Tackle companies release all sorts of devices to try and catch the eye of anglers. They want to be able to supply them with the newest pieces of kit that they claim will put more fish on the bank, make their day that little bit easier or just generally enhance the angling experience for us all. You cannot blame them for trying; that is how they make their money. However, every now and again an item of tackle gets released and you just have to scratch your head and wonder as to whether we really need it at all. Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of useless knick-knacks that are aimed at the angler and, God knows, I have bought some of them. Do not worry; I will not name any of these items for fear of embarrassing myself or other readers that may have made the same purchases because anybody who has anything more than just an occasional interest in the sport is probably in the same boat as me. However, there is one item that seems to be gaining a bit of popularity recently that I have grave reservations about. They are an item that most of the major tackle companies are producing and actively promoting. I have huge concerns over the how the use of such items can possibly sit of the side of being fish-friendly and recent photographic evidence that has started to circulate has confirmed my worst fears.
The item in question is the “Boga Grip” which also goes by the name of “Lip Gripper”. The device is a handheld implement with a pair of jaws at the front, usually made of stainless steel, which operate like the head of a set of pliers. The idea behind this particular contraption is that as the angler is reeling his quarry towards them, they reach out an arm with the boga grip in hand and clamp the metal jaws onto one of the fish’s lips. The angler can then lift their quarry from the water, unhook it and release it without having to ever touch the fish. I have heard many arguments for the use of boga grips and I have to say that I think not one of them is valid. I would like to try and outline how I have come to this conclusion and hopefully my views can and will discourage more people from purchasing and using these abominations.
Fish care should be number one on any real angler’s list of thoughts. How an implement like this can be found in the hands of any self-respecting angler who claims to have the fish’s welfare at heart is beyond me. Think about it; the grip is a device that allows the angler to apply a metal clamp to the lip of that fish and allows them to lift the fish for unhooking and weighing with all the pressure from the weight of the fish being focused on two tiny metal points that are either side of one of the lips. A fish that thrashes a bit is increasing this pressure on a tiny area of one of the fish’s lips. Let me put it to you this way; would you like to be lifted off the ground and left dangling in mid-air with all of your body weight pulling down on one of your lips? Do you think it would be sore, possibly even resulting in long term damage? Of course it would. I have been sent a couple of pictures which I have included in this article which can clearly show the damage these contraptions have inflicted on pike that have been unfortunate enough to have an encounter with these medieval-looking tools.
In recent times a picture of a competition winning pike started to circulate. The image in question depicted a sizable pike at over one metre in length being suspended by a Boga Grip attached to its lower jaw. Depending on the girth, this puts the pike at or close to the twenty pound mark. The manner in which the pike had been treated for this picture rightly caused a furore when the image was released. Some commented that the size and weight of a fish left to dangle like this will have caused irreparable damage to the unfortunate creature’s spine. Any piker that knows his sport and respects his quarry was shocked to see such an image and should also be of the opinion that this fish probably did not live too much longer after this photograph was taken. My personal opinion is that the competitor should have been disqualified for such mistreatment of pike in such a competition. Granted, the fish may have been taken by a visiting angler and it may be the norm to treat pike in such a manner in their home country but as Irish anglers who are proud of their country’s sport and angling heritage we should be leading the field and disallowing the use of such harmful devices in Irish competitions. I do not stand alone when I say that the boga grip should be banned from Irish pike fishing competitions. Extreme?
Some of the other photographs that I have included are not for viewing pleasure, more to invoke disgust in the viewer. The images of pike’s mouths that have been irreparably damaged by boga grips stand testament to the fact that any angler with even a shred of feeling towards pike care would not be found in possession of one of these tools. Indeed even a couple of non-pike fishing friends have told me of the horror they felt when being confronted with similar pictures. Each of the images clearly shows damage that has been inflicted by the use of a boga grip, most likely inflicted on young pike with a more delicate and slightly undeveloped mouth than the older specimen that featured in the “trophy shot” detailed in the last paragraph. The mouth of juvenile and jack pike are a lot softer and prone to damage from these devices and the tell-tale signs of their use are clear for all to see in these photographs. I think that as the popularity of these grips grows, so will incidents of anglers catching pike that bear similar damage to the fish you can see on these pages. It is a trend that I do not wish to see into the future.
