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Fishing & Aquatic Science: Adrian Pinder

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A self-professed angler since birth, Adrian Pinder has loved fishing since he was 2! Angling primarily as a hobby, Pinder grew up hanging around his local tack shop, picking up tips to eventually competing, and winning himself. Now having angled in not only his home country, the UK but also the USA, Holland, Portugal and Vietnam Pinder admits the variety of species and wildlife of India are his favourite. An angler by passion and profession, Sandeep Shetty, co-founder of Livingit gets in touch with the father of three to ask him a few questions.

SS: When and how did you start Angling?
Adrian: This might sound cliché, but I think I was born an angler. My interest in fish started well in advance of my first fishing trip. At the age of two, I spent a few weeks in Germany where my Dad was working as a freshwater biologist. While Dad was at work, my mum would walk me to the local lake, where I delighted in finding sticks and pretending to fish beside the lake. There was also a statue of an angler holding a pike which I naturally gravitated towards. So my parents knew I was an angler long before I did. Luckily my Dad did a bit of fishing in those days, so by the time I was four I had my own rod and was regularly taken to local rivers to catch trout, dace, and pike.

SS: Was it smooth sailing after that or did you struggle to pursue it?
Back in the UK my Dad worked for the Freshwater Biological Association at their River laboratory on the banks of the River Frome in Dorset (which incidentally is my current work field station). This meant I grew up around rivers and had easy access to good fishing and guidance from Dad and several of his colleagues who loved to fish. I was really lucky in this respect.

In Germany – aged 2 and fantasizing about catching pike

SS: Did you have a mentor and how did it help?
Adrian: Dad was hugely supportive in getting me started, but Dr. Mike Ladle (a colleague of Dad’s) (check out ) used to regularly take me fishing with his son Richard. Mike has always been obsessed with fishing and to this day, I never tire of talking fishing with him. Between the ages of 6 and 13, Mike introduced me to various disciplines of the sport and also being a scientist taught me how having knowledge of fish ecology and behavior helps you to become a more successful angler.

SS: What groups did you join and how did it help you?
Adrian: At the age of 10, I joined my local angling club. Every weekend I would walk with my gear to a car park in town where all the adult members would provide lifts for all the youngsters to rivers and lakes which were beyond the reach of my bicycle. By hanging out in my local tackle shop after school I was able to learn loads from local anglers and by the time I was 13 I was regularly competing and winning matches against the senior members of the club. I moved to the east midlands when I was 17 and was signed to one of the top match squads in the country and found myself fishing in national championships and leagues against the biggest names in the sport (e.g. Bob Nudd, Alan Scotthorne, and the late great Ivan Marks).

Seven years old and completely hooked

SS: How many countries have you fished and which is your favorite?
Adrian: I don’t think I’ve ever left the UK without some basic fishing gear in my bag. I don’t always get a chance to use it, but till date I’ve wet a line in Holland, France, Portugal, Greece, USA, Vietnam, India, St Lucia and Venezuela. Despite the challenges involved, I have no hesitation in saying that India is my favorite country for fishing.

SS: How is angling in India different from the UK?
It is different on so many levels! Let’s start with access: in the UK you need to pay for a local permit or day ticket, but provided you have a national rod license, there are very few places that you can’t fish. In India, opportunities seem to be far more limited, particularly due to the relatively recent angling ban in protected areas. Another major difference is the diversity of species available in India. In many rivers, you just don’t know what you are going to catch next. With so many species, some of these have not yet been described to science, so for me this adds real excitement. I remember my first trip to India when the head angling guide warned me of the dangers and likened the experience to fishing in a zoo without any fences. This was no exaggeration, on the first night we had leopard, wild boar and elephants all roaming through the camp. There are however some similarities between fishing in the UK and India, and although rarely used by Indian anglers, many of the methods popular in the UK also work (extremely) well in India. One of my favorite methods is trotting a stick float for mahseer.

Not a monster but I was delighted to catch my first Himalayan golden mahseer (Tor putitora) from the mighty Ganges in 2014.

SS: How frequently are you pursuing angling now?
Adrian: With a busy work and family life, my opportunities to fish are pretty limited these days. In addition to a 17 year old daughter, I have two boys of 3 and 5 years old, so if I do get a chance to go out it’s often with them with a view to giving them the same opportunities that I had as a kid. We are lucky that we live on the south coast, so during summer, I do manage a few trips spinning for bass and fly fishing for mullet from the local beaches. After a long break, I’ve also started to do a bit more coarse fishing and in the last year and have had a few trips on my local river for grayling, which is probably my favorite UK species. Luckily my job as a fisheries scientist sometimes involves using rod and line to sample fish (that’s professional talk for going fishing and trying to make it sound like work!). With science projects focused on lots of UK species (e.g. pike, dace, grayling, bream) and the mahseers across Asia, I’m pretty happy with my lot.

