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Fishing Care Code

The ideas contained in this article are in many cases voluntary (that is not directly enforced by BFAC rules).

They are however considered to demonstrate the best ways to keep our stocks healthy.

The following code applies equally to fish of all sizes though it should be remembered that larger fish like carp, bream and chub are not only very expensive to replace but can also be very awkward to handle once out of the water, and thus extra care should be taken to avoid damaging them. Members are requested to observe the code and encourage others, less aware anglers to do likewise.

1) At all times the welfare of the fish should be your first consideration.

2) If it is your intention, in advance, to weigh, measure or photograph your catch, have the appropriate equipment at hand. Make this a part of your organisational procedure before your first cast.

3) Use balanced fishing tackle. It is impossible to legislate for the unintentional capture of a large fish on light tackle but there is no credit whatsoever in a protracted fight which stresses and puts the fish at severe risk. Establish in your mind the size of your quarry and nature of the area to be fished (snags, weed beds etc.) and gauge your line strength accordingly.

Then balance your tackle. 8lb mono on a match rod is as useless as 2lb line on a carp rod. And whilst scaling down tackle in the quest for more bites has some merits, it is completely irresponsible once an increasing number of fish are lost and left trailing line. Remember that as well as minimising stress, shorter fights by design are far less likely to disturb and spook the remaining of the shoal.

4) Remember also that nylon line perishes. Check and change it regularly. Even a line that has not been stressed by fish or snags may be weakened by sunlight. As a rule of thumb, the reel line should be changed twice a year. The more successful angler or the angler who fishes more often will need to do this more frequently. And at least once per session test the line with your fingers, feeling for roughness. Any such line should be cut well above the damaged areas and the unwanted line should be taken home for safe disposal. Checking for line damage in this way up should be carried out briefly each time the reel line has been placed under load (i.e the landing or loss of a good fish, retrieval through snags or weed beds etc.) A good habit to get into, for make no mistake about it, laxness in this area will, sooner or later, cost you a good fish which, now towing line, may well become tethered. And a tethered fish is potentially a dead fish.

5) Do not beach fish. If circumstances necessitate moving up or downstream with the fish on (or along the lakeside), take your landing net with you. Your landing net should be fully erected and handily positioned away from thorns etc. prior to your first cast. Don’t get caught out with a fish of a lifetime on the end of the line and a fool with no landing net on the other!

6) Wherever practical and safe to do so, remove the hook from the fish before lifting the landing net from the water. You can then discard the rod and carry the net (and fish) to the unhooking mat with both hands.

7) On BFAC waters you must always use barbless hooks. They make a smaller, more secure hole in the fish’s tissue, which heals more quickly, and are not the cause of more lost fish as is often supposed. All hooks should be inspected for soundness prior to trying and this is perhaps more easily done at home. The overall quality of hooks is much improved of late but few packets don’t include at least one substandard sample. Don’t let this be the one that costs you personal best or record-breaker.

8) Don’t go fishing without a disgorger and a pair of forceps and, where the quarry is large fish, wire or side cutters. Where the hook is awkwardly embedded there are two choices:

a) Cut the hook into fragments with a small pair of wire cutters, then remove, or

b)Cut the hook link and thread the hook through, point first. Do not try to work an awkward hook out the way it went in just to preserve an expensive or difficult-to-tie rig. This happens! An “angler” with such a selfish attitude would be better employed talking his frustrations out on a golf ball!

9) Damage caused by the hook, the fight, or other problems such as lost sales and spawning abrasions should be treated with an appropriate antiseptic like Kryston Klink, though TCP will suffice and is much cheaper. After each application, the fish should be kept out of the water for 15-30 seconds to allow the antiseptic to permeate through the wound and begin to take effect.

10) If photographic equipment (tripods etc.) needs to be fine-turned, the fish should be left in the water within the folds of the landing net while this is done. If there is to be a delay due to weather or awaiting a witness, fish like carp, pike, barbel etc. Should be retained in a proprietary sack or tunnel in cool, deep, well-oxygenated water. Keepnets are not suitable for such fish.

11) Anglers should carefully consider whether or not it is necessary for them to use a keepnet. Of course, keep-nets are necessary for match fishing and clearly, each pleasure angler must be given the right to choose for himself whether or not to use one. Keepnets damage and stress fish and there is no escaping this fact! However, the proper procedure will keep this to a minimum:-

a) Use a large keepnet. If in doubt think of a suitably sized keepnet and then get a bigger one!

b) Keepnets should be pegged out in deep enough water to easily cover them. (Captive fish stay calmer if their environment is blacked out. Suitable keepnets in this respect are now becoming available.) The end ring should be pegged so that the keepnet is roughly horizontal and cannot collapse on itself, thus smothering the fish within. Extra care should be taken in deep, drop off margins to ensure that the keepnet doesn’t hang vertically.

c) In rivers, peg the keepnet in moderate flow and in such a way that the fish therein can arrange themselves naturally ie. facing upstream.

d) Slack Shallow water in warm conditions quickly becomes deoxygenated. Such an area MUST be avoided to keep netting (and slacking) at all costs.

e) Carefully place each fish into the water within the net opening. Do not throw them in or slide them down the mesh.

f) Do not overcrowd keepnets. As a guideline, a net that is one-sixth full when pulled from the water is well overcrowded.

g) Ensure the safe return of the entire catch. Do not remove the net from the water and slide the fish from the bottom to the top. (Try sliding yourself against the grain, down 200ft of corrugated sheeting! Now you know how a 2oz roach slid down a 12ft keepnet would feel!) Unpeg the keepnet and gingerly work the fish towards the top whilst they are still in the water. Then transfer them carefully to the weigh sling or release them by allowing them to swim away under their own steam.

h) I’m sure that you will have seen reports in the Angling press with regard to KHV.

