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John Bailey: How much is your fishing worth to you?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 June 2020

How much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John Bailey

How much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John Bailey

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“The best things in life are free, but you can keep them for the birds and bees.” Yes – like John Lennon, this week I want to talk about money.

How much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John BaileyHow much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John Bailey

Filming for Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing has restarted, I am glad to say. As consultant, it is good to be working again, but better still, how marvellous to be out and about, mingling with mates. Lucky me, I know.

It also means I get to visit fisheries around the UK and talk to the fine folk who run them. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t actually name where we have been, but those of you who care to invest the effort might well guess. So, last week I chatted with a guy who sells day tickets on a cracking barbel river. The stretch is prolific, beautifully kept and anglers numbers are kept to a minimum. The cost is £20 for a full 24 hours but when he tried to increase the ticket to £25 he was met with howls of protest and the accusation of excessive greed. Two weeks ago, we were on a famous trout river, fishing a world famous beat. Fellow fishers were paying £600 per day each and they counted themselves fortunate to have made the cut and got to the top of the queue. Work that discrepancy out if you can.

Around here, I guess most carp syndicates charge in the nature of £400 per season, give or take a tenner or so. That works out at roughly a pound a day or something like 5p per hour. Compare that with a football match. The average Premier League game costs a fan £32 for 90 minutes, something like 35p per minute, seven times as much. Perhaps that is why a fair few anglers complain that their syndicates are badly run, overcrowded, litter strewn and don’t hold enough fish? Perhaps you get what you pay for? I also happen to be a member of an East Anglian trout club, charging £300 or thereabouts for virtually a full 12 months fishing. Wow. That is cheap, surely? Compare that with £600 per day, especially when you take into account members can remove 100 trout a year and cook them for their supper. A two or three pound trout can feed a couple so that is two free meals a week on average. Bingo, that trout angler is pretty well fishing for free. But, know what? I still hear moans when I walk around the banks! What on earth do some people expect from life?

A very dear friend owns some three miles of the river Wensum. At one time in my life, this stretch offered the best roach fishing that has ever been recorded in the UK. Truly. Famous anglers came from all over the country to witness roach fishing that was utterly unique and has never been bettered, before or since. Yet, my friend has never made a penny, not a single one, from his ownership of a legendary venue. I don’t doubt it has actually cost him money, clearing rubbish, mending gates and repairing tracks. Today, his river is next to useless. A combination of factors meant that decade on decade fish stocks fell to the present point of near to no return. The situation could be saved, but why should my friend spend more of his own money to save my sport? And it is a certainty the Environment Agency won’t lift a finger, even though we all have to pay them. In short, you get what you pay for, which in this case is just about nothing.

How much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John BaileyHow much is fishing rivers like these worth to you? Picture: John Bailey

Contrast the weary, old, mistreated Wensum with the cherished Hampshire Avon. For years I was a member of a syndicate on the middle reaches there. Today, a year’s subscription costs something in the region of £1,200. When I mention this to angling acquaintances they squeal as if the money is being cut from their very backsides. But consider the maths. There are 100 members raising £120,000. This pays for two keepers to stock the 27 miles of river and carrier streams, to cut the weed, to clear paths and to eliminate predation. For £4 a day, members can park in safety and wander a 1,000-acre estate, peering into crystal waters that teem with fish.

They can fish for a hallowed 2lb roach or for barbel the size of alligators. In the spring they can target trout and there is even a pretty decent carp lake available – and STILL anglers moan at the cost. I guess we can compare this fishery with a decent golf club. The costs are around the same, I am told, but golfers realise that without their fees, they would soon be whacking that little white thing into an unkempt jungle of saplings, scrub and elephant grass. Can I say again that you get what you pay for? And it has probably got to the stage that anglers had better realise that Mother Nature is too bruised and battered to look after affairs on her Tod. She needs our dosh.

A bit of history. Back around 1970, the best ticket in angling history was available from a bloke who lived in Lenwade – his name is on the tip of my tongue, but it has momentarily gone, irretrievably. For a tenner (I think) you could join the London Anglers Association. Post war, before the age of the car, they had leased a plethora of waters up here which their members could access by coach on their Sundays out in the countryside. I seem to remember that for my money, around £150 today, I could fish the Station Lakes in Lenwade, along with the Charity Lakes, Tom’s Lake and what is now Layfields. I have a strong feeling there were other still waters I never got to, probably because of the long list of river beats the ticket offered me. There were miles of the Wensum to fish, along with venues on the Yare and Bure I am sure I remember. It is a long time ago and I might have got a couple of details wrong, but you get my drift. Those days are not coming back and we might as well accept the best fishing in life most definitely is not free any more. Money is what our fisheries need.


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