic courtesy of ReflectedSerendipity

It’s a common misperception among those on the outside of the magazine industry – “How do you fill all those pages every month?”

On the inside, the question is routinely turned on its head, with “What the hell do we leave out?” being easily the more common question as press day approaches.

The dilemma tormented us once more last month, as my investigation of the hottest potato in Irish angling at present had to be shoe-horned into some 900 words in TF issue 503, out today.

Anyone who’s been asked to précis War & Peace will understand my frustration. Doing justice to an increasingly rancorous dispute over the balance of power within Ireland’s western loughs is likely to call for much more newsprint in the months ahead.

At its heart is a dispute over the viability of trout co-existing alongside pike in these showcase waters. To quote from our article:

“In one corner, trout anglers insist that unchecked pike populations will lead to the demise of brown trout in the loughs. In the other, pike anglers insist that Mother Nature has managed this balancing act for centuries and should be left to get on with it.”

For a summary of the pros and cons, you’ll have to read the article, but I received further input on the debate from two other sources for which there was simply no room on the printed page without diluting what was already there. Taunted By Waters, therefore, steps into the breach.

Firstly, I heard from Conservation Section of Oughterard Anglers [OACS], based on Corrib’s southern shore. They reject any claim that pike are indigenous, explaining that, “Officially under the EU Water Framework Directive pike are still classed as being non-native/non-benign to Irish waters by the IFI [Inland Fisheries Ireland]. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) still class pike as being invasive to Ireland.

“If pike were native to Ireland they would be found in every watercourse in the country just like brown trout but this is not the case.”

They also reject the notion that pike, however they got there, have acquired any kind of ‘squatters’ rights’ in Irish waters.

“We know from extracts from the book, The angler in Ireland: or An Englishman’s ramble through Connaught and Munster, during the summer of 1833 by S. Belton, that Lough Corrib was ‘infested’ with pike and that trout fishing was extremely poor,” they told me, citing the following extract from the book in support:

“Salmon are taken in Lough Corrib, as also some very large trout; but the Lake, being infested with pike, no great sport can be expected; and few are caught, except by cross-fishing.”

The OACS point out that the Corrib Fisheries Association (CFA) was set up in 1898, with the aim of restoring Lough Corrib as a trout fishery, a project based on pike control and  stream enhancement.

“Within a few years of the CFA establishment, trout fishing dramatically improved,” they said. “Ever since, pike have been culled on the Corrib and trout stocks have flourished in spite of other pressures such as the roach introduction, zebra mussel introduction, lagarosiphon introduction, loss of spawning habitat, climate change etc.

“No scientific evidence has ever been either produced domestically or internationally, which shows that pike have a benign or positive effect on salmonids.”

Instead, they argue, biologist Dr Ron Greer, in his 1995 book Ferox Trout & Arctic Charr, described as “…part of the mythology of the pike anglers’ sub-culture that pike are some kind of ecological balancing act. This is simply not the case in small, shallow charr and trout lakes.”

Greer’s book touched upon another issue that resonates among Irish trout anglers, 22 years on: the unlawful introduction of pike into waters where they previously weren’t.  OACS claim that Ireland’s  Owenriff system, a Corrib tributary and a major salmonid nursery, was “destroyed” when pike were illegally introduced there approximately 10 years ago. This theme also arose in Scotland in the early 2000s.

One man who has gradually come round to the idea of active control of pike numbers is Larry McCarthy, who runs Corrib View Lodge & Angling Services with his wife Michelle.

By-laws introduced in 2007 cut the number of pike to be retained by anglers in Ireland to just one a day, provided it was  less than 50cm in length, and McCarthy believes this led to a key shift in the ecological equilibrium.

“Foreign tourists were taking many pike up until 2007 and many of them just stopped coming over after that,” he explains. “That was a big controlling factor gone and so, while I was all for leaving Nature alone at one point, I believe things have now tilted too much in the pike’s favour.

“I don’t want to see pike eradicated and the argument that trout anglers kill too many fish is valid, but the loughs should be afforded care as a true wild trout fishery. Any way we can protect it, we should follow it.”

The outcome of a review of existing pike control measures by Inland Fisheries Ireland is expected next year. Never have the words ‘watch this space’ been more pertinent…

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There’s no ‘sea’ in ‘bass’

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One Brit who won’t be giving up the ‘sea’ word. [pic courtesy of gordonramsaysubmissions]

It’s not really the done thing to name-check one’s competitors but what the hell; credit where it’s due to Fly Fishing & Fly Tying and their letters page contributor David Pilkington, for at least trying to drive a stake through the heart of the redundant phrase “sea bass”, when used on UK soil.

