Lamenting the hidden world of angling – and all its mysteries

Fishing needs to be about mystery and misty dawns.

Fishing needs to be about mystery and misty dawns. - Credit: Archant

The angling spread in the Eastern Daily Press a week ago was interesting and indicative.

I wrote about the hidden pits and ponds in north Norfolk predominantly. On the opposite page, Roy Webster detailed catches exclusively on commercial waters of one type or another. And good on him, because that is where the action is, it seems, in this modern day of ours.

I've said, and I'll repeat, I've nothing against commercials in any way. Quite obviously they serve a massively useful purpose when it comes to the match angling scene. They are also a super place for kids to learn the art. Cobbleacre is perfect in every way in that respect, with the excellent Bob Anderson always there to lend a hand and cast a mentoring eye. And for the rest of us, the commercials can always provide sport, no matter how contrary the weather or how short a time you have to fish. There's the safety aspect, too. You are unlikely to be thrown in at Cobbleacre or have your car nicked.

However, I'm not alone in having some deep-seated doubts. There are plenty of guys I talk with over the age of 40 who see catching fish to order and catching fish like they have come out of the same mould as ultimately unsatisfying. For centuries, the mystery and the challenge of angling has been core to the sport. The unknown is what has driven generations of anglers out to the bankside. That thrill of pioneering and of exploration has slowly and irrevocably been replaced.

I have on my bookshelves John Wilson's first guide to Fishing in Norfolk and Suffolk. Now it seems a rather quaint old tome, but it contains information on scores of waters 40 years back. I guess around 20pc, at the very most, could be loosely termed commercial in those days. The rest were semi-private, half overgrown and frequently exceedingly difficult to find. I was typical of scores of young anglers back in those days. I'd put petrol in my minivan and a large scale ordinance survey map on the passenger seat. I'd practise my best pleading face and off I'd go to knock on many a baronial door begging for fishing permission. I'd be extremely polite to club secretaries, gamekeepers and even pub landlords in my unerring attempts to land good fishing waters. And when I did get a ticket, nine times out of 10 no one would really be able to tell me what the water would reveal.

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I can remember endless sleepless nights of agonising anticipation.

Carp have largely been the drivers of change. In 1970, it was hard to find a water that held carp. On 2016, it is equally hard to find one that doesn't. I have nothing against carp. They have come to represent money and I understand owners and clubs need this. The carp world is all about vast numbers or vast sizes. This is fine, but there is a large 'but' coming.

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If you know that either every cast will produce a small carp or if you know the names of all a water's big carp, something is being lost. The subtleties of angling are very slowly being forced out of the game and the most important of these is that sense of the unknown, that excitement of wondering what the next bite will bring. Fishing in some commercials is akin to shopping in a supermarket. The banks are rather like shelves, stocked with commodities that are clearly on view. I know the clock won't be turned back but there are a lot of us lamenting the predictability of the modern angling scene.

But I'm in luck, my clock has been magically reversed. As I write I do find myself back on a water I last fished in 1974 and which has been closed ever since. All the adrenalin is flooding back as I ponder the possibilities. My hope is for tench, perch perhaps, even rudd but as I pushed through the overgrown banks yesterday, I realised I did not have a clue and nor does anyone else. I have stumbled on a pool from the past and my imagination can fuel my dreams for this summer at least.

Oh happy fishing days are here again!

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