A very Happy New Year to everyone. Although these changeover times pass without a blink for many, I secretly like the start of another year and the chance to turn over a new page. These new endings and beginnings provide a convenient cut off point to reflect on what’s gone by, to leave old ruts behind and find better habits.
With 2017 quite a dark and destructive year, I’m especially glad to move on this time. In so many cases it was a year when divisions hit home and the brown stuff really hit the fan; but the only certainty in this life is change and there were also some welcome glimmers of hope. So where should I start? Let’s try a positive…
1. A good year for new anglers
Among all the bad stuff going on, perhaps the real positive was the busiest summer of fishing I have ever been a part of. Exeter DAA had over a hundred youngsters take part in their National Fishing Month event, an uplifting day for an angling coach if ever there was one. Elsewhere in Devon, I also helped the Scouts go fishing (above) alongside fellow Tiverton AA volunteers . There were lots of laughs, lots of questions and one or two little rudd flying through the air with over-enthusiastic strikes.
Meanwhile, in a busy summer for guided fishing trips in Devon and Somerset, the age of my guests was noticeably lower than usual, with plenty in their twenties and thirties. Hiking, kayaking, camping and other hobbies are definitely on the up- is there a connection here? The battle is far from won then, but perhaps we can capitalise on this even more in 2018?
2. A bad year for the written word… with one or two welcome exceptions
Fallon’s Angler remains a bright spot for fishing writing; sadly 2017 was a year we lost two more magazines.
2017 was the year we lost not one but two magazines. Pike and Predators, the first place I was ever published back in 2006, hit the rocks first (or at least is now only an online bi-monthly). Total Flyfisher followed only last month. Incredibly sad because it was another title that nurtured me, especially under editor Steve Cullen in the early days. Andy Taylor took the helm more recently, producing something continued to be refreshingly broad minded (and wouldn’t respond like you had just advocated child labour at the mere mention of coarse fish on the fly). What a bitter-sweet feeling to be on the cover of the very last issue. I still don’t quite know how to feel. Proud? Gutted?
“It’ll be fine” I hear you cry, “it’ll all just move online now.” But will it really? You will get marketing driven writing, blogs and freebie content of spectacularly variable content and quality, yes. But who will mentor and nurture the next generation of writers? Where will the future editors and journalists come from? Who will be there to make sure the sport has quality control and a consistent quality of writing that is free, unbiased and (gulp) actually worth reading? If it’s all for nowt, we will effectively strip away whole layers of professionalism and quality control. Will the “me first” generation want to put in the hard yards and build the sport for others, not just their own ends and the sponsors?
I will say it here on the record: without people like the late James Holgate, Steve Cullen, Merlin Unwin and Steve Partner I would never have had the confidence, let alone the critical feedback and professional support required, to develop as a writer. Several times each year, a young somebody will get in touch and ask how they might get into writing about fishing. I always want to help, but it’s getting to the point where I’m not sure what to tell them.
Perhaps the surprising, saving grace in all of this is that books and one or two other sections of print media have enjoyed a mini resurgence. The Angling Times has certainly improved and rallied since it became a magazine- and personally I remain grateful and surprised that they granted a weekly slot to me, as someone without a Premier League big fish slaying or match winning reputation. Meanwhile, Fallon’s Angler has proved that quality longer form writing still has a market, with each issue unearthing some great writing from a refreshingly broad pool of talent. Literally every issue will have an article or three where I start by asking “who’s he” and ends with “that was a seriously bloody good read.” If you’re fed up of the shallow world of tweets and clickbait style articles, I’d urge you to try it. It’s £8 each quarterly, but an issue is more like a book than a magazine, with cracking production values.
3. A good year for diverse catches
Lightening up a little: size really isn’t everything
If the world of angling media is a challenging one at present, the sport itself seems to be diversifying in quite a healthy manner, oddly. I’ve written about the wonderful world of species hunting along with a more varied than ever lure and fly fishing scene a few times now in my weekly Angling Times slot, and I stand by every word. While the cynics will always say there is “nothing new” in fishing, there is a lot out there still to discover and a whole raft of species we would never have targeted on lures until very recently. Very positive, I think, because single-species, weight-is-everything fishing can become desperately predictable.
Who knows, perhaps we are winning back a healthier sense of perspective? From freaky little rockfish to rare gobies, there is such a wonderful range of fish and settings to explore. Fishing with Andy Mytton and Jack Perks over the past months has been fantastic fun in this respect. Never mind vast specimens, you can fish with just as much fervour for creatures that weigh only an ounce or two. It’s all a matter of perspective- and weirdly the older I get, the more I’m convinced that the secret to being a happy angler is to fish with the perspective of a big kid. And on that note, let’s strive to be happier and more light-hearted in 2018.
4. A year of division and the “Facebook Effect”
If there is one toxic factor cutting across all of our lives at the moment, it is the growth of divisive, kneejerk media where we desperately need grown up dialogue. Facebook has played a huge part in this, making normally decent human beings behave like irate motorists, that glass screen of separation bringing out our worst.
We are becoming addicted to conflict and controversy and it isn’t healthy. Along with the inevitable Brexit battles, angling has become deluged with fairly horrible arguments, whether it’s otters, immigrants or various other topics. Sometimes I think even the message “I quite like the idea of world peace” would start a pointless embittered argument complete with “snowflake” and “fascist” tags attached.
And then there’s the whole theme of let’s all post how amazing our lives are. You can see about eight catch-of-a-lifetime contenders on any given day. Half the time, it’s a fish of the sort of size you’ll never catch, from someone you’ll never meet, from a destination you’ll never visit. It can be inspiring, but it can also be downright depressing. So while it does no harm to celebrate achievements, I would love to see more honesty and realism across the board. News flash: my life is probably not a heck of a lot better or worse or less complicated than yours. It’s just different. And if you honestly care what my favourite beer is, who I vote for or where I take my wife to dinner, that’s a little bit creepy.
I have contemplated leaving the whole social media thing alone, such is the way it’s all going. However, even if 80% of it is barely real, I cannot deny it has also sparked some welcome and unexpected connections. Thanks to Facebook (well, not thanks to viral videos or pictures of cats, but the simple ability to find people and be found easily) I have made new friends and traveled from Southern Ireland to random bits of Poland. So I’m quite torn and for now I will stick to using social media sparingly. For goodness sake though, let’s be more mindful of each other with the whole social media thing in the coming months though, because there’s enough time-wasting and needless conflict in the world already without creating more.
And on that note, let’s all try and be a bit wiser and kinder to each other in 2018.
Happiness and tight lines to all of you.
Back to work, with assistance from dachshund.