Who Saw That Coming?

To suggest it’s been a strange year would be an understatement. We have just lived through a milestone event in mankind’s history. 2020 will be as familiar to future generations as 1066, 1492 and 1945 are to us. Make no mistake 2020 will be studied in universities, dissected and written about for decades to come.

The Covid-19 pandemic practically brought the world to its knees. More so than 9/11. We possibly saw what future warfare might well look like. Imagine for one second what would happen if someone invented a bug that attacked the young rather than the old and let that loose on the world? You would no longer have to send soldiers out to do your killing, something that cannot be seen by the naked eye will do it for you.

We Even Invented A Covid Game To Play On Christmas Day!

In response we’ve witnessed a miracle of science in the creation of an effective antidote, a vaccine, or more accurately vaccines, created and launched in record quick time. Who knows, this may be the way science evolves in the future with cures for every disease known to man, targeted by the very brightest scientists, one by one rather than the current scattergun approach where already rich folk cream off vast fortunes in salaries from widespread efforts, purportedly doing under the banner of charities. Tell me this, since when did failed politicians qualify for quarter-of-a-million pound salaries creamed off the top of our charity donations?

And, of course, we finally saw Brexit delivered. Does this mean Remoaners will finally accept the democratic will of the people? Not a chance. Some folk are incapable of letting things go.

In the USA we saw Trump defeated at the ballot box. Of course he cried foul. But that now seems to be the way of modern politics. Ignore the result. Deny democracy. Keep resisting until the elites get the answer they want.

Oh well, by the time this is published we will be in 2021 and the memories of 2020 will be so-o-o last year.

For me 2020 began with a strange winter fishing-wise, dodging about here and there with no real sense of purpose or direction through the coldest months then suddenly the country went into lockdown and I didn’t wet a line for two more months.

It was nice to have a break. I cannot remember when I last went 8 whole weeks without going fishing. Instead I set about my Boris walks with vigour and soon found myself striding out four or 5 miles each day until I was as physically fit as I’ve been in quite some time.

Alas this fitness level was all about stamina, healthy lungs and mental well-being. Dig deeper and my health was gradually being undermined by my long-term Achilles heel, this infernal genetic kidney disease. My kidney function was now in serious decline. I had reached stage 5 renal failure and if I say to you there is no stage 6 you will perhaps appreciate things were becoming deadly serious.

I’ll come back to my health but first, with a nod to Bob Seger in the title, let’s look at my recent fishing.

Back On The Road Again

Following lockdown I was quickly back into the groove and I’m not going to go into any great detail here other than to throw in a few random images from the past 6 months or so. let’s just say 2020 was a summer when I simply did what I wanted and filled my boots along the way, enjoying every moment.

Commercial fishery perch
An unexpected bonus roach on soft pellet
These small pool crucians are packing on weight and starting to interest me
Catching big slabs by design was fun
A gorgeous Fenland rudd
I mostly put the ever-reliable Trent barbel on the back burner this summer
It proved impossible for me to ignore the Trent’s silver fish
Pure quality on a very windy day
Dace galore
Ruddy marvellous
Those Trent roach are coming along nicely
This brute rescued a very tricky filming day
A fair old ide taken by design on the old wag and mag
Braving rain and mud on the tidal Don for a float-caught specimen bream
Small stream roach
Quality silvers from a commercial
Superb bream from a small canal
Bagging at Harthill
And sometimes just being there is enough

Gosh, I’ve not even included any carp, tench predators or scenic shots. Oh well, perhaps in another blog.

Getting Serious

Heading into late Summer and with Covid restrictions reducing any chance of a transplant I was in urgent need of kidney dialysis which required minor surgery to create a ‘fistula’. Of course, only limited procedures were being undertaken in hospitals but I got lucky and an appointment duly arrived.

Its srange to watch your own blood being cleaned

Alas the operation went wrong, not once but multiple times. I now have six scars on my forearms. Throw in two ‘bonus’ operations for skin cancer and you can see I went through the mill somewhat, but I still managed to fish on regardless.

