Did you ever stop and wonder what makes the typical angler tick? Alex Clegg, our new Angling Trust Regions Administrator, is a keen all rounder who is as happy match fishing on the canal as he is casting a fly for game species. Here, he ponders the magic of the sport and some of the many reasons why we fish.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Alex, the new Regions Administrator. I’m 21, and I’ve been fanatical about fishing since I was big enough to hold a rod. Although I come from a background of match fishing in the North West, I’d describe myself first and foremost as an all-rounder. Whether it’s throwing flies at trout and salmon in the more scenic parts of the country, or teasing a big barbel from a trolley-infested urban river, the thrill I get from fishing is the same.
For me, what makes angling so special is this huge variety. I doubt there are many people out there who could say they’ve truly done it all; and if there are, they’re probably lying! A new challenge lies around every corner with fishing, and this can drive an obsession powerful enough to consume whole lifetimes.
So what is it that keeps a keen angler fixated from early childhood to the twilight years? Well, it’s difficult to get bored with an activity that doesn’t have any ultimate fixed goal. After all, the reasons we do it are as varied as the methods and for those passionate enough there is a hunger to explore every discipline.
Even those hardcore few who dedicate their existence to a single species seldom tire of dreams of what might lie beyond. Records and personal bests tumble as time passes, only to be replaced by new thoughts of the almost impossible creatures that they know still exist, waiting to be caught.
What is “perfect” fishing for you?
From breaking records to connnecting with nature then, angling is far from a tick list. It’s such a personal thing and true perfection in any one aspect of the sport is seldom attainable. After all, fishing isn’t an exact science.
To my non-angling friends, I like to start by comparing fishing to a game of football. It’s a complex set of variables and the day’s approach will also depend on how the opposing team sets up. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you do it right or not, though, because there will always be factors you can’t control. Poor decision from the officials? Unexpected change in wind direction that moves feeding fish out of range? The parallels are there.
Comparisons with other sports an quickly get a bit leftfield, however. What is different in fishing is that the very rules can quickly change. Sometimes, there isn’t even a ball to play with, in an manner of speaking . Imagine your favourite team is 3-0 up at half time. You’ve put in an excellent display first half, with a measured performance and tactical prowess that would make Jose Mourinho weep. It’s much of the same in the second half, when suddenly in the 81st minute, the laws of the game turn upside down. The ref loses his whistle; hours of added time materialise from nowhere and the ball disappears whenever one of your players touches it. You walk away in disbelief with a 4-3 defeat.
This is what fishing can feel like at times. Yes, it can hurt and there is not always any easy explanation. The simple fact is that angling, by definition, is unpredictable. It sounds clichéd, but if we all knew we’d catch on every outing, it wouldn’t be called fishing.
Is angling about luck or skill?
This isn’t to say that fishing lacks skill. Granted, a good angler on a bad peg is unlikely to win the match. But they will always have more chance of doing so than somebody with less experience. While luck will always play a part in any fishing, all situations present themselves with so many variables that you really can make your own luck.
In no other sport or hobby is it possible to go into such fine a detail as fishing, where making the smallest change can be the difference between catching and not catching. This is particularly true of my first love, match fishing, where competing not only against fish but other people, makes for even finer margins and greater suspense.
I’ve been told by many that attention to detail is what separates good anglers from great anglers. Having everything to hand, compatible spares for your gear, a good selection of rigs and hooklengths etc appear tantamount to success in many circles. And if you think about it, this rings true – certainly in respect to maximising fishing time, adaptability and consistency in match fishing. But what I will also say is that having all the proper gear is no substitute for superior knowledge and judgement.
As a teenager I was lucky to have fished with some real icons of the sport and superb anglers in their field on venues like the River Weaver and Carr Mill Dam. One of the most striking things I’d notice was how basic the tackle many of the experts often used. While it wasn’t always pretty or fancy, the gear you saw on display had a high degree of functionality and was used in the correct way. I think a lot of commercial lads would shudder at the number of big Winter League matches I’ve seen won by an angler on a classic blue plastic Shakespeare box!
For many, though, this is the biggest draw of angling. It’s really up to you how much money you want to spend, how complicated you want to make it. The stars are bound to align at some point, and every person with a line in the water has a chance make their dreams reality.
Fortune favours… everyone who tries, eventually?
One of my favourite stories is that of 11-year-old Dean Rawlings, who in 2002 landed a British record perch from an unsuspecting day ticket lake in Oxfordshire. Apparently his dad was quoted at the time as saying the catch was “90% luck and 10% skill” (Angling Times). Or was it the other way round? The very nature of fishing means we can’t know for sure.
The point is that angling has the potential to create memories for anybody prepared to put even a little thought and effort into what they’re doing. With the volume of fish we now find in our urban rivers and canals, and the rise of user-friendly, low cost styles such as light lure fishing, the sport has never been more accessible.
Moreover, angling doesn’t discriminate. People from all walks of life are welcome, and the sheer variety on offer means there’s something for everyone. There aren’t many sports or hobbies that appeal equally to those of such vastly different backgrounds. It’s quite literally another world beneath the water’s surface, and I think most non-anglers would be shocked if they knew quite how diverse and beautiful this world can be.
This sheer lack of awareness about life beneath the surface, however, is possibly also the biggest problem facing anglers and conservationists today. The relative obscurity of our aquatic environments means that, generally speaking, people will be less bothered about fish than other, more conspicuous wildlife. A case of “out of sight, out of mind” perhaps?
Unfortunately for us, fish don’t do cute or hilarious things worthy of a million likes on Instagram, and as long as otters breathe air and fish live underwater, this is how it will remain. As anglers though, we are uniquely placed to champion this environment and what lives there. Why? Because, vested interests aside, we’re the ones who actually know what’s going in those murky depths. We’re the ones who care. It pains me to think how many people walk over a canal or river without so much as a second glance, or even a thought as to what might live under the water.
Why I’m proud to be part of the Angling Trust
The chance to do something positive for this environment is one of the biggest of the many reasons I first joined the Trust, hence it’s a great privilege to now work for the organisation in a professional capacity. Having now seen what goes on from an internal perspective, it’s actually quite staggering just how extensive the Trust’s work is.
For one thing, it’s far from just a representative body for anglers. I believe many campaigns not only benefit recreational angling, but also help deliver a wider public good – be it from an environmental perspective, or having a social impact with the great work being done to get kids fishing and engage the wider community in general.
It’s easy to be negative, and with social media anglers are getting ever less subtle and thoughtful with their criticisms. However, the case for optimism remains. It’s a great pastime and while angling will always have its threats, it’s important to stay grounded and remember why we all do what we do.
I’m sure everyone reading this will have different reasons for going fishing, but as long as we stick at it and can pull together, the future is potentially bright. This is exactly why it’s important to support your local fishing club and to do your bit by being an Angling Trust member. And on that note, I look forward to meeting more of you on the bank and at future meetings and events. Do keep an eye out in particular for our regional forums, which take part right across the country each year; it would be great to see you at the next one in your neck of the woods. Do pop over and say hello!