Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

You know, the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that anglers worship false idols. Blame it on social media if you like, or the ridiculous cult of celebrity. Everyone wants to be noticed. Everyone wants to be liked. Everyone wants to be famous. But famous for what? And why?

Let’s be perfectly honest here. Catching an odd fish now and then doesn’t in itself make you a good angler. Catching a bigger fish doesn’t make you a better angler either. In almost every case you are simply demonstrating learned behaviour.

In the vast majority of cases the captor has simply followed the crowd, paid the going rate to fish somewhere that was revealed in a magazine, on the web, or via a third party, chucked out a rig someone else invented, primed with a bait created and sold commercially, tethered to a self-hooking system which is reliant upon electronics to announce the arrival of the target, starting with a bite alarm all the way through to a digital display be that on phone, tablet or computer, ready for broadcast to a drooling fan group that is probably less discerning than the Bay City Rollers Fan Club.

Am I a million miles away from reality here?

At what point did the angler have to actually think, to create, invent or discover something. At what point did he or she demonstrate outstanding ability, true greatness? Or are we looking at just another predictable clone job?

Have we reached the point of saturation where everything in angling has already been invented? Surely not? But when I gaze upon the array of gizzmos on sale in blister packs adorning the walls of your average tackle superstore, it makes me wonder. And do you actually understand what half of it is for? I’m sure I don’t

I grew up in an age of discovery, of creativity and real mystery. Secret lakes did really exist. Making stuff yourself was the norm. Of course I didn’t know I was in a golden age, or in the dying age of an era. Nor can I pinpoint the date when that era ended, but it has, you know. It’s over. Gone. Forever.

Let me try to explain. I saw a post in a Facebook Group the other day. It went along the lines of, ‘I’m thinking of trying barbel fishing. Where would you recommend I fish. I’d like to catch a 14-pounder. What rods will I need?’

Now it’s fair to say the real giants in angling, your Dick Walker, Peter Stone, Taylor Brothers, etc, etc (the list goes on), could only dream of catching such a fish. So why were they giants? Indeed why are they still revered by a dwindling number of old farts?

I recently read Tag Barnes’ Angling Memories. What an eye opener. I must have read loads of his stuff in my formative years because his philosophy is so similar to the way I think today on matters angling I must have absorbed his philosophy by some kind of osmosis. 

When Tag went carp fishing he didn’t lug around the latest 2-man pram hood and a mallet, a 6-leg fat boy bed chair, 5-seasons bag, crack open a few Stellas and plug his portable TV into the power socket at the back of his swim. No, he reverted to the skills he learned as a real life commando. He made one. From raw materials gathered in the woods. He went fishing, not camping.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that the giants were multi-disciplined anglers. They weren’t blinkered barbel anglers, carpers, pikers, lure anglers, perch fishers or chubbie chasers, they were the real deal. They fished for anything and everything. Today’s specialist has to be stuck in a one-dimensional pidgeon hole or he ain’t even considered to be serious.

To complicate matters, every single accessory we take for granted today had to be invented, modified or sourced through an obscure supplier back then.  You didn’t Google stuff, you had to read every single magazine (which were packed with thought provoking debates, theories and ideas) and wrote letters begging for help.

Fish didn’t have names, well, except for the odd carp, and the entire ethos was different. These guys were on a voyage of discovery that required practical, often ingenious solutions to whatever problem they encountered and they didn’t mind sharing it. In other words we made it up as we went along. Fishing was less obsessive and a whole lot more exciting, or at least it seemed that way to a wide-eyed teenager. There were conundrums galore to solve and bucket loads of mystery. And the tackle available was pretty rudimentary. So the giants created specific purpose rods and tackle from basic raw materials.

Quite how we came so far, so fast, is astonishing. Who makes their own floats today? Or feeders? Have you ever made a rod? Bite alarms? Landing nets? The list goes on.

