John Bailey: What on earth to make of the angling week!

Enoka catches a barbel the Orvis way!

Enoka catches a barbel the Orvis way! - Credit: John Bailey

I was shocked. Day One of the week in question, I was in conversation with three of the present top carp anglers in the country, all in their 30s.

They are stars of social media and catch amazing fish, but the roots of carp fishing, of where what they love came from, are a foreign country to them. Jack Hilton... Jack WHO? Dick Walker... Dick WHAT? Not a soul who had forged carp history before the year 2015 had they heard of.

This is more than depressing. It is the death of knowledge as we have known it. So I rang a top, young fly angler I am close to. Hugh Falkus? Bob Church? Arthur Oglesby? Not one of the late 20th century maestros had she heard of. She pointed out, cruelly I felt, that she was of the internet generation, whilst I was mired in the newspaper generation. What she knew about angling, anything in life really, came from her phone. What wisdom I might have accrued from 60 years of reading was neither relevant nor useful, she reckoned.

I suspect many readers of the Eastern Daily Press are of an age group that remembers when knowledge was hard learned, treated with reverence and lasted one generation to the next. Hell, when I learned to fly fish I read what Skues and Halford had to say and they were at their peak before I was born.

Today, what a social media star says or films today is forgotten tomorrow. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s hasbeen. This was brought home - again - by my work with Mortimer and Whitehouse last year when we were filming in the Lake District. The director said he wanted the episode to ooze the feel of Arthur Ransom’s classic Swallows and Amazon books, children’s works set in the Lakes a century back nearly. No one on set under the age of 40 knew what he was talking about. There’s something tragic about this from a literal point of view and also from a fishing perspective. Ransom wrote wonderful adventure books for kids as well as being a much-travelled foreign correspondent, but he also knew more about river trout fishing than almost anyone alive today. Under the age of 40 I would add.

Sorry, more Gone Fishing talk but it is running on BBC2 again and has some relevance, I think. Bob’s phrase, “And Away", when he releases a fish has sort of struck a nerve. The care that the two heroes show for anything caught is exemplary, to the point it is often hard to get a decent snatch of film they are so keen to see the fish released. I think we should all take note of that, me included. (Trying to get down with the kids, I filmed a catch for YouTube the other day and was appalled how long the fish was out of the water. I squirmed with guilt and embarrassment and the snippet will never see the light of day if I can help it).

Enoka - doing the right thing with barbel 

Enoka - doing the right thing with barbel - Credit: John Bailey

Coincidently, my wife has landed a job with Orvis, the  giant American fly fishing tackle manufacturers and retailers. They are hot on the “And Away” philosophy to the point that even Paul and Bob seem uncaring. When Enoka  netted a barbel recently, she demanded a photo should be taken in exact line with company policy.. .that it should hardly be removed from the water at all. We could only actually do our fishing from shallow gravels where we could wade and where a barbel could be beached rather than lugged onto the bank itself. All this took some doing but the barbel was “away” in the twinkling of an eye and the picture looked humane and caring indeed.

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That was Day Two of the week in question, Day Three saw another fish care issue come my way, this time an Environment Agency byelaw sent on by the Angling Trust. As of September 16, all salmon in the river Severn catchment area have to be released, and none may be retained. Moreover, a whole new range of restrictions have been imposed on what methods you might use to catch a salmon there that are so draconian that you might as well not bother going out at all.

And this new bit of legislation is in force for 10 years, so it is hardly a suck it and see measure! Well, you might think, good job. Salmon are in trouble and the heroic EA are doing their bit to help them. Think again, say the Trust. What the EA are doing is applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound.

Rather than address the horrendous problems facing Severn salmon, like agricultural, industrial and raw sewage pollutions, the Agency has forbidden you and me to fish with a worm. Talk about fiddling whilst Rome burns, eh? Just as bad, in my view, the EA still allows us to take 15 coarse fish away after each fishing session. What on earth is this about? Despite a shortage of HGV drivers, we are still not facing 1940 deprivations when the nation looked like starving. Even if KFC run out of chicken, I can hardly imagine the hungry hoards going down Riverside to catch themselves a supper of chub and bream.

Going back to Gone Fishing and that Lake District episode, many said to me (as fishing consultant, woohoo) that it was their favourite one yet. In fact, if any of you watched it, you might remember Paul and Bob barely caught a thing of any note whatsoever. So it just shows that as an angler, you don’t need to catch much to have a rattling good time. You know, it’s called “fishing” not “catching” and all that sort of thing.

That still didn’t stop me feeling mighty sorry for Eric Hope, who was our Derwent Water expert and the loveliest man imaginable. The fact that barely a perch was caught on film cannot have done his guiding business a great deal of good, but that should not put you off if you fancy a day out with him. He catches loads of crackers for his clients and above all knows how to unhook even small perch with baffling dexterity and not a sniff of blood.

“And Away” every single one of them!