John Bailey: Collapse of Angler’s Mail hurts us all

The beauty of fishing on a summer's evening Picture: John Bailey

The beauty of fishing on a summer's evening Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

The gossip the last few days has been about the demise of the Angler’s Mail, one of the two big national fishing papers.

The Angling Times limps on and in my view it is the better paper that has bitten the dust. But I would say that. I started writing for the Mail 45 years ago and have contributed thousands of articles ever since.

In fact, just after Uni, my writing career (if so it can be called) began at the Mail and the Eastern Daily Press simultaneously and these two papers have rather defined my life for a very long time indeed. So, in truth, I feel a bit lost, rather as though an old friend has passed on. I think we all should mourn to a degree, however, not just poor old me. What the Mail was famed for was its crusading stance on many of the issues damaging our sport. It was never afraid to speak out where it saw abuse and it always researched its facts minutely. There was always a huge amount of fishing news in its pages and plenty of informative articles, but it was this campaigning stance that we will miss.

To be completely honest, if you are wanting to read anything really sensible and compelling about angling, it is hard to know where to find it on the news shelves. During my lifetime some great, cerebral magazines have gone the way of the Mail notably Angling, a mag that ran for a decade in the 70s and 80s. This was a gem, full of in-depth pieces concerning every branch of the sport be it bass in the surf, carp on the surface or salmon on a Flying C! The standard of the writing was extraordinary and the scopes of features cosmic. Traveller Paul Boote wrote a three-part series on his Indian experiences after mahseer that inspired a generation of young bucks to follow in his footsteps. I was one of those bright-eyed readers and Boote’s words literally changed my life, took me out of my teaching career and set me on the road to adventure. That used to be the power of the written word.

Back to the Mail; before its end, the paper had picked up on the furore concerning the Environment Agency’s (EA) extraordinary decision to block off fish access to Hoveton Great Broad and deny bream free passage to their traditional spawning grounds. Fortunately for anglers – and bream – the Broads Angling Service Group (BASG) has been on the case, driven by the excellent Kelvin Allen. Now Fish Legal, an arm of the Angling Trust, has joined the BASG in issuing a challenge to the EA in the High Court. For a long time, the Agency has been enfeebled and inept, but as Kelvin and his colleagues have highlighted, this must be their lowest point ever. What they have tried to hide is the fact that their very own Fisheries Department has opposed the scheme vehemently – as has the Institute of Fisheries Management. What they have also tried to cover up is that a quarter of a million pounds has been spent by the Fisheries team researching the viability of this idea. And what has this research concluded? Simply that the idea is barmy. There are some excellent people who work on the team. Helen, Nick, Steve and all the rest must be beyond despair. Nor is it just the faceless ones at the EA making this bonkers decision that will hit the Broadland tourist trade as well as the bream. Natural England have failed to come out on the side of sense and, as might be expected are toeing the bureaucratic line in their usual shuffling way.

The Angling Trust has some very good people, ex-MP Martin Salter for one. New leader Jamie Cook has made a hugely bright start to his career at the helm. Fish Legal has a very long and distinguished history of taking the rich and powerful to court and defeating them there. In fact, were I a betting man, I’d put odds on a victory for them now.

My prediction is that the bream will be saved, that angling tourism in the Broadland region will be unscathed and the Fisheries Team will breathe a sigh of relief along with all the rest of us. What I do not know is whether angling in this country will continue to be hobbled by the dead hand of an Agency that is crying out to be put out of its misery.

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There are huge numbers of anglers who are happy to pay annual licence fees.. but not to the EA, which is held in contempt wherever I go around the country. Fishery Teams often do good work in the regions, but I suspect that orders from above make life difficult for them in the extreme, wherever they might operate. The obvious answer, many are now saying, is for the annual licence fee to be paid to the Angling Trust (AS). There is a common belief, this is the organisation we can trust to look after fisheries in the uncertain future. The Trust has just initiated a campaign called Anglers Against Pollution. It is showing it is not afraid to take on industry, agriculture and the water companies and that is not something you can say for the EA. At every twist and turn, it is the AT fighting for fish and fishing and not the EA and they should be recognised and rewarded for this.

Autumn. Tonight the wind died. Temperatures rose a little as the sun dipped through the cloud cover and kissed the river. The light through the draping willows was exquisite, ethereal and it illuminated spirals of flies dancing the evening away. The first bats flew, the first owl called. The red-tipped float was just starting to be a hard-to-see speck when the first roach of the day came out to play. The 20 minutes that followed were glorious, exciting and productive. Can there be a more perfect creature in nature than the river roach? Looking at those vibrant bars of silver told me exactly why we have to back the AT and Fish Legal. If we anglers do not fight for fish, no one else will.

That’s what the Anglers Mail always believed and whether the paper has gone or not, I will always keep to that faith.

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