I’ve gone mad, it’s official. A year ago I gave up the day job and put together the kind of early retirement plan I’d been dreaming about for more than a decade. It was going to be a life full of indulgence with three days fishing in the week and lots of weekends away with the better half. A year on I find I’m working harder than ever but the important thing, I guess, is that it’s all fun.
We Need Stillwater Barbel!
Invited to appear at the Tacklefest show and do a few demonstrations Stu and I decided to book a stand and promote our DVDs. Let me tell you for nothing, Peterborough is not the epicentre of the barbel fishing world. In fact the common theme running through most of our conversations with show goers was, ‘I’d love to catch one from a river but there aren’t any round here, are there?’
Well, there are a few barbel, but I guess they ain’t easy in that neck of the woods. Pretty thin on the ground, I’d say.
Mind you, most had caught a few from commercial waters and there’s the dilemma for those who may stick their noses in the air at Stillwater barbel. If you oppose them you run a risk of marginalising your branch of the sport, denying big chunks of the population any opportunity of witnessing one in the flesh.
Then consider that the UK’s biggest TV angling audience, the Fish’O’Mania Final at Cudmore, will probably be won with a net of Stillwater barbel that will be in great nick and all go back without fuss, is it any wonder that the wider population have a jaundiced view of us barbel fanatics.
Cudmore will also be hosting this year’s Go Fishing event on the same weekend as Fish’O which means the highest live crowd of the season will be found at a commercial water stuffed with barbel and the risk is we become tolerated as an irritation like Greenham Common protesters or Stumpy and his fellow tree-hugging protesters?
At some point we have to give up sticking our heads in the sand over stillwater barbel. They’re here to stay, like it or not. It’s not a fight that the barbel fraternity can win any more. We lost. Let’s get over it, eh? Because the plain facts are that most rivers rely on artificial stockings of barbel from the Environment Agency fish farms for their very existence as barbel fisheries in the first place. The role of the EA will become more crucial to us as otters spread, mink populations grow and invasive birds wreak havoc on smaller fish.
Stocking more fish is the only short term sustainable solution open to us until other factors are addressed and that means we need the support of the EA farms but they are only sustained by selling off excess production to commercial fisheries. In other words, without stillwater barbel we’ll sure as hell run out of wild river fish and where does that leave us?
In a no-win situation, that’s where.
Best we face facts. I like to eat free-range chicken but it’s very expensive and if everyone wanted them they’d be in short supply and the prices would rocket to a point where only the fortunate few would be able to access them. Do you want your barbel fishing to go the same way? Or is it already going that way?
It was good to bump into old Des Taylor at the show. It’s funny how we drift and time races on ahead of us. I’ve probably known Des, as a friend, for 20 years now. We’ve shared fishing holidays and accommodation with our partners at Anglers Paradise. He and Marg came to Christine’s funeral and I’ve stayed with them on numerous occasions but suddenly it struck me that we’d not fished together for the best part of five years. That needs putting right because Des is always good for a laugh and catching fish becomes irrelevant to whether you have a good time.
Other highlights (or lowlights!) of the show included being filmed for the Peterborough newspaper website (good plug for the DVDs!) and doing a live interview on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire which went really well until I got a question out of left field, ‘Who did I think would win the Winter League Final that was taking place on the Nene alongside the Tacklefest show?’ Errr.. I hadn’t a clue and if I’m being perfectly honest I hadn’t a clue who was even fishing. Time was when I would have known exactly what was going on and who knows, I might even have been fishing the match but our lives take strange paths and things that seem so important today are tomorrow’s irrelevances, don’t you think?
Not All EE’s Are Bad
Something that struck me at the show was how we tend to pigeonhole groups of people. Take Eastern Europe for example. We don’t see it as a country, or even a group of countries. We don’t recognise the culture, the skills, the artistry – we just see Eastern Europeans as over here and they steal our fish.
But is that fair? Do ALL EE’s steal our fish? Of course not! It’s a minority. Probably a tiny minority but spare a thought for the majority for once. We had a couple of Polish anglers come to our stand and purchase a DVD.
“We are good anglers,” Said Rafal, “We do not steal fish, we fish for sport…”
And you had to feel for him. He’s tarred with that brush and maybe it’s time we embraced our Continental cousins and integrated them because anglers like Rafal will be good for angling in the long term, good for clubs and good for the trade. What’s more, if anyone is going to have an impact on the rogue fish stealers it’s the genuine Eastern European angler, not us, not the police and not the Environment Agency.
