Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Grumpy Old Man

Michael Hastings

OK Pool siders, now for something a little bit different from the norm. The closed season is here and a lot of us will have put our Pike rods to one side for a bit and need something else to occupy our minds. So, if Mr Rob is willing and you have five minutes of your lives to spare I’m going to have a bit of a moan. There are a few things about the piking scene and fishing in general which get up my nose so please hear me out.

A few years ago I was moved to write a ‘Predatorial’ which James Holgate published in P&P. I suppose some of what I‘m going to write to begin with will repeat what I wrote back then so I apologise…even though there are other writers who regularly churn out the same old stuff over and over again… Anyway, my little article was‘inspired’ by the “Wolverhampton Wanderer” selfishly splashing the name of a certain fen drain in the press, the subsequent battering and decline of this water and its Pike is well documented. Most of us who have been pike fishing for any length of time will find this a familiar scenario.

March 2012, Paul Garner, a high profile and highly successful Pike angler writes in Angling times, describing his capture of a big river Pike. I met Paul once and he seemed to be a very decent bloke, he’s obviously a good angler who’s deservedly caught a cracking fish so why does he have to go and spoil it all by telling the entire AT readership and their mates where he caught it? Two good friends of mine were regular visitors to this particular water but regular promotion in the press by the likes of Martin Bowler to name but one, has seen such a rise in anglers on the banks they’ve sadly left the place alone for pastures new. (In the interests of balance it’s only fair to big up Martin Bowler for having the balls to highlight the otter problem in a recent AT. More on that in a bit…)

Yes there are exceptions, that large West Country trout water for example and naming any of the trout reservoirs is not going to tell many Pikers anything they didn’t already know but it can have a short term effect and make the next weekend noticeably busier, boats will be harder to book all of a sudden. Chew on that! General locations such as “fenlands” or“Norfolk Broads” are acceptable but when it gets more specific, as in a recent series of articles in Pikelines for example, it can and will cause problems. Even naming a private fishery may bring it to the attention of potential poachers. When the slaughter of Pike by a certain Stuart Wilson was brought to light recently it gave a whole new reason not to name waters!

This subject came up on “The Pit” towards the end of last season and those of us arguing that waters should not be named were described as selfish by some of the more naïve members who I would guess haven’t been in the game too long. I’d ask what is more selfish? Keeping your mouth shut and allowing the Pike to live in relative peace or grabbing your fifteen minutes of fame in the press and watching those poor Pike get pressured and battered??

As you may have gathered naming waters is a bug bear of mine but I have to confess I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past. Back in 1997 I was fortunate to catch a very big Pike which features in Neville’s “Mammoth Pike”. At the time only three other Pikers knew where I’d caught this fish and this was the way it stayed for over three years. I did put a picture in‘Pikelines’ and this led to all sorts of questions and accusations. Eventually the gravel pit in question was bought by one of the bait trade’s less likeable characters and at that time I worked for him in another business. It became mutually beneficial for me to come clean and name the water. Yes, I sold out for the cash and I have regretted it ever since but the writing had already been on the wall and the water would have been advertised anyway. The local tackle shop’s self-appointed Pike expert was particularly unimpressed and told everyone who would listen, including my mate Rich who’d taken the photographs, that I had in fact caught that fish somewhere else. Another unfortunate side effect of naming a water.

This brings me to another thing that gives me the hump and that’s commercial Pike fisheries, not that there are too many around as they just don’t last do they? This pit was initially visited and promoted by Mick Brown, who was an absolute gentleman and also, a couple of weeks later the Wolverhampton wanderer, who wasn’t. I was a part time ‘bailiff’ at the time but when I tried to enforce the fishery rules (based on PAC code of conduct) I had no support at all from the owner who was far more interested in pounds than Pike, The result was litter strewn banks, baited traces hanging from trees and battered Pike. The owner’s naïve response was “we’ll get more Pike”
This was the 2000/01 season which many will remember was curtailed by the ‘foot & mouth’ outbreak. Many waters across the country were closed but this day ticket fishery was not. Apparently this was a really good “business opportunity”. In late February and March, throughout the spawning period this 20 acre pit, which had already been hammered throughout the winter, was being fished by up to 30 Pike anglers per day at weekends. There were casualties, I saw them and the following season was a dead loss as far as the Pike fishing was concerned. The Pike fishery we local anglers had known was gone forever. Nowadays the pit has changed management and is successfully run as a big Carp fishery which does hold some good Pike once again but is no longer promoted as a Pike fishery.

