Angler Profile

Name: Martin Founds
Age: 54
Hometown: Chesterfield, Derbyshire
Occupation: Owns Anglers World Holidays
Favourite location: The Ukon, Canada
Ambitions: To continue to open up exciting new destinations to the UK’s anglers

In conversation with Martin Founds

In his first ever interview, the Anglers World Holidays boss talks about how angling is changing across Europe, the power of wheat and his own favourite angling destinations.

Where did it all start – did you always want to be an angling tour operator?

I started off as a general travel agent who’d always liked fishing since a very young age. I got married and, as with a lot of guys who get married, the wife stopped me doing certain things – and she stopped me fishing. But I kept my gear. I had a few friends who wanted to go away fishing so I used it as an excuse for a money-making exercise that she couldn’t argue with. I did a few trips and then I got a few more friends interested and realised there actually was a market. It developed into a business and around 28 years ago I moved into the angling tour operating side separately.

Was it all Ireland for angling holidaymakers back then?

It was all Ireland for the first seven or eight years, and then we branched out into Denmark and Holland, followed by Sweden, Canada and then more recently some longer haul destinations. Each product is researched and evaluated properly with very good and average anglers several times, and that takes time. We are all about finding exceptional locations with exceptional fishing for wild species, and this kind of fishing is really affected by the seasons and weather.

Are you a believer that global warming is affecting fish behaviour? How does that affect your business?

Things used to be much more predictable. If we take Ireland, May and June is no longer the banker it used to be because if the fish have been delayed in the spawning they won’t feed. The obvious problem is that if a customer goes at the wrong time they won’t catch and they think there are no bream in the water any more. Of course they are there – they catch them later in the year. But these days you can fish right into November and catch bream. It’s not that long ago that they used to skate on the canals in Holland. They hardly ever freeze now. The Ice Fishing Association has got problems too – there’s no ice! But at the same time there are more extremes of weather. Last year we fished in the coldest March on record in Norway – minus 27 degrees centigrade.

What have the main changes in Ireland been then?

Water clarity has been the biggest problem for the bream, which are designed for low-light feeding. Once a bream is big it does not want to feed in daylight in clear water. Even the loughs have got clearer. Zebra mussels have certainly had an effect across the Shannon and Erne system, filtering out the zooplankton that causes the natural colour. The mussels need flow and a hard bottom they can attach themselves to. The good news is that the bream are starting to feed on them.

There can’t be many holidaymakers who want to go out and fish for bream at night… they want to be in the pub in the evening.

If people want to fish from nine to five and not bother pre-baiting then they have to accept what they catch and accept that it might not be easy. If a customer says they want to target bream then we advise that customers keep pre-baiting three or four swims over four days and get up early to fish them. When we are researching, or with customers, we are often on the bank just as it’s getting light. If you get up with a sore head and have breakfast, set up in your own time and start fishing at 10.30am, the fish will by then have often switched off, especially on a bright day. But if you are there early and keep feeding you can keep catching sometimes until 1pm. The bottom line is that if the water is gin-clear and it’s bright overhead, it’s going to be tough.

Are people starting to accept that?

You try to educate people, and try to be honest and realistic. We put a lot into the DVDs we do with the likes of Bob Nudd. A lot of watercraft goes into these – it’s not just about trying to promote a place. For instance, one thing I’ve learnt from fishing a lot with Bob is that if there’s next to no flow on a river like the Shannon and it’s clear, you are better off fishing a lake because there is no food coming down the river to stack the fish up. Obviously we try our best to keep on top of these things and put people on the fish at the right times. It’s similar in Denmark on the Guden. The river fishes best in May/June and September/October. In the summer there’s more food in the lakes and the fish migrate there.

So how do you see the future of Irish angling holidays?

What caused the most damage to angling tourism in Ireland was the Foot and Mouth outbreak when the Irish Government came out with a statement saying they didn’t want English people over there. Angling in Ireland has never totally recovered from that. Commercial fisheries have had an effect because it’s a quick fix; anglers tend to lose the skill of fishing wild waters for wild fish, which is so important. Also Ireland used to be the place to get 100lb, and now you can do that around the corner. The abolition of the close-season in the UK could, in a sense, have helped Ireland because in the old days people concentrated their holidays in that period up to the middle of June, which is now not the best time to go there. But people go for the whole ‘Irish thing’ and to get away from the crowd. If you want to go to the pub and get blasted, by all means do. But at least on some of the days put some effort in, get up early, and see the difference.

Are there parts of Ireland you especially recommend at the moment?

