In this article, Tom Wood brings you a profile of the man who has fought the angler’s corner for the last 13 years and worked tirelessly to thrust our sport onto the political agenda.  

“Who said global warming isn’t happening,” exclaimed Martin Salter, bemoaning the April hailstorm that he’d just escaped into his office from. “Ice in the water will really bugger up the tench fishing on my birthday this Saturday.”

I met the former MP in his Reading West constituency office on the Oxford Road, an ethnically diverse area that’s lined with Polish pubs and shops that cater for the African, Caribbean and Asian populations of the city.

Walking into a small terraced house stuck between a meat market and a dry cleaner’s shop, I was greeted by Salter’s two members of staff.

“Are you here to interview Martin about fishing?” asked one of them. “He’ll talk to you all afternoon about that!”  

Martin (left) with Richard Benyon MP (Newbury)

That sounded promising and wasn’t far from the truth. Almost immediately, Martin launched into a spiel about the Labour Party Charter for Angling that he wrote in 2005. It’s the first time that any political party had produced a manifesto specifically relating to the sport and it’s a document of which he’s justifiably proud.

He said: “We brought together the thoughts and suggestions of the numerous governing bodies for angling in existence at the time, and I weaved them into the charter. This started to bring some political maturity into the whole process of the governance of our sport.” 

Martin was appointed spokesman for angling and shooting in 2002 by the then Minister for Sport, Richard Caborn. He described the role to me: “It involves being a voice for angling in Parliament and representing some of the work done in Parliament to anglers, so I’m very much a conduit for opinions and views both ways.” 

He went on to tell me his thoughts on the Angling Trust: “It’s something that I’ve wanted to happen for a long time and it’s also a chance for the sport to get its act together. Angling has never punched at the weight it should considering that there are over three million of us who do it and the Angling Trust will help achieve this.”

He’s equally positive about the future of the sport, which is reassuring in the current climate of economic and political upheaval.

“I’ve never seen any parallels between fox hunting and angling, he told me. “There was only between 11,000 and 15,000 people who went hunting and they tried to
scare anglers and shooters into thinking that their sports were next which was complete tosh. There was no justification to think that any political party had their sights set on angling.

Martin with Graham Marsden at the Compleat Angler, Marlow
Graham to Martin, “Put your hand up and get Woody to
stay up there then we might have a chance!” – they blanked!

“There are two things that are crucial to the future of our sport, he continued. “One is to get it on mainstream TV which I’m lobbying the BBC about, and the other is to get youngsters involved. On that front, we’ve got angling projects running up and down the country and there’s an accredited course in angling and angling development that young people can legitimately study in schools and colleges.”

The sport is climbing the political agenda and Martin predicts that it will continue to be an important issue after the election dust has settled. This point gives him a chance to don his political hat and have a pop at the Opposition which he appears to relish. 

He said: “The Tories have been deluding themselves for years that they’ll win the angling vote, but there is no cross-over between fishing, shooting and hunting. Most coarse anglers wouldn’t know a gun from the blunt end of a spanner and wouldn’t consider going fox hunting.

“The Tories are starting to take more notice of the work that I’ve done and will have to be more pro-active to attract the angling vote. Having the sport high on the agenda will do angling no harm though.”

When I shifted the topic away from the political side of things, Martin’s relentless
enthusiasm seemed to shift up a gear in response as he told me why he loves to go fishing. 

“Angling’s a drug really, just a complete obsession, he said.  “I took a short break from it once when I was at university, but one June 15, I thought to myself; don’t I usually go fishing on June 16? So I got some bamboo canes and some other pretty Heath Robinson tackle together and headed into the countryside to celebrate the first day of the new season. I’ll be fishing until the day I’m too old and crippled to hold a rod.”

salter_perch_abs.jpgRoach and barbel, above all, are the species that get him going with the float being method of choice with which to target them. 

He said: “My ambition is a 3lb roach and I’ve come close with a Dorset Stour fish of 2lb 14oz. I’ve had over 50 two-pounders from six or seven different rivers, so I’ve always been a successful roach angler. I’ve loved barbel fishing since I caught my first one of 3.5lbs from the Thames, near Windsor.”

Two of Martin’s best days on the bank have been on the Kennet, so it’s no surprise that he holds the river in such high regard. 

“The first time I fished the upper Kennet stands out as I caught five 2lb roach in one day which I was well pleased with, but I’ve never achieved it again, he said.  “I had another day on the Kennet when I caught 30 barbel and 18 chub on the float and I don’t think there was a fish left in the swim!

“That was in the ‘80s when the river was probably in its heyday for numbers of fish. It wasn’t great for specimens, but by God, the quantities were unbelievable.”

At this point I was starting to forget that I was talking to a Member of Parliament as he was at the time, and could have been on the bank chatting with someone in the next swim. The 56 year-old was dressed in a brown canvas-type suit paired with a shirt and rugged-looking brown trainers. He wears a ring that has a fish on it and talks with a London accent that lends sincerity to the odd profanity that creeps into his dialogue.

I remembered who I was talking to when the conversation started to veer back towards his former job and Martin told me a little of what happens between members in the House of Commons. 

“We’re like inmates in a prison,” he joked. “We were locked in there four days a week, so you obviously get to know people. 

“I spend a lot of time with Charles Walker. He’s a Tory MP but he’s vice-chair of the All Parliamentary Angling Group that we set up together. I’m a tribal politician and much as I like Charles and love to go fishing with him, I’d have no problem taking his seat off him if that was an option.” 

martinsalter_902269789.jpgApart from his position as spokesman for angling and shooting, Martin was a hard-working constituency MP and an active backbencher. The modest politician said it was for others to judge what his greatest achievements have been, but summed up what he would like his time as an MP to be remembered for.

“I’d like to think that when I’m no longer in Parliament, the people of Reading will say that I was a good MP and served them well,” he said. “I hope anglers will have seen their sport prosper, and will have thought they had someone who looked after their interests well. 

“Angling’s now being much more accepted as a mainstream activity, and I’ve made a small contribution to a sport that’s given me an awful lot of pleasure. I suppose it’s been an opportunity to give something back.”

Angling was in safe hands while Martin was in Parliament and it remains to be seen if there will be anyone who can force it onto the political agenda in the enthusiastic, passionate and insightful way that he did in the years to come. As anglers, we can only hope there is…

Tom Wood, May 2010