The Angling weeklies do my head in too and not just because they publish the names of Pike waters. I hate the way the way it’s written, all dumbed down, they talk to the reader as if he/she/we are retarded. Then there’s the terminology; when did they begin to refer to fish as a “sample”? I sample food or drink, not the fish I catch! Perhaps that’s why some immigrant communities eat the fish?? (No I’m not serious). How many Pike does one have to catch to be labelled a “Predator Ace”? Approximately one judging by the evidence in the mags. Let’s be brutally honest, take away the news section and the match reports the rest is pretty much a series of advertorials. The only brands that get mentioned are those that pay for advertising (check, you’ll see I’m right) and no one ever gets a bad review!

Some of the monthlies aren’t much better. What really bugs me are the oh so obviously staged photographs. You know the ones, a fish being drawn over the waiting landing net held by an angler grinning like a wanking chimp. The photographer must be actually in the water to take this shot (yes I’d make a great detective) but how long have they been twatting about with the fish to capture that image? It may not quite be a fake but it’s the nearest thing to it. Then there’s the cover shots with a fish in the bottom of the frame and a big cheesy grin above it. I’m not sure why these irritate me so much, perhaps it’s because there’s a picture like this on three or four different mags at the moment? Another is the one where the angler is laying on his belly with a load of fish spread over the ground/net/mat in front of him. I know we shouldn’t get too precious about the slimy fishy things but those photos can’t be good for the fish can they?

That leads me to product placement, this is the ultimate crime for an angling writer in my opinion. There was an article by Tony Miles in P&P several years ago which was nothing but one long advert with plugs for everything from tackle to clothing shoe horned in. I’m surprised James published that one, he must have been short of material that month. I know I’m naïve because product placement creeps into the majority of fishing writing these days. No offence to Neville but P&P has been more guilty of this since James’ passing and if you think about it, this indirectly led to the formation of the “Pikers Pit” and indeed the “Pike Pool”.Product placement even crept into a recent Pikelines where whilst reviewing one rod (made by Harrison) Jon Neafcy managed to plug the completely different rods made by his sponsor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an angler recommending a good piece of kit to another (ET’s Sladle is an absolute must for the lone boat angler) but the unashamed plugging of the latest gimmick? No! Leave it out!!

Fishing guides are another contentious issue and I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of that one too much right here. My own attitude has been, if I was on holiday abroad or on the other side of the country I’d consider using a guide, however using one on a water I am able to visit and fish regularly would feel like cheating. The good old Angling Times had me grinding my teeth again last week (late March 2012). Angling guide Gordy Howes, who I believe is based in the east of the country was describing a successful visit to a water out west. The bit that got my goat was, and I quote; “I have opened up another water for my clients…” What a bloody selfish attitude, has Gordy considered the impact on the local anglers already fishing the place? Does he care about these people or is it all about the coin? Guide on your own local patch if you really have to but travelling across the country to add to the pressure in another area can’t be right can it?

Up until about five years ago I’d never seen a wild otter in England but since then I see them on a regular basis. A decade ago the Tench fishing local to me was excellent, nowadays they’re becoming rare. Much better anglers than me are struggling to catch them and otters are being blamed. The evidence is mounting and I think it’s now an undisputable fact that otters are a massive threat to the future of our sport yet there are people who are still in denial of this fact! Yes Eastern European immigrants are causing problems in some parts of our country but this is something that can be dealt with through law enforcement and education. Yes it’s difficult but it’s not impossible and recent initiatives could see the light at the end of that particular tunnel. The otter problem is different entirely as both the law and public opinion are not on our side. Anglers need to stand together and get behind the Predation Action Group and the Angling Trust.

Which brings me to my final moan and that is all the Pike anglers out there who are happy to complain about Pike killers, Otters, EE’s, silly rules, Noddy anglers etc. but won’t dip into their oh so deep pockets and pay a little over £20 to join PAC (and/or PAAS). OK it’s a free country, people are not obliged to join but when the subject crops up on “the Pit” there are always a few that feel obliged to come up with some spurious excuse; “I don’t like what the committee done back in 1992…” Get over it! Times change and where would we all be right now in 2012 without PAC??? Many of us wouldn’t be Pike fishing that’s for sure. Get your wallets out you selfish gits!
OK, that’s my moan over for now and if I’ve offended anyone…well I’m not sorry because offense is relative (but that’s a whole different subject…). However, if you disagree then by all means get writing or typing and send your response to the editor and explain why I’m wrong. 1000 to 2000 words with a few photos should do very nicely thank you.

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