This is an article I wrote at the end of the 2008/9 fishing season, my first year of retirement and for the first time ever I could choose whatever I did and when I would do it. No school, no work, no rules, no restrictions. I was a free man. Every day was a Saturday. I can thoroughly recommend it…! Perhaps I’ll pen a Reflections II shortly. After all an awful lot happens in a year.

Well, another year has flown by and I’m left wondering where the time goes. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on what I’ve been up to, what I’m planning and life in general.

It’s hard to believe, well, for me it’s hard, that I gave up work fully 18 months ago. Once I’d made up my mind I really could see no way back. A new life beckoned and I had big plans. Oh, the fishing I was going to do, the places to see, friends to visit, adventures to share. It was all there on a plate.

Then reality dawned. There are an awful lot of things you still have to do to keep the wolves from the door.

Time was still a precious commodity.

I gave up work on June 16th, 2008, and not surprisingly the first few months of retirement felt really awkward. It felt more like I was throwing a ‘sickie’ or taking an extended holiday than finally being free. It didn’t really dawn on me for some while that all the knowledge and experience I’d built up in my past life counted for nothing and that I didn’t need to hang on to those useful bits of equipment and countless technical documents.

It took a full year foe me to convince myself I could throw them away without feeling any guilt or remorse. That chapter was over and I should have fished more often, but the enthusiasm wasn’t always there. It was all too easy to put things off until tomorrow, or even next week. There was a lack of urgency.

It appears there is a transition, a period of adjustment before my enthusiasm could come flooding back. At last the penny dropped, this was my life. Fishing is my job now, not a guilty pleasure.

I’m so pleased this all coincided with Stu and I making our Barbel Days And Ways DVDs. Indeed my very first Monday of freedom was spent filming. Filming in the way we work consumes an inordinate amount of time at every stage whether it be planning, filming, editing, marketing and even dispatching the orders. At times it was all-consuming but in the end we created an exceptional legacy that we can always be proud of.

There’s two more in the pipeline (Vols 3 & 4), better in our view than the first two thanks to the experience we gained, and then that will be it for a while. We’re taking a break. Whether we’ll do more is anyone’s guess but we’ve proved that a couple of amateurs can actually make something very special, something that challenges the very best the professionals can come up with. It’s pretty satisfying when you deliver something that makes folk go “Wow, I wouldn’t have believed that!”

So what will I do with all the time on my hands? That’s a laugh! Launching this web site has proved to be fun, but you might say I’ve created a monster. In its first year alone I put 100 articles up on line (over 200 now!). That’s a lot of work and responding to vistors querries and comments eats up a fair bit of time. But the stats keep racking up and that’s encouraging.

Unfortunately with success comes responsibility and you have to work hard to keep a web site fresh. There’s no such thing as a finished web site, it’s always work in progress. Fail to keep adding fresh content and you’re history. The attention span of the average web surfer is quite low. How many of us click on a familiar site to find there’s nothing obviously new and then click straight off it?

But investing time in a web site is probably better than supping coffee all day, wondering whether to read the paper or watch Jeremy Kyle.

Retirement has certainly given me some freedom of choice in terms of when and where I want to fish. It also means I spend more time with a camera in my hands which in turn means I get to take some rewarding images. I love taking pictures and as anglers we have no real excuses for not taking good ones. Everything happens right there in front of our eyes. All we have to do is pick up a camera and press the shutter.

If there’s an annoying downside to retirement then perhaps I’d point to the M1. I hate the M1. I never remember it being good but the current road works between me and the Nottingham end of the River Trent stretch for 15 consecutive miles (thankfully they’re now complete – we now have 15 miles of serial speed cameras instead). The hours I’ve lost stuck in that lot don’t bear thinking about and it’s completely random. A shunt in the morning rush hour can still be causing tailbacks at lunchtime even though everything was cleared away hours earlier. Yes it drives me mad and has an influence in my choice of where I’m going to fish to a greater degree than I care to admit.

I’ve run a few coaching sessions at the Caer Beris Manor Hotel in Builth Wells, mid-Wales, this summer and they’ve been refreshingly enjoyable. Nice people, nice places to fish, great food and as friendly a hotel as you can imagine. The courses continue and I’m finding that guests seem to enjoy them so much they frequently re-book, some do it year after year and regard it as a fixture in the calendar. Can’t say I blame them, either.

I’m relatively new to the coaching game, and do please note that I said coaching and not guiding. There’s a massive difference. Okay, I’ve coached youngsters at numerous carp schools in the past and occasionally taken guests out for a day, but dealing with a group of 8 people is completely different. It’s a 15-hour day with fishing, coaching and a dinner party, plus a slide show thrown in. Very demanding, but we’ve yet to have a single unhappy customer.

Next summer I’m sure we’ll run a couple more but I’m hoping we can run them over 4 days (this is now happening) and we’ll get to explore more of the river, use different techniques, maybe throw in a few cook-outs so we can be on the river at dawn, or late into the evening, but always making full use of the hotel’s fabulous facilities.

I’m keen to drop back into a bit of carp fishing again. I have a few tempting offers up my sleeve and it dawned on me only the other day that I haven’t carp fished with Allan Parbery of Mistral Baits since something like 1993. We need to put that straight because we’ve had some cracking sessions together in the past. I love stalking carp but I’m not averse to laying traps either. No, it’s something I am going to have to sort out (something I did sort out and thoroughly enjoyed).