Jasmine busy with her fishing rod!

My kids Harry, Jasmine and Rudi had all been introduced to angling by the age of 3.Whether any of them turn out to be lifelong anglers remains to be seen.

SS: What excites you about this passion even now?
Adrian: I always have to use my knowledge and imagination to work out what’s happening beneath the water’s surface. To me, catching fish has always been a bonus and not my primary reason for sitting by a river, but catching fish (even tiddlers) when the conditions are challenging always gives me just as much of a buzz as catching a real rod bender that might take several minutes to land. Just being outside in nature can provide some wonderful spectacles and while some anglers would curse the presence of otters hunting in front of them and kingfishers landing on your rod tip, for me this is what fishing is all about.

The fact that the sport is all inclusive also excites me. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what language you speak, the passion for angling is universal and anglers always want to learn from one another. A fond memory of mine is watching some guys’ fish with bamboo canes around Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Despite the language barrier it didn’t take long for one of the anglers to note my interest and hand me his rod encouraging me to catch a bigger tilapia than his friends. I did manage a fish before handing the rod back and this spontaneous interaction sums up some of the magic of being an angler.

SS: Tell us something about your gear – your current collection/brands you use.
While I used to be fanatical about tackle and owned some stupidly expensive match poles, my choice of gear today is far more practical. While I still own more rods and reels than I could put a figure on, many of these are now multi-section travel rods that I can pack into a suitcase. Among the most useful and versatile rods I have are the Shimano STC spinning rods. I have Beastmasters and the Exage models and while the heavier Beastmaster can cope with big fish (I have had sharks to 80lb on mine), at a push it can also be used for float fishing for mahseer. In terms of other brands, it has to be quality. I once lost a salmon on a family holiday in Scotland when a cheap spinner disintegrated on me. From that day, I have only used Mepps when spinning and never trusted cheap brands. I must acknowledge though that the tackle industry has shifted in the last 10 years towards the production of some very useable and reliable tackle at budget prices. This is fantastic news for those starting out in the sport.

SS: That’s nice. Tell us about your Top 3 catches till date and how did those happen?
Adrian: Excluding my wonderful wife Claire here are my top three:

In the UK, a roach of 2lb has always been considered as a fish of a lifetime. While the British record is a little over 4lb, when I was 15 I caught a 3lb roach in my lunch hour. This was all over the angling magazines and remains a memorable catch to this day. I guess one of my top three has to be the largest fish I’ve ever caught. This was a lemon shark of 150lb which I caught with my good buddy John Aplin who was running a boat about of the Florida Keys in 2011. Prior to this, my biggest fish was a 30lb mahseer, so this one stands out purely because of its size – oh and the fact that it made my arms ache and gave me an incredible rush of adrenaline.

The fish that changed everything: my first mahseer from South India’s River Cauvery

In 2010 I made my first trip to India to fish the Galibore Camp on the Cauvery River. My first mahseer of approximately 25lb is a fish that changed my life and the reason I became involved in the Mahseer Trust. That fish has brought me so much joy, stress and frustration, but has ultimately led me to many life enriching experiences, getting to know India better and has been responsible for the formation of some great friendships.

SS: What are top 3 things on your bucket list for angling?
Adrian: Given that much of my time over the last 6 years has been dedicated to conserving the critically endangered hump-backed mahseer, I would love to think I might catch one of these beauties one day. From a very early age I’ve always wanted to catch a blue marlin. While I’m sure that the fight would be hugely exciting, what I’m really interested in is to see one of these amazing fish in the flesh.

Getting up close and personal with the cast of a hump-backed mahseer at Mysore Museum in early 2017.

Apart from catching new species in new places, a high priority on my ‘bucket list’ is to continue to inspire future generations of anglers. In this respect, my Mahseer Trust colleagues Derek Dsouza and Steve Lockett have been a huge inspiration to me. The work they have put into developing kids angling camps across India is a fantastic initiative and has now given hundreds of children across the country the opportunity to spend time near water and learn about catch and release angling and the importance of clean rivers.

SS: Where do you see yourself in this passion 2 years from now? Will you have stopped or tried completing more and more goals?
Adrian: In 2 years’ time I’ll be fishing whenever opportunity allows. This might be fishing with my boys off the local pier for little fish or perhaps for giant fish in one of the most remote area on the planet. I never know where my work is going to take me, so I’m happy not making plans and dreaming about things that may not happen. I’d much rather take life as it comes, but just be ready to capitalize on opportunities as they evolve.

