When it’s all over, will we grow up?

When the pandemic is over and when we are free to go out and about once more, things, we are told, will be different. The economy will change; well it’s certainly running down, the Government paying the wages of some 9 million furloughed workers, businesses including fisheries shut down with support available for those that qualify. Will the effects be permanent or will everything bounce back in Boris-bouncing fashion?

Will behaviour change? Will we be cycling more and abandoning the tank-sized four-by-fours that hog two spaces in the supermarket car park? Will the relative quiet on the roads persist when the lockdown’s over? Or will everyone leap from their homes straight into their cars and head down the shops, parks, rivers, beauty spots?

What of global warming? If Covid-19 doesn’t get us climate change certainly will, unless we do something about it. Now that we have seen how easily we can be wiped out, will we wake up and do something about the wellbeing of our world? Will we take the prospect of future pandemics seriously? Are we prepared to demand of our inept government, so heedless, so slow to react to the danger, that the country prepares properly for the next epidemic? And there will be a next.

And what of anglers and angling? I’ve already noted the politics of too many fishermen — the politics that insists the climate is not warming, that environmentalism is a left-wing plot, that they are blameless freedom lovers who do no harm. The sea anglers who think it’s fine to kill species of diminishing stocks; the coarse fishermen who use pellets made from sea fish to catch farmed carp in large stock ponds; the fly anglers who catch trout fed on the same pellets, who demand salmon rivers are restocked in disregard of the research that says this is not the answer. And will those same fly anglers continue to consume large quantities of aviation fuel through long-haul flights to cast a line in far-flung countries? The new edition of Salmo Trutta, the magazine of the Wild Trout Trust, has no fewer than three articles on foreign destinations: Charles Rangeley-Wilson, WTT founder and globe trotter, goes to New Zealand, 23 hours flight time away; Theo Pike, another WTT man, has an all-expenses-paid jolly to America; while Adrian Latimer, who has clocked up more air miles than a shoal of flying fish, ends up in Iceland, coincidentally the country whose volcano cleared the British skies in 2010 even more effectively than the coronavirus in 2020.

The way things are looking for the airlines, such trips may at least be a lot more expensive in future. Paying the true cost of pollution? But will the WTT continue to encourage activity that speeds global warming and ultimately damages the trout’s habitat, a cold-water fish? Or will it become truly a conservation outfit?

Interesting questions. Will we be doing anything different?


Anglers who defy the lockdown

The lockdown to restrict the spread of Covid19 is nearly three weeks old. This is hard for everyone, yet does have its compensations — everywhere is much quieter. Anglers cannot go fishing, that is well established, for most of us. Most freshwater fishing is controlled by clubs and it is more difficult to break the rules. Sea fishing is free for all, so sea anglers can get away with it more easily. But there are still a minority which cannot grasp this, or prefers to ignore it. Recently on WSF, transgressions by sea anglers at Shoreham Harbour has been posted.


This caused a hostile reaction, not untypical for that site, by anglers who saw nothing wrong in fishing because, the argument goes, they are still keeping social distance from other people. This is the usual excuse and it seems some coarse anglers are using this to justify going fishing (with some casual racism thrown in):



The reasons why they shouldn’t are perfectly clear.

1. Unnecessary travel is prohibited, enforceable by law. Going fishing is unnecessary travel; it is not exercise.
2. Each transgression of the lockdown increases the risk of spreading the virus to those who will die from it, including the NHS staff (who are most at risk), the people who care for those who get ill.
3. The more people seen breaking the lockdown, the more likely that others will follow suit, leading eventually to a collapse of the lockdown and the pandemic taking off again.

Anglers should not be fishing. Most of us are behaving responsibly, and the replies to the above two posts from Facebook make this very clear. Those who cannot understand the reasons for the lockdown should simply obey the law rather than invent loopholes. They are freeloading on the rest of society and quite possibly infecting others. They may also be delaying a return to fishing for all.

Covid-19 and fishermen

For trout anglers the pandemic confinement is ill-timed. For coarse fishermen it may be fortuitous timing as the season has just ended, excepting all-year stillwater carp anglers, which seems just about everyone these days. For those and for sea anglers anytime is ill-timed. But for everyone it is a dreary necessity that we can’t go out and about as normal. One reason is that social distancing means different things to different people. For too many it meant going to the beach or the park with a crowd, or having a party or a barbecue; to carp fishermen it may mean not telling anyone your best swims or baits (hint: they use boilies). Hence the enforceable edict we all stay at home except for food shopping and exercise.

