Carron valley - fine trout fishing in superb scenery - expert tuition and tackle provided
The Consultation Paper detailed below was provided to the 'Inland Waterways Advisory Council' (IWAC) on the 5th May 2001. IWAC advises Government Ministers on policy regarding amenity use of public waterways. They approached the SFCA to understand angling needs and identify opportunities for developing angling on the Scottish lowland canals
The Scottish Federation for Coarse Angling (SFCA) is the National Governing Body for the sport of Coarse Angling throughout Scotland. Working with the support SportScotland, the SFCA seeks to represent its members and clubs on all matters relating to the development and promotion of coarse angling at both National and local levels.
We are submitting this Consultation Paper to offer the Angling perspective on the revitalisation of both the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals.
2. The situation today
Both the Union and Forth&Clyde canals are vital resources to Scotland’s coarse angling community - indeed, for many, it was here where they were first introduced to the sport. For today’s young anglers, this is still the case.
The canals are fished year round. Even in the depths of winter when the rivers are flooded and larger still waters are subject to high winds, the canals almost always offer some prospect of sport.
The canals provide a range of opportunities for different forms of coarse angling. Most of the major clubs across the Central Belt regularly hold competitions on both canals, and the SFCA also includes the canals in the list of venues it uses to stage its summer and winter league matches. The area around Kirkintilloch is very popular with competition anglers, for example, while the quieter areas between Kilsyth and Castlecary attract both pleasure anglers and "specimen" hunters alike. Hundreds of anglers use the lowland canals every weekend.
The fish population in the Union canal seems to be less prolific than the F&C. There are a few Carp, some Tench and Bream, but mostly Roach and Perch. The Pike is present throughout. Almost crystal clear water ensures the Pike is very successful.
The F&C has a healthier and slightly more varied population generally. Roach, Perch, Rudd, Tench and Bream are predominant and grow larger than their Union counterparts - other species such as Carp and Gudgeon do appear. Once again, Pike are present throughout. The Pike tend to be larger - but less in number.
4. Historical perspective
Throughout the 1960's and 70's, the canals were both in their prime. So much so that we were able to attract large numbers of visiting anglers from the Midlands and the north of England who recognised the standard of fishing as first class. Major competitions were held around the Kelvinhead area, sometimes with several hundred participants spread along three or four miles of the canal. Alas, this has sadly been a declining picture through the 80's and 90's.
The decline in the quality of fishing has been a complex picture - this paper does not set out to detail this. Suffice to say that the major elements are, minimal flow, stagnation, pollution, eutrophication, high nitrate levels, extensive weed growth and little to no re-stocking.
It is unlikely today that we get more than a handful of visiting anglers to the canals. If we can restore the quality of the fishing it may be possible to attract tourism at something like the level seen in the sixties and early seventies. But today’s anglers demand not only good fishing but good facilities, and at present these are lacking - in particular, we don't have any disabled anglers’ stations.
As for information on the canals - the SFCA website will surely start to fix what has been an area of neglect. www.sfca.co.uk
6. The Millenium Link Effect
This project is without doubt, the best news for coarse angling we have had in years. With the canal being maintained, a degree of flow and good colour, plus the boat traffic, the canals will start to look and feel more like successful English canals where strong coarse fish populations thrive in similar conditions. This tremendous opportunity must not be missed. The time is right to give the canals a kick-start with a sensibly calculated stock introduction.
Given the richer environment we expect of the revitalised canals - significantly higher fish populations will be sustainable. BW are investigating this in conjunction with the Fisheries Laboratory at Stirling University. Increasing the number of fish has to be priority if we genuinely wish to develop the fishing potential for both local and tourism challenges.
There have been a number of occasions when BW have needed to completely drain sections of each canal - good records for the relocated fish are available. In these areas, BW intend to replace the removed fish with new stock. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the debate to develop on to what extent such a restocking programme could extend. It is my belief that there is considerable support within BW for this approach.
The question of funding is sensitive. As anglers have historically enjoyed the opportunity to fish the canals free of charge, there may be some resistance to raising funds through permit fees. However, it is the Federation’s view that the great majority of the coarse angling community would recognise the benefit of channelling the yield from reasonable charges into stock enhancement, improving facilities, and implementing proper fishery management measures.
In the short-term, however, it is doubtful whether permit sales could actually raise enough to properly fund the creation of a significantly increased fish population or new facilities. Some measure of pump-priming is likely to be essential.
7. Development potential
It is a simple matter to say what today’s anglers need from the canal - more fish, guaranteed access, recognised match areas, protected leisure areas, support in organising major tournaments, strong relationship with BW and so on. This may be a simplistic, perhaps even naive stance, but it is a start.
A more complex question would be to ask, "how do we develop the total resource the canal offers to young, disabled and able bodied anglers alike - whilst accommodating the other towpath and waterway users ?"
We believe that SFCA can make a valuable contribution in this respect. Taking each subject in turn:
7.1 Youth Development.
The Lade running through Colzium estate feeds water into the Forth and Clyde Canal at its highest point - young angler Jordan is trying for minnows with a bent pin from the bridge. photo RK
Difficult issues surrounding the availability of trained coaches, insurance and liability, child protection review (SCRO) etc are already being addressed via our Development Officers programme. There are several ways in which SFCA can work to overcome what is recognised in many sports as a lack of young players coming through:
Working directly with Youth Clubs and Schools, we would seek to set-up a series of Summer Break "teach-ins". These would be provided on a free of charge basis and be supported by SFCA recognised coaches and members of the Scottish National squad. The purpose of these sessions would be to provide an introduction to the sport for newcomers, coaching and development for practising anglers and advice on technique, methods and future development for those looking to move to another level.