Take the plethora of bits and bobs that we call terminal tackle. Have you ever stopped and wondered what some of it is for? I’m sure it fills a need. Even if that need has yet to be discovered. And when it is it’ll be broadcast on multiple media outlets and be known to all in no time. There will be no secrets from here on in, unlike when the hair was invented, or the boilie.

All today’s teenage wannabees appear to want to know is how they get sponsored, how they get in magazines and on TV. It’s all about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And somewhere along the way we lost the magazines and newspapers we loved with thought provoking columnists. Replaced by advertorials featuring anglers who cannot finish a whole sentence without mentioning some commercial product or other. They even manage it on Twitter which restricts every message to 140 characters!

And the majority are such one-dimensional, dedicated followers of fashion, that it’s hard to take what they write (or is written for them) seriously. Are these the new giants in waiting? Seriously? 

And what of venues? Is it not fair to say we just about know the size potential of fish in every significant venue in the country? As for the prices they charge, oh my gosh! It’s a damn site cheaper to watch Premier League football at the Emirates or Stamford Bridge.

I grew up believing that I might one day catch a record fish from my local farm pond. I carried around with me a pen and the entry forms for both the Anglers Mail and Angling Times fish of the week competitions, just in case, carefully wrapped in a polythene bag inside a McVitie’s shortbread biscuit tin. Tucked away in the tin was a Little Sampson spring balance, just in case… How naive was that?

Unbelievably optimistic when compared with newbies today who are hoping to start their barbel fishing ‘career’ with a ‘fourteen’, but I’m still not convinced by who’s the most delusional. Despite this we see mugs falling over themselves to be first to post information on open groups stating specific pegs, methods, baits and where to park the Winnebago. Seriously, the mind boggles.

We’ve ended up where wannabees use the term CV fish. Which CV fish have you caught, mate? How bonkers is that? Meanwhile would-be giants are on waiting lists for their turn on the roster to be photographed with Charlie, or Mabel, or Two Testicles (when they’re dripping with spawn, hopefully). And the papers write obituaries when one dies!!!

Meanwhile one of the dwindling number of giants passes away and the papers barely mention it. The last time I met Ivan Marks I asked him why he hadn’t attended the NEC Show. His response shocked me, ‘Bob, I’m not associated with any of the exhibitors these days and didn’t want to turn up at the door and no-one recognise me.’ Ivan Bloody Marks! And this was not last year. When was the last NEC show? Talk about a sport failing to honour its giants. We should have, nay, desperately need an Angling Hall Of Fame – not for the wannabees, we need it for the people that mattered, the influencers, the game changers, the guys who made today what it is, not the CV crowd.

Let’s be perfectly honest, scoring a hole-in-one takes phenomenal effort and practise, plus a huge stroke of luck. Scoring par or sub-par over 18 holes is a skill level way beyond most. Becoming a professional sportsman in any discipline takes years of dedication and training, while catching specimen fish with any degree of consistence requires little skill or effort at all and can be achieved by a complete novice. Anyone so inclined can do it in their sleep. Provided they have time and money and access to the right waters.

We all know where the fish live, don’t we? Or we can easily find out. To stand any chance of a record carp you have to be targeting specific fish in well documented waters. Likewise bream, roach, tench, pike, barbel and so on. If you’re not part of the travelling circus you are simply not in the game.

What about tactics?

Frankly it’s all there if you can be bothered to look it up. Most of it is bog standard stuff anyway. It doesn’t necessarily take a special rig to catch a special fish. But someone else did all the hard work for you, just in case.

Watercraft?

That old chestnut. Time and place for everything, but the best way to catch the biggest fish in a lake is to find out where it was caught last year and the year before at this time of year. Works every time. Fish can be so predictable. Or perhaps there will only be one swim free anyway…

In which case stay there until it’s your turn.

Bait?