Plenty of film on the TV News and the evidence of our own eyes tells us that fear of a nasty respiratory illness is not uppermost in everyone’s minds. Traffic stills looks busy on the main roads where I live. At least the hoarding behaviour has eased in the shops. Apparently only 3 or 4 percent of citizens did this. The shortages were mainly caused by shoppers buying a few extra things, all of which amounted to empty shelves, even in perishable vegetables. To me this seems almost as selfish as the mass hoarders. There’s never been a food shortage, just a common sense shortage.

How are anglers behaving? Reading through some of the fishing social media there is plenty of evidence of antisocial attitudes, summarised as ‘Why the hell shouldn’t I go fishing, I’m not near anyone.’ Reassuringly these voices are overwhelmed by those who understand the current need to isolate, that it is the law, and that waiving the rules for one set of people means a quick return to widespread park outings, barbecues, etc. The overall health of the population and the stability of the NHS depends on adherence.

I’ll finish with the post below from the deputy administrator of worldseafishing forum. Sea fishermen are in a position to flout the rules more easily than freshwater, so it was good to read this forthright statement.

phillips post wsf

Salmon, scientists and deniers

I remember long ago being at a club meeting where a biologist from one of the river authorities, all eventually amalgamated into the EA, gave a talk. One of the members stood up and demanded to know what the river authority had ever done for anglers. Bereft of knowledge, short on reasoning, this guy with red face and sandy hair persisted with his sense of outrage that his licence money was actually paying someone to do a job he mistakenly thought offered no benefit to him. Representatives of this attitude are alive and voluble today, particularly in online forums for anglers. As I have written here before, ignorance is considered a virtue, predominantly by the older men that form a majority on these sites.

Amongst the occasional racism that demeans these forums — hostility towards gypsies (TFF), language that insults the disabled (FF.co.uk) — bigotry has extended lately to science projects. The implication is usually that the research is worthless and scientists are just being kept in employment. On flyfishing.co.uk, one of the worst for this sort of prejudice, the complaint has been that the Salmon Tracking Project, run by the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST), is killing off its experimental subjects (smolts) with the tracking tags inserted into the body cavities. If this were true, the project would indeed be worthless. The AST, however, is run by Ken Whelan, a reputable scientist. It is difficult to see how he would be involved in such poor research. And assuming implanting tags is a regulated procedure, it is also difficult to see how such work would have been licensed if tagging were considered to damage fish. As a matter of fact, the use of acoustic tags has been going for a few years and the evidence suggests the fish are not harmed.

A wider question concerns the state of Atlantic salmon stocks. Information on this must come mainly or solely from catch returns. These are volatile, with big jumps up and down from year to year. The figure below (from Marine Scotland Topic Sheet 68) shows that 1SW catches showed an upward trend until 2010, then fell sharply. (MSW catches have been bumping along the bottom for years.)

salmon rod returns scotland

In England and Wales there is a similar pattern, although the small improvement in MSW catches is interesting. The figures are estimates, however.

salmon rod returns England&Wales

Murmurings and complaints of dwindling salmon stocks have been heard for many years, but the last decade has seen a big fall; 2018’s catches in Scotland are a record low. Same for commercial catches. The AST’s tracking project is attempting to discover where salmon mortality is occurring. Early results suggest that smolts are dying before they even reach the sea. On the west coast of Scotland salmon farming has long been implicated in the demise of salmon and, especially, sea trout. Fish lice are always a significant problem for aquaculture; infestations of wild fish passing the cages and the toxic effect of chemicals to control lice are both considered to harm wild stocks. Escapes of farmed fish are a more insidious threat. Large breakouts are not rare. Private Eye recently reported on an escape of 74000 fish from one of Mowi’s farms off the Isle of Colonsay. The scientific literature makes clear that farmed escapees hybridise with wild fish, which themselves are reproductively viable. The impact of gene merging, although variable between populations, is believed to have bad consequences for wild stocks.

Remarkably these conclusions are doubted by certain members of the flyfishing forum. Despite their lack of qualification to dispute the findings, they plough on with denigration. Challenged, they resort to jeering and abuse. Why they feel it in their interests to do this is never clear. I suspect it is part of the populist hostility to the concept of the expert, the specialist who is well educated and works hard to understand complex processes. Ignorance is preferred, knowledge is dismissed. So long as they rave on forums it matters little. But when such views gain common currency serious trouble can arise for us all. As we’re seeing at the moment.