Casters? No Thank You, I’ll Have A Pellet Please…
I managed to sneak in a session on my little river and having three pints of casters going to waste seemed just too good an oportunity. Isn’t it strange, you go to one river and the barbel love casters, go to another and it’s all pellets?
I caught chub and a cracking bream but of barbel there wasn’t a sign. Well, not until I introduced pellets in a new swim and bingo – it took me all of 30 seconds to catch a barbel. How bizzare is that? And if you’re wondering what the crucifix is all about, I fished it out of the river. Perhaps the previous visitor was having a tough time!
No Pressure, Mick!
Stu and I met up with Mick Wood again on the Wharfe. The sun was peeping over the horizon as we trudged down the bank for round two of the barbel filming. Last time, you’ll remember, that the river was a strange muddy colour despite being below normal level. This time the river was spot on. A foot up and carrying a slight peaty tinge. Mick was confident, we were confident and it looked like we would be wrapped up in a couple of hours.
Unfortunately no-one told the fish. Two hours later we’d not had a single rap. The early promise had dissolved into dismay and reality was biting our bottoms. And then the rain started. Before we knew it the heavens had opened and prospects of filming were over. We packed up disconsolate, telling each other that it would happen next time.
Poor Mick. He knows this river like the back of his hand and he regularly makes multiple catches. Indeed, in short recce visits to check the levels and whether the fish are feeding he’s caught fish within minutes but when the cameras turn up it’s a different ball game. He’s learning rapidly that it’s one thing to be a great angler, quite another to catch fish on camera. He’s not doing anything wrong. He’s fishing in a very tidy manner, but it’s as if the fish know the cameras are there. But we’ll nail it in the end, don’t you worry, and it will look like shooting ducks in a barrel, honestly.
One feature that I felt certain would be a piece of cake was an advertorial piece for the Anglers Mail to promote Grubjuice. All I had to do was turn up at a commercial Stillwater, catch a few carp, show how I used Grubjuice in photo sequences and then go home. It would barely take up a couple of hours on a pleasant summer evening.
The deadlines were tight but I turned up at the prescribed hour, at Hayfield Fisheries, and the sun that had shone all day chose to hide behind a sheet of cloud that blackened by the minute. The first spots of rain arrived before I even cast out. Before I knew it we were getting drenched and you don’t use brollies on features. Everything was soaked.
But I caught easily enough and we got a few nice pictures but when it came to the sequences the light had all but gone. This fishing personality lark is a whole lot more complicated and frustrating that the young wannabees realise. They think you call yourself a star, everyone throws tackle at you and you earn vast fortunes. Oh, and you go fishing every day.
Interesting to note that I used neat baits for part of the session but the very first cast with a bait dunked in Grubjuice produced a cracking common carp.
Crash, Bang, Wallop – That’ll Be £500 Please!
Stu Walker is one of the most meticulous men I know. He deals in vibration and ultrasound by day and it all sounds a bit complicated to a guy like me. Predicting machine failures is a black art and best left to those who understand terms like oscillation and frequencies, hertz and waves.
So it came as a bit of a shock to learn his lap top had crashed and that he’d not fully backed up the hard drive. I’d have staked my life on him doing that but thankfully the Barbel Days and Ways stuff had been transferred to external hard drives. What was a problem was his recent work records – electronic data downloaded from the fancy machines he uses for plant analysis – which means he may have to revisit those factories and plants where he has not completed the reports. A slight inconvenience to say the least, but the real killer is that he’s not backed up his photographs.
That he’s lost the images of the fish he’s caught in the past 18 months is one thing but those of his two baby daughters are irreplaceable. Apparently he’s found a company that may be able to recover these but it will cost the thick end of £500…
First job for me today is to do some backing up because the thought of losing my images would be devastating. What if I had a burglary, or a fire? What on earth would I do?
What would you do?
It’s an uncomfortable thought, eh?
Busy Days Ahead
Well, the summer is now upon us and the diary is full to bursting point. We’re out filming with Dave Mason shortly on the Teme and we must get back on the Wharfe with Mr Wood. I’m down on the Wye shortly coaching a bunch of reprobates, then there’s a programme to film for Improve Your Coarse Fishing TV, a slot on Keith Arthur’s Tight Lines, visits to France, Portugal, Spain and Italy, and those Trent barbel keep calling me back.
Throw in a weekly column, two monthly magazine features, this web site and you can see I’m going to be busy.
I’ve yet to use either of my River Dove tickets and I can’t see me taking up an invite to fish a very special carp water which holds some proper old monsters.
