The Closed Season – A Personal View

I was asked by Martin Salter if I might write a piece about the closed season for the Angling Trust web site. Of course I obliged. After all I hold firm views on the subject as anyone who has read my blogs will already appreciate. Here’s what I wrote…


It’s that time of year again when folk like to make a lot of noise but ultimately do nothing. It will probably be just the same this year and in the closed seasons to come. Unfortunately talk’s cheap, especially on Internet angling forums. But this year we are told things are different. Some who were previously opposed to change have had a Road To Damascus moment and it’s making headlines. Big deal. Forgive my cynicism but I remain unconvinced that this will have any bearing whatsoever.

I’m pleased to be able to report that I haven’t changed my mind one iota. I remain utterly convinced that the current CLOSED season is a farce. Always has been, always will be. But before I explain why, please tell me which grammatically challenged imbecile decided it was a close season. A door is open or it is closed. It is never close unless you walk into it and then it is too close! The fishing season is open, or it is closed. End of argument. The fishing season is currently closed. It is the closed season. But should it be? That is the issue.

The ‘glorious’ 16th June is far from glorious in my book. Particularly now that most of the rivers I fish predominantly contain two species, chub and barbel. The days when I could catch a net of quality roach, dace and skimmers from almost any peg on the Trent, winter or summer, have long gone. It’s pretty much chub and barbel or bust these days and that means the very day so many traditionalists insist is glorious we find the species most likely to be caught are either gathering to spawn or have only recently spawned. Either way I’m personally less than happy to catch them in this condition and have packed up on more than one occasion because they’ve been spilling out milt or eggs after the closed season has ended.

To call this charade ‘glorious’ is an absolute joke. It’s a travesty and makes a mockery of what we’re supposedly trying to achieve. By all means have a closed season, but if the purpose of it is to protect spawning fish then let’s at least try and cover the main spawning period for those fish we are claim to be protecting.

I hear all sorts of lame excuses like dace spawn in February, though I’m tempted to ask, ‘What’s a dace?’ ‘Where might I catch one?’ Because they are rare creatures indeed. Indeed, tell me, when did you last see more than the occasional oddball using river tactics that are likely to catch dace in February, unless of course it was a pike angler out to catch some livebaits? And how does the current closed season protect dace or any of the other early spawning species for that matter. You may wish to consider pike and perch in this category.

Hang on a second, surely we’re not talking of catching a spawning fish that we then impale on treble hooks in order to target another spawning fish? And this will all take place in the conventional open season, so that’s okay.

It all seems a bit hypocritical if you ask me.

But here’s the dilemma. Anglers believe they’re conservationists and try to make out they’re doing things for all the right reasons in sustaining this antiquated legislation yet it doesn’t pay to look too closely at what they actually do in practise. Far too many go around talking the talk and preaching good theory to others but their own actions hardly stand up to even the most basic scrutiny.

An angler who happily impales a pound chub on a set of trebles so he can catch a nicely fattened up female pike on 14th March will always struggle to convince me I’m a heretic for wishing to catch and return that same chub unharmed on 15th March. Especially when it’s based on the grounds he’s a practising conservationist and I am so obviously not!

The thing is I’m committed to a closed season. I just don’t understand why it has to be 93 days long or indeed cover the current 93 days. Show me the science that supports retaining the status quo. There isn’t any.

The foundation of every argument put forward by traditionalists is undermined by this. The closed season is supported mostly because it happens to suit their lifestyle and mindset. Meanwhile they, like me, can perfectly understand and accept that we do have a different closed season for salmon, trout and coarse fish swimming in the very same river. Therefore I cannot understand why we require identical closed seasons for all coarse fish species. After all, the techniques, tackle and baits used to catch pike and barbel (for example) are completely different. You could never accuse a piker of deliberately setting out to catch a barbel with his pike gear or vice versa.

Unfortunately anglers are patronised from within and without. We are not perceived to be intelligent enough to do the right thing without complex rules and red tape. I recently stopped barbel fishing on June 16th after catching one on my very first cast that was clearly shedding. Everyone else on the stretch bar me carried on happily because it was such a ‘glorious’ chance to catch barbel again. Even if they were spawning!

Me? I’d shorten it and shift it. Be honest, what we have today might appear to be set in stone but that doesn’t deter cheats and other lowlifes from breaking the rules be they Johnny Foreigners or icons of the game. Even the occasional highly regarded traditionalist has let us down in the past by failing to practise what he has preached.