Half way through a session

It came to a point where my consultant was contemplating inserting an emergency chest line so I could dialyse but we managed to avoid that and since the Autumn I’ve been undergoing dialysis three times a week via my left arm. The fistula isn’t great and having a fistulagram procedure failed to make it any better so a fall-back fistula was created by yet another procedure, this time on my right wrist. Thankfully it is working well, ready for when the other one fails.

On a more positive note I have a volunteer donor on standby for when transplants resume, the downside of which is we are not a direct match. Thankfully he’s agreed to go down the pairing route where other folk in similar circumstances agree to swap organs. Everything is held on a national register which is run 4 times a year (normally) to find matching donors and recipients. If you get lucky 4 or 6 operations take place simultaneously with donated organs going to the nearest matching recipients.

Three times a week for 4 hours on the machine eats up a lot of time

I was due to be in the matching run on 28th October only to get a call a couple of days beforehand to say it was being suspended due to Covid. That news was devastating. You can probably imagine how little sympathy I have with those who ignore Covid advice, Black Lives Matter protesters, anti-vaxers, anti-maskers, etc, etc. Thanks guys. Your ignorance and selfish actions are screwing folk like me.

The good news is I could be in the January run if it goes ahead and not wishing to tempt fate I should make a good recovery from the transplant surgery whenever it happens and will then have a whole new lease of life to look forward to. There is definitely light at the end of what’s been a pretty dark tunnel at times. Certainly enough to give me hope and keep me positive.

Staying Local

But back to the fishing. I’ve tried to fish fairly local this season in respect to the Covid restrictions. Only once have I stayed overnight away from home, ‘neath my brolly by a deserted fen but not with a line in the water. I do have to say I’ve missed those longer trips and it has been my personal choice. Common sense. That’s all we actually needed from day one but it was in very short supply.

I did my bit while super spreaders were eager to blame 5G masts, Bill Gates, Mythical organisations and aliens whilst continuing to party and protest. Two words. Grow up!

I’ve hardly fished for barbel at all this year which will come as a surprise to some. To tell the truth I’ve enjoyed the break. It does get rather monotonous, doesn’t it? Especially when carbelling. Next year I may return to it with renewed enthusiasm. Or my attention may be again distracted by the number of roach around. We are living in a golden era for silver fish that few seem to realise is happening. The Trent especially is now as prolific as I ever remember.

It’s certainly been a good year for fisheries and the tackle trade. I’ve never known the banks to be so busy. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for the various tackle shows, exhibitions, shop open days and the annual round of trade shows. All went to the wall in 2020.

A Book To Savour

During lockdown I found myself with enough time on my hands to help Martin Abonyi compile a tribute book to the late Mike Townsend. The pair were best buddies since childhood and I cannot imagine what a blow it must have been for Martin when Mick died. I have to say it’s a cracker of a book with some fabulous guest chapters by the likes of Hugh Miles, Duncan Charman, John Bailey, Lee Swords, Dai Gribble and others. I did the first edit, then Keith Elliot did a pro job on it. The result is quite special.

The Cover May Look Something Like This

Should have launched last November but watch out for it come March 2021. Ironically the release was pushed back by Covid uncertainty. Bet you are sick of that word, I know I am because it has complicated almost everything in my plans this past 9 months.

Counting The Cost

Covid has cost me my weekly column in the Sheffield and Doncaster papers. With an inevitable drop in physical copy sales and a dip in advertising revenue the first casualties were freelancers like myself. I’ve published the occasional column since but doing work and not getting paid for it is a fools errand. It would be nice to think things might return to some kind of normality later this year but I suspect we have to be realists. When the Anglers Mail goes under you know there’s not exactly a great demand for angling copy in the print media world.

Then throw in Carp World… What can I say?

It would be nice to think that without opposition the Angling Times will easily survive 2021 but don’t count your chickens. Nothing is guaranteed in these strange times. If we don’t support it then we have no right to mourn its passing. If you feel the current content is not for you, then don’t moan on Facebook, write to the editor.