Tom Fort on fishing articles


About 11 years ago I published my last fishing article, I think in one of the fly fishing monthlies now defunct. As I explained in an earlier post, I gave it up because the money was poor and I had to chase editors to give me a decision. Another reason was a sneaking feeling that the articles were a bit boring because I got bored writing them. So I have sympathy with Tom Fort’s view, expressed in Fallon’s Angler 18, that it’s better to go fishing than write about it. He believes all fishing writers soon run out of things to say.

I’m not sure this is the reason most fishing writing, as Tom finds, is no good. It’s true there is only so much to be said about fishing, especially in those articles on technical matters which really are tedious in their repetitiveness. With the literary or one-with-nature kind of article, the problem is not necessarily because they’re full of description. The recognisable examples he gives — ‘protesting reels’, ‘water still as glass’, etc — are awful because they are hackneyed. They’re borrowed phrases from hundreds of other fishing articles.

Thinking about popular fishing authors, the one that comes to mind is Chris Yates, who has appeared in every issue of Fallon’s. He’s been writing his epistles from the waterside for many years. Despite the repetition they are generally a good read and most of us don’t mind reading about another crucian landed, or another carp ‘ghosting’ past. Sheringham, Tom Fort’s favourite author, covers similar ground in many of the essays that make up his books, yet they are a fine read because they were written from within himself, and he knew how to turn a sentence. In the annals of fishing articles, very few have known how to do that.

Do new young writers bring something fresh? Maybe, and maybe not, especially if they fashion their style on older writers, which most do. I’m not convinced that youth offers that much different, though there are always exceptions. I’d rather read the old lags like Tom Fort himself. I used to read with enjoyment his pieces in the Financial Times, not a paper widely read, I suspect, by many anglers. The FT angling readers were most likely the kind whose fishing was limited to a week after salmon in Scotland each year, provided it didn’t interfere with the grouse season. The problem with an angling column in the broadsheets is the lack of interested readers. Keith Elliot’s pieces in The Independent were written mainly for a wider readership. There’s no fishing column in the FT now.

Honesty is rare nowadays but honesty is what we get in Tom Fort’s article. Who can get away with pointing out that many anglers are illiterate, or semi-literate, incurably incompetent and stupid? Or that their motive is gain? Or that most anglers can’t write for toffee? Tom Fort, apparently. And he’s not troubled that some lightweight editor might consider him too ‘negative’ (I’ve had that experience) or too offensive. My kind of writer!

I expect the traditional fishing article replete with rod-bending action and regurgitations will continue to fill the pages of most fishing publications. Perhaps there is an opening for me once more:

The rod hooped over and the reel protested loudly as the fish made its bid for freedom …

Interested editors may contact me at the link above.

The Dangling Times

I’ve just bought a copy of the Angling Times, the first for many years. It comes with a ‘free carp mag’ and a banner proclaiming that it’s ‘ALL-NEW’. What the newness is I’m not sure because it looks little different to the last copy I read, some time ago I admit: lots of pictures and short paragraphs. We don’t get much idea from the editorial, which is a collection of the old clichés — ‘tactical tips’, ‘top experts’, ‘in-depth, honest tackle reviews’ and so on.

The AT has been around since 1953 and used to be presented as an anglers’ newspaper. Early copies I’ve seen contained a lot more of interest and longer articles by luminaries like Dick Walker. Now it is published in a magazine format, following Angler’s Mail which converted long ago, and filled with photos of grinning (or gurning) fishermen thrusting fish at the camera, mainly carp. Some stare intently at their catch as though the fish has taken control of their minds.

Articles are mostly very short and contain the repetitive stuff of a thousand others. Their main object is to tell readers how to ‘bag up’ using the latest kit (plenty of product placement), mostly poles with a stack of ancillaries.  The ‘top experts’, most of whom are unknown to me, tell readers how to catch a lot of fish with numerous photographs of fish and bits of tackle; and just to show how expert they are, they dress in uniforms, blue or black the favourite livery. Readers will find these guides very familiar because they nearly all say the same sort of thing. I often wonder whether these articles are mainly written by staff writers with a few stock methods to hand — the pole, the waggler, the feeder cover 99%.

