Where do the lies stop? Greed just has no place in angling

John Bailey teaches one barbel from a swim is enough.

John Bailey teaches one barbel from a swim is enough. - Credit: Archant

I've never felt you can trust a man totally who lies habitually about the weight of his fish.

It's a strong statement, I know, and I'm well aware that a liar cheats himself primarily, though he cheats many others, too, in the process of dishonesty. Which brings me neatly to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who lied outrageously back in July about the weight of a pike he caught, probably actually doubling it! Looking at the film footage, the man barely knows how to hold a rod, never mind use one to capture a large fish.

For many years, through the nineties and the noughties, I used to travel for my fish throughout Russia and, more especially, Siberia where Putin caught his supposed 40lb plus pike. I was appalled by the grinding poverty of 95pc of the population in these dismal regions. Seeing their wretched housing and their exploited and undervalued lives, I became increasingly disgusted that oligarchs, like Chelsea's present owner, could live such flagrantly opulent lives, paid for by the labours of so many poverty-stricken countrymen.

I wouldn't mind being a few score million dollars behind Putin financially but I wouldn't want that inflated pike and those suffering people on my own conscience.

By contrast, a pal of mine recently took the Camerons bass fishing down in the southwest. The PM acquitted himself well apparently and, frankly, never once claimed a three pounder as a double. I don't want to get political but at least here is a Westminster angler you can trust. It seems that the Kremlin are not quite as fortunate.

But less is frequently more when it comes to fishing. Cameron was more than happy to return his bass bar a couple for supper and that's how all of us should be treating our wild fish, of course. Putin's pike probably went on to be given a good cudgelling by one of his security goons but we wouldn't dream of taking a wild brown trout from our upper chalkstreams here or any of our vulnerable species from anywhere.

You can look at this on many different levels. For example, I am a notoriously bad bass and mackerel angler and that is for sure. However, I'm not the only one around the UK shores to have had a disastrous season. The rumour has it that our mackerel have been swallowed up by fleets of trawlers from Denmark or Iceland even, almost completely obliterated. It's the same with our bass.

Most Read

These fantastic fish that showed such vibrancy in their comeback a few years ago now seem to be on the wane again, losing the battle against impossible commercial fishing pressure. Greed. The get-rich-quick mentality. The rape of every resource for the quick buck. The malaise truly is global.

As I say, you can take this to every level, even the most parochial. At the risk of moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, on any of my chub swims I catch one fish and I go. If I were to catch ten then that swim would be done for, as barren as the North Sea for many seasons. Happily, the anglers that I guide share the same mentality. One fine fish is all they or I reckon they need. We're anglers, not fish mongers after all. It's the same with all wild fish. Fill your boots, as the saying goes, and the fishing is endlessly harder for you in the future and more importantly, for any anglers coming in after you.

Down on the Wye, where I've taken fishing courses now for something over 20 years, I used to have a swim called The Steps. I reckon there were, at times, in excess of 150 barbel resident there. For year upon year, I could take a struggling barbel novice to The Steps and absolutely guarantee him, or her, a fish. That one success would be enough of a triumph. A barbel had been successfully hooked and played and landed and there'd be a celebration in the bar that night.

Sadly, such a commonsensical approach to a swim could not last. After years of husbanding those barbel, I was followed to the swim by a couple of guys sharing the Putin mentality. The next day, the gruesome twosome landed 49 barbel and the day following 53. Every single one was weighed, adding to their stress. Not one was under six pound two ounces and not one was over ten pound three ounces.

What an horrendous abuse of human time and fish welfare. I barely need to add that after this blitzing, The Steps were utterly devastated with most of the barbel moving on and with those remaining as spooked as it is possible for fish to be. Greed again you see. That get-rich-quick mentality that ultimately will sink us all.

On a far more practical and prosaic note, can I suggest that as September is sliding us toward autumn, it's time for tench again. My two top tips would be these. If at all possible, choose your tench water carefully and look for one that has at least three or more feet of visibility. I've not a shadow of a doubt that tench in murky water are much, much more elusive. Second, if you can find the time to pre-bait a swim for at least three or four days before the session, you will find that in most cases, this pays off hand over fist.

There are endless wonderful sights in angling but a deep mahogany tench, lying in the margins, reflecting the golds of autumn is surely amongst the best of them.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter