August is obviously school holiday time and this means a busier river in general with lots of people holidaying in the Wye Valley, enjoying a plethora of outdoor activities at this special time. Fishing bookings are usually down as a result, but canoeing bookings are up, well up in fact. This year was no exception and has been the worst I’ve ever known for canoe traffic and low fishing activity. More on that later.

School holidays also mean, of course, that there’s more kids around. We decided to try and cater for this in the shop this year, with a simple sign out front – pictured was my 5 year old catching rudd with her granddad, with a few words suggesting how for just a few quid for some basic tackle, a youngster could be off fishing on a free permit (with adult supervision of course). The feedback was tremendous and we sold 60+ whips over the holiday period. For those who aren’t familiar with them, a whip is a telescopic rod usually in three, four or five metre lengths – basically a short version of a pole. You then buy a pre-tied rig consisting of a float, some shot and a hook on the end. Grab a pint of maggots and a disgorger and hey presto, you’re ready to fish. There’s no tangling from a reel, you learn to swing the line out without worrying about casting line off – it’s the perfect, simple set up to get kids into fishing.

The venue we often use is a little farm pond just down the lane from Goodrich Castle. It has grassy banks and is not too deep (deep enough for mysteries though). The beauty of it is that it’s crystal clear, so when you sprinkle a few ‘gentles’ in, you can see the rudd firing through the grubs like piranhas.

This is perfect for a child to get their imagination going, to study how fish move, how they feed and, of course, see how you might catch one. The fish are small with the odd one over the size of your hand and are perfect for popping into a clear bucket for a few minutes. Again, this gives kids the opportunity to study the fish, to marvel at their colours and their form. All good stuff.

The Wye and Usk Foundation are running a programme to get more kids enthused about their local rivers too. It’s so important for the future of rivers everywhere to do this. The link to their Freshwater Friends appeal is at the end of this report.

Along with this there were more anglers than I can remember catching their first barbel this summer, dreams coming true all the time. This is much to the contrary of certain “high profile” anglers who try their best to drum it into you that the sport is dead, that we should all sell our tackle and find something else to do.

These same anglers are the first to put down other people’s work, the latest Fishing Allstars on ITV4, for example, or the Mortimer and Whitehouse series, which I thought was truly excellent…and they caught bugger all! What seems to be forgotten is that these programmes are supposed to be not all about fishing – they’d never get on TV if they were, being too boring for mainstream viewers. They have to be entertaining. Ok, what constitutes entertainment is personal choice (I don’t watch much TV as a result) but what these programmes are doing is getting fishing on TV and kids and non-anglers generally like this. The programmes are about travel, about camaraderie, friendship, highs and lows of the activity, anglers catching fish of varying sizes that they’ve never caught before or not catching at all. They’re having a fun adventure and ‘attempting’ to catch fish along the way – what’s not to like?

Onto the fishing for the month – while much of the country was very wet, we had very little rain in the Wye catchment. The low conditions affect some fisheries more than others, with the likes of Wyebank almost unfishable in low flows. This August it was certainly not as good as the other months in the year and looking back there is a trend. August is not good for Wyebank at all. Why? Well, apart from the fish having enough of canoes bashing and splashing about over their heads all day long, I just don’t think the anglers can keep their lines in the water for long enough periods because of the constant stream of paddler traffic.

As mentioned at the start of my report, canoes were undoubtedly worse than ever this year. There’s so many angles here but the tourism companies glorifying canoeing is really compounding the problem. Their advertising/marketing of you serenely drifting through peaceful limestone gorges, or through wide open pasture in a misty dawn is far from the reality of thousands of canoes clanking and screaming their way down what is a sensitive and meant to be highly protected river. The image they try to project is a dream not reality.

Each time I call a canoe hire company to report some ridiculous behaviour from one of their clients I am met with a typical response: “we can’t be responsible for what people get up to after we’ve dropped them off”. Well, actually, here the lies the issue. The answer is yes you can and yes you should. It’s your boats they’re in so take some responsibility for the customers of your company! But the fact is they won’t. They don’t need to and they know it.

Where are we headed then? Well the word is ‘accountability’ – who is accountable for the actions of the general public on the river? Well if the companies are leading them to the environment, with their kit, then I think they should be. But it’s also got to be the people we pay our rod licence to, the Environment Agency who, after all, are the “navigation authority.” I’m accountable for my actions as a rod licence holder and so are all customers of WUF and Angling Dreams. We know who is where and when and therefore we can manage these customers. But canoeists, once they’re afloat are on a total free for all – they can do anything they want and no one is responsible. This worries me and it should worry anyone with an interest in this river, whether angling or otherwise.

If you need any proof of how bad it’s been, just have a read of a few of the reports below. This is not because these are anglers against canoeists, it’s just that anglers are always the ones who are there to witness it. It’s the anglers that pay for the privilege of having their day ruined directly by another river activity. It doesn’t happen in a park, or in the woods – unless it’s someone pretending to be Eddie Kidd on a scrambler and in that instance the police are called on full terrorist alert!

