An Irish Anglers World

Is Leo Bad for Business?

The following article was published in the monthly Irish angling magazine “An Irish Angler’s Digest” in response to and support of a piece written by contributor Leo Farrell which was published in the May 2015 edition of An Irish Angler’s Digest. Less than 20 years ago Ireland possessed a wild coarse angling product which was the envy of Europe, today in certain key local fisheries it presents as diminished. The following objective piece will hopefully spark debate which will lead to a more professional, joined up and inclusive approach from both public and private interests when it comes to the future development of Ireland’s wild fisheries………

Coarse fishing the River Barrow, South East Ireland, for roach, hybrids, dace and bream.

On Friday April 17th last I coarse fished a well frequented section of the River Barrow. While parking up on arrival I noticed that a fellow angler was already fishing close by. Walking over to introduce myself, his first utterance after the customary greeting was, “see that pick up coming down the towpath, it will contain three individuals”, which low and behold it did. Driving on by the vehicle disappeared round the bend, “I know those guys are poachers as I have seen them operating here before”, said the angler. An hour later they returned passing by yet again before eventually pulling in 150 meters downstream whence those inside disembarked, set up camp and started to fish utilising two generic bait fishing rods each.

The individuals that I observed were unquestionably not sport fishing and based on previous interactions with similar non sporting anglers my heart sinks whenever I see such groups setting up in the fashion that these individuals did. That one can still openly see in Ireland people coarse fishing for the pot is sad and an indictment of the authorities who are supposed to be laying down the law, they obviously are not doing their job right.

Coarse fishing, River Barrow, Ireland, 2015.

After the initial drive past by the poacher carrying pick up, the neighbouring angler who had correctly referenced the modus operandi of the vehicles passengers and I began to get acquainted, finding in conversation that we had a lot in common. His name was Thomas and he spoke with an English accent. Like myself he was born in England of Irish parents who emigrated in the 1950’s, a decade when 500,000 Irish men and women left home shores to find a better life.

Where the story differed however is that Thomas spent his whole life in England, taking early retirement and moving back to the parents home place in north Wexford three years ago, whereas my parents moved back to Ireland in 1970 when I was in my tenth year. Now in his late fifties Thomas revealed that he was an avid coarse fisher whose home waters in England were the Hampshire Avon, Kennet and Thames, his favourite species in order being barbel, chub and bream.

Thomas told me that his parents had retired back home to north Wexford in the mid to late 1990’s and that from then on when he would come over to visit he would bring his gear and fish the Bahana wood stretch of the River Barrow for bream, hybrid, rudd, roach and dace. In those times, remember we are only talking 15 years ago; Thomas would regularly catch plus mixed hauls, which today sadly are the stuff of dreams.

Bream catch from the River Barrow, Ireland.

Thomas categorically stated, “Returning to live in Ireland has lived up to all my expectations except for one aspect, the coarse fishing. The wild fisheries that I had access to in England, allowing for chub and barbel, were streets ahead of what the River Barrow is today and the reason is camped not 150 meters away”. Remember and take note, this in essence is an Englishman talking. Thomas subsequently emailed me a number of images of catches he had taken from Bahana wood. He now does not fish there due to recent poor returns.

The spot we had chosen to fish that April Friday is well frequented primarily because of unmanaged vehicular access, of which more another day, however up to three years ago it consistently produced bumper bags of bream, hybrids, roach and dace. I first coarse fished the mark back in 2009 and based on actual experience catch returns from it have declined considerably in the intervening years which is odd considering that Irish anglers apply catch and release when it comes to coarse fish.

That day Thomas and I caught dace, a few plump roach and an odd trout, the following Monday fishing the same venue albeit in a different location my rod registered just six bites in five hours, netting a trout and two hybrids. The same fellows were in situe in the exact same spot that they occupied the previous Friday again fishing two generic bait rods each. My diaries clearly show that neither my fishing skills nor the river were out of sorts on that day, historical evidence suggesting relative to the conditions that I should have been experiencing constant rapid fire dace bites, interspersed with trout, roach and bream/hybrids in that order.

Coarse fishing the River Barrow in south east Ireland.

What was apparent based on the previous Friday’s experience is that fishing attrition by people who obviously have no respect for Ireland’s coarse angling regulations, was the reason behind my lack of fish and that these people are obviously still plying their trade along the River Barrow. To illustrate, this writer witnessed one of the group highlighted within this piece remove a keep net, with clearly something weighty already in it, from the boot of his car ten minutes after he had already commenced fishing. Now curious but not wanting to point a finger unfairly I decided to walk up and confirm what I suspected, this is what I saw.

The keep net was suspended down the bank and because the tide was low the bottom of the keep net was barely in the water. Resting half in and half out of the little water available were about 15 – 20 roach and dace either gasping or dead. Now not to sound cynical or sarcastic, there was no way in a million years that this fellow could amass that haul in the two minutes it took me to first observe him remove the keep net from his car boot and then walk up. It was self evident that those fish were already in the net previous to him setting up, had been caught earlier on that day and were destined for the pot.