I missed out on a foreign adventure this year and I’m often asked what it is I get out of these trips, usually by folk who have never done one and express quite negative views, ‘Oh, I’d rather catch a pound dace than a mahseer!’

Well, maybe they would, but why not catch both? Oh, that’s right, you’ve not actually had the dace, yet…

Foreign adventures are character building. These trips can be filled with excitement, the challenge, adrenaline, danger and bonding with your fellow adventurers; but they’re also filled with fun.

You go native and get close to the people, their culture and their dignity. What it ultimately boils down to is that it is seldom about the fish.

The downside is the expense. Exotic trips don’t come cheap but it’s still a damn site cheaper than smoking 20 fags a day for a year and less likely to damage your long term health.

We’re shortly heading out to Uganda, that’s Stu Walker, James Gould and myself, to fish the White Nile (it was  staggering!). Stu and I have done a few trips now, enough to feel we can have a crack at travelling to an African country without support. There will be no guides to meet us and take us to the hot spots. This time we’re going it alone which is a massive saving on costs but a huge risk in terms of organisation and support.

Fortunately we’ve been helped at this end by folk who’ve been before and we’re getting lots of encouragement at the other end. The fishing though will be down to us.

The thought of flying into Entebbe airport will strike a chord with those of a similar age to me. They’ll no doubt recall the hijacking of the Air France Flight in 1976. 139 hijackers, 3 hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers died in the incident but things appear to be rather better in the post-Idi  Amin era. That’s it – you see, you get to revisit historical locations, too!

Beats sitting behind a pair of barbel rods on a cold February morning with little prospect of action, don’t you think?

In the past year I’ve given talks at a number of shows and when you combine this with the emails, people you bump into on the bank, in tackle shops and, of course, the coaching days, it brings home to you what a nice bunch anglers are in general.

I used to think the Internet forum crowd was a typical cross-section of humanity but it’s nothing of the sort. Graham Marsden hit on it when he laid into the trolls and keyboard warriors in Coarse Fisherman magazine. Not one of them has ever come up to me and said a dicky bird to my face but because they can hide behind pseudonyms on the forums they can be ever so brave with their outpourings.

It’s so laughable but I did learn a new game. When anyone bad mouths you or makes rude comments on a web forum, try contacting the hosting company. For instance, if it’s a Yuku site then go to the Yuku home page where there’s a facility to make a report. You’ll then get a response from their legal department and hey-ho, like abracadabra, the post disappears.

I tried it and on one occasion they contacted me to say one individual poster had been given a global ban.

How long do you think it would be before Yuku get fed up and pulled the whole site?

No one should have to stand that kind of abuse on a web forum from what are basically attention seekers and there is no wonder that the numbers of lurkers far exceeds the number of posters on public forums. To many it simply isn’t worth the risk of getting embroiled. After all, some of the worst protagonists put far more effort into catching anglers than catching fish. In fact I doubt some of them ever actually go fishing.

Sadly web forums are in decline and you need look no further than weak moderation for the reason. Easy to blame the trolls but they only exist in the first place because they were tolerated and in some cases encouraged at the outset, more’s the pity.

Ten years ago it was very rare to see a buzzard in my neck of the woods. I use to see them on Dartmoor or maybe in the Teme Valley, but that was it. It was quite a thrill to spot one soaring on high but just lately I’m seeing them all the time. I saw one on the Dove with Archie Braddock this autumn. Then I saw one on the Trent near Newark. Blow me if I didn’t see one near Bawtry last week.

Driven out of much of England by the 1970’s due to a combination of persecution and chemicals like DDT entering the food chain, the Buzzard is now our commonest raptor and the spread is allegedly down to road kill. They were not welcomed by some land owners but today they make a good living picking up rabbits and small mammals from the roads, hence they use the motorways as, well, motorways and the critters we knock down become their Little Chef Diners.

Let’s close with a question about roach. Are they an endangered species? I ask because they are disappearing fast from the rivers I fish. Okay, they turn up in certain hot spots every winter but try elsewhere and you’re wasting your time completely.

Now I’ve fished the Tidal Trent for more winters than I care to remember and I’ve had many a fine net of roach. Roach that feed on days when it was so cold ice formed in the margins as the tide receded. Roach that fed when there was a couple of foot on. Roach that fed when it was low and clear.

Little did we know it then but they were halcyon days. To witness the top of a tide was awe inspiring as the river came alive. Roach would be topping everywhere. Today you see nothing, barely a dimple on the surface if you discount the splashy rolls of barbel and chub. That’s because the roach aren’t there anymore. They’ve gone, down the throats of cormorants, every one.

I’ve run a stick float through on several occasions this season and I’ve caught chub, and barbel. I haven’t caught a single roach. Not once have I had a nipped maggot. It’s been positive bites and big, arm aching fish.

Now I do know that a few good catches have been made but these catches are as rare as hens teeth and always from the same areas. They are the vestiges of what’s left. Could it be possible that the lower Trent roach is an endangered species? A burbot in the making?

It could happen, you know.

I’ve seen fewer cormorants on the Tidal this season than in a decade, and do you know why? Because they’ll starve if they stick around. Even the cormorants have given up and gone looking for richer pickings. How bad is that?

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