Whenever sales are falling then a publication is clearly failing to engage its primary audience and is at risk. This can be down to content, editorial direction, availability, price, target audience and numerous other factors.

I don’t want to lose it. Do you? So what can the Angling Times do to attract you personally? What has to change? Share your vision. If ever the piper has an opportunity to call the tune it will be during this year, 2021. Indeed it may be your last chance to have that say. Times really are that tough.

Blueprint For The Future?

I no longer buy any physical copies of magazines. I read all my content, be that newspapers or magazines, online. I read Angling Times, Improve, In-Fisherman, Blinker, Football mags, Music, Photography, Gadget magazines, Computing, Viz, etc, via online platforms. Subscribing to Readly alone gives me access to the thick end of 2,000 different magazines and newspapers.

Personally I think multimedia is a massive problem for the print industry but it may also be the solution. So much of the cost of any magazine is swallowed up by print and paper costs, distribution and the profits of the wholesaler/ newsagent. The actual reading content costs pennies to produce.

Survival will mean thinking outside the box. How about we stop thinking of it as a weekly newspaper. Think instead about a subscription based service providing daily content, online, round the clock. Think of it as a subscription service. There could be a digital publication, based on the weekly paper augmented by daily stuff delivered to your inbox. And not just images. Not just jaded recycled articles.

Think daily drip fed news, podcasts, interviews, current catches rather than stuff you saw on Facebook two weeks ago. Live features. Throw in video content created in-house or provided by manufacturers – they are all recruiting their own content creators and using their own platforms to launch quality material. Imagine all of them arriving together, in one place, waiting in your inbox, to be consumed over that morning’s coffee.

The idea that a where to fish guide, which is basically a directory of commercial fisheries, has any relevancy today is farcical. Make those fisheries work for their free advertising, demand live weigh-in footage from the latest match – so easily done on a modern phone. News today has to be instant, touch of a button. Tomorrow or next Tuesday is too late.

Did you watch the Riverfest final live on Facebook? That’s how to report on match fishing. As it happened. Fly on the wall documentary style. Concentrate on the events that matter, not 20-peg scrambles and pensioner knock-ups. Individual folk are loading loads of stuff onto YouTube. Given a chance, how many would offer that to the Angling Times first, free of charge? Before loading it onto their own site later.

I would pay a couple of quid a week for that. Wouldn’t you? Two quid, doesn’t sound much, but with 100% going to the publisher, no paper costs, no printing, distribution, newsagent cut, etc, then that’s a huge whack more income than they get now. We save, they profit, in return we get better content and immediate impact, everyone wins.

The Caxton Press is dead. The Luddites eventually won. Embrace the future. Adapt or die.

Addressing The Change

Truth is, our magazines – well we only really have two now that have a circulation in excess of 5,000 – so let us just say Angling Times and Improve, have better production values than we’ve ever seen. The photographic content is streets ahead of what we knew in years gone by, so are the graphics, the print quality and anything else you care to name. This cannot really be improved upon without pushing the price up dramatically, using art paper, perfect binding, etc, and there’s no point in doing so as no amount of artistic creativity is going to make a massive difference to sales. The world has changed and so has the consumer. Embrace that change.

Fishing itself has changed radically in the past two or 3 decades. Diversification into single species groups, a drift away from natural venues, the explosion of commercial fisheries, etc, yet for some reason the response has been to ditch sea and fly fishing coverage (including those customers as well I imagine) yet clinging on to an ‘all-our-yesterdays’ vibe featuring successful anglers from a bygone era that the current readership have mostly never heard of and who used styles that are no longer used or relevant. I give you the swing tip, par-boiled potatoes, monkey climbers, pole crooks, etc.

I used to buy a physical copy of the paper. I still have paper copies of every cover featuring me, every picture, article and column I’ve published in there. It means something. It means something to today’s wannabee, too.

