Thanks for the question Edward.

Although it is not the main argument put forward in favour of a close season, the issue of catching fish in spawn is one of the main tenets. To my mind other arguments, such as the disturbance of other wildlife, and damage to the bankside vegetation comes higher on my list of priorities than does the potential for damage to our fish stocks.

Although the close season is very much ingrained in some peoples minds, it is very easy to become dogmatic about it without really understanding the facts. This is a very complicated series of interrelated issues and an article like this cannot do the full subject justice by any means, but perhaps I can shed some clarity on certain salient points.

Take, for example, the belief that fish can (or can't) be caught when they are spawning. The reproductive cycle of coarse fish in a temperate climate is much longer than mammals. In fact, the gonads (that's the sexual organs to you Geoff) start to develop within a few weeks of spawning having finished. So, the fish are in spawn for ten months of the year to some extent!

In male fish, the gonads never make up more than a few percent of the weight of the fish anyway, so their impact on the fish is pretty minimal. Although a small amount of energy is diverted towards developing sperm, this is not of major concern to the males.

The females can be made up of around ten percent eggs by the start of winter. If you think about it, fish tend to spawn when the water is pretty cold, so it would be difficult for them to develop too much in the few weeks before spawning takes place. The presence of eggs is one of the reasons why fish tend to weigh quite heavy in the Autumn. Carrying around the eggs doesn't cause the females much of a disadvantage - and I don't hear anyone calling for a nine month close season!

Just before the fish begin to spawn, chemical changes occur in the skin covering the eggs and they take on a huge amount of fluid. For a few brief days the female becomes fat and much heavier with the eggs she is carrying. Carrying so much extra bulk is obviously quite uncomfortable and in many cases feeding actually stops whilst the female is in this state. With the gonads being situated close to the gut, the eggs press down and can stop any food from passing through the fish. So whilst the fish are actually gravid and potentially at their most delicate, they are unlikely to feed anyway.

After spawning

The act of spawning does tend to take quite a bit out of the fish. Although it is difficult to generalise, and there is not a huge amount of empirical evidence, it does appear that coarse fish may tend to rest after spawning for a few days before returning to their regular behaviour. Although there are always exceptions to every rule, the fish appear to only start feeding again when they are good and ready. This is why fishing is often poor directly after the fish finish spawning.

Aggregations

One factor that, on the face of it, looks like a good reason in favour of the close season is that the fish are often shoaled up in quite a small area and so very large catches can be had. When I think of this I can always remember pictures of huge catches of big chub caught from the Swale and other northern rivers during the first week or two of the season (i.e. in season!) Although there is absolutely no defence for such idiotic behaviour as to stuff 200-300 pound of fish into a net, this is not a good reason for banning fishing for three months! Whilst it might make the land owner a bit of revenue for a couple of weeks, such areas should be shut until the fish have spread themselves out again. At the very least, keep nets should be banned during this period. Yet, this has very little to do with the close season and very little to do with spawning. I would argue for nets to be banned at any time that a huge catch is expected.

Let's ban everyone

So if there is really not so much of an argument regarding catching spawning fish, then what am I suggesting? Perhaps a close season for ALL countryside users (and that goes for water-skiers, ramblers and birdwatchers as much as anglers) should be observed from the middle of February until the middle of April. This would not only allow the vegetation to bind together the banks and foot-paths without being disturbed, but would also allow most of our aquatic birds to nest in peace. Of course, the bird watchers won't like this because they will not be able to watch the courtship of some bird species, and the walkers will see it as an infringement of their civil liberties. So much for THEIR concern for the countryside!