August was a relatively quiet month for me, fishing wise, mainly because I was always going to be involved in organising other anglers’ fishing or living the life of luxury aboard a cruise ship. How the other half live, eh? So how come a quiet month still needs 5,000 words to tell you what I’ve been up to. It’s mad, eh?
The month kicked off with my annual coaching course on the Wye. I get quite a few enquiries each season from folk asking if I will take them for a day’s guided fishing. It’s quite popular, I gather, and rather lucrative judging what some of the well known anglers charge. Indeed the going rate for folk who’ve done a bitty of telly seems to be upwards of £500 a pop. However my stock answer is no. I’m happy to accommodate folk on the Wye weeks I run where £500 buys them 4 nights in a rather nice hotel, fantastic a-la-carte meals, packed lunches, four days fishing and a degree of support and guidance from me. They’ll also share the experience with a small group of fellow guests.
You only have to look at the responses from happy customers to see things are working to their satisfaction. No-one gets ripped off, there is no catch and of course I’m never going to get rich doing it. Seriously, I don’t do this to line my pockets. I simply enjoy my time in the Wye valley, get to meet a lot of nice people, most of whom have become friends and I handsomely cover my expenses. If I’m happy and the customer is happy then no-one gets hurt or feels cheated in the slightest. I also get to spend time with my dear friends Peter and Katharine who run the hotel.
What’s the downside? Well, the only thing I can point to is it’s become too popular. What started out as a weekend in the country, a favour for a mate, grew organically until it became 4 nights for 8 guests. It wasn’t long before demand exceded the availability of places. You see, once folk have tried it and recognise there are no catches, that no-one is getting ripped off, they tend to rebook. Some of my guests have now attended 4 or 5 years on the trot and I suspect they’ll be back again next year, too.
This year I had no choice but to open the session up to a second week and rope in a guest host. Steve Pope, Chairman of the Barbel Society, volunteered and we filled all 16 places in no time. Indeed I had a waiting list that would have filled a 3rd week. Steve had a whale of a time and his guests were pleased with his support and guidance, so in the next few weeks we’ll sit down and discuss 2013.
Do we go for extra places? No, I don’t think so. Eight is the optimum size for a group. Enough to create a great atmosphere, to ensure the conversation buzzes over dinner, everyone quickly gets to know each other and it’s easy to manage the inevitable emotional highs and lows. You don’t fix what’s not broken.
The only alternative is an additional week, or weeks. We could even add an extra day, as some guests have already do, and offer 5 days fishing. Or change the timing. We’ll have to see.
So how did our guests do this time? Brilliantly I would say. Having a wet summer has kept the river fresh and lively and that means more barbel were caught that usual. Indeed one or two guests made spectacular catches. I think James had something like 20-odd in a day during the second week. Quite a few caught their first ever Wye barbel, several caught PBs and we even had a smattering of doubles. You cannot ask for more than that, can you? And we’ve had numerous thank you emails and enquiries for next season already.
Yet some folk will still try to knock whatever we do, no matter how positive. How weird is that, eh? I’ve already had some vitriolic sage write a bitter private message suggesting I’m a hypocrite, an idiot and I only say what Steve tells me to say. You have to pity these folk, don’t you? They clearly don’t know me at all or they’d realise how ridiculous they sound.
Anyway, to all those guests who came along and enjoyed themselves, it was our pleasure to have you along and we look forward to the next time.
Cooking Up A Storm
Home from Wales I faced a mountain of letters and emails. Call me a cynic but my intuition suggested I was being set up when I spied a letter from ITV Studios inviting me to get in touch about the programme Come Dine With Me, I also had an email from ITV’s new cooking programme, Food Glorious Food. Was this a wind-up? Apparently not.
Alas I cannot imagine me on CDWM. After all, what started out as a cooking competition where the contestants are set up against folk they are bound to clash with. I’d get the vegetarian birdwatcher, a tattoed otter lover who lives in Donny but supports Leeds United, a one-legged purple-haired lesbian and someone from the barbel police who fishes nowhere else but Hazelford, no doubt.
