For just about any club or fishery in the land, more anglers and lower running costs are top priorities. If the solutions can save hassle and work on a long-term, sustainable basis, even better! But how do you find that happy place where anglers are content and fisheries are healthy?
There are many answers to that question- and these days we see some brilliant, truly innovative solutions. Here at the Angling Trust, we’re always keen to support clubs and fisheries. Whether it’s with rod licence money in partnership with the Environment Agency, or simply sharing good ideas, we want to see angling thrive in your area!
One huge recent success story has been that of innovative member club, Windermere, Ambleside and District AA (WADAA). From off grid toilets and aerators, to huge habitat improvements and clever use of digital technology, they have worked wonders.
Dom Garnett recently caught up with club manager Nick Butterfield to hear about a whole host of bright ideas that could help any club or fishery.
1. Be brass-necked and tap into your anglers’ skills!
Before we lift the lid on some great ideas and novel solutions to common fishery issues, one huge win for WADAA has been picking the brains of its members. Indeed, this should be the starting point for any angling club.
“You’ll find a wide range of skills within any group of anglers” says Nick. “You do need to be brave enough to ask, though. I’m not afraid to ask anyone and everyone. With a bit of cheek or brass neck, it’s amazing what can be done!”
In their case, this has involved everything from hands-on practical skills to digital technology. But Nick points out that there’s almost always a way, regardless of who you have available.
“You can tailor your solutions to the people you have available” he says. “It can seem daunting at first, but a lot of practical knowhow isn’t rocket science- and you can bend the solutions to the people and skills you have available.”
2. Be smart with funding pots!
Another key part of success for Windermere, Ambleside & District AA has been their willingness to apply for different funding pots. Because while nobody is going to build Rome for you, there’s a lot of support and financial help out there, including rod licence money via the Environment Agency administered Fisheries Improvement Program or the Angling Improvement Fund administrated by the Angling Trust.
“A lot of it is about looking in the right places” says Nick. “At intervals throughout the year, I will Google search for all kinds of things. Trying different keywords can really help and this might be anything from “sustainability” or “green grants” through to “community”, “community activities” or these days also aspects like “mental health” and “wellbeing”. In other words, don’t just think fishing, fishing, fishing!”
Notable successes for Ambleside have included predation work from the AIF (more on this later) but also grants from the likes of DHL. Nick is also adamant that there’s an art to the applications. “Always gear your proposal to the funding needs and community impacts,” he says. “Understand what the funders want. Speak their language and see if you can propose things that give concrete, measurable returns – and always remember that they are likely to be non-anglers.”
In the case of the club, funding has snowballed thanks to successes and clear evidence of improvements – such as membership increases and benefits to different ages and abilities. After all, those with the purse strings love to see success and share positive evidence that they are taking part in a huge win-win, especially with angling increasingly and rightfully associated with community wellbeing and environmental sustainability.
The funders love to see the impact of their donations and keeping them ‘in-the-loop’ before, during and after the project is key.
3. Sustainable solutions that really hold water (or wee!)
One great example of proactive problem solving for Windermere, Ambleside & District has recently been its sustainable, composting toilets. This is a crunch area for so many fisheries, it must be said, and lack of decent toilets can be a huge barrier to female and older participants.
“I was shocked a couple of years ago to learn that one local club was paying £1500 a year, just to hire a portaloo!” says Nick. “We know how important toilets are, but we wanted a solution that was sustainable and wouldn’t cost a fortune.”
With some bold ideas and a little money from the local council, Nick and his men set about producing compostable toilets that would work off grid and have minimal additional costs beyond set up. The solution turned out to be relatively simple: they built their own sheds (although these can also be bought) and installed simple waste boxes (heavy duty plastic boxes at just £10 each) with a hole in the top and an MDF toilet seat attached. Nick’s men made theirs generously wide for disabled friendly access (and with most timber available in 2.4m, materials were easy).
“The key element is to separate wet and dry waste” recalls Nick. Straw bails provide a simple way to neutralise the ammonia from urine – and are also remarkably good at getting rid of any smells. For each toilet, three seated compartments are used- and these are rotated once they fill up, to let the waste naturally decompose.
For lighting, a simple LED strip light completes the job. These work via a movement sensor and are run with a car battery. With the tiny amount of power used, they’ll go on for over a year.
Manpower and some ingenuity were needed, then, but the actual toilets are quite simple. Besides boosting memberships, they also stand to save the club a fortune in rentals and waste removal! Maintenance is easy, too – with simple, durable materials and no moving parts, the loos should last for at least 15 years.
