John Bailey: Tackling my responsibilities

In the recent Angler's Mail Readers' Survey, a couple of the questions made my eyebrows rise. The first asked whether we should be required to pay an Environment Agency rod licence. I'll let you into a secret.

Twenty years or so ago, I purposely did NOT obtain a licence. My feeling in those days was that so little was done for the aquatic environment that the rod licence fee was a complete joke and waste of money. I actually secretly hoped to be caught without a licence so that I could have my moment in court where I could explain to the world the dereliction of duty demonstrated by the authorities.

Today, in my view, everything is completely different. I've said it before and I'll say I again. The fisheries arm of the Environment Agency – certainly in our area – does absolutely fantastic work. I could rattle off an endless list of names of guys – and gals – who are doing sterling things for us. They're not the best paid of people on the planet and they do it largely because they love fish and they love their sport. I buy two rod licences now and a third one for Sarah. As far as I'm concerned, it's money very well spent and I'll carry on spending it.

Whilst I'm on the subject of spending money, I'd better bring up the subject of the Angling Trust. As an Angling Ambassador for the Trust, I have a year's complimentary membership but I'll make sure that next year I donate generously. Why? In my view, the Angling Trust has now raised its game considerably. At last, I do believe we have an organ that speaks for all anglers on any subject great or small. The Angling Trust really is demonstrating that it knows how to get things done and how to safeguard our interests. Over this past year, whenever any aspect of angling has been under threat, the Angling Trust have taken immediate and positive action. It's short-sighted that so many of us will happily spend �20 or �30 on bait for a single session yet baulk at spending 40p a week to save the sport itself.

Also on the Angler's Mail survey was the question of whether or not the closed season on rivers, should be kept or abolished. Whilst I've learnt to live with and profit from the abolition of the closed season on stillwaters, I would fight tooth and nail against year-round fishing on running water. Throughout the month of May in particular, chub and barbel are so easily located and targeted on the gravelly shallows that to allow us to fish for them at this sensitive time in their year would be criminal.

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Tench, for example, can spawn spasmodically on and off throughout the summer, so it's almost impossible to say when a closed season should be imposed for them. This is not the same for chub and barbel when their spawning window is so clearly defined.

I also think it's our responsibility, come June 16th, to avoid pursuing fish that have evidently spawned late and are still hanging around the shallow rapids, probably cleaning themselves as the old writers would have it. Chub in particular are in a sorry condition at this moment and I think we should leave them well alone until they've mended up.

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There's real hope for our rivers, at present, and I'm a great believer in the old adage that if something is not broken, there is little point in fixing it. Our rivers are being better looked after and nature does seem to be responding to this.

I'm not simply talking about fish, either. It's hugely heartening that I'm seeing an increasing number of water voles in my journeys up and down Norfolk's rivers. Who doesn't adore Ratty?

Who can ignore the fact that this busy, endearing little fellow is a real barometer of how our rivers are faring? Hear the plop of a water vole and the chances are you're on a very healthy riverbank.

Our kingfishers, too, are a halcyon-blue testimony to the same message. After two crippling winters, it looks as though our kingfisher stocks are building themselves up again very nicely indeed.

In fact, I'm probably seeing more kingfishers along our rivers now than I was even four years back. Once again, kingfishers need something to eat and they're evidently finding it.

Of course, I don't think any of us more experienced anglers are ever smug or complacent about the future. Anything and everything could go wrong at the flick of a switch. If we have a really cold winter, for example, and our stillwaters are frozen, where do you think the cormorants are going to feast then?

Simply remember this. With dangers hovering, it makes sense to fork out a quid a week on our licence fee and on membership of the Angling Trust. If things do ever go pectorals up, don't say I didn't warn you.

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