John Bailey: Environment Agency doing fine job in bringing cultures together
July is rather going to be an Environment Agency adoration month for me and I make no apologies for that, so many good things the body is doing these days.
Take this email from Roger Hanford as a great example. I'll quote the paragraph in full that I want to highlight.
'At present we are working with the Angling Trust on the Building Bridges Project that is seeking to engage and influence migrant anglers. An area of focus is Peterborough and the Fens. A Project officer (Pawel Nycz) is working with angling clubs, tackle shops and the migrant communities to improve understanding and address any conflicts. There have also been a couple of successful multinational lure fishing matches bringing together UK and overseas anglers for a friendly/competitive day's fishing.'
I agree with this approach totally. This is the only proper answer to the complex issue of fish removal/theft, however you call it, that has vexed the angling community for years. Wherever you stand, and we stand together in protection of fisheries, we have to face realities. East has come west and we must impress on all who fish our waters the message that fish go back into the water and not into the pot.
An initiative like the one that Roger outlines has got to help reinforce the ethics that have governed UK angling behaviour for 50 years.
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I'm sure the majority of Eastern Europeans in our region will respond. They are anglers not fishmongers and I applaud them as being totally apart from the organised gangs one hears of operating. I won't go to the dark side but rather remind everyone that as a kid, I personally would take perch to my grandmother for her to prepare from her Victorian cookbook. The gift of being able to put fish back alive is a sign of prosperity and food regularly on the table.
I will defend to the hilt the majority of the good anglers from the east. They have grown up through times which we would find hard to believe. The older ones especially had childhoods that were cripplingly physically deprived. Food and clothing were rationed. Housing was pitifully inadequate. They grew up in a climate of fear dominated by brutal police forces and cruel intelligence services.
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Their parents would be politically excluded and many were socially bullied on a regular basis. Educationally, the state biased every subject. The life that these people lived between 1939 and the final collapse of the communist states was a half life by our standards.
Through the years 1992-2006, I fished extensively in the Ukraine, Siberia and Mongolia with teams of anglers from the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary and Russia itself. They told me about the things I have just described and I admired them hugely for a variety of reasons.
Let's look at the word fortitude. The men I fished with were tough, Trojans even. They would walk for miles, uncomplainingly, in full angling kit. They were happy to eat anything and to sleep on a log. Heat, cold, snow, rain or boiling sun meant nothing to them. They simply got up and they fished. Yet, they were generous through and through. When I lost my kit on Mongolian Airlines, they shared theirs with me. They shared their knowledge, too, on rivers I'd never visited. They showed humour, praise and support at every twist and turn, no matter how hard the going. Their spirits were always as high and as powerful as the vodka that they slugged back dawn to dusk. Men that I had met for just hours, soon became friends and almost immediately after that, comrades.
Above all, these men were fabulous fishermen. Their knowledge of lure fishing was, for me, breathtaking. It simply shaped the way that I have viewed predator fishing ever since. They might not have had the extensive kit that I took with me but, by the lord, they knew how to use what they had got. Their fly fishing was equally magnificent. I remember watching an ex-England international taking half a dozen grayling out of a stream in eastern Mongolia. Radim, the Czech, walked into the exact same spot and took 50 in fifty casts. Honestly. It was spellbinding.
When these men fish they do so with complete focus and concentration. Their belief in themselves is complete.
They never leave a swim until they are 100pc sure they have been defeated in it. But then, of course, they have fished to live for much of their lives and hunger is a powerful driving force. Anglers like these, wedded to our sported beliefs can bring so much good and freshness to our own fishing here in East Anglia and that's why I applaud every word in Roger's email.
On a much lighter note, my own fish of the week has to be the perch. Have we ever had it so good? There are big perch – and I class anything over a pound and a half as a fine fish – throughout the Broads, throughout our rivers and in every pit, pond and puddle conceivable.
Those of us who remember the ravages of the perch disease back in the 1970s should really punch our fists in the air. This is the great news of this rain-savaged summer of ours.