June 16th is probably the most important date in a river anglers’ diary, it is the day when we can fish our rivers again after a three month break. This break is called the close season and was created in the Freshwater Fisheries Act (Mundella Act) of 1878. The Mundella in the title refers to Anthony Mundella who was the local Member of Parliament for Sheffield at that time. The original draft bill proposed a close season from March 1st to May 31st, however the close season period was hotly debated between the power houses of coarse angling at that time; The Northern Clubs, The Piscatorial Society and The London Anglers Association, they could not reach consensus on the exact dates so in the end a compromise was made and the dates were fixed as March 15th to June 15th inclusive. The original legislation covered all freshwater fisheries including rivers, canals and still waters. Since then there have been a number of modifications to the legislation notably;
1995 Stillwater fisheries were deregulated with regard to the close season, although the close season was retained on still waters within SSSI’s
2000 The close season was lifted on canals
2015 – 2019 The Close Season Steering Group was formed to review the evidence base for the close season. There was a two year study of data and a poll of licence holding anglers in 2019. The poll listed a variety of options including date changes or complete abolition. The Environment Agency took the decision in August 2019 based on the evidence from the steering group, their own research and the poll of anglers to make no changes to the current close season.
This all means that June 16th is ingrained in coarse river anglers psyche and every year they look to forward to the day when they can get back to fishing on the rivers.
In ‘normal’ years this close season period gives anglers and angling clubs time to tend their stretches; repairing swims, maintaining paths, removing obstructions etc. This year has been very different and little of this work will have been done, so river anglers are likely to find their banks a little wilder than normal at the start of the season in June.
We also had some ARRT work planned which had to be cancelled. Back at the beginning of the year we got the go ahead to do some tree planting on the Rother. The EA, some trust volunteers and volunteers from Petworth and Bognor Angling Club were due to plant trees on the south bank downstream of Fittleworth bridge. Unfortunately during late February / early March when we planned to do the planting, the river banks were under water or totally water logged. By the time they had dried out we were then well and truly under Corona Virus lockdown and therefore no planting could take place. Now of course the weather and the river bank are good for planting and we could probably arrange something whereby we are socially distanced but it is totally the wrong time of year to plant sapling, so unfortunately this is going to have to be delayed to probably next year.
The stretch we were going to plant is particularly barren and also suffers from erosion. The tree planting was designed to; give this area some feature, provide shade, which helps keep the water that bit cooler during the summer months, and to arrest the erosion in a couple of key areas.