4. Solar powered aerators for fisheries
Some lessons are inevitably learned the hard way in fisheries management, as is so often the case with summer oxygen crashes. Nick had the heart-breaking experience of dealing with a fish kill several years back- and the club were determined to learn from it.
“It can happen so quickly” he says. “In our case it happened in the space of a couple of hours. The Environment Agency did what they could, but by the time you’re finding dead and distressed fish it’s too late. Nor is it just the cost of a fish kill- these events can have a devastating effect on the morale and reputation of any club.”
Determined to do something, the club looked for a solution. After all, with climate change and increased algal growth a reality, these issues are only going to be intensified.
“At times we don’t help ourselves” says Nick. “Modern angling demands bigger and bigger fish stocks. Add this to climate change and the risks are higher than ever.”
Aerators should be the answer, but the club found some big challenges. One glaring one is that remote locations rule out mains power. And even with solar systems, power tends to be delivered during the day – and not at night when there is the biggest risk of oxygen crashes and mortalities.
“Good relations with the EA helped when it came to protecting our fisheries” says Nick, who singles out Fishery Officer Darren Wilson in particular. “It was a real head scratcher because there was nothing ready made that would do the job we wanted.”
In the end, the club built their own system, which was based on a timer that comes on at 2am in the morning to deliver aeration when it’s most needed. When the sun comes up at around 4am in summer, a charge controller then splits power so that it part runs the blades and part charges the battery. Clever stuff! The rest is history and the club now have the special aerators at three of their fisheries.
5. Digital monitoring and time saving tech
Another big challenge for many fishing clubs is monitoring the health of their waters. Not only is this complex, but can take up a huge amount of time and effort typically with handheld meters and bailiffs scratching heads.
Not so any longer, as the club are installing electronic monitoring of water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels. Not only is this a hassle saver, but a fantastic way to detect and deal with any problems early!
“Our really exciting current step is to work with Manchester University on digital monitoring.” A stroke of good luck, or another example of brass neck? “One of our members is a professor at the university, which helps, and gives us access to guys who are water quality engineers.”
“A simple probe sits in each lake” says Nick. “These are 5g enabled and send messages every couple of hours. All of the info goes into a database so we can log stats and keep a close eye on things.”
The really clever bit is that when an oxygen crash occurs, the aerators will now automatically turn on! It’s an impressive use of technology, and yet not as complicated as it perhaps sounds.
“It might seem daunting – but it’s not always that complicated,” Nick tells me. “A lot of the time we’re just combining existing technologies and ideas. Not only does our system spot issues early, but it reduces time and costs immensely, instantly freeing up our bailiffs to concentrate on other important work.
6. Clever predation defences & habitat improvements!
Another jewel in the crown for WADAA has been its work on creating better freshwater habitats. Nick is quick to point out that this is all about a holistic approach from the bottom up, however. Sometimes a lot of nuance is lost in this area, amidst the din of anglers constantly calling for predator culls without looking at the bigger picture!
The club have had some great support from the Environment Agency’s Fisheries Improvement Program on this score, which uses EA rod licence funds to maximum effect. In recent years, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been diverted to help counter predation by creating more secure and healthy fisheries with better cover for fish.
“There’s not a lot of point in putting up otter fencing if your habitat isn’t right,” says Nick. “Similarly, there’s little point throwing more stock into a lake, unless the natural balance is right. You have to take a well-rounded approach and build things in the right order.”
“Part of the issue with this is that people don’t see water quality. Much of the time it’s invisible. But you need to get this right and build from the bottom. Do things in the wrong order and you can burn a lot of money for little effect.”
“One of our venues was in a very poor state,” he says. “Fish stocks and water chemistry were really bad. Cormorants had hammered the silvers and otters had taken many of the carp. There was huge weed growth, the colour had dropped out and predation got worse. This is often the way – people will single out one issue, often predation, but there will always be various impacts that are interlinked!”
Initially, weed removal and work parties were tried, but Nick admits this isn’t a long term solution which works at most sites. “You just won’t get the bodies often enough – so you have to fix problem at source,” he says.
“Step one was we needed to get colour back in water. To do that we needed to tackle predation- and because stocks were wiped out we couldn’t afford to simply add thousands of new fish.”
“Natural regeneration had to be the answer. So, working with the Environment Agency, we designed a series of floating islands. £1800 funding was secured. The actual islands used a 3 metre square frame made from 4” drainage pipes. Onto that frame we then draped some plastic mesh and coir mats, pre-planted with water plants. Gabian metal baskets then sit underwater- and into these we dropped in brushes or “eel passes” to make a substrate.”
“These islands and their substrate are not only brilliant for fry protection – but make a great spawning medium,” says Nick. “Cormorants and goosanders can’t get in and they have made a huge difference. In just a couple of years, we have created a better habitat. There are actually trees growing in the middle of the lake and flag iris popping up! Nine islands went in and the effect has been incredible.”
