Pic of the day: The secret grayling hole

There’s a long and honourable tradition of Photoshopping the backgrounds of trophy fish photos in order to protect your favourite fishing spots… but this has got to be one of the finest and funniest we’ve ever seen.

Kudos to Kieron for his outstanding photo manipulation skills (oh, and for persuading a frankly epic grayling to pose so sweetly for the camera too!)

(Photo: Kieron Jenkins)

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Fishing in Switzerland: It’s complicated, but here’s your insider’s guide to the rules and regulations

Following his fascinating feature on fishing in Basel at the end of last year, Martin Pütter has very kindly written this guest post that’s designed to unlock the complexities of fishing across the whole of Switzerland (urban and otherwise). Thanks Martin… luckily for us, it looks like it’s mostly easier to be a visitor than a full-time resident!

In one respect I shall be forever grateful to Switzerland. It was here that, as a kid, I discovered fishing. But soon I also learned that fishing here is affected by something the Swiss excel in: rules and regulations.

Switzerland has 26 cantons, each with their own cantonal parliament (the Swiss excel in devolution, too). If you now guess that there are 26 different fishing laws in Switzerland, you’re wrong. Could it be 27, as the Federal Government in Berne can also issue fishing laws? Wrong again. The correct number is 28. On some of the major lakes in Switzerland – Lakes Geneva, Lucerne, Neuchâtel and Thun, to name just a few – the (federal) law affecting shipping with paddle steamers and motor vessels also regulates fishing from a boat.

The founder of Urbantrout once experienced Swiss fishing regulations for himself. Some years ago Theo spent several days fishing the Doubs in Switzerland, trying to catch those fabled zebra trout. We both lived in London at the time, and when he returned to the UK I asked him what he thought. He was not a happy bunny (That’s quite true! – Ed). Only thigh waders were allowed, and he was supposed to take every fish he caught if they reached or exceeded a certain minimum size. The thigh waders were a cantonal issue – other cantons allow chest waders, but the canton of Jura only allows thigh waders in all its fishable rivers. Taking the fish you’ve caught, on the other hand, is a federal regulation. However, the minimum sizes for each species again vary from canton to canton.

Endangered species 

So, if you want to practise C&R in Switzerland, either make sure nobody is watching you, or tell the fisheries warden (should one be around) that the fish had not reached minimum size, or come up with an excuse that really makes sense (beware: Swiss bailiffs are worse than the Germans – no sense of humour, either). On one of the rivers where I fish, grayling are considered an endangered species, but they aren’t protected. So, even if a grayling I caught exceeds minimum size I release it – if anyone objected, I’d tell them it’s an endangered species, that it was not my target fish.

You may wonder why you have to take fish in Switzerland. To some extent it has to do with a myth. The neutral Swiss believed they were self-sufficient while the rest of the world was at war. Any land that looked capable of arable production was used for agricultural purposes (for instance, football pitches turned into potato fields), and fish caught from rivers and lakes were eaten. That included predators like pike and perch, but also coarse fish species. However, I believe they drew the line at eating chub or bream – I’ve never found a single Swiss recipe for these fish.

Another reason for Switzerland’s ban on C&R comes from animal-rights activists, who had a major influence on the overhaul of the (federal) fishing law in Switzerland that came into effect in 2009. They claimed that fish should only suffer once from the stress of being hooked, played and landed – suffering several times would be harmful to them. To ease some of the stress for the fish, the activists also insisted on barbless hooks being made compulsory. I can live with using barbless hooks very well…

(Almost) back to school 

Something else that became compulsory in 2009 was fishing exams. Yes, exams. There are two different exams you can do: the ‘Brevet’ or the ‘SaNa’ (which stands for ‘Sachkunde-Nachweis’ – ie proof of competence). You register for either one and pay your fee, and then you receive the learning material. This includes 150 (Brevet) or 100 questions (SaNa), all multiple choice – and in each case the answers are supplied at the end. You turn up at the exam, and then you get a paper with either 70 (Brevet) or 50 questions (SaNa) – of which you have to answer 55 (Brevet) or 40 (SaNa) correctly – without using the answers supplied in the learning material or any other help, of course…

The good news for angling visitors to Switzerland is that most cantons require Brevet or SaNa only for monthly or annual fishing permits. The bad news: some cantons ask for Brevet or SaNa even for day tickets. One of these is Basel-Stadt, another one is the neighbouring canton of Baselland. Having taken my exams, I fish in both cantons – the Rhine in the city during the winter, and one of its tributaries (Birs) in Baselland during the trout season. However, many of my English-speaking friends here (there are around 36,000 expats living in the Basel area) can’t fish. They have neither Brevet nor SaNa, because, until recently, you could sit the exams only in German, French or Italian.

