In his latest blog for the Eastern Daily Press, John Bailey muses on having watched Mortimer and Whitehouses Christmas Special with two young men who don’t give two hoots about angling. 

“My 20-something stepsons who were unusually quiet throughout. I sensed from them that they enjoyed the scenery and they liked the more reflective moments, but that deep down, they could not quite ‘get’ why gents of Paul’s and Bob’s age (and mine I hasten to add) actually want to catch fish in the first place. In their parlance, “it is what it is” and they didn’t bother to take it further, but the fact remains I went to bed pondering their unspoken question. Is fishing really all about a line with a fool at one end and a worm at the other, or is there truly a deeper resonance to what we love?”

John goes onto ponder the reasons us anglers love to wet a line so.

“We know that we thrill to the catching of a fish, that to us, it is the ultimate thrill riddled with excitement and challenge. Casting a fly or trotting a float is a valid physical skill, every bit as elegant as a cover shot in cricket or a half volley in football. Further, as anglers, we know that catching a fish is the peak of natural history conundrums and that you have to understand your quarry to hook it.”

Yet he gets that we know that the sport isn’t attracting anywhere like enough new Millennials.

“I’d add that what Paul and Bob enjoy is a sport that gets you outside, a sport you can indulge in, and improve at, until the day you die, if you are lucky. Fishing drags you into the real world, kids especially, and it grounds you and teaches you more than a hundred Attenborough films ever can about how the natural world actually operates.”

Of course such online pieces give the opportunity to respond, to all. And the ‘anti’ brigade is much more organised than the ‘wet a line’ brigade.

A Felicity Danbury Do-Gooder was on the case straight away:

“Why do you go fishing? No idea. To cause distress to fish that are minding their own business?  The reason I suspect most younger people have no interest in angling is because most fish caught are not eaten. Just thrown back into the water after gasping for air for the photo whilst having their guts squeezed. That’s after the hook in their face has been pulled out. Younger people care about animal and fish welfare.
They also see through the weak contrived argument that anglers are guardians of the environment. Some of the anglers we have seen on our walks are not. With abandoned fishing lines, churned up mud on river banks where they have camped and litter.
Anglers cause harm to fish. The argument suggesting it’s relaxing to fish is as weak as suggesting kicking the cat is relaxing. We should not cause unnecessary harm to animals, poultry or fish. Lastly you can call the male dominated so called sport a brotherhood if you want. No need to go all politically correct if you don’t want to. Would rather you gave up distressing wildlife than you worry about what to call your fish harming mates.”

Perhaps some of you out there could respond to balance things up a little, with your own genuine reasons for loving angling? The article and way to respond can be found HERE.

John concludes: “I’ve always held strongly that anglers are guardians of the stream. I’m in no doubt that the ONLY naturalists that care about wild fish, that know a tench from a trout, are anglers. You might say that this is self interest, that we protect wild fish merely to catch them, but there is more to it than that, I swear. Fishers love fish whereas, to most, they are creatures on a slab or in a pan. I inhabit a world of fish conservationists and whilst I frequently disagree with their methods, I have never challenged their motives. There can be no doubt that fish are the poor relations in the world of conservation and they would fare even more poorly without us. Even without the Environment Agency perhaps!

I don’t think we should take the theme of this piece lightly and I promise you it’s not an exercise in semantics. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is shuffling around Westminster right now and it aims to give new rights and protections to any vertebrate creature, and that includes fish, of course. The start of a new year isn’t a bad time to whip up a few resolutions and one of the things my stepsons did like was the lightning release of Paul’s and Bob’s salmon. “And Away” should be a motto we all adopt perhaps.”