To Wade or Not to Wade?
‘To wade or not to wade?’ That is the question...as posed by the one and only Alan Roe.
Prompted by a recent missive from a club member about the evils of pruning I fell to thinking about some of the other deadly mortal sins that anglers create against their environments and here, dear reader, are some of my thoughts.
When I was a young lad growing up on the Fylde coast only two groups of anglers routinely wore waders. There were a couple of reasons for this: the waders of the period were very heavy, bulky, stiff, uncomfortable and seriously expensive. Made of thick, black rubber these things made walking any distance a pure misery and you had to get them a couple of sizes bigger than your feet and pad them out with thick socks (which, if you were a sea angler, had to be white woollen jobs otherwise you risked derision).
The reason given was that it helped to keep your feet warm in cold conditions. Of course this was a complete fallacy when it got cold your feet froze… and I speak here from long and painful experience!
The two groups that I refer to were sea anglers and salmon anglers; it is known that trout anglers also had them but they tended to eschew their use in favour of wellies or, in the case of the chalk stream brigade, brogues!
Sea angling in those days was regarded as a fairly thick-eared sort of sport in which blokes, usually of the variety who tended to drag their knuckles on the ground, seemed to be fixated on hurling huge lumps of lead that towed great paternosters as far as possible in the general direction of Ireland.
Waders were a part of the waterproofing uniform of the period, the other major element being the oilskin coat, which was a long garment usually made of some form of heavy PVC and available in either yellow or black. On the beach this uniform tended to keep the angler dry, however the same uniform was also usually to be found on Blackpool’s north and central pier jetties - but in this environment it usually failed miserably as any decent swell used to force the water up through the jetty gratings and so wet sweetbreads were commonly the order of the day!
The other times that waders were worn was when launching boats from the beach which, to be fair, is a legitimate use for them. Sadly all too many sea anglers of the period didn’t take them off once safely in the boat and on the occasions when the boats got into trouble the results were all too tragic. In the 1980s and 90s when I served in the coastguard we were still occasionally getting this sort of outcome.
The other group were the salmon anglers and to most of us this group were fairly remote figures and they didn’t exist in great numbers. They tended to be older, wealthy, red-faced and usually dressed in a uniform Lovat or Tweed. They were frequently regarded as arrogant and totally disinterested in any other fish species, indeed they would have cheerfully seen the rivers denuded of all other fish species in order to make way for the lordly salmon.
There are some wags who might be tempted to remark ‘No change there then!’
So, anglers routinely leaping into the river to fish was, for many years, not really that much of an issue and most of the wading that was done tended to be for the purpose of crossing the river or, occasionally, trying to get to a really difficult trout. Most river anglers only had thigh waders, which cheerfully penalised any wrong move - especially with their rubber or plastic soles which tended to offer as much grip on algae-covered rocks as jelly on a greasy pole...
Regrettably however these simpler days have passed and now, within fairly easy reach of most anglers’ pockets, are the modern wading ‘systems’. Gone are the vile rubber and PVC waders of yore in which you sweated or froze and got blisters. No sir - to be a part of today’s fashionable angling set you have to have the new all-singing all-dancing wader system comprising breathable, (usually) chest waders with, of course, matching boots offering a bewildering variety of soles to ensure that sir stays as upright as possible... that is until sir steps into a deep hole in the riverbed and his hat floats off!
If it’s one of the American-inspired baseball caps that are currently polluting the riverside then sir should be left to drown or, if rescued, sir should be summarily tried for treason and shot!
‘Great’ I hear the siren voices say! Breathable, waterproof, cool or warm, lightweight, safe and comfortable waders that you can wear all day, and which allow you to stay in the river as long as you like - ‘how truly wonderful’.
Permit me to disagree.
Sadly along with the development of these wonder waders there has developed a mentality that because you can stay in the river all day then you should do so. Indeed whole angling methods designed to harvest the maximum number of trout have been developed around this new capability, I speak of the Czech nymphing technique and its other illegitimate offspring such as leader to hand and the French leader techniques.
‘It’s very efficient’ preach the acolytes of this new religion - but so is Semtex quoth I!
Apart from the enforced tedium of fishing these methods to my mind they carry with them two abiding sins:
Currently, forward thinking people are engaged in campaigns to fence off our river banks to protect them from animals treading them down and thus forcing bankside soil into our rivers, which is a major issue when looking at the concretion of our spawning gravels. I’m sorry but I fail to see the difference between a sheep dipping an elegant hoof and some hefty angler wearing damn great boots joyfully leaping into the water...
Equally, the weight of your usually mildly portly middle aged/elderly angler stomping up and down on the aforementioned gravels nicely compacting all below his feet is hardly going to help matters. This sin is usually compounded by the other sin of absence of said individuals when work parties to try to break and rake the gravels to create spawning habitat are suggested…
Murder and mutilation
A bit strong? No I don’t think so...Consider where most of the river invertebrates spend the bulk of their time? That’ll be on the river bed then - just the place to be when some heavy-hoofed angler decides to come treading all over you and crushing you to death.
Lord only knows what degree of carnage is being caused by unthinking anglers marching over our increasingly scarce invertebrates; in a good day on the river a long distance wader must slaughter thousands, multiply this by the numbers of anglers behaving in a like manner and it is easy to see another potentially significant threat to our river-borne insects which goodness knows already have enough to contend with.
For now insects and their larval forms have an image problem which is currently allowing them to be walked all over...literally!
Consider before you dear reader, joyfully leap into the river with your rod flashing in your hand like the sword of Zorro as you execute your new fancy cast who it is you are treading on; If insects had cute faces and warm, furry bodies that were nice to stroke the animal rights brigade would be howling for blood…yours!
Equally what of your future quarry and its other food. During the winter months up here in the north of England we hear the seasonal whine from worthies in the salmon oriented clubs telling us not to wade as we will disturb the salmon spawning in the redds. It’s strange how everyone seems to fall silent in this respect when other species are due to spawn but our rivers need the bullheads, loaches, minnows, chub and barbel just as much as the lordly salmon. Clodhopping your way through the eggs of all of these other species with flaming great wading boots is scarcely the way forward in fish conservation.
The future of fishing could well be in your hands…or more accurately be under your damn great feet!