John Bailey: One common voice needed to anglers can be heard
It doesn’t matter if you are turning out for Norwich City, Holt United or enjoying a kick around on the park, the attractions, rules and skill sets of football are cosmically recognisable.
Angling is not like that and TV viewing last Friday evening made this abundantly clear.
At 8pm on BBC2 we saw Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing. At 9pm on ITV4 we could have watched The Sports Stars Fishing Championship. If you did tune in to both, you would not have believed you were watching the same sport at all, so different was just about everything about them.
On Gone Fishing virtually nothing was caught at all apart from a jack pike the size of a sardine. Throughout the Fishing Championship, an army of anglers were hauling out carp the size of babies and not a minute went by without a whoop of triumphalism and a fist pumped in the air.
I have to be careful here and not show bias as I am after all fishing consultant for the BBC show.
However, it is possibly true to say that lovers of Paul and Bob would have hated Fishing Championship and vice versa.
The two programs were total chalk and cheese and in that reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the sport.
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Unlike footie, the two programs portrayed such different attractions and skill sets you would not have both were about fishing. It is part of my job with the Beeb to help research which anglers like what when it comes film making and I watched on Friday night with fairly varied company.
In essence, the non or occasional anglers liked Gone Fishing and thought Fishing Championship both monotonous and pretty disrespectful to the fish which were treated like lumps of supermarket meat. The keen anglers over 40/45 years of age had a marked preference for Gone Fishing whereas the under 20s thought Paul and Bob "went on a bit" and liked Jimmy Bullard's pony tail. And most of these were coarse anglers, those who did fish. What salmon anglers, dry fly purists, wreck or beach anglers would have thought of either offering, I just don't know.
What is good about all this is that angling offers scores if not hundreds of ways into its endless pleasures. You can bait, fly or lure fish for game, coarse or sea fish in rivers, lakes or in the salt. Bait fishing breaks down into hundreds of different components and with a fly or lure rod in your hand you can fish endless different ways for limitless species in a whole world of varying venues. There has never been any angler alive who can have said he or she has done it all- not even dear departed John Wilson. Even I who have caught 200 species of fish in 64 countries would admit to being a beginner.
That is all fine but it does mean anglers are such a disparate lot they have no common voice. The carp angler could not give a hoot about the fly angler or match angler. Even the stillwater rainbow fisher is largely oblivious to the wild brown angler on the streams of Devon or Wales. And it is my experience that those who fish the fly on the chalk streams aren't even aware that there is a world outside the counties that make up Wessex.
So you see, when it comes to fighting for fishing there is no unity whatsoever and that is why the bodies striving to work for fishing are weak, divided and under-subscribed. There might still be a million practising anglers in the UK but if you consider they like doing a thousand varying things within the sport, that initial number does not inspire terror into the hearts of the politicians, planners and polluters who are all either doing nothing to help or in many cases doing actual harm. And this in so many ways is a national environmental tragedy.
My researches seem to suggest that the silent majority much prefer Gone Fishing to Fishing Championship and the viewing figures amply back this up. There is a general feeling naturally bred fish are a more valued quarry than farm bred carp driven to a lake by lorry and dumped in like plastic ducks in a river race. The one complaint can be that Paul and Bob don't catch much. As fishing consultant I cower over that one and say that filming does make every session unbelievably harder and that Bob , by his own admission, is hardly Izaak Walton. However, there is more to our meagre catches than that and the truth could do with being aired.
Take this second series of Gone Fishing if you like. Paul and Bob did not catch many wild brown trout on the Usk because populations there have plummeted this century. They blanked salmon fishing on the Tay because virtually all anglers do the same there. Their results on Lough Erne were pitiful because this vast water is a shadow of what it once was. I won't spoil the last episode on Friday but you will see that river Ure grayling up in Yorkshire are a fraction as numerous as they were. In the first series we failed to catch a wild Norfolk Wensum roach and up in Derbyshire we struggled for a natural born trout all over the Dales.
So, yes, most of us like natural fish and fisheries and Bob and Paul certainly do but these are in dire trouble in Norfolk and nationwide. Whilst so many anglers are happy to accept this situation and go to catch artificially bred substitutes there is little chance we can rectify the situation. Anglers should be speaking with a thunderous, unified voice. All we can muster is something between a squeak and a whisper.
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