‘Paying your dues’ – a common and clichéd expression I am sure you will agree but just exactly what has it got to do with angling? Well, in this article I will try to explain why I think that ‘paying your dues’ – or rather not paying them – is polluting angling.
Let’s go with the original context first off. Whilst I think that there is some tremendous value in angling, usually offered by local clubs run by enthusiastic volunteers, there are also some tremendous, for want of a better phrase, rip offs too.
If you look at some of the top day ticket waters in the country you could be paying anything from £25 to £40 a day (and above) for the ‘pleasure’ of casting a line in the water; but what exactly do you get for that money? I have visited a number of the most expensive day ticket venues and have been left rather underwhelmed by the entire experience. Okay you may argue that the fish have to be there in the first instance to get the anglers in, but sadly in 99.9% of cases the fish we are talking about are carp.
Carp fishing, whilst it may have been the saviour of the tackle industry (something I wholeheartedly disagree with), has also fuelled the fire and made both the actual act of angling more expensive and spawned a beast that is rapidly in danger of eating itself. Some would say that it has also made tackle more expensive, but here I disagree. My first carbon rod I bought in the early eighties and cost the princely sum of £55 and was a float rod. At the time I wasn’t working as I was still at school and that represented many hours spent on the chicken farm that I worked on after school, plus paper rounds to buy. When I left school six or seven years later my first wage packet was £65, so you can see that it was a huge slice of your weekly salary.
With the national average wage now being about £300 per week, you can pick up a nice float rod for the same money, only this time it would only be around one sixth of your week’s wages. If you look at reels they have got even cheaper with a decent float fishing reel now available for £15-£20. A similar budget reel in the eighties would have cost you best part of ten pounds and were usually really crap!
Going back to the cost of day tickets though here the cost has spiralled out of control, but there are a number of anglers that are prepared to pay these exorbitant prices, why? Well here I am going to be somewhat controversial and say again that it’s because these anglers don’t want to pay their dues. Take a walk around any of these waters and you will see a high proportion of ‘out of the packet’ anglers equipped with all the latest gear straight off the tackle shop shelves. All they see written about is twenties this or thirties that and they see these waters as a shortcut to catching fish of that size without serving time on other waters and building up their experience and watercraft. No, it’s far easier to chuck a load of money at it and get on the waters that they see on TV and if they chuck in enough of the spod mix that they have seen used by the anglers on TV they will surely catch… Of course some do, but far more fail as eBay bears testament to with the amount of full sets of carp gear that are to be found on there.
This over emphasis on carp is slowly killing angling as I know it and to be honest I am pretty bloody mad about it!
There is an insidious side to carp fishing that is making us all into carp anglers because that’s the only fish that ever gets stocked these days. Add to that the fact that carpers are very good at getting their voice heard and you have a juggernaut that takes some stopping.
Take the recent debate about otters and the formation of the ‘predation action group’. Now when it was predominantly barbel and chub that were disappearing down the otters’ throats there was a cry from those directly affected, but it was a fairly muted voice. As soon as the carp of this country started to get targeted the usual suspects came out to bang their drums and get their publicity – for themselves or their company – and we have the formation of another angling group at a time when we are being told that the Angling Trust should be the voice of angling, well which one is it, it cannot be both?
I don’t think that anyone has a problem with paying for their sport if they feel that they get value for money, but this varies greatly from water to water. I have been to some of the biggest named fisheries in the country and had to slog through thick mud for bloody miles with gear and yet I’ve been to others where vehicles can get close to the pegs or there are decent pathways around the lake. You would think that the latter would be the more expensive, but sadly the opposite was true, that water charged £28 a day to fish, piss poor value for money in my opinion. I wish this was a one off but in my experience day ticket waters are the worst offenders. The better waters tend to be those that are either syndicate or run in a different way from commercial day tickets. The anglers that fish these waters tend to develop a rapport with the water and care about it greatly and will often undertake works like this for free, or as a part of membership.
The worst offenders of all though are those that have jumped on the carp bandwagon, increasingly catfish too, and just dumped a load of fish of unknown origin into a tiny pond and are charging anglers handsomely for the privilege of fishing for them. There is a water close to my home that is less than 100 yards long and forty yards wide, but holds a 100lb plus catfish in it amongst many others! Now to me that is tantamount to cruelty, almost as cruel as charging anglers £15 a day to fish there, not me though, personally I won’t accommodate this – the worst type of fishery – by my presence or money.
The final thing I want to cover is the non payment of dues; what do I mean by this? Well as someone with a keen interest in the angling media, as both a consumer and contributor, it staggers me how in the last few years the angling trade and media have developed a fascination with anglers of, shall we say, a tender age?
Now I can kind of see why the angling media has to embrace modern mediums such as social networking – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but to me that’s where for the majority of these anglers it ought to stop. I am not meaning here to demean their efforts but in reality very few anglers in their teens or early twenties have the experience to be able to instruct others, especially those older than them. There are always going to be exceptions of course. Much in the same way that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar or Wayne Rooney represented their countries in cricket and football whilst still teenagers there will be some anglers whose catches mark them out from others, but some of the guys these days have pretty unremarkable catches, even amongst their peers. There is, as they say, no substitute for experience and to my mind it’s here where the majority of sponsorships/ consultancies/ etc should be headed.
From a personal point of view I have been sponsored in the past, and am currently, however before I got any sponsorship I had been writing regularly in several different publications for over ten years and in that time I had to get better at both my writing but in particularly at my photography. I worked bloody hard at what I had produced and on the back of this I got asked to promote a couple of company’s products. It wouldn’t take a genius to see where I had paid my dues and where I offered the tackle trade something in the way of promotion, but I can’t get my head around what value a 13-year-old or even younger angler will give to any company, who is going to listen to them?
In essence all these wannabees are doing is driving down the possibility of anyone making a living from angling, including themselves ultimately. I often get asked by people how to get sponsored or how to make a living from angling and I have to say that these days I would never advise a youngster to look at making a living from going fishing; it’s just not really possible in the 21st Century. My advice is always the same and that is to try and get a set of skills that means that you could work for a company in the angling industry, but forget the idea about being paid a living wage to go fishing, or even to a point in writing about it, because it’s just no longer a reality. Maybe most people think that’s a good thing, but I think that every sport needs its ‘heroes’ otherwise the next generation have no one to look up to.
I certainly had my fishing hero as a kid, that being Dick Walker, the same as I did for all of the other sports that I played. In cricket it was Ian Botham, in football it was a guy called Tony Coton who played in goal for my team Watford. It helped to keep my interest in both sports in much the same way that Dick Walker’s writing did for angling. And if you think that isn’t really relevant today take a look at the crowds of kids around the likes of Matt Hayes, Mick Brown or John Wilson when they are at a show, it’s still very much the same as it’s ever been.
So having blown off steam, what or how would I change things? Well here’s my attempt at making angling the common man’s sport once again.
• Ban the stocking of any more carp into this country for at least twenty years.
• Create more balanced, natural fisheries
• Reduce the amount of carp fishing news and tactics within the general angling media, keep the carp stuff to specialist titles and throw the emphasis back onto other fish species.
• Try to promote the tactics that I grew up using such as float fishing, quiver tipping etc
I also would look to promote angling to kids through match angling; kids love to compete and matches of all types are a really good way to do this, just so long as they were not on carp only lakes so that again the other species were the main focus.
I really think that if we don’t start to think about where we are being lead in angling that the future looks pretty bleak, or should that be carp? And that’s a pretty scary prospect…