“WHAT IS IT THAT YOU MOST ENJOY ABOUT FISHING”?
That was the question friend Martin Bowler asked me the other day while he created one of his splendid features for the Angling Times. Sadly, I failed to do his question justice, so here’s an attempt at a better answer.
I’m sure most of you would agree that one of the great joys of angling is that it takes you close to nature, out into a more peaceful world, full of the sights and sounds of wildlife and all the rewards that brings.
I found waterbirds magical when growing up in the Fens and I’ve been a passionate angler ever since. What’s more, the many challenges we face today makes angling even more relevant to our lives, the escape from reality a life saver. We hear plenty on the news these days about the healing power of nature and it certainly works for me.
The beauty of the unexpected is also an essential element in fishing, never quite knowing what will happen next, if at all, the mystery of the unknown and what you’ll catch an essential ingredient that drives me and many other passionate anglers to keep looking for future adventures. It’s a journey in which you are always learning and that is one of the fascinations of fishing.
It’s often said that going fishing is simply an excuse for being there and that's partially true but of course, there’s more to it than that, like catching fish! Most of us always want to catch a bigger one and I’m certainly a specimen hunter by nature but now I’m growing older and maybe wiser, I’m finding that size isn’t everything and the trick is to believe that lesson from ‘A Passion for Angling’, “fishing is not about how to catch, it’s about how to enjoy”.
I grew up with Bernard Venables’ iconic ‘Mr Crabtree Goes Fishing’ as my bible and have been trying to recreate those magical scenes ever since, not just in my fishing but in films too, most notably when filming Bernard catching perch in our legendary 'Passion' series for BBC2.
Bernard’s inspiring paintings of rudd fishing in Norfolk had to be emulated of course and I was lucky to catch lots of two pounders in the school holidays, stalking the shoals in my little dinghy during magical days when searching Hickling Broad in the sunshine.
Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to catch a raft of big fish of many species, including this fish of a lifetime Fen giant of 3lb 9ozs, caught on freelined flake. It was raining at the time so I took a quick happy snap - very happy snap - and slipped her back.
Nowadays, the varied tackle and methods I choose to use provide more enjoyment than the result, even if I know that I’m not always using the most efficient techniques. I simply love getting bites as this takes you away from normal life so effectively. Better still, if I can draw the fish really close to me and in the wildest places, then it's the nearest you can get to hunting and if you get lucky, you actually get to touch your quarry without hurting it.
I guess I’m a traditionalist, preferring to watch a float than ledgering and if that float is lowered in at the end of a pole, that’s even better. Pole fishing is so accurate and intimate, sensitive too and this lends itself perfectly to catching my favourite species, roach, tench and crucians, preferably big ones, though little ones are just as beautiful and seriously cute!
My enthusiasm for fishing reaches its height when trotting a float down a river for roach, where skill is required to catch the biggest ones. I’ve been lucky enough to catch a three pounder from both the Avon and Stour, the one from the Stour tricked by trotting bread flake on Christmas eve, the ultimate present!
My biggest roach are from various lakes, I think I’m up to nine three pounders now but in many anglers opinion these don’t carry the same kudos as river roach and I’d agree, even if I still like catching them! Here's a three from Linch Hill, an 'easy' water to achieve that untimat roach goal.
However, I’ll never forget the evening of Nov13th 2018, when after four days and forty hours of fishing, [I don’t night fish], I got lucky with my only bite and landed the awesome fish below of three pounds, eleven ounces. I have no need or desire to publicise my catches, so a quick happy snap on the unhooking matt had to suffice to allow this beautiful creature a speedy return to it's home. At just eight ounces below the roach record it was my ultimate fish of a lifetime. Happy days!
It’s simply great that fishing provides an endless variety of challenges and techniques and I’m quite happy to chuck out a helicopter rig for big roach or a worm kebab for tench at nine wraps and waiting for the bite alarm to give me a shot of adrenaline. But effective as these techniques can be, I’ll always use a float if conditions allow.
I’m not a carp fishing bivy, bolt rig and buzzer angler but there are few more exciting forms of angling than stalking lake edges for carp and waiting for those vortexes and tail waves as they nurdle over my free-lined bait. Then when the line tightens and the pin screams - magic!
One of my most memorable carp was at Redmire, waiting expectantly with Chris Yates as a golden common rooted in the mud at our feet in search of my worm. The indicator was a tiny sliver of stick and when it quivered and slowly sank, my Mk4 Avon and centre-pin were severely tested.
Then there’s those magnificent golden barbel making the pin scream and the nerves jangle with the battle that always follows. Variety is the spice of life and mullet fight even harder than barbel, especially if hooked in shallow estuary water.
So those are some of the reasons why I enjoy fishing and I haven't even mentioned that most important ingredient of all, fishing with friends, let alone those adventures abroad after the many exotic monsters.
Being close to nature and protecting wild creatures is the key to enjoying fishing and as anglers we do a lot to ensure our wildlife flourishes, not least because we pay the Environment Agency an annual fee of twenty five million pounds through our rod licence fees to look after our rivers and lakes.
Whether they do enough with that money is open to debate as our rivers are in a sorry state and the threats increase every year. Us anglers also provide significant protection through their club work parties and by supporting the Angling Trust. We also raise many thousands of pounds for public health charities such as Cancer Research UK through fund raising initiatives and we should all be proud of that as we enjoy our adventures.
Hopefully these answers to Martin Bowlers’ question “what do you most enjoy about fishing” have triggered a few happy memories for you and that you’ll be out there more often now, chilling out while surrounded by wildlife … and that includes those fishy mysteries that swim below the surface, adding many more ‘tales of the very unexpected’.