I enjoy a bit of cooking but I know my limitations. Can’t say either programme appealed to me but I did put a couple of folk in touch who might be just up their street.
Bitter Buddies In ‘The Community’
Sorry to harp on about negative folk, but whilst in Wales I was handed an old black and white photograph. Give that to Ron Clay when you see him next, will you? I fished it out of the old Carp Study Group files and I’m sure he’d like to have it back. It portrays a much younger Ron, after all it was taken in January 1972, over 40 years ago. The pencil lines and hand written caption on the rear indicated that it had obviously been used on Page 7 of whatever publication, ‘Our man in South Africa, Ron Clay, with a 13.75lb January carp from the Vaal dam.’
Of course it will be my pleasure to pass it on when I see him next.
It’s a shame that younger anglers today, and by that I specifically mean the ones who spend all their time posting on web forums rather than actually going fishing, have no sense of history. Old Ron took a right battering on Fishing Magic recently about his ‘credibility’ from folk who really know no better. Perhaps in their eyes fishing is a relatively new sport and that the real measure of greatness is measured by which boilies a bloke uses, if he fishes the right waters and whether or not he appears regularly on telly. Confusingly they then regard anyone who appears in a newspaper or magazine as no more than an attention seeker. There is no pleasing these folk.
Sixteen years have flown by since I sat down with my mentor, the late Colin Dyson, who was then suffering with the later stages of terminal cancer (although I wasn’t to know that). I’d offered to ease the burden of his workload and he was guiding me through the do’s and dont’s of writing a newspaper column targeting South Yorkshire anglers. You must remember the Internet had not yet been invented, few owned a mobile phone, so other than contacts and press releases your main source of angling news was the Angling Times or Mail.
‘If you’re stuck have a scan through the papers. There’s usually something of local interest in there.’ He said, flicking open the Angling Times. ‘Here you go, Ron Clay with a big chub. Ron now lives in Warwickshire but he was one of the biggest names in specimen hunting in this area before he went to South Africa. You can make a couple of paragraphs out of that if you’re stuck.’
And so my apprenticeship had begun.
That Ron is one of the few living anglers who can genuinely say they fished with the greats of what was a golden era, when fishing moved forwards faster than at any other time in history is something that should be cherished rather than mocked. He was there when every street corner had a specialist group and he certainly delivered the goods where it matters – on the bank. It was a glorious era because there was a thirst for knowledge and change. And folk did things face-to-face, in letters and if they were very fortunate, over the phone.
Reading about something on the Internet doesn’t mean you were there or are part of anything. Commenting on someone’s Facebook wall when they’ve caught a kipper is a far cry from sharing the catch. There was far less secrecy and bitterness back then. Yes, folk were competitive but they understood respect and showed it. And if I might use a quote from US businessman Robert Half, ‘There is something that is much more scarce, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability’.
And last night I had a call from an ever enthusiastic Ron, ‘Just back from the Trent, Bob. I would have stayed longer but everything was soaking wet. I fished that peg you suggested and just wanted to tell you I had three bream to 7lb-odd. They all came in a short feeding spell and fought as hard as any barbel. Oh, and I had a barbel, too…’
It’s so refreshing to hear that a bloke in his 70’s who’s seen and done more than most of his critics will ever do, can still get so excited about catching a few bream. And yes, he’ll tell everyone about it because in his mind he thinks everyone wants to hear a bit of good news. Unfortunately the Internet forums would appear not to concur.
The End Is Nigh
A snatched day on the tidal Trent brought the filming of our Caught In The Act project even closer to its conclusion. We are now just one half of one ‘act’ short of completing the filming side of the project and everything is looking good. I always thought that the task of catching a barbel or two on stick float tactics from the tidal Trent would be a doddle. Two years ago I was knocking fish out for fun on this method, but last summer there was an explosion of mini-dace that made float fishing with maggots practically impossible.
This season the river has been so high there has been no chance of float fishing, certainly not on the tidal, but the clock is ticking, time and tides wait for no man. Stu was desperate that we take the first opportunity to nail it. Well, with just 48 hours between getting home from Wales and flying out to Venice he wanted to give it a go. I had precious little room for manouvre, but I gave it my best shot. Unfortunately the river was still up 2 feet and bowling through. This was going to be an uphill struggle, I feared. That there was virtually no wind and the sun shone down from a powder blue sky didn’t help my prospects but at least Stu was happy that conditions were ideal for filming.
