Professor Barrie Rickards is President of the Lure Angling Society, and President of the National Association of Specialist Anglers as well as a very experienced and successful specialist angler with a considerable tally of big fish to his credit.

He is author of several fishing books, including the classic work ‘Fishing For Big Pike’, co-authored with the late Ray Webb and only recently his first novel, ‘Fishers On The Green Roads’ was published. He has been an angling writer in newspapers and magazines for nigh on four decades. Barrie takes a keen interest in angling politics.

Away from angling Barrie is a Professor in Palaeontology at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Emmanuel College and a curator of the Sedgwick Museum of Geology.

The Attitude of the RSPB is Disgraceful

As I have said recently I get less tolerant of organisations – as opposed to individuals – as I get older, and the joyless utterances of the RSPB never fail to amaze me. Take the recent letter in Anglers’ Mail by one Julian Hughes ‘head of species conservation’ no less. In it he describes the cormorant as “a species that is part of our fresh water heritage…” In the numbers it now is Mr Hughes? What nonsense. When were you born, incidentally, because, thirty or forty years ago if you saw one inland cormorant in a winter it was unusual. Twenty years ago they were markedly more common; and around twelve years ago their numbers rose dramatically. The Great Crested Grebes, after years on my lake – and welcome – cleared off because they had nothing left to eat. They haven’t come back. Which species, exactly, are you conserving Mr Hughes? The one that has for a long time been an active and pleasant feature or the large black one that is totally out of control.

Mr Hughes seems deluded by the idea of some people that fish refuges work. Well, clearly, they work for some fish, some of the time. But how long do they have to live in refuges for Heaven’s sake? All the time? What about the rest of the water? Refuges can have a variety of uses, but as a solution to the cormorant problem they are useless.

Mr. Hughes says that Ben Bradshaw has caved in “to the wishes of the few…” The FEW Mr Hughes? Do you know how many anglers there are? I haven’t yet met one who was in favour of the glut of black terrorists that now predate on our waters. Then you have the cheek to raise all manner of red herrings about ‘pollution from agriculture’ and ‘sewage’ and others things. These things have been improving Mr Hughes – no thanks to the RSPB – whilst at the same time our waterways have been plundered by cormorants.

Mr Hughes was responding to a letter by a Mr Barker who wrote that restoring habitats will do far more for fish conservation than killing cormorants. What balderdash. The habitats have been improving, as I said in my last paragraph (if you exclude the effects of the pill on rivers) and all it does is fill the larder for cormorants to come inland – from a larder at sea that has been depleted by greedy EC fishing fleets.

No the attitude of the RSPB to this crisis is quite disgraceful, and ignorant, and bigoted. If, as Mr Hughes says, the public image of angling will be damaged, he should also be aware that the public image of the RSPB is already damaged in the eyes of several million people. Forget cormorants. Talk ruddy ducks. Talk cats in gardens, about which the RSPB dare not. In any case why should anglers get the blame for what a government Minister has decided? I hope the legal challenge, which the RSPB is said to be mounting, costs them a lot of money.

Ivan Marks

Lets get on to a nice subject. Ivan Marks. I have enjoyed recent attributes to the great matchman. I can remember, summer after summer, when Percy Anderson (ex all England Champion) and I used to organise angling training courses for hundreds of youngsters in the Cambridge area. What a headache that was! Ivan could always be depended upon to turn up and demonstrate his magic on the River Cam just below town. Ivan was at the top of his profession then, lively and charismatic, an absolute hero to a generation of match anglers. Yet he turned up and did his stuff. You could see how intuitively good he was, but he was always very clever and skilful and crafty. He had all the competitive instincts. As a caveman his family would not have starved, that’s for sure.

I came across these attributes of his on another occasion, a big conference organised by David Hall at Reading. Looking back I doubt if there have been as many successful conferences: and there was Ivan telling specialist anglers what they were doing wrong. At the end of a super talk he challenged anyone present to underarm cast a lead into a bucket at the other side of the stage. A lot of hesitation…! I thought I could do it, so I volunteered. As I came down the auditorium to take the rod from him he recognised me and promptly moved the bucket off the stage and out into a corridor! As I said, crafty and competitive! I didn’t get the lead in the bucket, but I hit it. To tell you the truth I look forward to the day when match angler and specialist angler, and others, can sit round a table and organise the defence of angling. By defence I actually mean attack, of course. Identify our enemies, work out their weaknesses, and go for them.

The PAC Annual Convention

Talking about conferences, let me mention the highly successful PAC annual convention, this time held at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Well attended, though not perhaps the biggest, but with the best atmosphere I can remember. Good talks, lots of stalls, and almost all the big names in piking to talk. Entry fee £ 5. Could you talk to David Beckham for half an hour for £ 5? No, but you could talk to Mick Brown, and a dozen others, and you could buy good gear at knock down prices. It’s in the same place next year, again in September. I suggest you have a good day out. But don’t bring all my books: I signed over 70 copies this year!

Take a Leaf from the French on Lead – Ignore it

I don’t think this lead-in-the-environment debate going on in Europe is directed at anglers deliberately, although you’d think so reading some reports. Clearly it will affect us though. It seems a pity because our lead now does no damage to speak of to anything. They can hardly make exceptions of one group; does make you wonder though about lead on church roofs, or lead on window pains, or lead in old pipes in old houses etc, etc. We should take a leaf out of the French camp here, and simply ignore it. They will.

One More Comment about Cormorants

I do have to go back to make just one more comment about the cormorant fiasco. Enormous credit must go to the people who have presented the case for angling, notably people like Terry Mansbridge, Bruno Broughton, Terry Fell and Martin Read – and others too, of course. Dr Mark Avery of RSPB has described Ben Bradshaw’s decision as “A snap decision”. A snap decision would have been one taken twelve years or so ago. It’s taken that long to get people to see sense. Just think of the enormous damage in the meantime.

Uptraces for Pike Fishing

I’d be interested to learn what people feel about up-traces in pike fishing. Personally, I would never fish a live or deadbait without an uptrace, whether I was legering or float fishing. I choose a hook trace of around about twelve inches and an uptrace of about eighteen inches. If a deadbait cast goes jerky, or the bait bumps a rock or log when sinking, then it can, and will sometime, loop back and hang on the reel line. The swivel joining the two traces, when you use two, actually seems to prevent backlash occurring. Yet I see many diagrams in magazines at the moment showing rigs with no uptrace. Surely this is wrong. When uptracing I have never had a bite off: before that I had a few over the years. A few too many I thought.

Big Roach in Keepnets

Very interesting to see Des Taylor coming out against keepnets for big roach. I think I agree with him. I’ve always been uneasy about big roach in keepnets and have never, in fact, put more than two in at once. Of course, if I catch two big roach it makes a change! It’s perhaps the one fish that worries me. A properly staked out net seems to harm little else, and not always roach for that matter, either. Returning fish to your swims immediately can move a shoal away, certainly for perch. Perch in a keepnet seem perfectly safe anyway so I don’t have any worries there. So often it’s a question of how easy it is to stake out a keepnet properly. If I can’t do it to my satisfaction, then I don’t use a keepnet (or keepsack either).

Ship Out the Antis!

Finally, someone just came back from a foreign trip – Matt Hayes in Poland I think it was – and he was appalled at the attitudes of the ordinary angler there. I agree, having been there a few time. As I’ve often said, and as Matt Hayes also concluded, angling behaviour in the UK is Heaven itself compared to many places in the world? I reckon we should ship out all those antis for an education course!