Henry Gilbey
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Henry Gilbey blog

It breaks my heart how good our fishing could be

Nowhere is perfect and I have never believed that back in the good old days it was simply the case that you turn up on the coastline and haul in 10lb plus bass one after the other - but when I come back from somewhere like the US, it's not the size of some of their fish that makes me jealous, because the simple fact is that we don't have properly big fish to fish for in shallow waters, and it matters not because I love our fish and I love our fishing. No, what always makes me reflect is how it's possible to have that many anglers and yet still have stacks of decent fish to catch.

As I said, nowhere or nothing is perfect, but I would love to know just how good our bass fishing was in the good old days - whenever they actually were. Mankind has always harvested the oceans for food, but when did our "needs" really begin to affect fish populations? I remember reading that fascinating little book simply called "Cod" that spoke of dropping baskets down to haul in the cod off Newfoundland - there were that many fish it was believed you could almost walk on them - but even back then some people were questioning whether it was right to harvest that many fish.

OK, so I go bass fishing over in Ireland a lot, and even though for the most part we tend to catch more and bigger bass over there, one can not pretend that it's all perfect. I read reports of some Irish anglers really struggling with their bass fishing, and I wonder what is either going on or what might happen in the future. I can't help but admire the apparent protection that Irish bass get when compared to here in the UK, but does anybody really know what happens to both stocks of fish when they aren't close in to our coastlines?

And I can't help but note with interest that some bass anglers had a tough year last year, and are having a tough one right now - I am not by any means burying my head in the sand here, but it must be interesting to remember that last summer was a cracker weather wise, and this one seems to be turning out the same way. Before last summer I think we had six dreadful summers in a row, as in dreadful for going to the beach but somewhat better for bass fishing from the shore. By no means am I trying to explain away everything with the conditions, but on the other hand I do also believe that we are a long way from understanding what really goes on with fish and their movements in relation to the weather. I have always believed that with fishing we as anglers are affected by cycles of weather and fish patterns that are way beyond our understanding, but let's not try and pretend that European sea bass are exactly thriving anywhere.

If you bass fish in the UK then at I am sure you get some pretty spectacular fishing sometimes, but surely you also wonder how good our fishing could actually be if some proper protection was actually afforded to "our" fish? As proud as I am to be a UK saltwater angler, I also accept completely that as a bunch of people there are few better at sticking their collective heads in the sand and hoping that the bad stuff just goes away and that things miraculously get better without any human help. Thankfully there will always be a small percentage who refuse to bury their heads and strive to affect change for the better, but on the whole we are what we are and I wonder what a US angler thinks when he or she comes to fish our shores and sees such rampant raping of our inshore waters especially going on seemingly at will.

The state of Florida I believe has a population of around 20 million people, and a while back I was told that there were nine million registered anglers in Florida - now even if this is way off and you cut the figure lets' say in half, whichever way you look at it, it's a hell of a lot of people going fresh and saltwater fishing. Now I am sure that there are various issues with certain species of fish over there, but on the whole I am always amazed when I go to the US at the levels of buzz surrounding the sport fishing industry. It simply staggers me that you can have that many anglers and still have what seems to be plenty of fish to fish for. How on earth is this possible with so many people doing it? And I accept completely that a fish like the tarpon is for the most part migratory, but let's look at snook and how the cold weather a few years back hit that population so hard. I understand that severe measures were taken very quickly to restrict fishing for them in order to aid their recovery, and what I am told now is that there are plenty of them to fish for once more - and taking snook to eat is tightly controlled via slot sizes and numbers that you can kill.

Well I don't know the answers to my own questions, but again I come back to a simple difference between them and us - over there, you have to buy a license to go fishing in the sea, and we don't. Please don't anybody bang on at me with that age old, argument that to fish in the sea has always been free and we won't ever pay for our fishing etc., because quite frankly it pains me to hear UK saltwater anglers moan like a bunch of old women that our fishing is going downhill, but at least it's free and we don't have to pay to do it!! Do I want to pay to saltwater fish here in the UK? No, not really. But would I like to have more and bigger fish to fish for? Yes please. How might I stand even a remote change of getting more and bigger fish to fish for? Well waving a magic wand ain't going to do very much.

And yes, I know it's not as simple as having to buy a saltwater license, but surely it's a vicious circle? Fishing, hunting and shooting are just so big in the US that it's a massive political concern all on its own - plenty of fish to catch or animals to hunt means more people doing it because they are catching lots of fish and successfully hunting animals. More people paying more money for licenses means more money available to protect and restore. More people fishing, hunting and shooting means that politics can not ignore these groups of people and ride roughshod over any ethical arguments that you or I might have. Call me cynical, but do ethics play a part in any of this? I wish they did, but they don't - but let's bury our heads anyway and hope they might.

Imagine the governor of Florida losing the vote of every angler in the state - I hate that politics determines the fate of species on this planet that were going about their business long before we ever started ruining things for them, but it's they way we seem to "evolve". I love living here in the UK, and I love the fishing we have. Sure, I wish it was better and I wonder how good it once was, but what really breaks my heart is knowing how relatively simple it could be to make things better, yet the collective will to simply do the right thing and look after "our" waters seems to be lost in a mire of European politics that must cater to whatever stakeholders are worth the most money and votes.