“The shear volume of canoes were a real problem (well over 200) with several capsized and people walking down the river. It was pretty much un-fishable for several hours. This can be a prolific beat, but I wouldn’t recommend it during the summer months.”

“One small barbel late afternoon during a lull in the onslaught of passing canoes. We have never seen so many! In the main courteous and careful of our lines but sadly anti-social behaviour from the minority spoils the experience.“

“120 canoes in the first hour fishing…” These chaps didn’t even return the day after and let their booking with WUF go. That must take some doing after all their efforts with travel, accommodation etc? We’re sorry to hear this of course.

“Absolute chaos with the canoes resulting in one sinking in my swim and another turning over in the far bank willows with kids screaming they didn't want to die hanging onto the branches and their dad who wasn't wearing a life jacket trying to get them out.. which thankfully he did. The Wyebank stretch is fast flowing especially with higher water levels and some of these people have not been in a canoe before, the hire companies should station someone at Lydbrook to keep an eye on and advise their customers how to tackle this stretch without hitting the cribs or far bank trees and sinking!... It might also help us anglers.”

“On the down side the ever increasing canoe traffic caused some stress! The majority are well mannered and considerate but alas there are an increasing number who see the river as a children’s playground showing no consideration for anglers with canoes coming down backwards, sideways, out of control, had one canoe bang into the bank in front of my swim, another wipe out my lines and another capsize as they passed. Dangerous, inconsiderate and rude!
Traffic died down by mid afternoon but between 10 and 3pm...nightmare !!!!”

“Canoe traffic heavy during the day up to 4.00pm which didn’t help and resulting with having to wind in and let the less considerate ones and people with no idea how to paddle a canoe pass by.”

 “The canoe traffic was absolutely horrendous today - floatilas of canoes constantly”

There’s an ongoing case of a canoeist battering a swan to death, one that dared chase him away from his territory and his young. When will the RSPB get involved with lobbying for regulation of the numbers of boats and the impacts on the environment? In fact, when is anyone going to realise the damage we are doing to yet another ecosystem through this out-of-control activity?

Before I get a paddle through the front window of the shop - we don’t want canoeing stopped. There’s room for everyone to enjoy everything sustainably. What we need is effective regulation of numbers and behaviour. The problem is not helped when you’ve got the likes of Ben Seal, Places To Paddle Manager at the BCU, who pretends to be an angler yet claims there isn’t a problem with canoes on the Wye. He must be fishing without a fishing rod, or blinfolded, or only on the first Monday in January.

You ask anyone who has lived and fished around here for the last 30 years, before the barbel boom, and they will all say, anglers or not, that the number of boats on this river is now quite remarkable and that the peace of this valley has been eroded. New for 2019 have been evening tickets available from some canoe hire companies…so that rules out the peaceful few hours by the river you’ve been waiting all day for.

What’s more, visiting canoeists don’t park in Ross or Monmouth, they park at the canoe centres (pay and display) and are minibussed to the launch sites. There’s no pubs enroute for food or to go to the toilet – folk stop wherever they like the look of (can’t blame them), picnicking and using the nearest bush for cover as they do their business behind it. There’s also not enough campsites or accommodation to cater for the masses that they are. We’re now getting rough camping a common occurrence, and that brings with it a whole other list of problems. Largely then, they come, they don’t spend anything, and they go.

Back to the fishing which overall was, as expected, always pretty decent in August when you got the chance. More often than not, this was early and late and as long as those dreaded evening canoe trips weren’t in full swing, this meant for a peaceful but productive few hours on the river. Around the 9th/10th we had big storms, which brought little in the way of a rise but did bring a lot of debris, making fishing tough. By the 12th August though we were in spate, a high coloured river came and went quickly, and the river fished fantastically off the back of it. Many forecasts of rain thereafter never really materialised, or when there was none forecast we got some – a typical British summer!

The rest of the month was steady with no real highlights but just good, consistent catches. There were the odd reports of vegetation restricting swims. Well, this should stop as we go into the autumn, which is always the most productive time for quality fish. Cold nights and warm days will shift their feeding patterns, but the colours and quality of the fish should be pretty remarkable.

What’s for sure is that the negatives experienced last month are only temporary and by the time this report goes live things will have already returned to some sensible level of peace and quiet in the Valley. More time then for feedback such as the below that I’ll leave you with…

“My first time on the Wye, a beautiful, magical place and one trip that I will remember forever, thanks WUF.”

“The Wye has quickly turned into my favourite river I have fished , the WUF have organised the fishing amazingly and securely, and the wildlife / beauty of this whole river is second to none , with Red Kites, Buzzards, Kingfishers and Herons entertaining me in my quiet periods .....these two sessions have been two of my favourites of my life , thank you WUF and please please can you move your river and these amazing Barbel to East Anglia !!”

For more information on the Wye & Usk Foundation’s Freshwater Friends Appeal, please see here.

Please note that the views within this report are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the Wye & Usk Foundation.