I showed a few of the guys, at work, that photo of my first "twenty" and got savaged by their collective response. Nothing unexpected, my hair, clothes and umpteen other aspects given the factory floor treatment. Still; if I didn't like the answer, shouldn't have asked the question - all very straight forward in the murky world in which I earn my living. One comment, however, did make me smile and is the catalyst to this offering. I quote "It was so much better back then, that was a big fish" A fellow angler's judgement on the passing of time and how much easier it was when I started out. Was it really? It might be a good thing to mention that when I embarked upon my angling adventure all species were of equal merit and there was no stigma, negative or otherwise, attached to anglers who targeted specific species in preference of others. It didn't matter if Bream, Tench, Roach or Chub ticked the box, you were respected as an angler, not treated as some eccentric who'd lost the plot - welcome to carp dominated 2020!
There can be no getting away from the massive influence carp angling now exerts over the whole of the UK freshwater angling scene. It's a multi-million pound industry, catering for every need of those who've fallen prey to the seductive allure of these alien creatures. Carp are not native to the UK - end of! The benefit of being an old git is many fold but, from an angling perspective, the ability to see a bigger picture is certainly one plus side of the aging process. The dominance of modern carp angling does have one massive positive in as much as it has raised the profile of fishing, as a hobby, out of the tweed jacket and floppy hat era into the mass participation "sport" (?) it has now become. There is no denying the fact that, during my youth, pleasure angling/match fishing was a hugely popular pastime matched only by the numbers of folk who played "pub" darts! In 2020 it's now fashionable to go carp fishing and the appeal is not age, nor sex, dominated, women and kids are very much part of this new wave of angling popularity as the crusty old farts of my generation. Add to the mix the massive growth in commercial fisheries and all that they are able to provide these "instant anglers" and the result is a very rosy future for the industry. It would seem. to me, that the match angler is now on a par with the speccy hunter; involved in a very niche end of the angling spectrum. The really weird thing is that, inadvertently, the creation of the commercial carp fisheries has provided superb habitat for many other species to thrive and, as such, increased the opportunities for all anglers to enjoy their own passion, in whatever format it exists. This was vividly demonstrated to me when, on my return to the hobby, I went to a small commercial carp fishery deliberately to target perch, of a size that I could only have dreamt of in the 1990's.
I've written much about the barbel of The River Stour and how modern water treatment has played a key role in the growth of these fish, but at the detriment of so many other species. It's like head-butting a brick wall attempting to get fellow anglers to recognise the huge environmental catastrophe that is still taking place because of the piss poor standards that the water companies are subjected to. "Dilution is the solution to pollution" being their logic, whilst coining it in! In 2013 I was to experience the thrill of landing a barbel of 13 lbs 14 oz, a fish which just twenty years previous, would have been a UK record weight. During those intervening decades the growth rate of barbel had been off the scale and now 20 lbs is required to challenge the UK record. Myopic anglers are lapping it up, never have they had it so good? The rivers don't have the numbers but the fish that remain are huge - what's to complain about? Again modern carp angling has assisted the water companies in their promotion of healthy environments; river carp are very much in vogue and the fact that the species thrives in the polluted waters is just another string in the bow of the offending water treatment companies. There's not a barbel, or carp, angler who's going to moan about a lack of gudgeon, bleak, sticklebacks or minnows.
|A barbel from the Hampshire Avon - The Compound on the Royalty!|
In 1986 any barbel over 7 lbs was worthy of a photo - how times have changed!
The pursuit of a wild pike of twenty pounds, plus, is as challenging today as it was way back in the 1980's. The status of such a fish remains intact, despite the grotesque caricatures that inhabit the "put & take" trout fisheries. Just like the capture of a 2 lbs roach, some things haven't altered since my discovery of the thrills of angling. Was it different during my formative years? Of course it was; there can be no doubt about the huge advances in tackle and bait which have occurred since those times. I think the real crux is "was it better back then?" The best I can offer is that it was different. Yes, we enjoyed freedoms which would be hard to recreate today. There were superb venues available to us which provided wonderful opportunities for anyone up to the challenge. The ability to look back over half a decade of "big fish" angling is an absolute privilege yet the adventure hasn't finished. I've every intention of continuing the quest for adrenaline fixes caused by a tight line and a hooped rod. Another twenty pound pike - there might be tears, such is the power of living the dream.