BIG FISH IN PERSPECTIVE

            It has been said that many anglers go through several stages in their angling journey. The first stage is undoubtedly to catch a fish. From this point most anglers progress into different directions. Some will become competitive entering the world of match fishing and trying to catch more than other anglers. Others will become specimen hunters attempting to land big fish, others will adopt a particular type of angling becoming Fly Fishers or lure -anglers. Some will be labelled pleasure anglers a strange term as surely all anglers fish for pleasure?

Whilst I have dabbled in all branches of angling I guess I tend to lean towards being the specimen angler. I have always tried to keep my feet firmly on the ground keeping a perspective on my angling goals. In angling as in all sports and pastimes there is a danger that targets become unattainable diminishing the participants enjoyment.

Back in 1980 I caught my first double figure carp a mirror of 14lb 8oz that was tempted on float-fished sweetcorn. I remember it clearly an accidental capture using just 3lb b.s line and 13ft match rod. For over half an hour  I played a game of give and take until the fish was coaxed into my landing net. Back then this seemed a huge fish and for a while encouraged me to fish for carp after reading a wealth of literature available at the time as carp fishing began its trajectory towards todays state of play.

Just three decades before this carp fishing was shrouded in mystery with a twenty pound carp considered a monster. Richard Walkers book Stillwater Angling was published in 1953 and within its pages is documented the capture of the British Record Carp scaling 44lb. The previous record carp was caught by Walkers friend Peter Thomas and weighed 28lb 10oz. Both fish came from Redmire Pool a location that is revered as the spiritual home of  carp fishing. Close to seventy years later carp of this size scarcely raise an eyebrow and even here in North Devon we have waters such as Furzebray that hold a stock of carp superior to that of Redmire Pool in its heyday.

Todays carp anglers have in truth never had it so good. The advent of modern methods have also de mystified catching of carp making them relatively easy to catch.

Many of todays young carp anglers expect to set out and catch a twenty pound carp treating ten pound fish as insignificant catches. There was a time when a double was a worthwhile catch a twenty a significant achievement and a forty was the fish of a lifetime. Has this change in the merit of fish weights brought extra enjoyment to anglers?

This phenomena is not of course exclusive to the carp angling world. I clearly remember fishing Wistlandpound Reservoir when it was stocked with rainbow trout that averaged 12oz to 1lb. A limit bag of five trout was a good day even if the total bag was less than 5lb. During the eighties came the era of put and take trout fisheries with large rainbows stocked into double figures. Within a few year’s anglers wanted bigger trout and expected to get their limits. In response to demand fishery owners stocked ever bigger trout but had to increase prices to achieve the angler’s expectations.

I have caught a few double figure rainbow trout but I know that they are stocked into a water and need no special skill to tempt. An 8oz wild brownie from a tiny stream is in truth a greater catch and there are an increasing number of anglers who appreciate the value of wild fish.

Anglers are perhaps a complex and diverse group who are perhaps a mirror on society and how it changes. As the decades have passed how we value many things has changed. Forty years ago we had perhaps three channels to watch on the TV, now we have hundreds. Fifty years ago we had black and white TVs. Are we happier today?

To hark back to the carp; imagine Richard Walker casting into the mysterious waters of Redmire Pool. They new it held monsters but they had no idea how big. As the line trickled out on a dark night they had no idea what had taken the bait. It is this mystery that we have perhaps lost in this modern age? What are your thoughts are we happier anglers with today’s well stocked lakes and modern?

Contemplating days

posted in: Article, Sea Angling, Sidebar | 0

The shortest day has been and gone and we have that interlude before the New Year gets underway; though nature has already turned the corner ahead of mans timelines. The last few days have seen benign weather; mild and damp with misty days. This passing of the year can be a time for contemplation and I often cast my mind back to winters of the past and in particular days and nights spent beside the water.

My own fishing at this time of year has tended to be spent upon the shoreline-seeking specimens from the rocks as I have done for past forty years. I fished a deep water rock water mark a few days ago in Combe Martin SAC’s Christmas Competition and was lucky to land a spurdog of 12lb 3oz. Just a few years ago such a catch would have been a rarity and anglers would have been targeting  the cod that were a worthwhile target from North Devon’s coast line. Decent sized cod are certainly a rare sight from North Devon’s shoreline these days but why?  They after all are caught in reasonable numbers up Channel.

