The dilemma every angler faces from time to time

A big fish is a massive triumph. This came from a private Essex water. Photo: John Bailey.

A big fish is a massive triumph. This came from a private Essex water. Photo: John Bailey. - Credit: Archant

At the heart of fishing, there is a real problem. Every angler that I know loves his fish dearly. It doesn't really matter whether that fish is a gudgeon or a mighty pike, the deep-rooted affection is a reality. Or it should be.

Anglers love their fish, great or smaller... John and Simon with a prime roach. Picture: John Bailey

Anglers love their fish, great or smaller... John and Simon with a prime roach. Picture: John Bailey - Credit: Archant

Anglers love to catch fish, but they also should aim to protect them and minimise stress in every single way that they possibly can. It's a strange one isn't it? To see and admire and to understand fish you've just sometimes got to set out to catch them. And, although we don't know this until fish learn to speak English, you have to guess that the fish aren't too keen on that aspect of our relationship.

So, if we're going to be caring anglers, it is paramount to look after the fish that we might eventually catch. Without being holier than thou, that's why I stopped using keep nets 40 years ago. Any fish I catch now go back as quickly as I can humanely manage. I accept keep nets in a match situation, but I guess we don't really need them any other time.

And in my view of the fishing world, it is important indeed that fish don't get caught too many times, especially older, wiser, wilder fish that feel trauma, I believe, more than most other fish. It is these precious, bigger, trophy fish that we must set out to protect.

That's why virtually all my own guiding sessions take place on non-public waters that I am lucky enough to have sourced. This is often very expensive, but I feel the fish benefit as a result. Over the years, there has been quite a lot of controversy about pike guiding on The Broads, for example. Nobody begrudges expert pike anglers making a few bob, of course, but the problem is on public waters the guide's clients can go back on their own after the first session. You wouldn't think there is anything wrong in this, but frequently they take their mates, too, and often these anglers are not too skilled in pike angling. The result is, on these public pike waters, the big fish get far more attention than they would normally. There is a body of opinion that suggests that is why Broadland piking isn't nearly what it once was.

Last week there was a report on the chub achievements of Tom Martin from Norwich. I really hope this doesn't sound like sour grapes. I've quite wanted to catch a seven-pound chub pretty much all my life and Tom pulled off the staggering feat of catching three in a week. I feel nothing but admiration for the bloke.

There is a word of caution, though, in my mind and in the minds of several great friends I've spoken to. Speaking purely from the fish's point of view, was it wise to name the actual stretch where these leviathan chub came from? I'd never begrudge Tom his deserved moment of glory, but once specific locations are named there is a danger that they will attract other aspirational anglers. That's all well and good, but those three seven-pound chub are, as a result, going to face more pressure and face more chance of being caught again, or again and again.

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Of course, the phenomenon of the named fish is nothing new at all, especially after the explosion of stillwater carp fishing. However, I feel truly that wild fish in rivers are a little different from cunning carp in large stillwaters. Again, as I've said, until fish speak we will never know this but I do rather hope those three chub have cleared off as far as their fins can carry them.

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