Please remember the following simple steps:

1. Do you really need to use a keepnet. Please consider carefully before you use one.

2. Are your nets and unhooking mat completely dry? If they are not then do not use them.

3. The best way of avoiding the spread of KHV via your nets and equipment is to leave them out in the sun until they are completely dry. This is obviously more difficult now the winter is setting in and we are having some rain.

4. As it takes longer for your nets to dry at the moment if you fish regularly you might like to have a couple of sets of nets and rotate them to ensure that they are dry before you go.

If everyone follows these steps then we can keep our waters safe.

12) Always use a wet sling. And don’t forget to zero your scales to take into account the weight of the sling, or deduct this weight from the total.

13) Always pre-soak sacks before inserting fish.

14) Before leaving a sacked fish, ensure it is upright in the sack, that it is breathing freely with steady gill movement and that it isn’t curled up at all inside the sack. Also, on rivers, be sure that your sacked barbel or chub etc. is pointing upstream. Only one fish per sack. Remember that it’s far easier to photograph a tired fish immediately following capture. A good fish, which has spent 30 or more minutes in a sack, will have recovered its strength and will be far more difficult to handle in front of a camera. If a thus sacked fish is not lively then this is an indicator that your sacking procedure needs addressing. (It’s a good idea to placate a previously captive fish by leaving it inside the sack on the unhooking mat for a couple of minutes before photography).

15) Make the weighing, measuring, photographing and witnessing of a fish as quick as possible. How would you like to have your head kept underwater for ten minutes? A little simple organisation will achieve this and it will soon become second nature.

16) When presenting a fish to the camera, keep it low to the ground with your unhooking mat below it in case it flaps from your grasp. Do not hold it at arm’s length. Not only is this uncontrollable and therefore potentially dangerous, but a 2lb roach that looks closer to 6lbs does no one any favours. Likewise fish held close to the body are not enhanced by photography and the eagerly awaited results of a photocall are often a disappointment. To strike a balance between perspective and safety, present the fish to the camera with your elbows pushed into the sides of your stomach. Good perspective, and should the fish suddenly struggle it is relatively easy from this position to draw it quickly into your body and thus avoid injury. Fish like carp lend themselves well to photography. One hand under the chin and the other under the wrist is the way to present most fish. Under no circumstances should the angler’s knee be used to support the fish’s belly. This puts tremendous stress on vital organs. Pike should be presented vertically, held by the lower jaw with the tail end of the fish on the ground. Horizontally held pike, resembling the letter ‘M’, look dreadful and are at great risk from organ damage.

17) Carry the fish from the water to the photography point and back to the water in the weigh sling, sack or preferably in an envelope-type unhooking mat.

18) Be sure that your fish is fully recovered before finally releasing it. A mistake is possibly rectifiable in Stillwater where a “belly-up” fish may sometimes be retrieved to be further nursed. But in a river an exhausted fish of any size, if prematurely released, will be swept away by the current to its death. Hold your fish upright (and if fishing a river, facing upstream) and watch for steady gill movement. Hold it positively but gently by the wrist and wait for the fish to swim strongly from your grasp. Recovery time varies, and for fighting fish like barbel, can be several minutes.

19) Handle all fish of all sizes and all times with wet hands. There is no special need to dip your hands in the water every time you catch a fish. Simply wetting your hands on the landing net mesh before actually handling the fish will suffice. Match anglers and others in the process of rapidly catching large numbers of small fish by swinging them in are advised to have a container of water placed handily for this purpose, perhaps within the bait tray. Most anglers will know that dry hands and towels will remove protective slime from the bodies of fish which in turn will render them susceptible to infection, parasites or even disease present in the water but from which the mishandled fish was previously protected. What is not generally realised though is that once such a weakened fish is returned to the water, the whole stock is at risk. When infection or disease is triggered in water, either from fresh stocks or aforementioned careless angling practices etc., otherwise healthy fish become vulnerable, whether or not they themselves have recently been caught or mishandled. It should be noted that towels of any fabric, wet or Dry, are abrasive and completely fish-unfriendly. A wet towel is no better than a dry one and the high number of anglers who, in keeping their towels wet, believe they are doing the fish a favour, are deluding themselves.

Out of the water, the glandular reaction within the fish produces extra mucus to cope with the foreign environment. This is more noticeable in some fish than others. Eels, for example, are more difficult and messy out of the water than in and the gunge left behind by a large bag of bream is not normally present in the uncaught fish simply because it’s not necessary. There is a limit as to how long a fish can sustain its own protection. The stress caused by the overtime that the protective system is working in an overcrowded keepnet is self-evident and anglers are advised to consider this at all times during the session, especially a lengthy session and return all fish every five hours.

A little thoughtfulness will ensure that the good fish of today will become the better fish of tomorrow.

There is something in this code for all anglers whether they seek quantity or quality. There is no emphasis on large fish here except the obvious fact that they can be less cooperative out of the water are very costly to replace and tend to be the most abused because of this very attraction. This brings us back to square one …… At all times the welfare of the fish should be your first consideration.

Good fishing.