The worst three months in angling - sport hit by ice and cormorants

The battle to combat what has been the toughest three months in angling history has begun.

As the ice continues to thaw and anglers return to the banks, the industry is only just beginning to count the cost of the coldest winter since records began.

Countless fisheries from the far north to the deepest south have reported widescale fish fatalities due to the ice, while the extreme weather conditions have also cost individual venues thousands of pounds in lost revenue – a loss made more painful as Christmas is traditionally one of the most profitable times of the year.

Even the rivers have not escaped the big freeze, with huge numbers of cormorants moving on to ice-free running waters to feed, devastating fish stocks.

Richworth Linear Fisheries complex, in Oxfordshire, was just one of many venues forced to close to anglers and has only just reopened after six weeks.

“This is a big complex and we’ve been able to ride out these last six weeks without any income from anglers, but I know for a fact that some smaller fisheries won’t be so lucky,” said fishery boss Roy Parsons.

“It will put massive pressure on them for the rest of the year as they try to make back some of the money they’ve lost.”

Cemex Angling, based in the south, controls some of the most popular coarse fisheries in the UK and has lost some 40 carp to over 20lb at its well-known specimen fishery Frimley 2 in the conditions.

The fatalities are believed to have been caused by de-oxygenation of the water due to a covering of ice.

“This was a case of bad timing,” Cemex Angling fisheries manager Pete Newman, told AT.

“The lake is tightly surrounded by trees which had only just dropped their leaves into the water before it froze over.

“This then caused real problems with oxygen levels as theleaves started to decompose.”

Steve Barnes, owner of Quiet Sports Fishery Management, one of the biggest suppliers of coarse fish in the UK, has revealed that he’s been inundated by fishery owners looking for stock evaluations on their waters as they try to discover the extent of the damage the ice has caused to their livelihoods.

“In the last week I’ve had up to five phone calls a day from fishery owners who have found dead fish and just don’t know how many they’ve lost,” Steve told AT.

“In my experience, what’s on the surface only paints half a picture as to the numbers that have actually been lost, which is a big concern for the rest of the year.”

It’s not just fishery owners who have suffered, either. Tackle industry bosses are also counting the cost of the worst three months angling has ever known and believe that 2011 will prove to be the toughest year ever for the sport.

The main fear is that the arctic conditions, coupled with anglers having less money to spend, could result in many tackle shops suffering the same fate as leading retailer Bennett’s of Sheffield, which closed last November.

“I’m aware of some shops that have taken as little as just a few pounds in a week during these tough times,” said Naidre Werner, chairman of the Angling Trades Association.

“It’s going to be the smaller shops and those with large overheads that are really going to feel the strain.

“It’s vital that as soon as anglers can get out there fishing, that they support their local tackle shops. The sport needs to stick together,” she added.

The bad news for the sport is that there could still be worse to come. Some of the nation’s most respected scientists and fish farmers are warning that, despite many waters now being free from ice, it’s too early to breathe a sigh of relief.

“This is, without doubt, the toughest winter the sport has ever faced and some people are talking like the spring is here already,” leading fisheries scientist Simon Scott told AT.

“We’re only halfway through, though, and still have the rest of January and February to go, and those are notoriously the toughest months of the year for the sport.”