Every three years the Pike Anglers Club of Great Britain and Ireland, the second largest single species club in the country, changes its committee. The tenure of the last committee ended recently and FISHINGmagic.com thought it would be appropriate to interview one of the retiring members who could speak freely about himself, the PAC, and some of the issues it dealt with over the last three years. Who better than outgoing Promotions Manager Ray Farrell.

Graham (for Fishingmagic): To begin with Ray, please tell us something about yourself.

Ray: I’m a mere slip of a lad of 52 and married to Ann (who should get a medal for putting up with me). I live in Hartley, in Kent (Dartford / Gravesend area). I carry the nick-name ‘Grim Reaper’ due to an apparent ability to kill a water stone dead, just by looking at it. My philosophy? – I feel that life should be wandered through instead of rushed through.

I’m currently and have been for several years, a house husband – living off moral earnings, I call it. Now the kids are no longer kids I’m really wanting to re-enter the world of work. Having the time to do so gave me the opportunity to work for the Pike Anglers Club, the Lure Anglers Society and until recently the Specialist Anglers Conservation group – trouble was, it became a 25 hour a day job in itself.

I’m not complaining though – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The PAC side has now been handed over to the new committee so it’s only the LAS side that I currently help with. I can actually make plans to go fishing with some hope of getting there now!I’ve fished since I was 8 years old but I’ve never caught a barbel or a grayling. Looking back though, I suppose I’ve done quite well in what I have caught – pike, of course – over the years I must have caught more than my fair share – up to the high twenties. In the past, I’d started personal record books and notes on bits of paper but I could never find ’em again when the fancy took hold to up-date it all. Anyway, all of my older photos, etc, disappeared when a mad ex-wife set light to it all – I think they helped to get the rods and clothing burning. I do know that I’m an expert at catching 19lb 15 1/2 oz pike. I love lure fishing but I do have bait-using days as well.

Other species – I love tench fishing. Fishing Johnson’s might have helped here. Never caught a double but several to over 9lb. There’s nothing like laying on with a small quill at first light – heart-stopping stuff.

I’ve often started to catch a few livebaits and ended up roach fishing the day away. For good roach, you can stick your maggots – get ’em onto cheese, just over depth and see the difference! Had quite a few 2’s and a couple of these were just a tad off going 3 – one day … one day. (I’d never use anything bigger than 4oz for bait though).

Perch. I want to do more serious perching (and eel fishing as well). My biggest perch was a 3-pounder that I had totally by accident when I was about 12. I’d caught a minnow while trotting (hopefully) for roach in the Darenth. I girl I liked was walking by – the minnow went back so that the mighty hunter could demonstrate his skill. When I started to reel in, it had got 2lb 15oz and several drams heavier.Carp? They go like … well they go a bit. Although I’ve had ’em up to 28lb, I don’t like the bivvied up approach – yeah, I’ve done it. It’s surprising what you get if you stalk ’em – or adopt a method to get their trust over a four or five hour period – you can take ’em under your feet (and on bread too!!!!!)

I like a bit of chub fishing – especially with lures. No great weights – about 4 1/2 but it’s great.

Bream? Yeah why not? Difficult though – more than people realise and I’ve never really cracked it for the real biggies – up to 9 is the best so far.

I also like a bit of sea fishing – bassing in summer – codding in winter. No great shakes on the bass front – 6lb is the best. But I’ve done reasonably well at Dungy for cod. Big doubles and a couple of 20’s off the beach – while it’s not expert standard, it kept me happy. It’s no great trick really – you have to fish the right conditions.

I’ve had whiting at night on lures – brilliant but try catching mackerel with ultra-light lure (or fly) gear – if you’ve never done it – you’ve missed out!

Ambitions – just to go fishing.

I’ve included bests but they’re not really important – it’s the being there and the doing it. Anyway enough of that – next question please.

Graham: What do you see as THE most important facet of the PAC?

Ray: That’s so difficult to limit it to ONE aspect. I suppose it’s got to be pike education. From this stems everything else. Others may say ‘What about conservation?’ I’d reply that you can only do this properly when people know where you’re coming from. I also mean educating pike anglers as well as water owners etc.

Graham: During your three year tenure what was the most difficult decision you had to make?

Ray: I will change the question to ‘…WE had to make?’ Not to duck it but we really did act as a committee unit. It was Frank Gibbon’s neck that was always on the line and nothing was done until the full committee agreed. This was always helped by the fact that we always seemed to think in the same direction. Our phone bills are testament to how much we communicated!

Blithfield, though the saddest, was not the most difficult – we were left with no other options. I think that if a committee is acting purely for the good of its club, its members and its species, decisions are not ‘difficult’ as such. There were so many decisions to be made and each had its own particular circumstances but the criteria remained the same on which to base a decision – always go for the good of pike and piking for all. That doesn’t mean to say they were all easy to make but there isn’t one that stands out as the most difficult.

Graham: Please summarise the PAC views on livebaiting and then tell us what your personal views are.

