Bats and fishermen both enjoy the dusk and occasionally they may have an inadvertent close encounter! Here wegive more information about bats aimed at anglers and explain what to do if you catch one whilst fishing.

So, there you are at the beginning of the angling season, putting on your first team of flies and practising your new casting techniques, when no sooner do you cast out than you get a bite. All that hard work has paid off in an instant. However, you notice that the line is moving strangely, so you start to reel in and gaze towards the end of the line and realise that what you’ve got is a bat!

Lure of the line

Anglers often get in contact with us to convey tales of bats seen swarming around bridges and trees, crawling on river banks, or getting caught on the line, albeit accidentally. Daubenton’s bats in particular are frequently seen skimming the surface of rivers, ponds or other water bodies at dusk.

Daubenton’s bats take insects, particularly chironomid midges and mayflies, from close to the water surface. They are medium-sized bats (45-55 mm long, with a 240-275 mm wingspan and weighing 7-12 g), with a steady flight pattern, flying at approximately 25 kph, often within a few centimetres of the water surface, and reminiscent of a small hovercraft. They have even been seen taking prey directly from the water surface, using their large feet as a gaff or their tail membrane as a scoop. They usually feed within 6 km of the roost but have been recorded following canals for up to 10 km. Their old name of ‘water bat’ is quite appropriate, though they often travel across land and occasionally feed away from water.

All bats are able to fly and feed in the dark by producing a stream of high-frequency calls and listening to the returning echoes which give a distinct ‘sound picture’ of their surroundings. This is called echolocation. The sounds bats produce can normally only be heard by humans through use of high frequency equipment such as an electronic bat detector.

Precautions

Despite this amazing ability to fly in the dark and catch tiny insects moving amongst the branches and leaves, bats occasionally mistake artificial fishing flies for the real thing. Often it’s a wingtip or the tail membrane that gets caught as you are casting, but occasionally bats are hooked in the mouth. So what do you do next? First of all, don’t panic. Whilst there is a small risk that bats may carry rabies, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself and others (more information on rabies in UK bats).

If possible, try to ‘land’ the bat on the riverbank where it may be able to free itself from the line. Do not allow a hooked bat to continue flying around on the end of a line for longer than is necessary and if it does not free itself within 2-3 minutes you may wish to cut the line close to the fly.

Avoid touching the bat with bare hands. A small proportion of bats in the UK carry a type of rabies virus, which can be transmitted through a bite or scratch or through contact between its saliva and an open wound or the mucous membranes of your eye, nose or mouth. If you need to handle the bat (alive or dead), wear protective gloves or wrap as much of the bat as possible in a cloth, especially the head and mouth. If you think you may have been bitten or scratched by a bat, wash the wound immediately and thoroughly (preferably with soap and water, and without scrubbing) and speak to your doctor as soon as you can – effective post-exposure vaccination is available.

At this stage, or at any time if you are unsure of what to do, you can contact the National Bat Helpline.

A longer version of this article is available as a PDF to download.