What a strange, ominous start to the year it has been. In spite of the vaccine arriving, there have been few other reasons to celebrate. If you have been feeling anxious or suffering from extreme cabin fever, you are truly not alone. In my case it has been really tricky to balance the pressure of working several jobs from home whilst also sharing parenting duties. It can be stressful worrying about older relatives and future uncertainty, too, so my humble thanks to everyone who has continued to buy books and flies!
Thank goodness for fishing is all I can say because more than ever we’ve needed it. Even for those who can’t get out right now, it can be a comfort to look forward to the next time or enjoy some pure escapism or nostalgia. Or finally tidy up that man cave!
Far from returning to normal, you get the feeling that nothing will ever be quite the same again. And aside from the many scars that will be left, there will also be changes that are for the better. In fact, the whole sport has undergone something of a perspective shift. So, where do we start? About two miles from home, slightly nervously, is probably the honest answer.
Local fishing for local people?
There is a certain irony in the fishing world, as I’ve mentioned before, that so many of us don’t see what is right under our noses. Why fish that tricky local river when you can drive to a fishery and get a bite a chuck? Why settle for normal-sized fish, when you can drive two hours for the chance of a monster?
Well, for one thing, it gets gnawingly predictable with popular specimen carp and coarse fisheries that are clobbered so much they retain about as much authentic mystery as an episode of Scooby Doo (I’d have caught Moon Scale at a new PB of 54lbs if it wasn’t for you pesky kids).
Nor is it great for the planet (or indeed family life) for us all to go hurtling hundreds of miles around the country when there’s perfectly decent fishing close home. Perhaps if specimen awards were measured against county or even venue records, we’d have a more realistic scale of merit?
I don’t say this with any smugness, because covid has been a healthy slap in the face for my own fishing, reminding me how the fishing just ten minutes from home is often every bit as good as the waters I travel an hour or more for. On two pre-lockdown trips to Somerset, for example, I had a trip of at least 40 minutes each way for precious little beyond small perch and cold fingers. Indeed, my initial reaction to lockdown and the fishing ban for 48h was that I wasn’t missing an awful lot!
What a difference a couple of weeks and a forced hand have made, therefore! I’m not going to give you a grid reference for the best swims on the urban River Exe, for example, but it’s been surprisingly reliable. In fact, there are productive urban spots across the whole three miles plus of Exeter & District AA club waters if you can be bothered to walk, with most of the main coarse species present.
Too often I’ve written these off as poached-to-death or just plain rubbish, but the river seems to be on a bit of form again. Sure, the big roach it once held are long gone, as are giant specimens in general, but other fish are coming back again. Pike spots that I’d given up on have produced not only jack pike but the odd double. Interestingly, though, I’ve mostly blanked on dead bait but caught really well with the fly rod.
There are no guarantees, but if you hit the river when it’s not chocolate colour and search plenty of water, something will usually bite. Just remember to please, please, please pack a large unhooking mat if you’re fishing in the town; and do report anyone who is breaking the rules or doing something they shouldn’t. I’m fed up of hearing the usual gossip of “bloody poachers” or whatever from people who never challenge anyone or call it in (and the number is slap bang on your rod licence!).
Exeter Ship Canal has admittedly been a steaming pile of corona for pike and carp lately, leaving a lot of locals a bit baffled, although things have to pick up at some point! The polar opposite of Harper’s Ponds, which you can read about in my next Angling Times column.
Even on the coldest days, there are bites galore here and the club, and Roly Palmer in particular, have played a blinder to create such a consistent little fishery. If you have youngsters and are wondering where to go fishing in Exeter, this is the ideal spot to catch silver fish and small carp at just £7 a season! You can read more in Angling Times shortly, but all you really need is a pole and some maggots to enjoy a proper lucky dip of coarse fish.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, was talk of pike in these small ponds. Really stupid from whoever transferred them here from the canal (why is there always an idiot who does this?). Not only are these waters too small to be a great pike fishery, they’ll now have to be caught and put back in the canal- and these fish don’t tend to fare well when moved. For anyone reading this who has ever been tempted, please don’t transfer fish between waters. Whether it’s the risk of spreading disease or upsetting the balance of nature, it’s never a good idea. And it’s completely illegal!
Anglers come together… finally!
The other truly conspicuous change I’ve noticed of late is how much friendlier people are, whether you’re at a fishery or just going for a local walk. Doesn’t it really help to know that the vast majority of people are so decent and helpful? It’s just a shame it sometimes takes a crisis to look out for each other better.
The same is true of angling, it must be said, and I can’t remember ever feeling such a strong sense of community and shared purpose. For a long term supporter, and now a part-time staffer, of the Angling Trust, it has been a breath of fresh air to see so much fresh hope and positivity. It’s not just viruses that spread- the same can be true of goodwill better aspects of our lives. Part of this is perhaps a lack of awareness of all the good work that goes on (at amazing value, given how much of it is done on a low paid or entirely voluntary basis!).
In these times of crisis, even a lot of the critics have clocked how much we’ve grown and how vital it is for angling to have greater unity, purpose and organisation. At no point has that been better demonstrated than during lockdown three- and even I was surprised to see fishing reinstated just 48h after being banned! If you’ve yet to do so, please do add your support- and do keep an eye on Lines on the Water, which has regular articles and a closer look at some of the amazing work done on everyone’s behalf:
A lot of work has gone into keeping angling on track in these testing times. We’ve been bombarded with questions (and a lot of lovely comments from those who were really struggling with lockdown), but if you want the latest, updated covid advice in relation to fishing, whether it’s asking “can I still go night fishing” or “are keepnets allowed?” look no further than the Trust’s dedicated coronavirus support section.
Of course, some of you will be staying away from the bank for now through choice or necessity and that’s fine as well. Indeed, if you would prefer to put your feet up, close your eyes and imagine you were somewhere other than a cold, virus hit island you might also enjoy my recent guest appearance on Talk Sport II’s Fisherman’s Blues show with Nigel Bothaway. We discussed all sorts on the show, from species hunting with lures through to angling books and favourite destinations.
Finally, for those of you who enjoy fly fishing, you might well enjoy some of my recent content for Turrall and FliesOnline. For cross-discipline fans, there’s an interesting adventure targeting chub and perch with ex-England international Gary Pearson:
Meanwhile I’ve also written a useful feature on ironing out ten of the most common fly fishing gaffes.
If we’re honest, fly fishing is a bit like driving, in that most of us learn the basics quite thoroughly, before developing our own set of bad habits. This is even true of your friendly angling guide, and it never hurts to get back to the fundamentals.
Until next time, tight lines, stay safe and look out for each other.