Let’s be perfectly clear, it’s not selfish to want to catch barbel and chub in late March. Nor is it detrimental to the fish. What is abhorrently selfish is making it out to be a big celebration when targeting gravid fish on the so-called glorious 16th June. That’s the joke. The Achilles heel of the entire debate. It’s in bad taste and the joke is on everyone who strives to abide by the rules.

The closed season was introduced in the Century before last by a non-angling politician at a time when fish were invariably taken away and eaten. Attitudes have changed. Even the climate is changing. Indeed the whole world has changed.

The closed season was introduced by the Rt Hon AJ Mundella when destitution was rife in his constituency, the city of Sheffield. In the same year the San Francisco telephone exchange served just 18 phones, electricity was first made available for household use, Karl Benz invented the 2-stroke gas engine, the first weekly weather report was introduced and the first gramophone was launched, London had no underground railways, whilst Orville and Wright’s first stuttering 120 feet flight was still a quarter of a Century away.

Maybe what was deemed relevant in 1878 deserves to be questioned in the 21st Century.

The annoying thing is, it’s a minority of individuals who are dogmatically clinging on to the past because it happens to suit them and they are hell bent on imposing their will on others. They uphold entrenched views based on no scientific evidence, no case studies, no measurements, nor anything they can physically substantiate. It’s merely a personal whim.

Well here’s a novel idea.

Those who want a closed season should obey one. Just stop demanding that we follow you like sheep. Meanwhile we, who it might surprise you actually have some integrity, should be allowed the right to fish on March 15th. I don’t want some hypocrite who deliberately sets out to catch gravid fish each year telling me what I should and should not do. Merely by the act of promoting the 16th June as a ‘glorious’ day in the calendar you have demonstrated your ignorance and ceded the moral high ground.

It’s time for change. Time for action. Talking isn’t going to change anything because words are cheap. It’s all well and good the Trust inviting folk like me to speak my mind. Who’s going to change the law? That’s what I want to know.



13 thoughts on “The Closed Season – A Personal View

  1. I couldn’t agree more Bob.
    Perfectly written and you can’t argue with anything you say. Unfortunately, as a well known angler recently told me, 90% of coarse anglers are thick as sh**e!

  2. I do agree bob but from another perspective I do believe that it would do the fish good to have some relief from angling pressure for a few months of the year. this would allow the fish recover and reach maximum condition before spawning?
    im not disagreeing its just a thought…..

    • Thanks Sam. If you’re suggesting fish should have relief from angling pressure for a few months before spawning and we accept that certain species spawn much earlier than others and then extend the recovery period as well then what are we talking about? An open season that runs from September to November?

      Clubs have a responsibility in this matter. They have a responsibility to the waters they control and we as anglers have a responsibility to the fish. Anglers should be punished in law by targeting spawning fish whatever the date. Clubs should be made responsible for enforcing a complete ban on fishing in the areas used for spawning for the duration of the spawning period whenever this might occur. Clubs don’t need to close entire fisheries but they should close individual stretches, gravel shallows, etc. This would be over and above the designated shut down which I would suggest runs something like May 1st to June 30th.

  3. Thanks for a well balanced argument from a sensible, experienced angler. It does seem rather contradictory for the EA to hang on to this out-dated legislation under the guise of fish protection when they are doing precisely nothing with regard to predators that are doing untold damage to our natural fish populations. When the big chub and barbel are gone, many anglers will struggle to catch anything.

    I wonder how many of the people who currently support the ‘closed season’ on rivers still fish other waters? There’s more than a whiff of hipocracy wafting about on the banks of our stillwaters from March 15 until June 15!

  4. very good point well put. I must admit that my views on the CLOSED season are that it would probably be best to move it to as you propose the months of may and june. The current legislation seems to be pointless it offers no protection to the early spawning spicies like pike perch dace ect. And as you say barbel and chub are often still droping milt come the 16th of june ive experienced this several times myself especially with chub. And why do thease traditionalists see nothing wrong with catching the inhabitants of sillwaters between mid march and mid june?. Avery strange state of affairs considering you can catch bream for example from a canal that joins a river yet not the river itself. am I correct in thinking the Stillwater closed season was dropped due to the popularity of commercial fisheries and the fact they would lose money if a closed season was observed . The sad fact is the government don’t really care about fish welfare and would put the material gain of a fishery boss above the wellbeing of his stock.

  5. one more point . If a birds nest is found on a building site work most stop. On my local river a few years ago a huge art gallery was built right next to the prime spawning sites for the chub and barbel at the time they were spawning.

    • Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1973 it is illegal to disturb or destroy a bird’s nest. Work can only proceed in the nesting season if a risk assessment has been carried out. The fine is set at a maximum of £1,000 per nest. Common birds nest from as early as February and frequently have second or third clutches so a nest can be occupied until well into the summer. This can only sensibly be used as an arguement against anglers if they deliberately destroy a nest through the action of fishing and if the same law is applied to all users of the riverbank. As such the example of a construction site being stopped is erroneous. After all, why would one nest stop an entire construction site. It might stop work in the vicinity of a nest but only within a sensible distance. What happens when a house martin nests under the eaves of a house. Do we instruct the tenants to vacate it until Autumn? Of course not.

  6. yes I must admit id worded that wrongly. I should have said work must stop in the area of that nest. not of course the whole site.

  7. A scientific case study Bob in regards to the current position to the close season would just outline a few factors, That people still use the riverine during the current close for Eel’s and Trout where applicable, and this is fishing is it not, changing the law would only contrast with some current club rules which have been in place sine the fisheries opened, and some specific rules these clubs have will be forced to change on the say of a few anglers/birdwatcher tree-huggers who want to fish out of the current close season when you already can.

    Clubs must obey all bylaws, they can add rules but never diminish a bylaw.

    We have enough Statures and Acts of law already, “Text” which is not legal as it is.

    In 1878 the law was totally different with a different legal system so you argument is totally flawed Bob actually from a legal perspective, go see a lawyer have him explain that to you.

    If you say… (Quote if the purpose of it is to protect spawning fish then let’s at least try and cover the main spawning period for those fish we are claim to be protecting. Each riverine it totally different with different species, so again by your own words your opinion on this matter is flawed Bob.

    ^^^This isn’t a basis for anything but repute of the BS.

    Case studies need to be performed by impartial bodes usually students at university which offer un bias opinions.

    The current close season offers a mean of shelter to all species that live in uk waters that is the scientific evidence it is based on Bob what do you think you have that is so wonderful it can counter this current scientific ruling!

    You point on the current law or status in 18 whenever and frozen stiff was to stop people pillaging the rivers back then.

    It has since been revised by a scientific community that ruled it is to stay as it is currently as it best suits the needs of the species present nation wide with regional byelaws applicable in certain areas.

    As there is clearly no lobbying behind this recent up bringing of the close season and no funding then it is just all hot air from you and others gas bagging Bob as the situation isn’t under or open for debate!

    • Can you point me to the scientific studies that were used to determine the current timing and duration of the closed season?

      Of course you can’t. There was none. In reality the closed season was invented by a non-angler representing his rich mates in order to keep the hoi polloi away from river banks during the salmon season.

      It was never intended to protect spawning fish, nesting birds, vegetation, etc, etc.

      It should not be for the river angler to provide evidence to end the closed season. It should be for the defenders of an outmoded principle to provide clear scientific evidence to justify the need for its existence using the very scientific evidence that was missing in the first place. However, if its introduction was never meant to protect spawning coarse fish then proposals based on conservation are clearly irrelevant, should be scrapped and new laws introduced, preferably based on science.

      I am perfectly happy to have a closed season based on conservation grounds, just not one that starts on March 15th and ends on June 15th. Indeed, I believe the whole of June is a no-no.

  8. I’d be interested to know what Martin Bowler’s view is on the close season, I see he has just posted a picture of a big Eel he caught out of a canal, nothing wrong with that but for the fact he says he was targeting big Perch.
    This happens to be the time of year ‘supposedly’ that Perch spawn.

    • I can’t speak for other anglers’ viewpoints, only my own. Why not ask Martin via his Facebook Page? Or failing that, via the Angling Trust. I do believe he’s an ambassador for the Trust.

  9. The current coarse fish close season on rivers is nothing but a dinosaur which should have been buried 100 years ago.

    Many is the time when I’ve watched chub spawning in February on the little River Leam in Warwickshire.

    Study the origins of the Mundella Act of 1878. In those days. all fish were killed and angling became so popular that the anglers of Sheffield and London decided to do something about it. So a “Closed season for freshwater fish*” was made law.

    *In those days, the species we term as “coarse” were called “freshwater”.

    By the way the time of the year has nothing to do with whether fish will spawn or not. What encourages fish to spawn is a combination of water temperature and light penetration, and in some cases access to fast water flowing over gravel, eg – barbel.