On closer inspection, it wasn’t just above the surface that the islands were crawling with life, either. Watersnails, caddis nymphs and all manner of other animals were abundant, too, quickly helping to solve the lake’s historic lack of natural food.
Nor does it end there, because the club have also created floating scarecrows from old kayaks! A great cormorant deterrent, these have been another smart, low maintenance solution, successfully reusing materials that would otherwise be dumped.
The results of such initiatives speak for themselves. “We’ve had stacks of pin fry since these developments,” says Nick. “We also had some helpful seed stock from the EA’s Calverton fish farm, which are thriving. This year, for the first time ever, the lake is just full of skimmers, roach and rudd. And the carp are thriving too, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.”
Furthermore, there is no expensive weed boat activities required this year as weed growth has been significantly reduced.
7. Digital catch returns… and managing expectations!
Another key part of the club’s strategy has been to use recorded data to inform better management and keep members happy. Alongside careful monitoring of water quality, another fantastic example of this is the use of digital catch returns, especially with the game fishing side of the club.
This works with a simple QR code scan at each fishery- this brings up fishery form, numbers of fish caught, those taken and returned, best fly and other info. There’s also a section to report predation. As soon as the angler has completed this digital form, it feeds a database and is recorded on the club website.
“Data is automatically collated into a table!” says Nick. “We then add water quality measurements – and what we can do now is correlate catch rates with water quality. We also factor in estimates for predation and natural deaths- and then get outputs of rod averages, angler presence by venue. These calculations give us a useful rough idea of the number of fish per venue. Figures can then be plotted and, working with EA, we can set a target stock level.”
Anglers have been surprised at the results, and the evidence has helped the club embrace a progressive approach rather than the “stock it to the hilt and hope for the best” model.
“Trout fishing is under more pressure than ever with higher seasonal temperatures” says Nick. “There are those summer doldrums, especially, when things can be tricky. Anglers complain there aren’t enough fish, but it isn’t necessarily true. Those who have fished for many years don’t always take into account the changing current climate, compared to how things once were.”
“When you add more and more fish, it can actually have a negative impact on fishing” says Nick. “More fish equates to even more oxygen consumed. The population will then become even more lethargic and less willing to feed – and the anglers then get even more disgruntled!”
The next findings might baffle some readers, but should open a few eyes! “We’ve actually reduced stocking in several cases and seen catch rates increase as a result!” says Nick. Surprising, yes, but this is a fact based finding, not conjecture or penny pinching.
Furthermore, the club’s system of digital catch reports and up to date information on the website are massively helpful to the anglers. “Every Saturday night, our anglers get fish reports, water quality and other data- so they can use that to plan next week’s fishing. It also moves anglers around venues, we find! They’ll go to venues on form – this evens out over the season and other venues then get rest spells. So we get a better balance of angling pressure without needing to push anyone around- all we’re doing is giving helpful, up to date information.”
Does it get any better for angler and club alike than higher catch returns and lower costs? Once again, it’s not just the ideas that are impressive here, but the way in which knowledge and hard evidence are being used to guide everything that the club do. This way, decisions are rational and effective, while those who support the club with grants and funding can see the concrete improvements made in clear, black and white terms. Is it any surprise that funding continues and membership grows?
Planning for the bigger picture
Obviously no club is going to change its fortunes overnight, but Windermere, Ambleside and District AA have seen huge changes thanks to concerted effort. Some wizardry might be at play- but we also come back to that principle of brass neck and being brave enough to ask for help, whether that’s from your anglers, tapping into the support and expertise of the EA, or going for outside funding.
Again, we should also stress that the technology and ideas are available to any club. The key thing with all these ideas is to start at the bottom and get the balance right. There’s no point stocking fish with a poor habitat, where they lack food or are easy game for predators. Similarly, there’s no point planning events if you lack facilities such as accessible fishing spaces and toilets.
“Three of our venues are now completely accessible- and that is priceless” says Nick. “Our membership has trebled and we have a waiting list, although day tickets are still available and we want as many as possible to enjoy the fishing.”
Angling Trust regional forums: Sharing great ideas across the country!
We love to see angling clubs and fisheries thrive! Whether it’s making the most of technology, boosting fishery health or applying for vital support, we can help. With our large number of member clubs and venues, along with dedicated support staff the Angling Trust is all about sharing best practice and great ideas.
Why not attend one of our regional fisheries forums this year? Arranged in every part of the country on a regular basis, these events are not only FREE to attend, but a fantastic chance to ask questions and network with fishery experts and fellow anglers in your area.