To cut a long story short, I struggled. Well, I did for an hour or so. Then I hooked a fish which dropped off! Two hours in I finally got one which settled the nerves slightly. And then things just got better and better. ‘At this rate I’ll be going to meddley soon!’ Announced Stu. Which means there’s enough atmospheric, scenic, technical and catching action already in the can and there’s no point in shooting anything but the finest action shots. A bit like goals of the week, if you like.
So there we are. On the home straight at last. We just need this rain to stop and the sun to shine so we can go for a wrap next week. Now that will be a satisfying feeling. Of course the really hard work of editing, scripting, narration, music, titles and so on all lies ahead of us but bring it on. I can’t wait to get stuck in.
Old Isaak Knew Where He Stood
Some talk of otter predation like it’s something new, that otters only began to pose problems in more recent times, but is that true? Did anglers recognise the damage they wrought a hundred years ago, or 500? Was it not Mr Walton who wrote:
Serious Bling Time
Does the colour of a car’s dashboard make it go faster? Do fish prefer to be caught on a pure black reel rather than one with a gold decal? I ask because some folk appear horrified by the trend towards ‘blinged’ tackle. To them these creations are the work of the devil and should never be seen on the river bank. Some would go so far as to insist we spray all our rods and reels with non-reflective charcoal paint.
But does it make one iota of difference? What does a fish see against a bright sky anyway? Surely these anglers would be better off concentrating on what’s next to the hook rather than what’s in their hand? And imagine a tackle shop full of charcoal rods and reels. How dull!
Fishing is supposed to be fun. It shouldn’t be serious like politics. It’s an escape. It’s to be enjoyed and you know what? I enjoy fishing with something that, in my eyes, looks good. Through my connections with Daiwa I have handled reels to make your eyes water, or at least their retail price would. They exist but you’re not going to find many turning up in your local tackle shop. Nor would you expect to be offered a Formula One racing car at your local Ford dealership.
But let’s not be killjoys. Just because someone drives an old banger doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy reading Top Gear magazine, does it?
But where can you see these custom reels? The answer is here. For lovers of seriously blinged-up tackle there’s simply no better read to be found. Go on, feast your eyes!
Fast Food World Domination Update
It’s good to see that some countries still cling to their culinary heritage, at least according to this t-shirt:
Maybe they just don’t want American burgers.
When Tracksuits Were Fashionable
I came across a couple of dodgy old snaps while looking for something else entirely the other day and it brought back a host of memories. I wonder, does anyone actually recognise the work some of our leading anglers do for charity causes? The first was taken at Aston, near Sheffield. The anglers in the picture are (L to R): Dave Harrell, Alan Scotthorne, Sandra Halkon Hunt (hidden), Me, Dave Vincent, Ivan Marks.
And here’s another shot at Evesham (L to R): Marks, Arthur, Harrell, Pickering, Nudd.
And the angler in the wheelchair is John Dickens, a guy who is a mean competitor on the South Yorkshire club match angling scene to this day and doesn’t look any older.
Which reminds me. Congratulations on lifting the ‘John Smiths’ again at Evesham over the Bank Holiday weekend (Sorry, Shakespeare Festival!) and double congrats for landing a 13lb-odd barbel, picking up £6,000 in the process are in order for Dave Harrell. I gather the match/ weekend threw up three proper old lumps weighing 12, 13 and 14lbs. Match fishing ain’t what it used to be, that’s for certain.
Looking forward to a day out with Dave in the next week or two.
Sweet Little Birds With Black Feathers
And while I’m reminiscing and basking in a warm, contented glow an email has dropped into my inbox from a certain William Makin Esq. That’s right, Billy of Makins Fisheries fame, and before that the scourge of the black plague, and before that the mighty gudgeon basher of the Oxford canal. Around the time, or shortly thereafter, when Ron Clay was a very well known specialist angler, Billy Makin was a match fishing machine who terrorised the canal match circuit along with his buddy Ray Mills. Be in no doubt he was an absolutely brilliant canal angler. Of course, none of the kids today will have a clue who I’m on about. They probably think Stillwater Blues is an album by some band or other. Such a shame these kids are approaching their 40’s and 50’s!