Most parts haven’t changed in terms of fish stocks. But what’s happened is that the fish are moving around more. When we first went to Portumna on the Shannon about 18 years ago, there were a lot of bream in the river and hardly any roach with just the odd bream/rudd hybrid. Then the roach explosion happened and now there are masses of them. From March to the middle of May the river is stacked out with roach and the bream can’t seem to compete with them, so they tend to stay more in Lough Derg now. But even on the loughs on bright days you’d swear there wasn’t a bream in the water. But if you fish at night you can bag up in the margins. Loughs are big waters and you need to pre-bait heavily with particles to get the fish there and hold them.

Isn’t all this heavy pre-baiting a bit expensive for Mr Average?

There’s some great roach fishing to be had without pre-baiting, but for bream you usually have to do it. You need brown crumb and you need something to make it sticky so you can pack in the particles. Wheat has been our biggest ‘discovery’ and it works EVERYWHERE. Wheat is cheap and natural, and the fish love it – you can use four or five gallons of wheat whereas you could never afford to put that amount of caster in. All you do is put it in a cooler box with hot water overnight and it’s ready in the morning. You use the juice to mix up the crumb and its starchiness helps bind the mix. A 20kg sack of wheat costs about £10 and it swells to three times the size. In caster terms that volume of particle would cost you £400!! When we go away with an angler we’ll use one or two sacks per angler. I think many anglers are just not using enough particle, but they can do so with wheat.

You’ve done a lot with Chris Tarrant – how did that all start?

He contacted me with reference to a holiday prize for Capital Radio – and he offered to help with new locations. He’s a very good journalist and a very, very good big-fish angler who works things out, and is also a good game angler. I suggested he help me pioneer Canada. We got things wrong at first on our initial visit but when we cracked it we had around 80 carp in one session with not one under 20lb – it was a phenomenal day’s fishing and we were wrecked at the end of it.

If you could only take one more angling holiday in your life where would you go?

If Martin had only one angling holiday left he’d go to the Ukon, in Canada.

It has to be the Yukon in Canada. The only way you can get there is by aircraft onto a private landing strip. It’s not cheap but it offers some of the finest trout fishing in the world. I recall taking Chris there and we lost count of the number of 20lb trout we caught. One day we went on a floating plane up to the far north of the lake with an Indian guide armed with a shotgun to protect us from the grisly bears. We had caribou coming right by the tent, and saw bald and golden eagles. Chris fly-fished a pool for grayling and had something ridiculous like 200 big grayling. Staggering fishing and an amazing place – true wilderness, and total peace and tranquillity in the most beautiful surroundings.

Have you found yourself in any dodgy situations?

I have been to places where I would never take clients, yes. India is a fantastic country and I love the south, although the Cauvery River isn’t what it used to be for mahseer. I went to northern India a few years ago to look at fishing on the Nepalese border. There were a lot of riots going on at the time and a lot of people were shot. On top of that there was a plague, so we weren’t there at the best of times!! We were lucky to get out of there in hindsight, and I won’t go back. You want an adventure, but you don’t want to risk your life!

Are you working on any exciting destinations?

Norway, from a sea fishing point of view, has a lot of potential. Where else can you go where you can virtually guarantee catching 20-30lb cod with a very good chance of a 40-pounder? Three of my clients, ordinary anglers, caught 50lb cod last year. Nicaragua is another one – I’m working on a place where I know there are countless 100lb-plus tarpon. Sweden has massive potential but you have to do it right – if you do there are fantastic coarse catches to be had. The waters are incredibly rich and you have to use big baits and big hooks or you will do your brains in catching small silvers all day.

Do the coarse anglers tend to stick to coarse fishing holidays only?

I think anglers’ tastes are changing. They want to see more interesting places. Catching fish is important but they want to take in some culture now as well. I used to think I’d have to market all my holidays separately, but there is a surprising mix with many coarse anglers happy to try some exciting sea fishing. Ireland is still big for me though, and I have now taken on Leisure Angling from Dave Houghton. With Jack Purchase Holidays gone and Cliff Smart doing other things now, there aren’t many of us left!

Where would you send a group of lads or a family at the moment to bag up on coarse fish?

For a family who want a nice holiday in beautiful surroundings with good fishing Sweden is the first choice followed by Denmark – if you go in July, August and September. For serious anglers Holland has to be number one – easy access with very good fishing which is very well managed. Bream tend to spawn in mid-May there but it fishes really, really well into October. Ireland is still very good, – you just have to be aware how to make the most of it. Ireland fished very, very well last year from July through to October.

You don’t seem to work as much with John Wilson these days…

I did quite a few TV shows with John up to about 12 years ago. He’s probably one of the best all-round anglers we’ve got, he is the best angling TV presenter and he’s always been a friend. We took him to Norway last year and produced what he regards as one of the best shows of his latest series, Dream Fishing, with personal best coalfish and cod.  We’re also going to look together at carp fishing in the USA in Arkansas soon – that should be interesting. It’s untapped fishing for wild fish in a beautiful location – lots of fish with a chance of a monster of 50lb. That’s what Anglers World Holidays is all about.

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