The Zurich challenge 

So, if highly regulated fishing is not your thing, try to avoid Switzerland. But you’d be missing out on a few interesting urban challenges. In Switzerland fishing from the banks of the major lakes (with fixed float, shots and single hook, with either cheese or worm or bread – but no live bait) is free of charge, and no exam is required. Zurich, at the bottom end of Lake Zurich, goes even further: fly-fishing from the banks is also allowed free of charge, and no exam is required here, either. How’s that for an urban fishing challenge?

Basically, when you’re fishing in Switzerland, try to keep two things in mind. One is what sets Switzerland apart from Europe and the UK. In many nations you could say that if something isn’t explicitly forbidden, it’s allowed. In Switzerland, the opposite applies: if it’s not explicitly allowed, it’s forbidden. The other thing to keep in mind is that old saying: ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Tight lines!

(Photos: Martin Pütter)

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Urbantrout sidecasts: Monday 2 January

(Photo: Damon Valentine / Eat, Sleep, Fish)

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Merry Christmas to all Urbantrout’s supporters!

It’s fair to say that 2016 has been unexpected in lots of ways. But one thing hasn’t changed – the growing community of urban fly-fishers who’ve been reading this website (and sometimes sporting our own favourite eco-branded fishing gear in search of the big one in destinations near and far).

We’ve got lots of exciting new stuff already lined up for 2017. And while we’re waiting for the New Year to dawn, a very Merry Christmas to you all. We’ll see you out there on the frosty banks…

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Film night: Fishing the Battenkill

OK, so maybe it’s mostly a commercial for the latest generation in the classic Orvis family of Battenkill reels

… but this is so much our kind of angle on a famous fishery on the north-eastern seaboard of the USA – relevantly linking a big brand’s manufacturing heritage with the whole very funky, very now story of recovering post-industrial rivers.

As Tom Rosenbauer recalls in his voiceover, Vermont’s Battenkill

… has always been always a working person’s river. Back in the 19th century it was covered up in mills that made everything from clothing to clothespins to chisels…

People say that Charles Orvis’s business was bolstered by the Battenkill – in actuality the Battenkill was almost fishless in the 19th century when he started the business, so the river probably never fished well in Charles Orvis’s lifetime.

Eventually the sheep farming went out west, the mills closed down and the water quality got better. Today the water quality is probably as good as it’s been in 150 years: the river runs cold, clear and clean, and the brook trout are always there…and now we’re seeing both large and small brown trout in the Battenkill, so it’s a really encouraging sign.

The Battenkill is still an honest, hard-working river – the trout are some of the toughest to catch anywhere, but they’re all wild, and the river hasn’t been stocked since 1973.

Damn, we’ve just had to add another river to our bucket list. And we may need to take a look at that new Battenkill disc drag reel too…

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Urban fly-fishing makes headlines in Petri-Heil: Grayling in the River Wiese, Basel

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As readers of this blog may have noticed by now, here at Urbantrout we definitely dig the knowledge that we’re part of something bigger… especially when that ‘something bigger’ is the international brotherhood of urban fly-fishing.

Martin Pütter was one of the earliest volunteers on the Wandle river restoration project, and for several years he made a real reputation for catching trout on the notorious ‘Savacentre stretch’ of the river in south London’s Colliers Wood.

Now pursuing his journalistic calling in Switzerland, we’re glad to see he’s still haunted by urban waters – as evidenced by his latest article, Auf Aeschen in Urbaner Umgebung (On Grayling in Urban Surroundings) in the widely-respected Petri-Heil magazine.

With local fly-fisher Jonas Steiner, webmaster of the Fliegenfischer Club Basel, Martin discusses many familiar challenges of city fishing: dogs in the water, snarky comments from passers-by, and swimmers and family BBQs.

But if you can get past these populous surroundings, the little River Wiese’s deeper pools can clearly produce impressive grayling, and good numbers of them too…

Thanks to Martin and his editor, we’re thrilled to be able to offer Urbantrout readers the chance to download the full 4-page article as a pdf (copyright 2016 Petri-Heil), usually only available to subscribers to the magazine’s full print edition. Just click here:

Auf Aeschen in Urbaner Umgebung – Martin Putter – copyright Petri-Heil

Naturally, we’d also encourage you to explore the rest of the Petri-Heil website at your leisure.

According to Martin, an expert in these areas, Swiss fishing regulations are kinda complicated: for instance, the canton of Zurich allows fly-fishing from the banks of Lake Zurich free of charge, with no exam required. In Lucerne or Geneva, on the other hand, it’s a different matter: just to get a day ticket, you’ll need to sit an exam first.

Which makes us even more grateful that Martin and Jonas have waded through all those regulations to snag this superb Swiss fishing feature for us…

(Photo: Martin Pütter / Petri-Heil)

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Urban fly-fishing report: River Exe, Tiverton

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On a sudden half-term whim, the Urbantrout team went west to try something we’d never done before.