Ray: The PAC view is that livebaiting is a legitimate method in predator angling and must be maintained. Thought and care must go hand in hand with livebaiting. No using rare or specimen fish or fish that are few in the water being fished. In any event, only fish up to 4 – 6oz. Absolutely NO translocation of fish! That’s it in a nutshell.

I agree totally with that but would only add that it should always be down to each individual angler to decide on this subject and act accordingly. Nobody should force their opinions down others’ throats and this includes uninformed ‘powers that be’ issuing blanket bans. In other words – if it’s allowed, those that disagree don’t have to use it, so don’t make others suffer because YOU don’t agree!

Graham: Where does the PAC stand on the closed season on rivers issue?

Ray: PAC does not have a direct policy on this one – or the close season, as a whole, come to that. When there was a blanket close season – pikers went off to Scotland and Ireland to fish, so we’d be slightly hypocritical, as a club, if we said that you can’t fish English and Welsh waters because it damages stocks, wildlife etc, so go and do exactly that elsewhere.

Also, all the evidence – either way – is basically anecdotal. I don’t know why we keep arguing about it without someone actually taking a proper scientific overview and say – finally and once and for all – should close seasons go or be re-instated. PAC is fully aware that we exist in a cosmopolitan angling world so an overall view must be obtained – not one that relates just to one species.

Personally I believe that one of the main problems with angling is that everyone’s an expert on everything – very few ever say ‘I don’t know – let’s find out!’.There might be a few vested interests in this argument anyway – I always believe the Times and Mail – don’t you????????????

Graham: Do you think anglers should be allied with field sports?

Ray: No. Not because I necessarily agree or disagree with the field sports lobby but I think that angling would be ‘used’ by others who have no responsibility to angling. We could stand to lose everything that we have if field sports are toppled because we would have lumped ourselves right in there and if they go, the topping will not be selective. We would have effectively tied our own blindfold ready for the firing squad. If we joined them, nobody would see us as being ‘different’ – we’d lose the lot without anyone listening to us as a sport. At the moment we are separate and big enough to fight our own battles. If field sports go – we will still be intact.

Again, it’s down to the support each individual wants to give. If you support field sports – do it – if you don’t then support the other side.

It doesn’t help that on three occasions, trout / salmon fishing field sports enthusiasts have let me know, in no uncertain terms, that they view coarse anglers as oiks and all coarse fish, especially pike, as little more than vermin.

Graham: What would you say was the best thing that the PAC did during your three years?

Ray: Got the PAC message across in a big way. This resulted in a multitude of benefits from re-instating livebaiting and piking in several areas to opening up new and brilliant piking to an increasing membership by way of protecting pike in a good number of waters where they were being devastated before.

Graham: What would you say was the best thing the PAC have done since the organisation was formed?

Ray: We’ve still got thriving pike populations and some good and yes – even improving piking haven’t we? I believe EVERY piker owes a BIG debt of gratitude to ALL of the PAC committees over the 23 years. PAC has saved the pike!

Graham: The PAC has become one of the most powerful voices in angling – why do you think this is, considering pike are not the nations favourite species.

Through approaching every matter, every individual, every organisation and body with honesty, integrity and responsibility. Also by ensuring that our actions always reflect this. Going back to education – we still have miles to go but people are listening and taking on board that the pike is a valuable fish.We have taken years to build the trust and good will that we currently have and we will not betray that – which leads on to the next question.

Graham: No matter what anyone’s stance on the Blithfield saga it was generally seen as a blot on the pike fishing landscape. What is your personal view of the controversy?

Ray: Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore everyone with what went on, yet again.

I know that PAC had no option than to do what it did. If we had turned a blind eye to what was going on – we would have betrayed everything that the club stood for. There have been arguments that we could not take this action against such high profile anglers. Could we, in all honesty, have chosen to cover up for a few and overnight lose the respect that enables us to get things done for all? To PAC, the most inexperienced junior is as important as any nationally known piker. It both amuses and saddens me when people say (including the press) that PAC cannot exist without its ‘stars’. Does that mean that in the ‘in crowd’s’ eyes, only fame makes a true angler and others don’t exist?

What is the ‘controversy’ about? Did PAC start it off by reacting the only way it could or did the anglers start it by entering a pike-in under cull conditions? Would there have been equal coverage if the anglers involved were not well known? Do well known and influential anglers have the right to ride roughshod over ethics that benefit all just for their own ends?

What we all actually saw was an argument, by some, that the PAC should not have dared complain and even worse, act.

I truly believe that influential anglers should always lead and guide through their actions – showing responsibility as well as skill.

Graham: Do the PAC wish they had handled it differently, and if so, how?

Ray: Only in that, contrary to some views, we tried not to continue to inflame the situation and by doing so perhaps we did not state our case clearly or widely enough after our initial statements. We continued to find things out but did not want to keep saying ‘… and another thing …’ Perhaps, though, this was right as it is one thing to make a valid point but entirely another to keep banging people over the head with it.

I know that this might seem arrogant – but it’s not – we tried EVERYTHING that we could to avoid what happened. I do mean EVERYTHING!! Both just before the event – as soon as we were aware of it. Also, during the event and after – both visibly and privately. The only thing that we didn’t try as a solution was ignoring it.