Anyway, Billy has passed on a little of his wisdom about cormorants:
Sweet Little Birds With Black Feathers
Hi Bob, long time no see; just got this computer thing and read your excellent blog.
What is the Billy Makin school of thought on cormorants? Never really had a problem with them, did however have some of the fattest foxes in the world walking around the area.
Regards Bill Makin, Tenerife
You can find a little more of his wisdom here.
Exclusive – The Truth About Stillwater Barbel!!!
And now, for those of you who’ve managed to stay awake for this long, I am going to raise a rather controversial issue.
What, Bob Roberts flirting with controversy, surely not?!!!
Well, pin back your lugholes and let me tell you a little tale, and in doing so put to rest a thousand Forum threads (but probably start another hundred) by revealing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the origins of Makin’s barbel. Allow me to lift the lid on stillwater barbel once and for all.
There has been much speculation about the origins of the barbel in Makins Fisheries. I suppose it all hit the headlines when Des Taylor did a few features about them in Angling Times. Des filled his boots at the time, told the world about his exploits and in doing so raised the hackles of the good ship Barbel Society and all who sail in her. It was arguably these fish that really sparked the whole debate over stillwater barbel.
The ensuing spats were ugly, devisive and probably cost the Society a lot of members because it highlighted how extreme the views of certain vociferous individuals were. There was no middle ground. It was pretty much ‘our way or the highway’ on stillwaters, keepnets, sleeping by rods, baiting, suitable tackle, codes, rules, you name it. Outwardly the Society became political, or at least that’s how the bombastic approach came across.
There were calls to boycott Makins, while the fishery sponsor, a leading tackle manufacturer, pulled out claiming it was on the receiving end of industrial blackmail and had no option but to do so. There were further cries of hypocrisy when Dynamite sponsored both the fishery and Steve Pope, Chairman of the Society. Disgruntled factions from within pounced on this and indeed anything else it could chew on. Make no mistake, if you study when those who denounce the Society at each and every turn today first raised their disgruntlement there’s a pretty good chance it is all rooted in this period.
Meanwhile Billy Makin remained tight lipped over the origins of his fish and only now has he decided to lift the lid.
‘Yes,’ He told me, ‘They did have the speech impediment similar to the native west area of middle England but I could never say how I actually came upon them. However, as the guy who supplied them is no longer with us, I think it is perhaps time for me to put the record straight.
‘My fishery was pretty much still in it’s infancy when Mr X approached me with a tank full of barbel. Some of them were absolute whoppers. I smelled a rat yet he assured me that they were completely legal and were electo-fished from the salmon spawning areas of the River Wye. I rang what was then the National Rivers Authority (this was pre-Environment Agency) and they confirmed that this was indeed their policy.
‘They then informed me that the fish had to be destroyed as no licence would be issued for fish transfer, not even into the river Severn.
‘For all these years I have had to take some pretty horribly stuff from the Barbel Society when in reality I actually saved the lives of those barbel and I might add, quite a few more, but no way would I break a confidence and reveal the identity of my supplier even when the N. R. A. threatened to prosecute me. Still I didn’t half get some good publicity out of it!
‘Incidentally when l asked the N. R. A. to put their policy in writing they responded by turning up at my fishery one morning, threw off my anglers and netted the lakes right in the middle of spawning. I lost a complete shoal of prime bream. Oh yes, and they were accompanied by a few uniformed coppers, I can’t think why.
‘What’s the betting that the powers that be deny everything? I feel that we are stirring up a hornets nest. I had them round my house on two occasions together with their solicitor trying to either find my supplier, with threats, or to keep me from revealing a policy that they subsequently changed.
‘There you are Bob, other than my staff you are the first to know.’
