Well-known barbel angler Ray Walton has this week been banned from the famous Royalty Fishery on the Hants Avon amid a storm of controversy.
After years of promoting the famous Christchurch venue and guiding hundreds of visiting anglers, the diminutive specialist has become embroiled in a bout of mud-slinging with Royalty leaseholder Southern Fisheries.
Angling Times understands that former barbel-record holder Ray was banned after reporting alleged illegal discharges into the river by fishery owner Bournemouth & West Hampshire Water. But Southern Fisheries’ management insists that it distanced itself from Ray because of his disregard for fishery rules and as a result of complaints relating to his guiding service, including allegations by paying customers that Ray took their money, but failed to provide the service.
“Suggestions that I’ve been letting down customers is ridiculous. I cancelled all my guiding bookings at the beginning of the season when these problems began. This is about whether the fishery owner is polluting the river. I’ve kept quiet about what I’ve seen over the years because I’ve been working with Southern Fisheries on the Royalty. But it looks like I’ve upset the boat now,” Ray told AT.
Meanwhile Southern Fisheries boss Jason Lewis appeared keen to offer Ray an olive branch and the opportunity to clear the air and re-establish the relationship.
“Ray has been excluded from the fishery, but not indefinitely. The way is open for Ray to come and resolve things with us,” explained Jason.
Local anglers have dubbed the barbel maestro ‘Che Ray’, after famous Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara, due to his single-minded determination to ensure that local fish stocks and habitats are properly protected.
Since the start of the season, Ray has been campaigning to raise awareness of the scale of weed cutting being performed by the Environment Agency throughout the Avon Valley, an important Special Area of Conservation.
His constant vigil with cameras and camcorders has led to a number of standoffs with EA employees, raising concerns over whether the Agency is damaging in-river habitat by removing excessive amounts of weed.
“Taking out too much weed damages in-river habitats,” claimed Ray.
“The boats have been cutting over spawning beds and removing the weed that’s used as cover by juvenile fish. I suspect they’ve wiped out whole year classes of fish at some of the sites where they’ve been cutting heavily,” he added.