The internet has earned notoriety for bringing out the troll and the bully in people, and online fishing forums suffer as much as any social media. There are good people on these virtual chatrooms, I’ve even had fishing invitations from some, but many are marred by a clique of bullies who wait to pounce like brats in the playground.
I live on the coast and the earliest forums I joined were sea fishing sites. As the seas have become poorer over the years, I’ve moved to freshwater and dabbled in a couple of coarse and game forums. Some of the sea forums have turned moribund as the fishing has declined (Facebook has rendered some redundant) but one that keeps on going is World Sea Fishing (WSF), the commercial set up of Mike Thrussell’s. I’m still a member but haven’t gone there for some time. It has improved somewhat in recent years following a purge of the old moderators. Before then it was a verbal gunslinger’s paradise (or hell). One of my earliest posts, not controversial, was jumped on by some oaf at a keyboard. I raised objections with the moderators and found them to be even bigger bullies than the members at large. I learned that many of them were not anglers at all but commercial trawlermen, to whom anything that contradicts their right to fish out the seas was game for a volley of personal attacks. I contacted Thrussell about this but he did not respond.
Sometime later Thrussell, mindful of the impact on his business, replaced the moderators, banished the maddest members and conspiracy theorists to their own forum, and today WSF is a quieter place. Although I read that some bullying still goes on.
The experience at WSF reveals a basic truth about these forums: the atmosphere is wholly dependent on the owner or administrator. Fair and sensible individuals generally run good forums. I’ve only come across one, and that has pretty much folded.
A forum that covers freshwater and sea is anglersnet.co.uk, another commercial outfit. I spent a short time on this one, though I discovered that some of the mad ones from WSF reside there too, as well as its own versions. One of the mods is an American, the climate change-denying redneck sort, and it became obvious that anyone who contradicted his reactionary views was in for the chop. Subsequently he banned a reasonable member who’d been one of the site’s originators.
Another commercial forum I visit is flyfishing.co.uk. I’ve not spent much time here but there is less hostility than elsewhere, or so it appears — it does have its share of the usual bigots. The worst aspect is the copious advertising that plasters the screen with ads, jumping all over the place as the images load. (Oddly many ads seem to be aimed at young women — go figure.) You need a good adblocker on your browser to make this site readable.
Which brings me to the forum that describes itself as the friendliest online meeting place for chummy anglers, the Traditional Fisherman’s Forum, TFF to its adherents. The USP of TFF is the collective interest in cane fishing rods and all things old. Well, sort of. It’s a bit split personality on that score. How old tackle has to be is flexible, though only as far as the admin, Mark Sarul, allows. Carbon rods are anathema regardless of age. Tweed is good, Mitchell reels are beloved, anything to do with Chris Yates provokes paroxysms of pleasure. As an earlier Secret Angler post noted, the TFF should really be called the Chris Yates Fan Club. Like sentimental drunks they love to cosy up to open fires with a snifter in hand, pretending to be Edwardian gents. Members adopt an exaggerated olde worlde courtesy, referring to each other as gentlemen and calling each other Sir. Sounds charming? Actually it’s enough to make you gag, because underlying all this apparent matiness is an unpleasant coven of core members.
I remain a member but keep a low profile now, watching the antics of these dubious characters. This is how it works. In a discussion on, well, it could be anything, you might disagree with one of the favoured members who has the ear of admin or one of the moderators. This will provoke a starchy response from one of their number; if you reply they will all wade in, also sending messages to admin declaring the offending member to be unsuitable. Sarul, not the brightest of buttons, will then send the member a warning, or summarily delete their account. If you try to argue with him, you will be taken back to childhood — fingers in the ears kind of thing, yah boo. Topics that invite opprobrium are several, which include anything, however mild, that criticises Chris Yates, BB, royalty, Redmire Pool, bamboo, or one of the inner sanctum. I have seen someone banned for asking about carbon rods; another who said that members just wanted to be Chris Yates quietly disappeared one day. Someone who expressed an adverse view about the last royal wedding received so much hostility that he quit at once. There have been many others amongst the disappeared.
It’s not that sallow Sarul (whose name, incidentally, is Urdu for god) is so much a bully himself, he is just buddy-buddy with those who are, which perhaps amounts to the same thing. They all share similar characteristics — right wing in their politics (right of UKIP, that is), poorly informed (they only read fishing books), a tendency to xenophobia and misogyny, intolerant of views which disagree with their own and consequently hostile to anyone who articulates them. Unexpectedly, the moderators don’t appear to fit these categorisations, with the exception of Sweetcorn Kid, the biggest Yates worshipper of the lot, but he spends far less time online now. Of the other two, one is mostly absent, the other relatively innocuous. Admin does the donkey work on TFF.
Before I leave the subject of forums I will mention one more, these days a kind of offshoot of TFF, thepathbythewater.net. This mostly comprises members or ex-members of TFF, the admin is JAA, himself a TFF ex. This puts me off the forum immediately. I’ve never been a member but the underhand slagging off goes on here too, according to one long-serving member, and looking through posts (it’s open to all viewers) there does seem to be some evidence of this. JAA, I recall from TFF, although more educated than most, is also intolerant and reacts very badly to anyone who argues with him. He advertised this blog though, so he’s not all bad.
It’s worth repeating that I do know some good people from these forums. Even among the spiteful old women of TFF there are some decent individuals who’ve survived the trial of tweed and the bamboo cane ducking stool.