(Above)A shore caught cod from the last century!

Many species of fish have declined with whiting and pouting numbers certainly down on a few decades ago. It would appear that herrings are plentiful along with good numbers of sprats in recent seasons.

(Above) The humble pouting its numbers have declined.

In our short time on the shoreline it is impossible to get a true picture of the life within our waters. I read a fascinating and thought provoking article on line yesterday; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/20/selective-blindness-lethal-natural-world-open-eyes-environment-ecosystem

An extract follows:- So we forget that the default state of almost all ecosystems – on land and at sea – is domination by a megafauna. We are unaware that there is something deeply weird about British waters; they are not thronged with great whales, vast shoals of bluefin tuna, two-metre cod and halibut the size of doors, as they were until a few centuries ago. We are unaware that the absence of elephants, rhinos, lions, scimitar cats, hyenas and hippos, that lived in this country during the last interglacial period (when the climate was almost identical to today’s), is also an artefact of human activity.

And the erosion continues. Few people younger than me know that it was once normal to see fields white with mushrooms, or rivers black with eels at the autumn equinox, or that every patch of nettles was once reamed by caterpillars. I can picture a moment at which the birds stop singing, and people wake up and make breakfast and go to work without noticing that anything has changed.

I’m not getting any younger; none of us are and I guess that at this time of year we pause to think a little more. As I clambered to the cliff top during a recent session I slumped onto the grassy cliff top. Across Combe Martin Bay a Westerly wind blew and the waves tumbled against the rocks, the damp breeze on my face and salty tang of the sea. The lights of Combe Martin shone brightly and farmstead lights could be glimpsed high on the Northern slopes of Exmoor. It was all so familiar and great to be alive.

There is something fascinating and mystifying about the dark waters and the fish that may be lurking. It is this that draws us to this vast natural amphitheater to connect with nature via a relatively gossamer thread.

There is plenty of pessimism about regarding the state of our seas and their stocks of fish. The evidence I see as an angler is contradictory. I look back and remember the good days whilst the average days get lost in the haze of time. Whilst cod are scarce there is no shortage of dogfish, bull huss, spurdog or conger.

Far out to sea during the warmers months catches of shark are on the up with some spectacular catches of blue shark over recent seasons. Blue fin tuna are once again featuring in catches off the South West. If these mighty fish at the top of the food chain are making a recovery how can things be so bad?

My gut instinct and that of the majority is undoubtedly that the seas are less productive than they once were. I feel for certain that the present generation have inherited a less healthy marine environment than that in which we first cast our lines. Will these be the good old days? Perhaps there is a growing awareness that the seas are not that endless provider of life and that there is much to lose. Will increased awareness and protection of stocks bring a revival in the seas bountiful stocks?

The essence of fishing

posted in: Articles, Sidebar | 0

I think we sometimes take this whole fishing thing too seriously and that’s quite a statement coming from someone who is seriously addicted to that next piscatorial fix. I have spent years chasing fish of dreams and don’t get me wrong I love to get a big fish on the line and admire it before slipping it back into the watery dimension. But fishing is about far more than fish, its about the chase and as the lyric goes; “The Chase is Better than the catch”.

Last week we fished Anglers Paradises Lure Fishing weekend. The weather was generally dark and gloomy and fish hard to find. Looking through the pictures of the event I noticed something quite striking in the smiles of grown men clutching tiny fish. In amongst the egos and tales of big fish there shone that childish delight that true anglers never lose.

Close to fifty years ago I watched a crimson topped float bobbing optimistically about in Mill Pond at Berrynarbour.

I watched for hours in anticipation delighting in its disappearance as a tiny perch devoured my worm or maggot impaled upon my hook. Fortunately that same joy can still be found in the catching of a fish.

Bigger may well be better but in essence its all about the chase and the expectation.

A few weeks ago I stood waiting for the start of a competition; the fifteen minutes until cast off seemed to last an eternity the following five hours evaporated in a flash. The line in the water is connected to another world strange how this connection is so essential.