When I bought physical copies they lay around the house for a week or two, I picked them up again later and re-read bits, same goes for copies on shop counters. Flicked through by scores of customers. The online version is clicked through in a matter of minutes and never opened again. Anything advertorial or deemed to be a ‘vanilla’ filler gets short shrift. What was once indispensable has become disposable.

If I’m going to read a match result from a commercial water I ain’t then going to read a ‘where to fish guide’ about the same puddle. Makes no sense at all. More than anything, as a publisher I would want (nay, need) to know what exactly does my potential customer wish to read. Not my existing one, my potential one. For every existing reader there are probably a hundred or a thousand others who don’t invest. There have to be a reasons for that and those reasons need to be addressed. Otherwise, the consequence is unavoidable, and I don’t want to see that.

Am I wrong? Feel free to disagree. Share your opinions, you are, after all, the target audience. What exactly do you want from our last bastion in the publishing world? Please, provide your ideas here. Leave a message. You know those who currently carry the baton will read them all.

Christmas Present

Was Santa kind to you? I had lots of nice gifts including a push button device that when pressed delivers a message from my (just) 2-year-old granddaughter saying, ‘Merry Christmas Grandad’. It’s so cute, especially in lockdown.

It’s the little things, eh?

Sue bought me presents based on the five senses, a clever idea that included a treat for the eyes. I have to say it was the one gift I truly hoped to get, Drew Struzan’s ‘Ouvre’ book.

Most will never have heard of Drew but trust me, you have seen his artwork a thousand times. Drew painted the posters for some of the biggest blockbuster movies of our time. Raiders, ET, Rambo, Green Mile, Shawshank, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Back To The Future, Hook, The Muppets, Blade Runner, Goonies, and.., and that’s just for starters.

An incredibly talented man.

He also created album covers for the likes of Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, the Bee Gees, Carole King, Canned Heat, Iron Butterfly, Liberace, Roy Orbison and Michael Jackson.

His work is genius and it’s a book I shall treasure. Meanwhile there’s a documentary about him and his work on Amazon Prime if you go search for it. Alternatively I think it’s available on Sky Arts and also as a pay per view on Youtube.

Christmas Past

I dug out an old diary from 1978 today and there inside the cover were my scribbled set notes from a truly memorable gig. It was at Huddersfield Ivanhoe’s on Boxing Day, 1977, and the band? That’s right, the Sex Pistols (with Sid on bass) performing their last ever gig in the UK.

Looking back I feel so lucky to have been invited to that show (as a guest). I had worked with the band twice previously and it had been my intention to do a review of this performance but never got around to writing up. Somehow I don’t think I could have done it justice. Events after that, notably Sid’s death add a poignancy that wasn’t actually there on the night.

Original Set Notes In The Back Of A Diary

It was a memorable performance, up there with the first time I worked with the Ramones. To be right there at the precise moment when history was being made in front of your eyes and you didn’t just know it, you tangibly felt it.

Sticking with music, if you have Netflix then dig out the Garth Brooks, The Road I’m On documentary. It’s in two parts, runs a good two-and-a-half hours. Trust me, it’s worth it, even if you think you don’t like country music. He comes across as incredibly sincere, like Lee Swords in a fat suit!

Groundhog Day

And so, it’s January 2021 and we are suddenly back in lockdown. As I come to the end of this blog Fishing is now no longer allowed. The advice is simple, stay home, and that’s where you will find me. There’s no point in moaning that cyclists can still cycle, footballers can kick a ball around, that garden centres are open or there’s more risk from buying food. You are wasting your breath. No one is interested.

Last time you demanded clarity. This time you’ve got it and you still don’t like the answer. Get over it. This is not forever. It’s temporary. Most of the moaner weren’t going fishing anyway. I know because the banks have been pretty much deserted for weeks and there are precious few new photos being bragged about on social media. Therein lies the truth.

And the Trust will continue to fight our corner so who knows, we might get a reprieve sooner rather than later. How about a YouGov petition? Could we raise 100,000 votes?

Anyway, time to press on. Happy new year to one and all. Thanks for reading. Comment if you like. I read them all and always answer where appropriate.