SS: Do you have any tips for people starting out?
Yes, knowledge is power so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Go and sit quietly behind other anglers and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to try new baits and techniques. Learn about the species in your local waters and their habits; not only will this add interest, it will help you put more fish on the bank. Always check the rules of the water you are fishing; these have been made to ensure the sustainability of the fishery for others to enjoy in the future. And finally, relax and enjoy, not just the fish but all the incredible wildlife our planet is blessed with.

SS: As an Aquatic Scientist you have authored a lot of research papers. What are some of the areas where you focus your research on?
Adrian: With 30 years behind me as a fisheries scientist and environmental consultant I have worked across many disciplines of fisheries science, but my key interest has always been the study of fish ecology i.e. what they eat, how they move around and the habitats that are critical for them to reproduce and have self-sustainable populations. Areas that I have specialised in include the identification and early life stage ecology of fishes, the use of biotelemetry to understand the behaviour and mechanisms of migration, the interaction between humans and fish (e.g. assessing the impact of man-made structures like dams and the science of recreational angling) and the interaction and impact of invasive species on native fauna. A lot of the work I do these days combines these skills and knowledge to assist in the conservation of threatened species and over the last six-seven years, much of my research effort has been directed towards the mahseers of the south and southeast Asia.

SS: Can you give some examples of how some of your research has made an impact?
Adrian: In 2001, I published a book on the identification of the larval and juvenile stages of freshwater fishes in the UK. This gave other fisheries scientists the ability to distinguish the very earliest life stages and begin studying the habitat requirements and interactions between different species. With the first few months of development being the most sensitive to mortality, these life stages were previously overlooked which meant knowledge of factors affecting recruitment were also poorly understood.

In 2007 I published a paper on the discovery that the Atlantic salmon population in my local river were not following the rule book in terms of what people thought salmon did. Our team found that, although young salmon are meant to migrate to sea as smolts during the spring, a large proportion of the stock was undertaking an early (autumn) migration and switching their habitat from the areas where they hatched in the upper river to the estuarine sections. This had important implications for stock management and it has since been shown that this behaviour is typical of the species within the UK.

I think my most exciting (and indeed depressing) discovery has to be the realization that the River Cauvery’s hump-backed mahseer is now on the very edge of extinction. The paper I published in the journal ‘ Endangered Species Research’ in 2015 is entitled ‘ The legendary hump-backed mahseer Tor sp. of India’s River Cauvery: An endemic fish swimming towards extinction? ’ and is free to view at . This work continues to have an escalating impact. Not only has this resulted in collaborative working between Mahseer Trust and Tata Power to look at the feasibility of an artificial rearing and reintroduction programme, the research has also resulted in the launch of Kaveri Mission. This is a new initiative that will draw a broad range of stakeholders together to enhance our understanding of the holistic function of the River Cauvery basin, the ecosystem services the river provides to people and will use the hump-backed mahseer as a ‘flagship’ species as an indicator of ecosystem health.

SS: What are some of your biggest challenges in your Research?
This has to be working in India. The restrictions on research access and the complications of foreigners obtaining all the necessary permits to work on rivers (particularly within protected areas) have resulted in regular frustration and slowed down our progress. That said, we have now developed an extensive network of partnership organizations across much of India and things are starting to get easier. There is also the geographical distance between my home/work and India which means that finding the time and finances to travel has its own challenges.

Despite the challenges, working in India has been hugely rewarding and worth every effort.

SS: Has being an Angler helped you in your research?
Adrian: Most definitely! I think enthusiasm is key to being successful in anything you do. For me, the ability to combine my lifelong hobby with my work has been and continues to be, a real privilege and something I’ve never taken for granted. Anglers are also a fantastic source of information and can be invaluable as citizen scientists to collect data to assist with the scientific study. Being an angler myself means that I have always found interacting with the angling community a very natural process and the ability to incorporate angling into some of my project research has been both extremely effective and fun.

Mixing business with pleasure: this European grayling was caught on float fishing tactics to better understand the impacts of recreational fishing on fish physiology and behaviour.

Adrian Pinder believes that regardless of your ethnicity, social standing and wealth if you have discovered the joys of angling, you are privileged, so always treat waterways and fish with respect. As custodians of the aquatic realm, anglers should also encourage youngsters to take up the sport. If future generations don’t appreciate the value of rivers, what hope is there for fish and other associated wildlife against the rapidly escalating trend to over utilize rivers for consumptive purposes? So, in the words of Adrian Pinder, “Fish responsibly and have fun!”

Want to read more about inspiring Anglers?

Legends Live Forever – Ali H. Hussaini: Gentleman Angler, Mentor, Innovator and Conservationist

Study, Fish, and Conserve – Steve Lockett

Fly Fishing with Respect – Uday Mahajan

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