06:00 1 June 2022
I might have mentioned that I also write a column for this august title Classic Angling, a long-running magazine that caters to tackle collectors and old fishing buffs who refuse to quit. the.
There has been a spat recently in these pages about the stocking of trout, particularly brown and more specifically chalk streams and it has me upset. Especially when you consider that Norfolk itself is flooded with chalk streams.
Simply put, there are those, including the Environment Agency, who want to see an end to the stocking of farmed trout in rivers. At the very least, they would like to see a size limit of around two pounds placed on any stocked fish to protect genetically pure stocks.
It’s all part of the general reseeding craze we’re seeing these days and all of them are very high spirited. The underlying thesis is that larger trout are not only destructive, but also somewhat dirty, second-rate fish shoveled for commercial reasons and to attract well-heeled punters. Let the brown trout return to where they were a century ago, and there will be pristine browns for everyone. So they say.
The argument for (reasonable) stocking indicates that there is no longer any genetic purity in brown trout after decades of fish-farming introductions.
The stocking of trout rivers dates back more than a century, so no one knows what a “pure” trout is anymore. Stocking with larger trout, the argument goes, attracts the wealthy who pay for keepers and well-maintained rivers that would otherwise suffer from neglect.
The “stockers” also point out that there are as many anglers in the world today who want to catch trout as there are real wild fish. They add that once a wild trout is caught once or twice and brought back, it becomes almost impossible to catch it again. The result of not stocking would be a drop in the number of trout, the number of anglers, the amount of income and the condition of most rivers. Believe me, there’s a lot more than that, but at least you get the gist, I think.
As a longtime Eastern Daily Press angling columnist, I’m obviously revered (ha ha!) and should have an opinion. I do and I don’t, much like Michael Owen many years ago who felt that “this is a game England could easily win, lose or draw!”
If you actually own or control a stretch of river and can take care of it and there’s no financial pressure, you’re fine. You can put in your own dosh, create a haven for wild trout, reduce the number of anglers to a bare minimum and bingo, job done. But most rivers today and in the past don’t work that way. You need the Shrimp Sandwich Brigade to pay the big bucks that pay for the weeds to be cut, the reeds to be cleaned, and the river to be sparkling healthy. And those anglers with mayonnaise on their chins want trout, fairly plentiful trout, that’s also catchable, otherwise it won’t come back.
The one thing I will say with absolute conviction is that once a chalk stream wild brown trout is caught and released, it is extremely difficult to catch them.
In 1977 a crunchy brown trout lived on the Wensum in Lenwade, under the road bridge. I caught him on a mayfly in late May of that year and he weighed four, almost five pounds. After a serious debate with myself I returned it and as it visibly grew in size over the next three years I tried to catch it again. Different models of flies. Maggots. Towards. Minnows. Lighter line. Smaller hooks. Night fishing. I approached but never, never the celebratory cigar. This trout finally died of old age after his one solitary mistake.
I have just returned from Lough Corrib in the Joyce Country in Ireland. It was the height of mayfly season and I was with a top guide. We saw thousands of wild fish snap, all taking the glorious dancing mayflies, which we used as natural bait on this method known as dapping.
Everything was in our favour, even the notoriously capricious Irish weather. In three days we caught two fish. Though Corrib was forty-four thousand acres, though there were millions of fish, those fish knew our game perfectly. lessons.
So! What can I say ? If you want a well managed chalk stream trout fishery and need anglers to pay for maintenance, chances are the wild browns won’t cut it and you’ll be looking for your fish farm number the closest.