Predators apart, it’s a boilie, innit… And no-one’s likely to discover a revolutionary food source any time soon. The job’s been done for you. The miracle baits have already been discovered. Top carp anglers switch bait companies often enough without their catches drying up for me to work out that the actual bait supplier matters far less than they try to make you believe. Plus there’s that awkward gap year, you know, the fish supposedly caught on a prototype bait when, hang on, you were actually signed up to the previous company. And don’t get me going about Photoshopping out logos on T-shirts in old pictures after changing sponsors.

And how many lies are told about what a fish was actually caught on?

The number of carp caught on tiger nuts but claimed as boilie fish is ridiculous. Then there are guys who phone up bait companies, ‘Just had a big un, what will you give me if I say I caught it on your products?’ You don’t seriously doubt that doesn’t happen, do you?

No, the current generation of anglers is seriously lacking in innovation. So many are clones pressed out of the same mould. But is it their fault when the real mystery has been sucked out of the sport? 

When I read that a cage feeder filled with pellets and plugged with fishmeal groundbait had been re-invented as the ‘Time Bomb’, a method for barbel, I almost fell off my chair laughing. Giants are apparently available in much smaller sizes today. Talk about fanciful self-aggrandisement and a clear case of re-inventing the wheel.

Then there’s foreign fishing. This is where the real egos land. I’ve done it and enjoyed some amazing experiences BUT… It’s a holiday. You are not Dr Livingstone. You are not Scott of the Antarctic. You’re on holiday. You pay some guy a huge dollop of money, he feeds you, provides a roof and puts you on the fish. Your job is to wind them in.

Tell me this? Is Robson Greene a brilliant angler, or is he pretty useless? And don’t get me wrong, I like the guy. Love to share a cold beer with him. But let’s face it, he was chosen for the job because he’s a ‘star’ name with a successful acting (and singing) career. Not because he’s even a moderate angler. But he catches loads of amazing fish, doesn’t he? That’s foreign fishing in a nutshell.

So, lets take it back to freshwater. You fly off to South America, Thailand, Africa, or India, or wherever, get picked up at an airport and taken deep into the jungle, or a desert, or up a mountain to catch some fish. Does that make you a brilliant angler? Does it hell. It just means you are rich tourist with healthy amounts of disposable income. Making out you’ve achieved something amazing is just being a knob!

Are you pioneering? Fishing for a new species? Are you fishing newly discovered rivers? Are you the first angler ever to fish there? Or are you simply treading in the footsteps of those who truly did the hard yards decades before you ever even heard of the place?

I know a guy who, a few decades ago, flew to Delhi, bought a moped and drove himself to the Himalayas carrying all his kit on his back and stayed there months living among the natives. Now that I can say, ‘Wow!’ to and be totally impressed.

The moment you employ someone described as your ‘guide’, not to mention your driver, your cook, the kid who carries your gear, the camp waller, etc, etc, then at least be honest with yourself, you’re fishing for sloppy seconds at best and you are paying for success on a plate.

Take that honesty a step further and admit you are fishing the same pools and spots discovered decades earlier by the true pioneers, in swims that get fished by each new party in turn, living in a semi-permanent camp. It’s no different to carping in France or having caught the last train to Lochnaw or Linch Hill, Adam’s Mill, ‘the Fen’, a certain Great Ouse tributary, or Chew, and so on. Enjoy it while it lasts.

But you might as well be sat in a plastic deck chair by an artificially stocked lake in Thailand. 

If you can’t put this into any kind of perspective in your own mind (the place where your legend exists), you are fooling no-one. It’s Disney World where everything is bigger and better, at a price. Open to all, providing you can afford it.

But to brag about it…?

Makes Robson Green look super cool. Read his book about making the first series and you’ll be surprised to find he’s rather self-deprecating. If only a few others were.

And that’s where we are. The best known anglers today are all on the telly, because no-one really reads magazines and books any more. The Internet is so vast you can’t really find anything except on Facebook where the new breed fish for likes and reactions all the time.