Graham: Does the PAC have any fears about other pike fishing organisations being formed?

Ray:No, I don’t think so at all but I’ll answer this one on a personal level. If someone starts a new pike club – no problem. If it ends up better than PAC at fighting for pike and pike angling then who benefits. If it is set up by a group who don’t agree with PAC then that’s down to people to judge where they wish to place their membership.

I think that if PAC was ever frightened of another predator club it should ask itself why. As I see things, the new committee will have no fears in this direction whatsoever – they’re a bloody good team.

Graham: As far as you know has the Blithfield controversy had any affect on the popularity of the PAC?

Ray:Yes, it has boosted it. We have had very positive feed back – from all areas.

Graham: Have the membership numbers fallen or risen since Blithfield?

Ray: Risen – our membership was rising anyway but there is a sudden jump around that period. Incidentally, the committee was only aware of 3 resignations as a result of the affair.

Graham: Do you think any good has come out of the controversy, for anyone?

Ray: Definitely. The pike benefited all ends up. For a start, Blithfield have abandoned their cull rule and a lot of other waters are keen to talk to PAC.Equally importantly, I think a long needed line was drawn in the sand as to what is acceptable from angling and anglers. I think its ramifications – the good ones – will echo and work through angling for a long time. What’s up with anglers thinking about how their actions will affect others anyway?

Graham: You were responsible for the editing, art editing, layout, graphics, artwork, typesetting and pre-press of the ‘Pike Fishing – Beyond 2000’ book (which I think is a fabulous publication). Give us your thoughts about that task, and the finished work.

Ray: Many thanks for the kind words about the book.The finished article first – I was over the moon, as they say. The look and the feel was far better than I even hoped it would be. OK – I put it together but until you see it, you’re not sure. Take that to one side and the content is a knock-out. Every article is brilliant and I cannot thank the authors enough.

The idea behind it was to give to pike anglers – experienced, new and potential – some kind of A – Z guide. I reckon we did that and somehow we did more.

It was a big task – oh yes!

It’s the first time that I’d done anything like this – so it was a bit of a gamble if I could do it well (or at all) – but as I said above, being a house-husband – I had more time than others on the committee. I soon discovered what a big undertaking it was and that it was going to take a bit of time. (6 months in all). The kids got taller and the dog got madder but Ann – apart from the odd outburst – put up with it all.I then started ‘working’ 4 shifts –
1.The book
2.Day to day PAC / LAS work
3.GCSE and A level home work / course work / revision work help for the kids
4.Minimal house husbanding (Very minimal if I could help it – in fact negative)

Oh … and walking the dog.

I might have taken on a bit too much but if the truth be known, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Would I do something like that again – yes, it’s great to help create something worthwhile.

Graham: Anglers have generally moved into single species ‘camps’. Do you think this is a good thing?

Ray: Yes and no.

Yes because I think it increases the enjoyment of fishing for a species to have that network / fraternity of like enthusiasts.

No because it aids the rise of the ‘instant angler’. It’s not the clubs at fault here, it’s the attitude of the individual. I’m old fashioned enough to believe that you can never be a good angler or even enjoy angling at it’s deepest level if you don’t get an all round view – trying everything – almost serving an apprenticeship. There is always the danger (and it happens) that the clubs themselves lose sight of the wider picture.

On balance, I think species groups are a good thing providing they realise the world doesn’t start and end with them.

From piking’s point of view – PAC is crucial. It’s one of the few clubs that has to fight for its species and members’ (and others’) sport. That’s not to say that the above doesn’t apply but PAC can’t do it’s job properly if it loses sight of all other aspects of angling.

Graham: Do you think the NFA is a good representative body? If not, why not.

Ray: For who?

I think they’re trying to get their act together (Bless ’em) but sometimes you’d never think it. There is a big job to be done for coarse angling (Pleasure, Specimen and Match) that the NFA could do. The job is there but the NFA isn’t – yet!

It has got to look at its structure – it’s all too inward looking at the moment. Its got to move into the same time zone and even world that we live in. There’s always some archaic reason why it CAN’T do something. It’s not much use to man nor fish for them to keep saying ‘We’re changing but due to this or that it will all take time’. It has got to learn to think clearly and quickly and it has got to be an organisation with no bias towards any particular branch of coarse angling.

At the moment it doesn’t really represent angling at all – only itself as it is always tying to justify its own existence.

There is a need for the NFA as the NFA could do so much.

Graham: Can you reveal any of the future plans for the PAC?

Ray: Nope. I’m not being rude but I’m not stealing the new committee’s thunder. Contact Mark Leathwood, the General Secretary, he’ll let you know what’s on the agenda. (I will say that it’s great stuff though.)

Graham: In as many words as you like, what is your message to the new committee?

Ray: I know that the new committee has 101% commitment and more than that, it has a whole load of talent. Go for it lads and lassies – go for it.

General note – One of the great strengths of the PAC is that every three years a new committee comes in with fresh ideas and unbounded enthusiasm – I think this goes a long way in also helping to answer question 9.

Graham: Thanks for the interview Ray, and good luck with whatever you do next.