My guess is that Bob Handford, fisheries and recreation manager at Chew Reservoir, doesn’t own a tin hat. But he’d better get one. And sharpish.
In announcing that he plans to reduce the number of pike currently munching their way through his trout stocks, he has, in some people’s eyes, put himself in pole position for this year’s award for the sport’s biggest villain. All bets are off - Bob’s now a shoo-in.
The verbal bullets are, of course, being fired from within the predator community - mainly those lurking in the shadow of anonymity that internet forums provide.
These keyboard cowards believe that any removal of pike is a crime punishable by painful death, arguing that Chew is going to get harder. How dare a venue that is primarily a trout fishery make moves to safeguard the fishing for its biggest customer base? Pike anglers selfish? Never...
Look, these are the facts. Chew Reservoir is run as a game venue and in the past few years it has seen its trout returns plummet, undoubtedly a direct result of the explosion of pike. Last year 56,000 trout were stocked and only 17,000 caught.
Compare that to a few years ago when 40,000 were introduced and 25,000 taken, and you can see there’s a problem. The pike numbers are simply out of control.
Bob, I reckon, had no choice - and when this minority of moaners get their heads out of their backsides for a moment, they will see that too. If the predators are allowed to run riot, they’ll be fewer trout. And if there are fewer trout, they’ll be fewer game anglers willing to pay to fish for them.
Before long, Chew won’t be financially viable and there’ll be nothing left for anyone to fish for - including pike. Remove the jacks, let the trout flourish and, as a by-product, you increase the chances of the big predators getting bigger. Crikey, it’s hardly rocket science, is it?
The plan, as far as I’m aware, is to initially use humane nets to remove only pike up to 10lb, all of which have been found new homes already. None of the twenties are going and certainly none of the really big girls either.
So the argument that says the sport is going to be adversely affected carries about as much water as thimble.
Admittedly, the dreaded ‘gill net’ words have been used but, at the moment, they are only being used in sentences also containing ‘last resort’.
Chew will, in time, probably suffer the same fate as other trout waters that have opened up to piking, with fewer biggies caught year on year. But that won’t be down this latest attempt at control. These places have a finite lifespan - just look at Llandegfedd and Blithfield.
Ultimately, pike anglers need to be realistic. One, they need to accept that trout reservoirs, as the name suggests, are there for game anglers. And two, pike don’t like pressure, so those bonanzas that accompany any initial opening won’t be replicated as the number of captures increases.
Whichever way it’s analysed, Chew is still one hell of a predator water. So instead of condemning the man who controls it, use a bit of commonsense.
Applaud the transparency and respect his decision. It might yet ensure the best open access pike venue in England remains that way.