I can recall a fairly typical Monday morning many years ago with a huddle of us boys swapping tales of our weekend exploits in the school yard at break. One lad was offering round for view an Old Holborn tin half filled with cotton wool. Nestling amongst the fluffy white lining was a freshly blown chaffinch’s egg which the owner had procured in a sneaky raid on some nearby gamekeepered land at the weekend. The off grey background of the songbird’s egg was exquisitely scribed with stunning purple and mauve markings, and the posse of youngsters surrounding the collector were oohing and aaghing in admiration at his find. Negotiations to extract the whereabouts of the nest from the boy with the tin had already ensued and he was listening eagerly to the various offers of laddish booty which were being proffered in return for this information.
Realising he’d got the audience in the palm of his hand now Ricky revved up the detail a bit and informed the expectant crowd that the day had been a huge success and he had finished with a stack of fish including a 2.5 lb Kipper. No, it wasn’t some attempt at wit on Ricky’s behalf, he hadn’t the nowse, it was in fact a genuine attempt to bullshit us. To coin a bit of current football parlance, at that point he lost the dressing room! Ricky shrugged his shoulders and scurried away amidst howls of derision and the crowd dispersed in a disgruntled fashion.
That is one of my earliest fishing related memories. It was long before any of us owned cameras, so Ricky may have (and indeed regularly did) got away with his fibbing if he’d have had any knowledge of the inhabitants of the drain. The truth is Ricky had never owned a rod, nor indeed ever fished the drain, or anywhere else for that matter, and usually relied on his advanced physical build and talent with his fists to ensure that his peers subscribed to his tall tales.
Prior to the move to the town in an unusual stroke of luck, my errant father, on one of his rare visits to gain access to his son, had gifted me an Allcocks split cane fly rod and cheap fixed spool reel -accompanied by a few bob-floats, a tub of lead shot and a handful of outsized rusty hooks. Around the same time myself and a couple of the other lads from the village had discovered a moat surrounding a ‘big’ house and a soupy coloured farm irrigation pond, both of which contained a batch of stunted rudd. Both were within reasonable walking distance of the village and we spent countless hours harrying their occupants with pinches of bread on outlandishly sized eyed hooks.
Eventually in my teenage years, along with a moped, I purchased my first fishing camera, a Minolta X300. My fishing horizons were massively broadened and bullshitting and exaggeration amongst my fishing mates became largely a thing of the past. Being considerably keener than any of my friends on fishing I frequently found myself fishing alone, so my earliest attempts at photographing my catch featured only the fish, usually with some item laid beside them to give the picture some scale. And a good many of my captures from those first few years are committed solely to memory.
The thought of catching something memorable now and not getting a photo to record the moment is simply unthinkable. Before the advent of the mobile phone, if I’d forgotten I’d have headed home for the camera rather than fish. I know some readers will baulk at that but I’m making no apologies. Photographs are a key part of my angling and it would simply ruin the moment for me were I to capture a new personal best and not get a picture.
With the vastly more sophisticated equipment I carry nowadays including of course a digital camera, self-take photography is pretty much bomb proof. Before long I began to enjoy photographing my surroundings and the things I saw whilst fishing. Let’s face it, not many hobbies put you in the right place at the right time to the extent that fishing does. Stunning sun rises and haunting sun sets are commonplace to us anglers and it’s easy to forget that such privileged experiences are rarely if ever witnessed by the remainder of the sleepy public. Equally common are those thrilling wildlife encounters. The kind of encounters one can only be privy to if sitting still and quietly in the remotest parts of the countryside. And such practices are the very fabric of angling.
It’s easy to be dismissive of photography and trophy shots, but without them the history of our favourite pastime would be bland and largely based on hearsay. I do know of one mate at least who never takes a camera or scales, and he has caught a few lumps, but I don't think too many people genuinely don't care what the fish they catch weigh, or whether they get a picture of their better catches. I often hear the act of photographing a fish being lambasted by a certain sort of angler. They hold up the ideal that just to go and catch should be enough or that we should not be putting the fish under the duress of being momentarily kept from the water. I strongly suspect that the larger part of this faction are people that simply catch bugger all!
I’d go as far as to say that, on a personal note, without a trophy shot to look back on I might as well not have caught the fish in the first place. Of course we all enjoy the act of capturing fish, but, conceited though it may appear, I want to be able to show off my best captures. Sharing pictures on the net or amongst friends with a photo album is key to my fishing experience.
Being often a lone angler, especially in my younger days, I quickly learned the value of self-take photography. Modern tackle allows for mostly incident free retention of fish, so little harm is done whilst carrying out the process. If you are of the opinion that the fish’s welfare should never be compromised then frankly I’d have to question why you bother to hinder the fish by angling for them at all. I make no apology for suspecting that the least successful anglers are often the most vociferous in their protests against fish photography.
Being out in the wildest of places, intentionally striving to keep as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, quite naturally leads us to encounter wildlife to a level which your average red kagouled National Trust member can only dream of. Like many others I’m sure I’ve been privy to some incredible sights while fishing. Last year I can recall with some affection a family of three newly fledged Kingfishers all alighting on one pike rod as it sat idly in the rests. One of the few times I’ve prayed not to get a take. Another time I remember with incredulity a mallard leaping out of the water in full steam attack at a marauding mink, and the mink scampering at a ripe old gallop!
Initially I would take a pointless snap of such wonders with the standard 50mm lens. However before long I found myself increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t share those sights with my mates as I did with my fish photos. Eventually I bit the bullet and invested a fair old wedge on a Sigma zoom lens and began to get more satisfying results. At one point though it became apparent that the ferrying of this kind of kit between waters just wasn’t helping my fishing, and, much as I enjoyed the capture of a great nature shot, I realised it was a separate hobby. So that’s how I began to treat it. I have probably spent nearly as much of the last three or four years stalking wildlife with a camera as I have fishing. I’ve even become a hopelessly soppy lover of wildflowers and butterflies.
To me the link between angling and the natural world is an unbreakable one. Most of us fish for recreation rather than for the table nowadays. We take pleasure in capturing otherwise unseen creatures from our underwater worlds. We want to interact with those magnificent fish. To spend a few brief moments marvelling at their jewelled scaling and eye catching colour before releasing them -hopefully none the worse for their encounter with us. Most of us also like to take a photograph to remind ourselves of particular specimens or especially attractive or unusual captures. For me the same reasoning applies to all the birds, animals and plants that I see. I want to take that picture to look back on. To capture the moment if you like. Just like fishing, I suppose, it is still borne of the oldest of human desires, that of hunting.