Not forgetting a very special birthday party where we all have to dress up in 60’s gear. It kicks off at noon and will continue until the food and drink runs out and Peter says he has a lot of drink…
So much to do, so little time, eh?
Footnote: Bob’s Nature Watch
The other week when I was fishing the Wye I was surprised to see a skylark. In fact there were several of them and it set me thinking back to the days when I wore short trousers. Back then we used to lay on the school field gazing up into the sky trying to spot the tiny black dot that was making all the noise. Skylarks were everywhere and in some ways they were the soundtrack to summer. Recently I realised that it had been an awful long time since I’d last heard one.
Apparently the number of skylarks has dropped by a staggering 90 per cent in the past 30 years during a time when the magpie population has increased by 96 per cent. Modern farming methods have a lot to answer for. It has impacted badly so many of our native wild birds, the linnet, greenfinch, chaffinch, bullfinch, yellowhammer and so many more species but maybe the real problem has been the increase in motor vehicles.
Motor vehicles produce roadkill and roadkill means easy pickings for birds like the magpie, carrion crow and sparrow hawk, all of which are on the increase. Magpies are nest robbers, stealing and eating both eggs and chicks.
Through the winter it’s roadkill that sustains them. It is estimated that Britain’s 40,000 pairs of sparrowhawks eat more than 2,000 tons of birds each year which equates to 88 million sparrows and 25 million skylarks.
On Sunday morning as Stu and I approached the M18 – A1 interchange on our journey to Peterborough we spotted a couple of wild deer on the grass verge before scrambling up the embankment. There are more deer running wild in the UK than you imgagine and they cause thousands of road traffic accidents. Even though you rarely see a deer they are everywhere, a bit like foxes. What is overlooked is how they graze our diminishing woodlands, eating seedlings and saplings, preventing regeneration which in turn affects ground nesting birds and the habitat they need to survive.
We live in a rapidly changing environment and the control measures we are legally allowed to adopt do precious little to prevent it happening. The price we pay for not controlling avian predators is the loss of songbirds, Bambi and her friends take away our grouse, partridge and woodcocks while the cormorant will ultimately have a disastrous effect on the kingfisher, grebe and heron.
Our rivers have changed beyond recognition from those I knew in my youth and I feel there’s a whole lot more change to come. And what can we hope for our stillwaters? Carp, carp and more carp, anyone?
And you know what? The more protectionist measures we set up, the worse it seems to get. In fact we could hardly get it more wrong if we tried.
As for the do-gooding activists who released mink from fur farms which in turn has cost us our entire populations of water vole and the common shrew, I think we’d all be better off if we culled the perpetrators.
New Labour was a massive promotor of diversity – well, ethnic diversity. The same cannot be said for our countryside diversity and that really is a shame. Too many folk are doing their best, with public funding and good intentions to prevent species like otter from becoming extinct. Unfortunately they are blind to the reasons these creatures died out and are hell bent on spreading laboratory farmed specimens with total disregard to the impact.
If a species is faltering because its food supply has dried up, replenish the food stock, don’t increase the numbers of starving animals! Live Aid was set up to help the starving people of Africa. It spent money on wells and sustainable food supplies. It sure as hell didn’t suggest a breeding programme to replace those who starved to death, did it!
Bob’s Nature Watch – Footnote Three:
In my last blog I mentioned an oak tree being struck by lightning close to where I was fishing. I was wrong – it wasn’t an oak, it was an ash tree. I was fishing just 176 metres away and this is what’s left of it!
Bob’s Nature Watch – Footnote Four:
Mentioning skylarks reminded me of another species that has diminished dramtically in recent years – the green plover. That’s a lapwing or peewit to you and me. We used to see them by the hundred over the fields when I was a kid, especially in Autumn, and then one day I noticed they’d gone. In truth they probably just dwindled away over the space of a couple of decades but it’s a bit like aging. We never notice the changes until one morning you’re having a shave and it dawns on you that you’re showing a few signs of age.
Well, it was a pleasant surprise to spot a veritable flock of lapwings on the Tidal Trent the other day. At web resolution the image isn’t great but I’m sure you can see from the black dots that this is a healthy, thriving population.
Well, that almost brings me up to date with what’s been a busy few days if I ignore the fact that I’ve been out taming the trogs again. In three short sessions – 10am starts and home for tea on the same day – I’ve caught three dozen barbel plus a bunch of cracking chub. Nothing truly massive in the barbel stakes but who cares when the rod keeps hooping over and they fight like demons.
I’ll tell you a bit more about my exploits in the next blog.