Fish have never been easier to catch mostly because the real hard yards were run years ago. Now it would seem we are either lacking (or have lost) the innovation gene. Today’s ‘stars’ (and I use that word very loosely) are merely advertising hoardings, basically not much different to celebrity bloggers and vloggers promoting the latest fashion must-have trends to pubescent girls on Youtube and Social Media.

Whether or not they have the required self-awareness to recognise it, each and every one of them is standing on the shoulders of giants without who’s (mostly selfless) dedication and ingenuity today’s ‘stars’ would probably be delivering pizzas or asking, ‘Would you like fries with that?’ rather than fishing. It was the giants who broke the codes, invented the technology, created the gizzmos, took on impossible odds, broadcast ispiration and handed you the future on a plate. 

So what are you going to do with it?

Your job was take it forward to a new level, not piss it away for a handful of likes and slogans – ‘keep it real guys’ and ‘On the bank, doing it!’ But can you honestly say you might one day be worthy of the accolade of giant? Where is the new generation of thinkers, of leaders, of heroes?

A song lyric springs to mind, ‘Sometimes these things skip a generation…’

Maybe it has. I hope not, but whilst ever we have every single fishing article used as an advertorial self-promotion vehicle rather than thought provocation then there’s little hope for real inspiration. If you are in any doubt, ask yourself this, ‘What is it that I will be remembered for 50 years from now?’

If the answer is catching a mug barbel on a 3-Foot Twitch bait, or a carp on a Fang hook, perhaps you might want to rethink your own giant aspirations sooner rather than later. Advertorials ain’t what memories are made of, nor is blatant self-promotion the stuff to inspire.

Am I so wrong…?

Footnote: Apologies for the lack of images. Stuck in a hospital bed with no access to my image library.

15 thoughts on “Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

    • Not wrong at all Bob, most of todays anglers are simply clones. Say anything about it, and you get a mouthful of abuse.

      On my local middle Trent, every angler to a man has the exact same set up, and I’d guarantee rig and bait. As you mentioned in the past, how difficult can two rods in the air be? Sadly it’s a self fore-filling prophecy.

      I’m continuously asked what I’m fishing for because I love trotting. The anglers don’t believe you can catch some good bags of barbel on maggot and hemp or pellet and hemp when trotted.

      They are often unsociable as they live under canvas for days on end, mostly around weir pools. The match-men I meet seem far more engaged.

  1. Wow , great reading got me out of peeling the spuds as told the missis I was reading an important document for work , was lucky enough to fish on the Yare at weekend and in my opinion one of those giants was present, a certain Mr Nudd . No grand entrance or girls with pom-poms just a descret mingle in to the crowd and I assume everyone knew he was there but with discret respect we all treated him like he was just another angler and he reciprocated that to us, we all knew our real battle was to be the River Yare and that usually wins . Full respect to you for this write up very interesting.

  2. Bob – had no idea you had been unwell, probably because I don’t do social media at all! (Hope whatever the problems are – they are in retreat!) Landed on your site today looking for the Green Un final results (no joy) and spotted the above.

    I was around at the time of the giants, indeed I gave the likes of Bob Nudd, Keith Arthur, Matt Hayes and perhaps even your good self an early opportunity in angling journalism, albeit to an audience we could count only in the hundreds of thousands (including pass ons).

    Now, a well placed comment on the right forum can attract millions of views over time and the numbers can be spun in a myriad of ways to create the impression of “traction”

    That is true for all subject matter, although I believe angling and digital media make particularly uncomfortable bedfellows for the simple reason that the internet panders to that most dubious of emotions – instant gratification, an emotion which is rife throughout the angling world.

    Much of my time editing angling publications was spent sifting the wheat from the chaff, trying to decide on content that merited publication and trying to unearth it if it wasn’t readily available. In doing so we created a few superstars/giants and I was often called to account by readers who wanted to know exactly “what has he ever done?” to warrant such regular appearances in the hallowed pages. Thankfully, we could make a decent case for the defence.