He rounded of by adding, ‘Still, despite their tactics I admire anyone concerned enough to make a serious stand, even my old adversary Steve Pope. Give him my regards if you bump into him. Bill’
All’s well that ends well, then.
So why does this feel more like the begining of something rather than the end…? 😉
Stu’s getting a bit excited over his Youtube Channel. It seems our latest film, shot in the Andaman Islands, has gone viral. We don’t understand how, or even why, but it’s attracting hits like nothing else we’ve ever done. This morning it sailed past 78,500 views in just 2 months! A version of this film can now be watched as an App on Samsung smart TV’s, another version has been shown on Sky’s Tight Lines and yet another version is available via OnlineTV.
It’s mad, I tell you!
Can I Ever Rid Myself Of This Curse? (The Football’s Back)
I was born in a mining village on the outskirts of Doncaster, in the front room of a terraced house to be precise. I don’t think it actually had electricity until I was around 3-years-old. An auspicious start compared with those folk the politicians now call ‘poor’ which means, as far as I can see, you don’t have the latest i-phone, tablet PC, trainers and a smart TV, or maybe they do. Far too many seem happy with their lot so long as they don’t have to get a job because working might reduce their benefits.
Meanwhile we were happy to enjoy a tin bath in front of the open range once a week. Thing is, I didn’t actually realise I was poor. No one was ramming it down my throat.
But I’ve no axe to grind with my past, it’s the present, or should I say my curse I’m struggling to come to terms with. You see, I like football but I’m not one of those folk who can toss a coin and choose to follow Leeds, or Manchester United, or City or Chelski, or Arsenal depending on who’s flavour of the month. That’s for fickle folk. Glory hunters. I am cursed by birth to follow the fortunes of Doncaster Rovers and right now I don’t like the club or the way it’s run. Dare I say it, I was half pleased to see them relegated last year. It was what John Ryan deserved, sacking a decent, honourable, realistic manager and replacing him with a walking soundbite from the Blue Square Bet Conference. We’ll gloss over ‘the experiment’ and all that idiotic talk about getting to the Premier League. No, we screwed up the plan, and you can read that in any way you want.
Relegation has been on the cards since the day we humiliated Leeds United at Wembley. In many ways it was inevitable. We simply didn’t have sufficient resources to compete in the Championship and we allowed our best assets to leave because we were unable to compete financially on contracts. That we survived 4 years on dwindling resources was a miracle. By the time the fat lady got around to clearing her throat half the teams we were supposedly competing with were, or had recently been, receiving parachute payments. The other half included clubs with impossibly large resources compared with our own, like Leeds, Forest and Leicester. That we stayed afloat while the likes of the two (ahem, ‘massive’) Sheffield clubs sank is testament to how well we were run for a while.
Then the Chairman lost the plot. You know I’ve not watched my team play since they sacked O’Driscoll and I won’t go again until his replacement has gone. The man arrived with no league management experience, talks like a fool and is far too keen on the sound of his own voice, spouting utter bull at every turn. No, I’ve taken against him and no matter what he does on the field will never be good enough. I cannot respect him. I will not. My heels are dug in so deep there’s no going back.
But it’s not that easy.
My pulse still races whenever they play. I invariably keep up with the score on TV, radio or the internet. Each goal against is like a kick in the nuts, each one for still gets me buzzing. Deep down I want them to win. But somewhere in a deep, dark place I really want Saunders to lose. It tears me appart. It’s the drug I cannot give up. Cold turkey hasn’t worked. So, what about a substitute team, just till he’s gone? Is there a methodone equivalent for the football junkie?
I’ve had a second team since the mid-1970’s. Don’t laugh but I follow the fortunes of Meadowbank Thistle FC (now called Livingston). It’s mad, I know, but they were the Scottish equvalent of a Doncaster Rovers when I ‘discovered’ them on the Saint and Greavsie show. Absolutely hopeless they were, a desperately poor team in the Scottish 3rd Division. They had won 1 and drawn 1 of their previous 19 matches. It was a match made in heaven, Doncaster and Meadowbank. I was now able to feel twice the pain each Saturday evening.
