CHAPTER 7 – THE SOCIETY

Thirty Years Of The Society

The aims of this Society shall be to develop and improve the interest and techniques of angling for bass and to encourage conservation and research of the species throughout the British Isles.”

When I learnt of the creation of a Society with such laudable objectives I felt the same as I had done years before when the Anglers Co-operative Association (1948) and the National Anglers’ Council (1966) were founded. This, I felt, is one I must join. So I joined, and have never regretted it. How have these three bodies fared over the intervening years?

The ACA – now with the much more appropriate title of the Anglers Conservation Association – has achieved much in its special concern with the pollution of freshwater fisheries, and continues to thrive. The NAC regrettably, never got the support it needed and closed down in 1991, after years of unavailing struggle for better support and finance.

And B.A.S.S.? We differ from the other two in our amateur, voluntary status – on which we pride ourselves. That is both our strength and our vulnerability. Strength, because of the respect we have gained in places where it counts; vulnerability, because of our dependence on the efforts and loyalty of a small number of dedicated officers. The going must have been very hard for those officers, at times. Their reward has been the knowledge of the pleasure which their efforts, especially in the Magazine and the field meetings, have given to members. Recognition of those efforts has in the past not always been forthcoming, and in recent years some have been recognised by being awarded a Fellowship of the Society. The acute difficulty of getting badly needed protective measures for bass is another cross they have had to bear.

It must have been particularly difficult in the early years. Among the first members were several well-known sea anglers who brought with them experience, enthusiasm and high hopes for early success in the negotiation of protective measures. When that failed to happen most left, and for some years there were frequent changes in key offices and the committee. For its survival through those difficult early years the Society owes much to Geoff Knight, John Hockaday and Jim Churchouse. The early 1980’s brought more stability, with the improving magazine being an important factor. Started in 1974 by Jim Churchouse with 12 duplicated pages, it did not take off at first, and by 1977 it was down to 5 pages. Then Harry Parham became Editor, and remained at the helm until his much-lamented death in 1989, when 40 pages were being produced by modern high-tech methods. Bill Rawles, the able Secretary/Treasurer, also very sadly died in office and was succeeded by his wife Diane.

The late 1980s was another period of change, touched off by Harry’s illness and later death. Bob Spurgeon succeeded the long-serving Chairman Geoff Knight. Tony Harrison became Acting Editor/Secretary, then Editor with John Morgan as Secretary. Dave Cooling became Treasurer, aided later by his wife Di. The new post of Fish Recorder was taken up by Malcolm Brindle. There was another change of Editor when Tony decided him to stand down due to external pressures. Bob Spurgeon and John Morgan took it on jointly, on top of their existing commitments as Chairman and Secretary. By the end of 1995 these six officers, along with the late Harry Parham and Diane Rawles (who has continued on the Committee) had between them clocked up nearly 100 years of dedicated service to the Society. Members owe them much. There has also been some notably long service on the Committee, by Bill Humphrey (17 years), Steve Pruett (14 years and still serving) and John Hodgson (11 years). Other long servers of over 10 years are John Morgan, Bob Spurgeon, Dave Cooling and Malcolm Brindle.

That so few changes have had to be made in the key posts over so many years, is a tribute to the dedication of the officers. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Magazine. It has gone from strength to strength as members have accepted frequent rises in the membership fee to enable the latest production methods to be used. It is the flagship of the Society, widely regarded as the best sea angling reading available today. It provides a valued forum for the discussion of difficult issues on which members may hold differing views, such matters as:

  • Whether all bass, not just small ones, should be returned alive to the sea after weighing, or whether some may properly be kept for food;
  • Whether the Society should expand and have a paid-for professional lobbying effort, or stay in its present condition of a relatively small body of dedicated (and respected) amateurs.
  • Whether or not it should link formally with the British Field Sports Society and support that Society’s campaign for the defence of country sports;

A particularly happy innovation has been the amusing cartoons by artistic members such as Chris Barnard, Peter James and Trevor Renals.

I remember especially, with gratitude, those heroic early efforts by Harry Parham. He kept the Magazine going, and improving, through those difficult early years; unfailingly cheerful despite growing health problems. And I remember that other officer, equally cheerful and dedicated, who likewise refused to allow health problems to interfere with his work for the Society; Bill Rawles bore the brunt of the later negotiations for the protection of bass. I remember a favourite saying of his, “If you want something done, look for a busy person”. He was the living personification of that dictum.

Recently I sent off my old angling magazines for auction in London. But I kept the B.A.S.S. Magazines, they were far too important to lose. Just recently I have been reading them all again, and looking through all the correspondence they generated. Together they constitute a fascinating record of the changing bass scene and the long-running battle to get bass properly protected. The Society, with NAC and NFSA, has been active in putting the case forward. More importantly, various members have played a valuable part in researching aspects of the life history of the bass which are essential to the formulation of the best protective measures including:

  • tagging to discover migration patterns and exploitation levels;
  • nursery studies to measure the strength of each oncoming year-class and its survival through the critical first winter;
  • scale studies to get further checks on relative year-class strengths;
  • ovary examinations to identify spawning times.