It was with a heavy heart and the experience of that recent interaction still clear in my mind that a couple of weeks later I read and absorbed Leo Farrell’s piece entitled “A Fishy Business” published in the May 2015 edition of Irish Angler’s Digest. Immediately upon reading I could totally empathise with Leo when he made reference to being told by an official of the Fisheries Board that his writings are “bad for business” as this writer has had to deal with the same only from private sources.

Coarse fishing on the towpath, River Barrow, Ireland.

I only know Leo through his published articles as we have never met. Out of curiosity I searched for, found a contact number and rang him for a chat prior to writing this piece. From our conversation the person that emerged reflected my impression of an Irish angler passionate and knowledgeable about his chosen hobby who is both saddened about the decline in coarse and pike fishing that he has witnessed over the last number of years and is also frustrated at the lack of official response to what is still an ongoing national socio – economic problem.

What the Fisheries Board official chose to or maybe failed to recognise was that Leo is not only a stakeholder of Ireland’s fisheries but also a customer of the Fisheries Board and also an advocate for Irish pike fishing. Personally, I want to go pike fishing after reading Leo’s articles. To me his passion, experience and knowledge of Irish pike fishing jumps out of his writing suggesting that he should be engaged with and consulted on matters pertaining to Irish coarse and pike fishing, rather than being sidelined. If people such as Leo and others like him that I have met were interacted with by management employed by Inland Fisheries Ireland rather than ignored because they illustrate the truth, scenes like the one described earlier within this piece might well have not transpired.

Objectively speaking, since 2010 there has been an embargo on recruitment within the Irish public service which was only lifted last January. Inland Fisheries Ireland, which came into existence in July 2010, was born out of an amalgamation of the old regional fisheries boards and the central fisheries board. In terms of angling marketing and development there has been no new blood introduced but instead only repositioning of already existing employees of the old regional and central fisheries boards, staffing reductions and retirements.

Feeder fishing, River Barrow, south east Ireland.

An organisation is only as good as its people, whether Inland Fisheries Ireland is fit for purpose is open for debate; however this writer has lived long enough in Ireland to know objectively how the system operates. As a stakeholder who has taken it upon himself to highlight Irish angling as it presents to me, both good and bad” through my website An Irish Anglers World and also through the pages of the magazine “An Irish Angler’s Digest”, I too like Leo have been told on occasions by private interests that I am “bad for business” because of the negative picture that I supposedly paint of Ireland’s angling product.

I know based on the emails which I receive through An Irish Anglers World, the current 4,700 unique visitors per month who stay on the site two minutes reading up to three pages and from word of mouth iterated to me directly about the content, direction and influence of the site that Ashley Hayden is far from “bad for Irish tourism angling business” in fact he is quite the opposite and by extension I can suggest that so also is Leo.

People who travel to destination rod and line fish want to know the lie of the land, good, bad or indifferent. It is only then that they can make a clear decision as to the holiday angling product which will best match their expectations. You can fool a destination angler once, if you do so and they suss that you have they will not come back especially after spending good money.

Tourism Development International.

Figures derived from the Government commissioned socio – economic report written by Whelan & Marsh and published in 1988 compared against the most recent survey conducted by Tourism Development International (2013) are stark, 61,000 less overseas anglers choose Ireland as a holiday angling destination today than did back in 1988; that despite all the tax payers money spent collectively on destination marketing of Ireland’s angling product by Inland Fisheries Ireland & Failte Ireland throughout the intervening years.

Whether senior management within Inland Fisheries Ireland are aware of or instead choose to ignore the above quoted statistic and also the diminished national angling product which writers such as Leo and I highlight I cannot say. However relative to this article they should at least engage with stakeholders such as Englishman Thomas Cosgrave, especially when he states that a once outstanding Irish coarse fishing river, the Barrow has declined so rapidly over the last three years because of poaching while on Inland Fisheries Ireland’s watch.

It is not good enough for Inland Fisheries Ireland staff, as I have directly heard to keep regurgitating the “short staffed, lack of funding excuse” because it no longer washes. That attitude has brought the River Barrow and other such fisheries to the low ebb which we find them in today. Thinking smart while incorporating simple changes in management methodology to include listening to and acting upon rather than ignoring stakeholders who advocate a different approach to the status quo will change things for the better.

In today’s social media driven world a 12.oz pike from the Erne, a skate or a double figure sea trout from Currane will be touted globally by Inland Fisheries Ireland in their effort to underpin a message that all is well with Irish angling. As a now customer of IFI who applied a broad approach successfully while working on a fixed term contract promoting Irish angling for the state and who sticks his head above the parapet through An Irish Anglers World in an effort to improve Irish angling all without the comfort of a permanent pensionable contract, there is one thing for certain of which the River Barrow as it presents today is testament.

The inability to think and act outside the box, arrogant use of power enabled by permanent state employment contracts, allied to a fear of change rooted in official Ireland have been detrimental to Ireland’s overall tourism angling product. If there is anyone employed by Inland Fisheries Ireland who thinks that that statement is subjective then maybe they should try to start an angling related business centred on the overall diminished angling product Ireland currently possesses, which relative to where I fish the 289 posts and 120 pages of articles over 8 categories currently available on the An Irish Anglers World website clearly shows. Do I think Leo is bad for business? I think you know the answer…………

Ashley Hayden © May 2015