Coarse fishing is becoming too refined
By Brian Clarke, Fishing Correspondent
THE decision in the latter part of the last century to stock trout into the new generation of big reservoirs — Chew Valley in the West Country, Grafham and Rutland Water in the Midlands, Kielder in the North, among others — transformed trout fishing.
It brought fly fishing, hitherto the preserve of the well-heeled and the geographically fortunate, within reach of Everyman. It fuelled a demand that through the 1970s and 1980s saw small, specially created trout lakes spreading across the countryside. Today, fly fishing is greatly expanded because of these developments and pretty well everyone involved — angler, fishery owner and tackle dealer — has benefited.
Now, something similar is happening in coarse fishing, but the results may prove less benign. A burgeoning interest in fishing for carp, the biggest freshwater species in Britain, began in the late 1980s. The ending, in the mid-1990s, of the close season on stillwaters and hence the coming of year-round angling on most places except rivers, accelerated it. Today commercial coarse fisheries — old lakes, disused gravel pits, specially dug and stocked holes in the ground — are doing huge business. Each week hundreds of thousands of coarse fishermen pay from £5 to £20 a day to fish them.
Competition between these fisheries has led to many attractions — waterside parking, refreshment facilities, tackle shops, bait supplies and all else — being introduced to draw in custom. More to the point, very large carp are now routinely stocked to attract those wanting to catch them and the stocking of smaller species at great densities has become commonplace.
On the big-fish waters the result is instant whoppers. Elsewhere, the result is more fish needing to find food and so becoming easier to catch. It has given the many anglers who fish them — although just as many disdain them because of their artificiality — the kind of results of which, in a natural setting, they could never have dreamt.
Now here’s the rub. Unlike trout fishing, which has been through this cycle and come out the better for it, coarse fishing is in the middle of it and appears to be threatened by two long-term problems. One is the impact of commercial waters on the numbers fishing rivers, the other the impact on angling numbers as a whole.
Much river fishing involves walking, often considerable distances. On many reaches the fish can be unevenly spread and difficult to find. When found, these fish have appetites attuned to what a natural environment can provide and when they eat it is with a wild fish’s caution.
Variations in flow can make tackle-control difficult and bites tricky to spot. Consistent success on rivers is hard won: it takes effort and knowledge and tactical skills — and it cannot be guaranteed. Now signs are emerging that easily reached, customer-friendly and instantly gratifying stillwaters are taking anglers away from rivers.
John Williams, secretary of the Birmingham Anglers Association (BAA), is the latest to say that his organisation is feeling the pinch. Williams said last week that whereas in the 1970s the BAA had more than 1,000 Midlands angling clubs — most of them offering river fishing affiliated to it — the total today was 250. A lot had fallen out through natural attrition and other causes but the commercials had sucked away thousands of one-time individual members — and many affiliated clubs.
“Lots of youngsters have never used a conventional rod and reel or fished a shallow, fast-flowing stream,” Williams said. “Small commercials are all they know. All they have to do is ship out their pole and catch a carp. It makes it very easy.”
This apparent drift from rivers to stillwaters may in due course be exacerbated by a fall in angling’s numbers. One of angling’s appeals is its sheer unpredictability. In natural situations, the angler rarely knows when a bite is coming or what species and size of fish may result. When a net full of fish is taken or a whopper is landed, the elation and sense of achievement are real. The frustrations that surround such days are what validates them. Disappointment and frustration are normally as much part of an angler’s baggage as split-shot and floats.