If you’ve read Trout in Dirty Places, you may recall that the little River Lowman got most of the word count in the chapter on Tiverton – we photographed the main River Exe in the middle of town, but didn’t have the chance to fish it really assiduously. So this was a chance to put that omission right…

As it turned out, the fly-fishable water on the 6-quid Tiverton and District ticket between the town’s two bridges wasn’t as extensive as we thought – especially when you remember that the upper half is deeply impounded behind a massive weir. (Note to self: next time, bring streamer rods and Kelly Galloup-style full sinking lines to tackle this section!)

Before rigging up the rods we had brought, we spent quite a long time checking out water we couldn’t touch, watching grayling rising quietly in the good-looking (but still pretty urban) pools just downstream controlled by the Tiverton Fly Fishing Association.

Still, when a series of splashy rises finally pulled our attention back to the single, long pool below the weir, all those little slots and channels turned out to be surprisingly complex, and just enough to occupy a fisherman for a slow, painstaking day. Water levels were low, so the grayling were looking up to a trickle hatch of pale watery olives among the drifting leaves – and when activity petered out on top of the water, you could still get a grab on a jig fished with a tight-lined French leader.

In any case, part of the plan involved trying a few different rigs for feel and effectiveness on the current armoury of 10-foot 2-weight rods (as well as field-testing a new edition of the famous Urbantrout Kryptek fishing cap) and by the end of the session the score card also showed 7 grayling and a single out of season trout.

Add lots of irrepressibly fishing-mad kids scrambling around on the concrete flood defences and steps down to the river (“Got any maggots, mate?” “Got any weights?”) and a big box of cod and chips from the shop across the road…

… and that’s a late-season outing that any urban fly-fisher could easily get behind.

We’ll definitely be coming back to Tiverton.

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Marine plastic pollution: Catch it in your river first!

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If Broken Windows Theory didn’t exist, you could almost make a case for not pulling all the shopping trolleys out of urban rivers. After all, when every other scrap of habitat has been dredged out or covered in concrete, even a stray shopping cart can offer shelter for fish and invertebrates from floods and predators…

… at least until the trolley structure catches all kinds of other crap, and suddenly your river is full of rubbish that the enterprising local oiks might never have thought to throw on top of Tesco’s finest if it hadn’t been there in the first place.

But while shopping trolleys are relatively large, inert lumps of rubbish, (whose principal defect is that misery loves company) there’s less and less room for debate when it comes to bottles, bags, microplastics and other plastic litter in the aquatic environment.

Scientists have established beyond doubt that the world’s oceans and their inhabitants are suffering more and more seriously from plastic litter: albatross chicks starve because their parents’ crops are full of plastic they’ve mistaken for squid, and pods of emaciated whales have washed up on shorelines, similarly full of plastic bottles and other human waste.

True, a small proportion of this plastic sometimes includes headline-grabbing cargoes of rubber duckies that went for a swim in a storm, or even the tragic detritus of tsunamis and other disasters.

But mainly, it’s plastic that’s made its way down rivers from urban areas to the sea – common knowledge to most of us who’ve already spent years pulling sackfuls of bottles and ragged plastic bags out of weedbeds, low branches (and yes, shopping trolleys) on our favourite urban waterways.

Now, however, this circle of awareness is closing, and we’ve been mightily encouraged to see the debate about plastic litter getting lots of recent traction in the national and international media:

Here at Urbantrout, we know it’s more than likely that most of our readers are doing this kind of stuff already… but hey, it can’t hurt to help spread the word. In the end, every bottle we can stop on its way to the ocean is one less problem for a whale or an albatross.

Share the hashtags #KickPlastic, #PlasticFreeTuesday, #OneLess and #FillANet on your favourite social media platforms, and vote to fund more of these river cleanups if you can.

And we’ll see you on the banks, pulling plastic (as well as shopping trolleys) out of our rivers!

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(Photo 2: Jon Hall)

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Film night: Autumn in Andorra

Full disclosure: we’ve been saving this up for you all spring and summer, but now it’s time to showcase this awesome little end-of-trout-season urban fishing film from Enoc Ripoll and the C&R-committed Pescadors d’Andorra, complete with a banging Kongos soundtrack.

Get your European concrete canyon head on, crank up your speakers, and enjoy…

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More headlines from Manchester: Trout & Salmon magazine features the mighty Irwell

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It’s a satisfying thought that since Trout in Dirty Places was published in 2012, the whole idea of urban fly-fishing has gone so mainstream that you can hardly pick up one of the monthly magazines without finding at least one article about what used to be our dirty little secret…

The latest in this canon covers three full spreads in the October issue of Trout & Salmon magazine, in which writer, photographer and fisheries scientist Toby Coe visits the legendary River Irwell to prise some of its secrets from Salford Friendly Anglers’ supremo Mike Duddy (who’ll also be familiar to regular readers of this site).

Toby’s feature is a well-written, timely update from an astonishing river system which we hope can only continue to get better thanks to the latest EU funded project for the North West River Basin District (though of course it’s all looking much dodgier in the long term as a result of that #Brexit vote).

The October issue of Trout & Salmon is on sale now, and if you’re quick you may still be able to grab a copy…

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