    Now, thanks to the platform that is the internet, there is no editing, no filtering, no checks and balances, no caution, no reflection, no counsel. Just a horrible free-for-all where utter garbage outweighs pure journalism by a hundred million to one.

    So instead of angling giants and giants of angling journalism, we have self-proclaimed experts on every street corner, diluting reality with every post. Millions do actually believe that if something is on Facebook or Twitter then it must be right. Scary but true, And it’s here right now.

    Angling publishing never had the advertising base to withstand such an onslaught and very soon, all hard-copy publications in this sector will disappear for ever. Advertisers do not need to spend money to reach what they perceive to be their market, any longer.

    So, trying not to be too pessimistic, I think we were lucky to have been just a small part of the good times.

    It’s a subject (impact of internet on journalism) which many an under-graduate will examine for the rest of time without coming close to fathoming.

    I am retired and living in Lincoln these days so if you fancy a day on the bank for old times sake just let me know. Silvers only though!

    • Wow! A well measured response from a former editor of the Angling Times. Indeed, it was under Keith that I became an AT columnist. Heady days. Keith, I hate to think how many gallons of water have flowed under Trent Bridge since that day you I was fishing with Kevin Maddocks and you proposed a new column but it’s a fair few but boy, have things changed.

      Love to have a day with you soon.

      Meanwhile you’ve reminded me that I haven’t published the Green Un Final article yet. Not so much an oversight as I was in here (hospital) when the final was staged and 3 weeks later I’m back again. Had to wait until it had been published in the Star, Times and Mail before uploading it to here and circumstances have unfortunately overtaken me. Obviously I don’t have access to my files in here but as soon as I’m home it’ll be a priority.

  3. Great words from the Temple of Commonsense!
    It ever I’m unfortunate enough to be captured by terrorists and chained to radiator in a Beirut cellar, I hope the captive next to me is you Bob. We’d have a whale of a time talking about fishing. Here’s a few topics for conversation –
    Stripping worn chrome runners from our favourite rods and whipping new ones with Elephant brand nylon.
    Making floats with elder pith and sarkandas reed.
    Casting pierced bullets and melting the lead using the gas cooker.
    Breeding gozzers on hearts and pigeons.
    Making swingtips from knitting needles.
    How to make the best bloodworm scrapers and associated floating trays.
    What blanks would make the best barbel rod because they didn’t exist and we had to make our own.
    Where we could buy the best government surplus winter clothing from.
    How to poison and dig out a wasp’s nest.
    The list is endless Bob, and so many of the subjects would be totally unintelligible to kids who are able to buy any item of tackle or bait and go to the nearest over-stocked fishery that contains fish of sizes that we could only dream of when, many years ago we made our first tentative casts into a farm pond or stream.
    Get well soon Bob!

    • l’ll skip being chained to a radiator in a Beiruit cellar if that’s okay but fair do’s, I can relate to every single experience you mention there. Memories galore…

  4. Get well soon Bob, you reminded me of my humble beginnings with a tank ariel and wooden centerpin, fishing farm ponds for elusive monsters in the 50s.
    I now spend most of my fishing time with a ”legend” that being Trefor West. Now in his 70s he still maintains that enthusiasm to work problems out and an 8lb barbel is still the target. Nothing to prove to anybody or any tackle company just the love of fishing.
    Keep the articles coming Bob

  5. Spent last Saturday on the Trent at East Stoke
    Out of 20 anglers I was the only one on the “stick” everybody 2 rods up in the air and sat at the top of the bank on chairs that looked like they were from DFS, had a fish a chuck nothing bigger than 10 oz , came off completely knacked hips, knees and nearly every part of body aching but a great day
    At my age 66, think i’ll be looking up at the sky soon enough so why do it for enjoyment

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