A lot of what I have written so far refers to pike but there are anglers guilty of using the grips for a multitude of species, most noticeably bass. Admittedly, I have not seen a huge amount of bass photographs this year that feature one of the grips but I put that down to the fact that it has been a very slow year for the species. Over the last year or so though, I have seen more and more species of fish through the medium of photography that have fallen victim to the grip. Again, this is a very worrying trend and one that I hope does not escalate any further. Ultimately, we have to try and figure out why some anglers use them and what they perceive the benefits of their use to be.
One of the most popular reasons touted in favour of the grip is the fact that it keeps fingers clear of mouths that are full of teeth. In the case of Irish anglers, this generally means pike. Mr Leo Farrell, amongst others, has penned many pieces that have very informatively tackled the subject of pike welfare. Without being able to go into huge amounts of detail here, a boga grip should not be encouraged to help an angler to hold a pike. There have been many articles written about how to hold pike in the correct manner without me thrashing it out again but needless to say the grip is not one of them. There is ample room under the gill plate of a pike to pick the fish up with confidence whilst supporting the body weight with the other hand and it is very easy to keep fingers clear of gill rakers. Anybody who goes out and lacks the knowledge on this technique or is just inexperienced holding pike should tag along with somebody who knows what they are doing, somebody who can show them the ropes. If there is anybody reading this that angles for pike and is scared of their quarry; I implore you to go and find somebody with a bit of experience to show you the proper techniques. If this sounds like a daft suggestion and you have no intention of following it through then I would suggest that golf may be the game for you, not fishing. It is times like this that I feel the Germans have the right idea in making people sit an exam on etiquette and fish care before they grant them a fishing permit.
The same can be said for bass. Some anglers rely on the use of the grip to protect themselves from the sharp spines found on the dorsal fin and the side of the gill plate. The exact same logic applies to bass as it does pike; learn to handle the fish properly and there is no use for a boga grip. Again, if needs be seek advice and a demonstration from somebody who has put the time in with this species. If this seems like too much work then perhaps fishing is not the ideal sport for you.
Some of the grips incorporate a weighing scale in the handle. I have been informed that this addition can be “very handy”. The weighing of fish to be returned by sticking the hook of the weighing scales under the gill was frowned upon long ago and rightly so. It puts unnecessary pressure on the head and gills of the fish and to weigh a fish with a boga grip will put the same strain on a fish’s spine as well as the pressure of suspending the entire fish’s weight on one of its lips. We frowned upon “chin-weighing” pike and other species long ago and to be honest I cannot see any difference between “chin-weighing” and “boga-weighing”. If anybody out there can categorically say that it does no damage, I would love to see the proof.
I really would like to see tackle companies halt the production of these devices but that is never going to happen as long as they are selling them and making profit from them. What anglers can do is they can vote with their actions. Not buying these items is one way to go about it but an email or two sent to the producers of this item of tackle could also work wonders. Clubs have their part to play in this as well. Up and down the country, there are pike “matches” fished, almost on a weekly basis through the winter. If associations like IFPAC, the Irish Federation of Pike Angling Clubs, and some of the other well known piking groups like the Dublin Pike Anglers were to actively encourage the fact that the boga grip is not needed in Irish angling then we could be well on our way to seeing them fall out of fashion. Although not obsolete, the blue barrel has certainly dropped in popularity after pressure from some of the more forward thinking pikers amongst us. Their thoughts were aired and momentum gathered when the younger breed of conservation-minded pike anglers got behind them. I’m hoping that the bogas can and will suffer a similar fate. Whilst they can’t be banned outright, they should at least be banned from pike competitions. Pike welfare should come above all else – glory, prize money, fear of getting your hands dirty, fear of teeth and all the rest of it. If we don’t look after our pike then at best we will leave a poor stock for future generations, at worst we will leave them nothing.