John Bailey: Who do the angling cheats hurt but themselves?

When you are fishing for species like mega grayling, accuracy in weighing is vital.Picture: John Bai

When you are fishing for species like mega grayling, accuracy in weighing is vital.Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

One of my familiar rants has always been that angling should be regarded as a sport, never a hobby – it was represented in the 1900 Olympics after all!

A 9lb14oz tench – I could have called it ‘Ten’ but what would be the point of that? Picture: John Ba

A 9lb14oz tench – I could have called it ‘Ten’ but what would be the point of that? Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

I've also quite recently compared fishing and football, my two great loves, but perhaps cricket is nearer to what we anglers do; Ian Botham and Mike Atherton would certainly agree. There is something in the skill, dedication and in the mindset that links the two sports, which is why, as an angler, I was so devastated by the fall from grace of the world's best batsman.

That the Australian captain, Steve Smith, should be caught cheating shocked the world of sport, the world of decency. So many sporting reputations have been reduced to rubble over the last few years, but that does not lessen the pain each and every time it happens.

This century we have seen athletics, cycling, football and now cricket all tainted by allegations of cheating of one sort or another. It's got to the point that almost any sporting achievement can be greeted with cynicism. Reputation. Pride. Over-ambition. Arrogance. Greed. Financial gain. In many ways, the world of sport simply reflects the world we live in and sportsmen, though gifted and leading gilded lives, simply reflect the norms of society.

Of course, sadly perhaps, the prizes in angling aren't quite as mind-boggling as they are in cycling or football. I guess if I'd been able to choose a life in the latter sport, I wouldn't be worrying now about the price of a pint of maggots. Cheating has occurred in angling over the years, but in virtually every case, we can at least rule out financial gain as a root cause. In most cases, angling's dirty tricks have been about thwarted ambitions or a misguided desire to impress.

'Are all anglers liars, or do all liars fish?' goes the saying. I suppose there is an element of truth. Historically, most cheating in fishing has revolved around the question of fish weights.

There have been some horrendous 'leg pulls'. Back in the 70s, a record brown trout was claimed only for it to be revealed that the 'captor' had bought a salmon and painted it with trout-like spots. A well-known London taxidermist had a 30lb pike delivered for stuffing. Two years later, the taxidermist claimed it as his own fish, weighing well over 40lb. Back last century, a notorious, well-known Norfolk angler, used to regularly claim pike at vastly inflated weights and get away with it. In actual fact, pike are the species about which most lies are spread, it seems. You've only got to look at some of Mr Putin's 'monsters' to realise the truth of that. Actually, the Russian leader's lies rather reinforce what I've said. He cheats to massage his ego; he hardly needs the prize money.

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John Wilson always used to say that if you massaged the weight of a fish by a few ounces or pounds, then you are only cheating yourself. He was right. Back in the day, I longed for a 3lb roach and I'd actually caught 60 or so fish over 2lb 12oz before that three-pounder finally came along. I didn't sleep for a week. Today, I've had, I think, 21 tench over 9lb without a 10 coming my way. In the same vein, I've caught nearly 70 6lb chub without a seven. I've had loads of 9lb 14oz tench and 6lb 13oz chub and just a few ounces would have made a difference. But, do you know, I really don't care. In fact, I quite like it that way. If I'd cheated and added a few ounces here and there, all I would have achieved is a couple of dubious PBs and a couple of challenges fraudulently ticked off my want list.

In case this makes me sound holier than thou, I'm not. I've pulled some unsavoury ones in my own past. The one that perhaps hurts me most is the lie that I told dear, departed friend, Bernie Neave back in the 1980s. I assured him that fishing partner Roger Miller and I were not catching big perch from a certain estate lake and Bernie, naturally enough, believed me. A year later, my perch book was published and there, on page 63, was Miller holding a fine, bristling perch with the very hall that Bernie had asked me about in the background. Rightly, he never forgave me.

But I never came close to another departed friend, Leo, the Dutchman. He never fished without lying, but he capped them all out in Mongolia one day. Nymph fishing for smaller fish, he had a massive taimen (the Mongolian land-locked salmon) grab a grayling on the way to the bank. The monster sped off, breaking Leo's hook length. Later in the day, Leo was fishing with Mick, who was spinning with heavy gear. Mick hooked into an absolute whopper and landed a colossal taimen after a titanic struggle. There in the upper lip of the fish was lodged Leo's lost nymph pattern. My fish, shouted Leo. My fly, therefore, my fish. Do you know, Leo claimed that fish as his own and it still sits at the top of the historic list of biggest Mongolian taimen ever caught on the fly. Really, how much angling history can we ever believe?

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