John Bailey: We must look after our waters

I've said before that one of my main motivations for writing these pieces in the EDP is the fact that numbers of non-anglers do contact me to say they have enjoyed them.

That's great. I like to think that I try to put across the aspect of angling that is strongly into conservation and looking after our waterways. The angling pages in EDP of April 11, were particularly interesting. For my non-angling readers, providing they got past the photograph of the dead trout and, of course, my grinning face, there was a lot to interest them in this vein.

I was talking about an unexpected river in a King's Lynn housing estate that is ripe for improvement. Roy Webster was discussing how best to protect fish during matches in these drought conditions. Chris Bishop was lamenting the re-emergence of the prymnesium, the killer algae that has wreaked so much damage onto our Broadland fisheries. Finally, Dave Gladwell was talking about the upper Waveney in particular and the work that the River Waveney Trust is doing there.

Every single article, therefore, devoted to freshwater protection and improvement. This surely spells out to the non-angling public that there are real depths to our sport and that we are far from being in it solely to fulfil our selfish objectives. The older an angler gets, I believe, the more discriminating he or she becomes.

Certainly, in my case, fishing now is all about the pursuit of wild fish, the fish nurtured by nature, the fish present often despite man not because of him.

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One of the biggest problems we face here in East Anglia is wild fish recruitment. When fish have to look after themselves, they need every bit of help we can offer them. There's no doubt about it, wild fish in our rivers, especially, have found the going tough over the last 30 or 40 years.

That's why I'm particularly worried about a recent development on the middle Wensum. For those who come from away, they are frequently frustrated by how little the River Wensum is actually open to the public. The Bridge Inn at Lenwade is a glorious exception to this generality. Their half mile or so of river is historic for its long list of catches over the years.

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It's also very beautiful, a quintessential English coarse fishery. You can fish this gem of a water for less than a tenner a day. Of course, it is hugely dependent upon wild fish, fish that will be spawning very soon up and down the stretch, both above and below what The Bridge actually owns. And here comes my worry. A couple of years ago, automatic sluice gates were installed at Lenwade Mill. I read all the consultancy papers and I remained sceptical, especially considering the cost. The result has been somewhat bizarre. Under anything less than flood conditions, the sluices open and shut in a strangely remote sort of way. One minute the river is flowing strongly and an hour or so later, it can be reduced to a mere trickle with the level down anything up to 18 inches or so. This makes fishing the stretch something of a conundrum. But there are far more worrying issues in my mind than that.

This remains a prolific stretch of river and yet, as I see it, the spawning grounds that will be used intensively in the next three or four weeks are surely under threat if the water level continues to fluctuate so wildly and so regularly. Picture this. A shoal of roach comes onto the gravels just beneath the road bridge at the bottom of The Bridge Inn stretch. It's probably early in the morning and 20 or 30 good fish begin to spawn wildly in water around 18 to 20 inches deep. Suddenly, a mile upstream or so, the sluice gates close down and, within fifteen minutes the water is dropping rapidly around them.

The roach, surely are forced to desist and to move back into deeper water. And it won't be long before the eggs that they have laid will either be exposed or, at best, covered by merely a skim of water. The chances of successful fertilization and hatching are, surely, hugely reduced.

Even if not, the eggs are massively vulnerable to almost any predator when the water above them is merely an inch or two deep. I hope those in the Environment Agency Fisheries Department at Dragon House in Norwich know I am incredibly impressed with what they have been doing in recent times and I like to think that they have this particular concern on their radar.

I aim to be out along our rivers a great deal throughout May as all the coarse fish everywhere are gathering to spawn. I'll let you know exactly what I see because I do feel these are critical times.

As I write, I'm also beset by problems as a straightforward angler. This spring, I just can't get to grips with tench like I have done previous ones. I've seen fish rolling, bubbling even but I can't seem to get them feeding on anything on my hook.

It's been suggested that a relatively mild winter has resulted in high levels of natural food stocks which are keeping the fish firmly preoccupied. For me, I tend to think the wildly erratic weather systems of the last two or three weeks are more likely to be to blame.

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