Youth Competitions (Scottish Junior Championships)
As part of SFCA’s positive promotion of our Youth Development policies, the Year 2000 saw the reintroduction of the Scottish Junior National Championships. This is organised by the SFCA with leading clubs and is Scotland’s only major youth competition. It has always been our contention that the canals make a far more accessible and safer venue for such competitions.
However, decline in the quality of the fishery means that sport is at best unpredictable. Without more reliable facilities this is not conducive to convincing younger anglers to stay with the sport. Success would breed success.
Junior National Teams
Despite our work on the development on Youth Competitions, it is regrettable that Scotland is still one of the few major European countries who do not have a National Youth Squad. As with all sports, without this level of recognition for performance, there is no system for bringing young anglers through to maturity.
Staging the National Youth Championships as a "Home International" precursor must also be a key objective. (The senior Home International competition between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, is changing format to a 6 Nations event. The two additional countries are France and Italy. The venue for the event is rotated between the countries.
One aim we have is to stage the Youth National in parallel with the senior competition - the opportunities for the young anglers to share the stage and also observe the National teams is a tremendous outlook. A restored lowland canal system would offer an ideal venue for this event. However, as ever, the common factor to success has to be the quality of the sport experienced. Our juniors have to enjoy their sport – we don’t know any better way of delivering this than by making certain we have a fish population that gives us the best chance of creating this environment.
Access to qualified coaches
The Professional Anglers Association is the premier coaching organisation in Britain at the moment. In direct support of the SFCA Coaching and Development scheme, we have 3 qualified coaches in place and a number of individuals are looking at sitting their PAA qualification during 2001. As such, I believe the resources we will need to support young anglers are also starting to come together.
Local Council Role
There are a significant number of Local Councils through which the canals flow. With a relatively minor sponsorship scheme from each, the cumulative sum could be significant and be of the order to support a Youth Development framework. We here so often about "encouraging" such programmes and yet actually seeing this type of funding proves difficult. It may also be a genuine opportunity to see the Lottery matching this sponsorship. The funding raised would support travel and training for the coaches and Junior squad.
7.3 Disabled Anglers
Supporting Disabled Anglers Access
There are virtually no dedicated Disabled Coarse Anglers facilities in the Central belt. Many of the typical venues are difficult to access even for able the bodied. With a relatively minor investment – many stretches of the canals could become superb options for disabled anglers. Close parking, simple ramps, safe specialised platforms will provide for easy fishing. We just need to ensure that such effort would be matched by the angling experience.
7.4 Venue development
Generally, access to the canals is fair - parking is a different matter. There is a very good case for identifying two or three areas across the central area of the canal where competitions could be staged on a formal footing. Such areas would need permanent pegs/fishing platforms with good parking close by. Spaces for around 75 cars at each would be a target figure. During the 60s and 70s, this was achieved between Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch regularly. One suggestion we would bring forward would to look at "far bank" options – i.e. to use the opposite side to the traditional towpath.
8. Future Fish Populations
8.1 The current scene
As noted earlier, the canals contain an extensive variety of established fish species. The canals differ only slightly in their inhabitants. What we have clearly seen over recent times is a steady decline in the fish populations in terms of quantity and therefore predictability. This is an indisputable fact with the SFCA official match records being able to confirm this claim.
This limited population proves hard to fish for in some conditions: in winter, the water in the canals is crystal clear which drives the fish into deep pockets and heavy cover; whilst during the summer months heavy weed growth and low maintenance work mean extensive areas are choked and virtually unfishable. The lack of flow and boat traffic at the moment only adds to these difficulties.
8.2 The short term
A major change we will see on the canals over the next few months is the planned maintenance programme BW are about to embark upon. Not only will this drive down the surface weed growth, it will add colour to the water, and a degree of movement beyond what we see today. These actions make for better angling conditions. We need to see a sensible reintroduction of stock fish that will thrive in such an environment. The existing population would take many years to recover to former levels without an injection of fresh young fish.
8.3 The longer term view
This is where sound scientific evidence comes into play. BW have already undertaken to evaluate the canals fish-carrying capacity and their distribution. It appears that BW incline to the view that new fish are needed, but understandably they will only undertake longer term and sustained stocking based on empirical data. Such a review may suggest that some species which to date have not really thrived may well be better choices for stocking as opposed to "more of the same". The best example I can think of would be Bream. They are in the canal in some numbers but are not prolific.
SFCA would welcome the opportunity to continue our dialogue with BW over the long term enhancement of stocks to move towards a position where the carrying capacity of the fishery can be optimised.
9. Concluding Note
On a broader base, SFCA would seek to play an active role in the development of the lowland canals. Working in partnership with BW, individual angling clubs, local authorities, conservation groups, youth organisations, boating communities, cyclists, government agencies and all the other interested bodies, we can convert what has been until recently a sadly neglected and declining facility, into the first class sporting asset and a valuable community resource which it is capable of becoming.
It is also clear to us, that the number of waterway users will dramatically rise – bringing this new community together has its challenges. A key component in ensuring we all respect each others needs, would be simple "codes of conduct". The close interaction of boat users, cyclists, walkers and anglers alike is a certainty. The SFCA would embrace this as a vital development and offer its support in its composition.
We hope this paper helps those interested understand the SFCA view on the Lowland Canals and their future potential. Preparing this document has highlighted to us that there is a clear need for a more strategic plan. This will be our next step as we firmly believe the Millennium Link and canal restorations represent a tremendous opportunity for all those who will use the revitalised waterway.
On Behalf of the SFCA
5th May 2001