So many members have participated that it is impossible to acknowledge them all here, just to list their names would fill a couple of pages. To all of them I tender my grateful thanks – and content myself with naming just three whose involvement has been quite out of the ordinary: Eric Dixon and Rob Jackson for their outstanding part in the major fieldwork, and Malcolm Brindle who ten years ago, and on top of a tagging commitment, took on the task of analysing the scale samples sent in by members – since when he has read some 1,500 samples, many of them from difficult large fish. More is told about the achievements of these three (and of many other members) in my book Forty Anglers. In addition I would like to congratulate John Leballeur for his magnificent coordination of the bass tagging study in 2000-2004. All this is four-square with the stated aims of the Society “to encourage conservation and research of the species”.

Research has been a relatively straightforward aspect of the Society’s activities – we are dealing there with nature, in particular fish, and just one species of fish. Conservation is more complicated; there we deal with humankind with its many and varied views and interests. Much has been done, culminating in the recent publication of the Bass Management Plan.

The acute difficulties of getting adequate protective measures were apparent right from the start. On 22nd October 1974 a meeting took place at MAFF headquarters in London to consider proposals by NAC, NFSA and B.A.S.S. for a 14-inch size limit for bass. Brian Harris, editor of Angling and a committee member of B.A.S.S., asked me for help in putting the case. I wasn’t able to attend but I provided a paper summarising all the relevant facts available at the time. We did not know as much about bass as we do now, but what we did know was enough to fill 19 pages. Reading that paper again I remain amazed that so little was achieved at that meeting. All we got was a derisory 9.5-inch (24cm) size limit. Granted, some of my facts derived from what the scientist’s term (rather dismissively) anecdotal data; but all my forward projections have since been proved correct by solid evidence gained in the field. It took 16 years, many more meetings, a formidable amount of paperwork, much fieldwork, and several papers in the marine science journals before proper protection was obtained for the young bass.

There is much to go for. The nursery regulations which achieved so much initially (giving an enormous boost to the strong 1989 and 1990 year-classes) are in danger of foundering through lack of funding for enforcement – which in many nurseries is virtually non-existent. The offshore exploitation of older bass in winter has reached crisis proportions and is in desperate need of effective regulation. The possibility of the bass being designated a game fish is an exciting one which, if achieved and enforced, can solve most problems. These are issues for political decision at the top level: the difficult issues, the conservation issues.

On the more practical research there is much that individual members can do – continue what many have been doing for years. Bass research is a continuing appraisal of a dynamic situation – to see how each oncoming year-class shapes up, in its first year in the nursery and again in the following spring to see how it has weathered the first critical winter; yet again, and this time with rod, to get a further check on numbers just before they leave the nursery; comparing the results with those for other years to get a measure of the strength of the class. Examination of scales and summarising the results each year gives yet another check on numbers, at maturity and beyond. Tagging schemes are complete but more may arise. The very systematic seasonal movements of the adult bass were unraveled in the late 1970s, but there are signs that in some areas the picture may be changing. The warming of the North Sea has resulted in northward movements of bass which were almost unknown then. Bob Cox believes that there may now be a movement of stocks from our southeast nurseries around the ‘top’ of Scotland, leading to greatly increased stocks in our northwestern waters. Sometime it will need to be tested testing by tagging.

My own participation in these researches has recently drawn to a close. I have said this several times before and have happily kept going – but that couldn’t last forever, and now others have now taken up the reins. They are all fascinating activities and provide information vital to the scientists’ ongoing appraisal of stock situations, with its important implications for management and conservation.

Author: Donovan Kelly MBE

Historical note: This article first appeared in BASS magazine no.86 May 1998.

Photo: Sam Osbourne

© Bass Anglers’ Sportfishing Society 2008

1 Comment
  1. Gosh, Donovan wrote this 22 years ago… I don’t know whether he’s still with us, though as a WW2 veteran he’d be getting on a bit. I met Donovan 2-3 times, delightful man: his studies of bass were/are invaluable, and I’m glad I once accompanied him and a friend on one of their netting sessions for bass fry, in a creek off the Tamar – I shot quite a few photographs, not even sure I still have them…
    His fifth paragraph names a bunch of chaps I remember well, and my name’s there too. I just about remember Bill Rawles; I exchange Christmas cards with Dave Cooling, though it’s a few years since I called into Sandford Woods for a chat; lost touch, sadly, with Bob Spurgeon. I was fishing with Bob & Dave not far from Kimmeridge, when I caught my best bass, a 7-pounder – still have the photo in front of me, ought to enter it into the photo competition…

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