JOHN ELLIS: Why the outlook’s bright for Britain’s canals
John Ellis of the Canal & River Trust
THE campaign to get more anglers back on our canals has been a major success, and one of the men to thank is John Ellis.
The national fisheries & angling manager for the Canal & River Trust has helped put in place several initiatives since he first started working with the organisation (formerly known as British Waterways) almost three decades ago.
Now John is determined to build on the growing interest and further boost the number of anglers fishing their local canal.
Angling Times caught up with him to find out more about his vision for the future.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job? A: I deal with around 250 different angling clubs, virtually all of which are run by dedicated volunteers. With few exceptions, it’s a pleasure to deal with fellow anglers who care equally passionately about the long term future of the sport and the fisheries that support it.
I enjoy the challenge of shifting the attitude within the organisation so that trustees, the Executive Team and others fully understand the benefits that both fisheries and angling bring to the C&RT.
Q: How does being a keen angler help you in your role? A: An academic background in biology and chemistry is essential to holding a senior fisheries management role, but so too is an understanding of the aspirations of anglers.
It would be hard to have the latter without an extensive angling background. For several years I fished at open match level and could hold my own without being good enough to be signed up by a top side. I must have regularly coached 100 or so young anglers when I was secretary of the Grindley Brook junior angling club, many of whom are still fishing to this day. I also managed the USA team in the 1998 Croatia World Championships. I believe all these experiences help me to do my job better.
Q: What do you make of the state of canal angling in the UK? A: It has turned a corner after what I would acknowledge as many years of slow decline. We have halted the decline in the number of clubs in our network and have even added a small number of new club customers in the past two years.
Fish stocks as a whole are as good as they have ever been, although there are local issues where we have suffered pollution. We are working hard to rejuvenate those areas hit.
Q: What is your vision for canals? A: Whether canals can get back to their previous popularity would depend on whether the sport as a whole can halt the decline in rod licence sales. That will only come about if we all work together for that shared goal.
We launched the Canal Pairs in 2014 and the Junior Canal Champs for match anglers, worked with National Fishing Month to stage dozens of coaching events that attracted over 1,000 participants and also gave away more than 1,000 canal starter kits.
We have also funded coaching courses so that more of our clubs can recruit newcomers.
We are confident these initiatives are making a huge amount of difference.
Q: How would you convince someone to try fishing a canal for the first time? A: If you have never been fishing before, canals offer a local opportunity, as half the nation’s anglers actually live within five miles of a Trust-owned fishery and many can walk to the local ‘cut’.
It’s also a very cheap place to start fishing and it’s anybody’s guess what you are going to catch, with big shoals of roach, bream and perch to go at, and plenty of surprises, such as quality carp, tench and pike that can show up at any point.
The likes of Fred Buller, Benny Ashurst, Billy Lane, Rob Hughes and Ivan Marks first learned to fish on a canal.
You have to master a variety of angling skills to catch on canals, and almost all of these are transferable to other venues. Q: What are the biggest challenges in your job as fisheries & angling manager for the C&RT? A: We only have a small team of four working in this area and when you consider just how many fisheries we have to oversee, it can prove tricky.
Obtaining funding for the many things that we know still need to be done is also tough. The Trust has to work out how to invest limited resources, and it can be a challenge to accept that other areas of the charity sometimes rightly take priority.
The final problem is persuading club and individual anglers that things are very different now in the Canal & River Trust as opposed to the British Waterways era. The outlook is now so much brighter for angling, but it is work in progress and definitely a marathon, rather than a sprint, to prove we really do mean business.
John back in 1988 on the Shropshire Union Canal.
John Ellis: Loves putting a smile back on the faces of Britain’s canal anglers.
John attends many events to promote canal fishing.