Banned baits

Using a bait that fish find irresistible is considered by many to be unsporting. Why are some baits banned? And what exactly are the reasons for banning some baits but permitting others? From time to time some angling organization or other decides to ban a particular bait or lure. The list of banned baits is a long one, but not nearly as long as the list of reasons put forward to justify such bans. In fact, the most usual reason why some anglers call for a ban on a bait is its success.

Several years ago, some good bags of trout were caught at Eyebrook Reservoir on a fly called the Nailer. The reservoir management decided to ban the use of the pattern and posted notices to that effect.

The Nailer is not, of course, any more deadly than other flies; it was just that it happened to have been used on a day when the trout were specially hungry.

And yet it cannot be used for fishing unless it is boiled. It is not a water plant, so it cannot grow in water anyway. It does not cause indigestion, but actually makes good fish food, as tests have shown. Nor does hempseed produce faster bites than other small baits used in similar quantities.

In fact, hemp has exactly the same effect as other baits of similar size, such as stewed wheat, stewed pearl barley, sweetcorn, and even maggots and casters. If it is used in excessive quantities as groundbait, fish tend to become preoccupied with eating it and to ignore other foods. This is their natural behaviour, not only with anglers’ baits but also with natural foods.

For example, when a particular species of fly is hatching, trout often feed selectively on it and ignore other flies. Similarly, carp and tench sometimes feed solely on blood-worms or daphnia, refusing other kinds of food.

Wasp grub is another bait banned by some angling organizations, on the grounds that it is not freely available to all. This philosophy, car-ried to its logical conclusion, would have us all using identical tackle and make it an offence to catch more or bigger fish than the next angler along the bank.

Status and snobbery

Some bans are imposed mainly for reasons of snobbery. For instance, some trout waters have a rule that only dry flies may be used. It is held that using the dry fly confers social superiority, like wearing a grey top-per at Ascot or owning a Rolls Royce. There is no reason, other than snobbery, for banning all but dry flies. In fact fishing a fly below the surface demands more skill and knowledge than does fishing a floater, for the good reason that it demands accuracy in three dimen-sions instead of only two. Thus where bag limits are imposed, it is difficult to see what useful purpose is served by bans on types of fly, baits or even methods of fishing.

On this last question, it is popularly believed that spinning is so deadly for trout that it is essential to ban it. Actually, it is less effective than fly fishing—which was not invented to make trout harder to catch.

Livebaiting under attack

One ban that may have some justification is that proposed on livebaits for pike, perch or zander. Many non-anglers think the practice cruel and find it repugnant. Such people do not seem to know that these species habitually eat smaller fish, sometimes of their own kind. But, as all these predators can be caught equally well by using dead-baits or artificial lures, it might be politic for anglers to abandon livebaits and thus eliminate at least one of the charges of cruelty often brought against them by the anti-field sport lobby.