Unlike the USA, the only type of bass we have here is of the marine variety, so the “sea” prefix is unnecessary, although I feel both magazine and their correspondent are wide of the mark when they attribute the usage to political correctness or the power of celebrity chef-driven media.

It happens because Britain, sadly, is increasingly incapable of thinking for itself, let alone analysing its speech. Americans say it, so it must be right, goes the thought process of the average Brit couch potato because, essentially, we are a nation which can be divided into two camps: those who enjoyed Friends, and those who were devoured by it.

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Maybe hunters and fishermen are different…

I’d always thought the hunt bound us together, even if our choice of weapon was so different, but this article on designing your own trophy room, in Sporting Classics Daily, left me scratching my head in my effort to find an angling parallel.

Whatever your view on catch-and-keep fishing, I think you’d concede, at least, that we give our prey a decent burial, be it in the gut or in a taxidermist’s cabinet, designed to recreate the thing in its pomp and natural environment.

But this? As gorgeous as that wood panelling is, I’m struggling to get my head around the idea that there are people out there who line up an elephant in crosshairs while thinking, “…and that’s my pool table sorted…”

Mating belongs to all – you read it here second

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Pic courtesy of t.germeau

It’s a prime example of life being unfair: you have a really good cause to promote, but jazzing it up to appeal to media and the wider audience can be sooo hard.

Congratulations, then, to those behind a Finnish campaign to highlight and help the plight of migratory fish, that will see grocery firm K Group join forces with WWF.

“K Group and WWF Finland will jointly map different parts of Finland to find obstacles in migratory fish spawning grounds and in a spirit of cooperation with local landowners, local K-retailers and volunteers make the spawning grounds once again accessible for fish. The aim is to generate more awareness of and discussion about Finland’s endangered migratory fish populations”.

All of which seems destined to meet that same wowless factor fate, until you read that the campaign slogan is ‘Kuteminen kuuluu kaikplle’, and even more exciting in its English form – ‘Mating Belongs To All’.

Now you’re talking.

I’m in no position to prognosticate on the fate of Finland’s migratory fish, but I can hazard a more qualified guess that if the campaign starts pitching Mating Belongs To All sweatshirts to the nation’s young adults, it may not lack for funding.

Getting dead fish through customs

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Pic courtesy of Tomás Del Coro

It’s an aspect of fishing that I’d file under More Hassle than it’s Worth, personally, but I was nonetheless intrigued to read about Jordan Rodriguez’ adventures in getting 15lb of trout fillets through 1,600 miles of airspace and the attendant personnel.

‘The fish had frozen solid, so I removed the bags from the freezer and packed them into the lunch pail cooler—my new personal carry-on item’.

Were Jeremy Clarkson & Co all about angling, not automobiles, you just know this would be a challenge right up their alley. Four dead Kamchatka salmon each – heads, tails, the works – now see how far west you get before being led into an interview room by unsmiling security staff…

Podcast – John Horsey on social media

Paul DavisonI recently spoke to England international and TF contributor John Horsey (left) on the mixed blessings of social media where fishing is concerned. This is a new medium for us, so forgive me if I sound like I’m taking to him while in Salisbury Cathedral. Next time I’ll book the smaller conference room…

You can listen to our conversation here (mp3 player required) and feel free to let us have your thoughts on the issue.

Fly fishing back at the movies

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Pic courtesy of DonkeyHotey

Ever since the fillip provided by A River Runs Through It, flyfishing has awaited its next dalliance with Hollywood.

In the aptly-named Backseat, however, I suspect it will have to settle for a supporting role, roughly on a par with that of the studio accountant.

Pictures that look like they were taken by someone not supposed to be present adorn the Daily Mail today, showing Christian Bale being put through his paces as a flyfisherman, in readiness for his role as Dick Cheney (caricatured left) one of the American triumvirate who led us into the Iraq war.

Such was the former Vice-President’s love of fishing that his Secret Service code name was ‘Angler’, although other names by which he was known outside the White House weren’t quite so complimentary. There may well be staff at the American Museum of Flyfishing still undergoing counselling after the reaction to Cheney’s invitation as guest speaker for the Museum’s fund-raising dinner in 2009.

The upcoming film is said to be about “The story of…the most powerful Vice President in history, and how his policies changed the world as we know it”

It could be that it brings us lines of the calibre of

‘In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing’

and

‘To him, all good things – trout as well as eternal salvation – came by grace; and grace comes by art; and art does not come easy.’

Given director and writer Adam McKay’s Tweet on presidential election night last November, however – ‘I can’t believe after W Bush and Cheney you [elected Donald Trump] America. I’m truly sickened and frightened’ – something tells me his film may have slightly bigger fish to fry.