John Bailey: What is fishing going to look like in a post Covid world?

John Bailey tench

Spring 2020... Enoka with a post Covid tench - Credit: John Bailey

The headline sort of suggests we are actually IN a post Covid world, which might be overly optimistic seeing as half a dozen fishing mates have the thing at the moment but for the sake of the piece, go along with me please.  

It was a fortnight short of two years ago when Boris Johnson announced we could go fishing again and I have an image of myself sitting in front of the TV as he made the announcement. Blimey, both BJ and JB both look a lot younger then... must be all the partying! 

That May 9 ministerial broadcast coincided with a month of great weather and generally, great fishing. Indeed, whilst many continued to heartbreakingly suffer the ravages of Covid, many did not. Nope, the sun, the biting fish, the furlough holiday and the sense of release combined to set many fishing faces smiling. And, as we remember, the tackle trade went ballistic too. Yet, as the spring turned into summer, wasn’t there just that niggly feeling that it was all too good to last, that our crazy bubble was waiting to pop? 

Pop it certainly has. The aftershocks of Covid on society, the nation’s health and finances. Partygate’s effect on the stature and work of government. The hidden and subtle effects of Brexit at long last. The years of misreading Putin and the war in Ukraine. All these things and possibly more have played a part in making the sun not quite as warm as it was that spring way back then. 

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Most obviously and immediately, an acquaintance has just lost a multi thousand pound deposit on a salmon fishing holiday on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. My heart doesn’t completely bleed for him - he can afford it and there are others in a worse fix by far.  Me included. Like every other angler, my fuel bill hasn’t as much rocketed as gone stratospheric. When you can get fuel that is! And boilies... two years ago a tenner a kilo and now £13!  

If it goes on like this we’ll be fishing for carp with potatoes again like we did in the Seventies. Come spring, I use bucket fulls of Vitalin for tench bait- not for feeding dogs. £14 last year, £17 for a bag this year and some places £20 or more and I’m having to think about cutting the little tincas down a bit. 

Prices of rainbow trout for restocking purposes have been forced up of course and will continue to rise, perhaps prohibitively. Farm reared carp are going exactly the same way, a couple of dealers tell me. So perhaps commercials for both game and coarse anglers aren’t going to be the focus of our fishing in quite the way they have been.  

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Is it possible more anglers will be thinking about fishing natural waters, like rivers, nearer to home with baits that aren’t quite as pricey... though where will the price of a loaf end up, we ask ourselves? 

Hang on though. Perhaps that’s not the solution after all? Old bores like me have been bleating on about the collapsing state of rivers for years, years when not anything a jot of use has been done. And now our rivers face more body blows.  

Farmers are telling us that fertilisers have gone up a zillion percent in price so whilst food prices will continue to rise too, they are also looking for cheaper alternatives to spread on the land.  

In one case I know of, human sewage is being used and in endless cases poultry poo is being seen as the happy alternative. Well, it’s not. I don’t know about our poo, but that of chickens’ is laden with phosphates and that gets into our already struggling rivers every time it rains.  

It either runs straight off or leaches through the soil into streams and ditches that feed rivers. And the long-term effect is so dreadful that it would take a whole column to explain how and why. But rest assured (or not) here’s another nail in the coffin of our so-called “veins of life”. 

If you remember, the water industry was privatised in 1989 and that was seen as a dubious move by many. What’s compounded the problem is a 20pc rise the UK’s population since then. That’s 11 million more people demanding food, water, sewage disposal, housing, transport, energy and jobs. Of course, as more horrors come to light in Ukraine and the misery that so many have faced through Covid are remembered, these issues might seem relatively unimportant.  

But they are not, they are fundamental... and might even stop us going fishing some day.  

So, you see, it’s no wonder BJ and JB don’t look the carefree youngsters they did back in 2020!