I had rather a heated discussion with an angler I met whilst out fishing a few weeks ago. It never got to the really argumentative stage, but it was interesting enough to cause me to think about it for some time after he left the water and I had nothing else to do but daydream and wait for a bite.

Earlier on we had both sat for several hours without a bite and I’d said to him, light-heartedly, ‘It’s a good job it’s not like this all the time or I’d think of going bowling more often than I go fishing, instead of the other way round.’ (Bowling is another of my interests).

He had replied, ‘I don’t care what anybody says; about smelling the flowers and all the rest of the rubbish you read now and again, fishing is all about catching fish, and as far as I’m concerned, and I reckon most other anglers, the more fish I catch the more pleasure I get.’

That was when we got into the heated discussion, for although what he said was true enough to a great extent, fishing is not just about catching fish. Nor is it all to do with appreciating the flowers and all the rest of nature’s beauties the countryside offers. It is a mixture of both those things and more that all adds up to a magnificent package.

Fishing can be a pleasure for its own sake; you can derive a great deal of pleasure simply from the act of fishing. But yes, successfully catching fish makes it a greater pleasure, and it generally follows that bigger catches spell extra pleasure. It is true, too, that successful fishing results in that warm feeling of satisfaction because you have achieved something. But to make a bald statement that fishing is only about catching fish is way off beam.

Perhaps a good instance of what I mean are some of the trips I make to my local river Dane, when I pack a leger rod and a float rod. What usually happens is that I begin the day with the leger rod, wandering the river, trying different swims, and on those days when the conditions are right, catch a chub or two in most of the swims I try. The set-up is usually a simple link leger, with a 6’s hook to 5lb line. Baits range through bread, lobworm, cheese and luncheon meat.

After about two or three hours of this I find I’m thinking about my float rod; about my centre-pin reel and 2lb line tied to a 18’s hook baited with maggot or caster. About choosing a smooth glide and sending a stick float through it; seeing how many chub I can pull out of the one swim. About establishing that vital rhythm of feeding, casting and retrieving.

I know before I start that I’m not going to catch as many chub as wandering the river from swim to swim with leger tackle, not on a little river like the Dane anyhow, where no individual swim on the stretch I fish holds a big head of chub. I know I’m unlikely to catch chub as big on float as I can on leger. But it doesn’t stop me, for I know I’m ready for the change of method, that it is the method that is going to give me increased pleasure. That the fish I catch are only part of the pleasure waiting to be enjoyed.

A great deal of the pleasure I derive from fishing is solving the problems that fish often set us. It can be something like how to present a bait in a weedbed so that the fish can still see it, or something more complex, like how to catch fish that are preoccupied with a natural food item. Is it possible to present that item on a hook, no matter how small the food, ie, a bloodworm, or a bait that resembles it? And can I use such a small bait on a hook big enough to land a sizeable fish? Or do I try to feed the fish with something else, perhaps approaching the problem with a large bed of small particle baits, which are big enough, however, to use on a decent-sized hook?

My passion for problem solving is the reason why, when I go to Ireland and fish for bream, I can stand only a couple of sessions of bream bashing. After several hundred pounds of bream I’ve had enough for a while, so I’m off pike or rudd fishing or, if that is not on for one reason or another, I make the bream fishing more difficult by float fishing in conditions that are really not suitable for it.

One year in Ireland we were unlucky enough to choose a week that was predominantly gale force winds and heavy rain, and although it was a grueller we clocked up about 1,000lb in one day between seven of us. After the first few hundred pounds I just had to float fish, and the conditions were so bad it meant I had to use a big waggler that took seven SSG just to cast in! I caught fewer fish than I had on the heavy swimfeeder I’d been using previously, but what the hell, it was more fun! Surely, if fishing was only about catching fish, I would have persisted with the ‘feeder?

How many of us, even when compiling a big catch of fish, change baits for no other reason that we want to see if we can catch fish on the particular bait we have changed to? Not because we want to see if the change-bait will catch more or bigger fish, but simply because it throws another interesting little piece into the fishing jigsaw.

My old mate, the late Fred Tunnicliffe, loved nothing better than to experiment with baits. If anyone had said to him that fishing was only about catching fish he would have smiled wryly and thought, ‘what a plonker! Or words to that effect.

The baits he came up with at times were legendry. When carp fishing had just entered the exotic bait phase (Kit-E-Kat paste, Sardine paste, etc) and every carp angler was busily trying to come up with something that no one else had ever thought of (it’s the same today, only with boilie flavours) Fred had gone through that stage ages ago. He was already adding such things as curry powder, garlic oil, turmeric, and all manner of substances we thought he was mad to try at the time. In spite of that I caught a 22lb 6oz common on one of his curried specials, which was a hell of a good fish in the north west at that time, quite apart from all the other good fish we caught on his concoctions. But it didn’t matter how good one of his creations turned out, Fred would be in search of another one, busily mixing his ‘secret’ ingredients for us to try on our next outing. There was no doubt that Fred got tremendous pleasure from catching fish on his fancy baits, to the extent where he got more fun from catching one fish on a brand new special than two on a tried and tested bait.

If fishing were only about catching fish there would be no fly-only waters; there would be no restrictions on any of the baits and methods we use, for there would be no point in restricting anything at all if all that mattered was what we caught. In fact, if fishing were about nothing else but catching fish then it would be only a short step from a visit to the fishmongers.

But what do you think? Is what you catch more important to you than how you catch it? Do you have a favourite method or bait that gives you greater pleasure to catch with it than catching maybe more fish on another method or bait? Let me know