AT photo

One change is the introduction of pellets, an environmentally damaging bait as these are manufactured from fishmeal, a product of industrial (over)fishing. Pellets have given rise to a new item of tackle, a slab of metal unimaginatively called the ‘method’ feeder to which a handful of sticky pellets is moulded. The whole lot is cast out with a loud splosh. The commercial fisheries, featured regularly, are also implicated: the heavily stocked carp are reared on the same pellets. On top, the issue came wrapped in non-degradable plastic. The Angling Times should be doing better.


The effusive piece on the ARP is a matter of concern. There is no evidence beyond the uninformed say-so of anglers to suggest it was any more than a self-flattering waste of time by the two individuals who decided to set up their own breeding programme. Now, according to the AT, it is to be extended to other rivers, although there is no reason to believe they need stocking. This kind of ignorant messing about with fisheries should not be tolerated. Again, Angling Times ought to know better.

I have only passing interest in carp fishing and find it best to avoid lakes with carp anglers, who tend to cast very large and splashy objects around just as the real fish are starting to bite. But I looked through the free carp magazine which, like the AT, is full of fish portraits, this time of fat ugly carp with captors of no more pleasing appearance. It’s a ‘rigs special’ and we are given descriptions of six rigs, all consisting of a hair rig hook and heavy weight. Apart from one with a float, they are much the same. The other articles are also technical expositions of how to find and catch carp without really saying anything beyond the obvious or questionable.

The merit of Angling Times and its offshoots is the visions of fish and fishing expertise it dangles in front of readers’ eyes. When you look at the fishy images, the tackle, the underwater diagrams of hypothetical rivers and lakes, it is easy to think yourself into a state of comfortable fish-catching competence. This keeps you going until the reality of the waterside intrudes once more. The Angling Times, more than ever, survives on clichés and improbabilities; even the experts are fooled into believing their own sophistry, as you will hear time and again on the bank.

Still, some of the photos of the kiddies are cute, and it’s something that the Kingfisher Guild is still going, even if it’s now called a club. Oh for another Dick Walker. But there would be no readership for him.

How to Think Like a Fish, by Jeremy Wade – first impressions

Jeremy Wade is probably Britain’s most famous fisherman on account of his television programmes about giant fish in exotic places. Angling on TV is not of itself very interesting, which is why River Monsters and its spinoffs are a cross between those SAS training shows, in which men (and women) turn themselves into he-men via assorted deprivation and violence, and the house building progs which attempt to manufacture drama with tales of incompetence and lack of cash to finish the job. In Jeremy Wade’s case, as he boats about foreign rivers and seas, the tension comes from tales of giant fish that are reputed to swallow native children whole. Usually the fish, once captured, looks only capable of giving you a nip on the ankles. But Wade, dressed in what looks like army-surplus clobber, cultivates the air of an ex-commando and keeps up the dramatic monologue so to convince us he could very well be turned into bait himself. He’s so hunky!

Wade has already written a couple of books based on these TV shows. His latest is How to Think Like a Fish, in which he exposits how to catch big fish, a subject prompted by all the emails he’s received asking ‘How do I catch big fish, Jeremy?’ I would expect the book to be quite fluent given his TV presentations, but then again I saw him give a talk on fishing and that was surprisingly inarticulate. You might also expect the book to be filled with action, rather like the set pieces that intercut his talks to camera. It is more prosaic. It begins with a narrative from a fish, possibly a catfish, demonstrating by example that the book is about thinking like a fish, or rather reading Jeremy Wade thinking like he thinks a fish should think. Fortunately the mind-of-a-fish stage doesn’t last long and Jeremy gets on with the subject in hand, to wit, how to catch fish. This, inevitably perhaps, is an elaboration of ‘right bait in the right place at the right time.’ As pithy summations go this is very familiar and much of the rest of the book wanders around the theme with further discursions on unexceptional topics as knots. There are some moments of adventure, such as getting lost in the Amazon jungle, but these are matter-of-fact and seem less exciting than they should.

I think the problem is that Wade is not a writer. He does not have his own style of expression other than the melodramatic TV personality, and struggles to convey the colour in his situation. Without the film camera he is working in black and white. Despite his travels to fascinating places, there are only brief reflections of the local people he encounters. The most interesting parts of the book for me were his comments on the environmental damage to the Amazon but these are only in passing. Maybe I’ll find more by the time I finish the book.