Amazingly Meadowbank improved and climbed the leagues until they finished runner’s-up in Division One. The Premiership beckoned only for their dreams to be dashed. A streamlining of the top division denied them the promotion they so richly deserved and they remained in Division One. How cruel, but nothing less than a Doncaster might expect.
Disappointment turned into desperation. Relegation followed relegation and when a fourth tier was introduced to the Scottish leagues Meadowbank hit rock bottom. But if you think the pain ends there, think again. The club was in dire financial straights and in 1995 the club not only relocated to a new town 13 miles up the road and changed its name to Livingston. Not quite your Milton Keynes Dons but I’m sure Wimbledon fans can relate to the scenario.
Amazingly, 6 years later they were in the Premier League. Not only in it but they finished 3rd behind Celtic and Rangers. What?!!!! My team? Well, not really. Just a little club I’d felt a connection with 25 years earlier. The resulting flirtation with the EUFA cup was swiftly followed by relegation – with a the lowest ever number of points recorded as the natural order of things was reinstated. That was more like it. And by 2009 they were back in the basement league again, in administration and facing liquidation.
But my teams seldom lie down for long. Not only did they come out of administration, they actually won the league that year. And blow me, they only went and won the Second Division a year later meaning they were back in the First Division again, which is where you’ll find them now. I’ll tell you what, give me a second team like Livingston over a Leeds any day.
Unfortunately all this exhuberance cannot mask my disillusionment with my first love. Sorry Rovers, I can just about forgive the idiocy of the Chairman but until the clown leaves, I’m staying away. And I don’t think I’m alone. Despite back-to-back wins in the opening games the crowd was down on last season’s average by a third for Saturday’s home game, a defeat by Crawley. Ironically I had decided to adopt Crawley for the season as my English team after O’Driscoll’s contract at Forest ended and he took over there as manager. I even joined the Crawley Town FC forum. But then he was offered the hot seat at Forest and that’s the kind of job you don’t turn down when you’re facing a season in League One, now is it?
So it was goodby Crawley and I’m now keeping an eye on Forest’s results, wishing O’Driscoll and Forest every success this season. Unbeated in 3 Championship games is a good start. Let’s hope they kick on because it’s a very tough league.
But what of Doncaster’s chances?
Well, let us be perfectly frank here, this is probably the weakest League One in at least a decade. During that time we have seen teams like Swansea, Forest, Bristol City, Blackpool, Hull City, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Brighton, Southampton, Huddersfield, Norwich, Leeds, Charlton, and Leicester get promoted from the 3rd tier. This year we are competing with Sheffield United and… er, and… er, hmmm. Not exactly a lot to worry about, is there, unless you regard Crawley, Stevenage, Yeovil and MK Dons as pillars of the footballing Universe. No disrespect but teams like Bury, Hartlepool, Carlisle, Crewe, Walsall and Scunthorpe are hardly set to rip the league apart either, are they? In fact it’s practically impossible to predict whether any club in this division will finish up in the top or the bottom six.
I’d back us to bounce straight back under a half decent manager and if talking bo**ocks earned you points we’d be promoted by Christmas with Saunders at the helm. In fact we’d still be in the Championship. But then we’re back to ‘the experiment’. O’Driscoll wanted to plan for relegation, invest in youth and yo-yo between the Championship and League One, which I’m sure we could have done. The Chairman saw things differently and installed Saunders who had no league management experience. He took 3 years with 100 different players to steer a well-funded Wrexham to the top of the Blue Square Conference. What’s more he has never once tasted promotion at any level as a manager.
Doesn’t bode well, does it?
The fan base is divided. Torn down the middle. Ten years of steady progress tossed away. A roller-coaster of a ride. My own heart broken, not by relegation but by a Chairman suddenly behaving like a Bates or a Mandaric. I’m cursed in that I cannot let a match go by without wanting to know the latest score, who’s playing, what’s happening, how long’s left. But I ain’t going back. Oh no. Saunders could be the new Bill Shankley, Don Revie and Matt Busby all rolled into one but I ain’t going back till he’s gone. It’s over folks.
And just in case you think I’m alone, here’s an article by one of my favourite football writers. He too, I suspect, shares my pain.