A big month for anglers

Joseph Bulmer

If I remember correctly, my Devonshire grandfather used to tell me that the first day of spring was March 21. Although many freshwater fisheries now stay open all year round, as a biologist as well as an angler, I still abide by the old fishing season dates, writes Mike Winter.

For me, coarse fishing closes on March 14 until June 16. River trout fishing starts on March 15 or April 1, depending on the river or club and ends on September 30.

During the coarse fish closed season, I go trout or sea fishing. The latter for plaice or flounder in the estuaries using peeler crab for bait and also from the beaches for an early season bass. So I can quite happily fish all the year round with a bit of variety thrown in, or at least I could.

Nowadays I am sure there are not so many edible fish around our shores as there used to be and second, getting fresh bait like peeler crabs is a problem. I used to collect my own from my traps on the estuary shoreline. I gave up when these were regularly raided and the crabs stolen. This was unknown when I started, everyone respected the traps of others.

There was a lovely retired fisherman who made a living repairing boats, nets and making lobster pots, longlining, taking people out in his boat fishing and birdwatching and selling bait.

For half a crown (25p today) he would sell us youngsters a dozen big fresh peeler crabs. Today small, measly, half-dead ones cost a �1 each from tackle shops!

Once the River Otter was a famous brown trout river, some said second to the Test and Itchen. Now, due to water abstraction and agricultural pollution, it is but a shadow of its former self. Clubs and syndicates have to restock it annually with hatchery bred fish.

You can tell at a glance whether you have caught a natural wild fish or an alien ‘stockie’. All the stillwater trout fisheries contain hatchery bred fish.

I used to return all the wild Otter fish I caught and all the ‘stockies’ too. Like the stillwater fish they taste vile, just like the highly-oiled trout pellets they are fed on in the hatchery stewponds, whereas a wild brown trout tastes sweet and delicious. I know my late Uncle Bill used to rent a short stretch of a tributary of the River Dart. Anything we caught over 10” was fried by my Aunt Marge and eaten with hot buttered toast next morning.

I used to enjoy eating freshwater eels too, but know they are fast becoming an endangered species I put them all back unharmed, including the last two I caught of 4� and 5�lbs.

For the moment, I am indoors overhauling and readying my trout tackle and retying some early season river trout flies, the Dark Blue Upright and Kites Imperial with dark tails and green damsel nymphs for the stillwaters.

Roll on some better weather!