March 2007 – Fishing
on the internet
Our neighbourhood heron is a clever bird. He perches on
the roof of a nearby house and waits for a moment when he
thinks no one is watching before swooping down to my pond.
Sometimes I’m waiting by the window and we have
a kind of stand off for a while. He’s not worried.
He knows I can’t guard the pond continuously. So my
stock of goldfish never gets too big and the tadpoles, I
guess, are thankful for that.
Most of the anglers I know are wildlife enthusiasts. It
goes with the territory. I often carry a pair of binoculars
when fishing to watch birds and other animals on the river
banks. But there is a tension in this relationship.
You rarely hear an angler with a kind word for the cormorant,
the grey seal or the red-breasted merganser. Swans are just
about tolerated and even the once threatened otter attracts
the odd grumble these days although I wouldn’t begrudge
it its supper.
Predation is nature’s way of retaining a balance
in the food chain. If anything has upset that balance it
is people, the biggest predator of all. Grey seals that
swim up rivers in pursuit of salmon, and cormorants that
can devastate freshwater fish stocks, have invaded inland
environments because of the slim pickings available in their
over-fished natural home – the sea.
None of this knowledge is sufficient to dilute my hunting
instincts, however. Since taking up shooting again I have
caught myself sighting flights of ducks along an outstretched
arm and pulling an imaginary trigger.
Even worse, just a few weeks of fly-tying classes have
transformed the way I look at birds and animals. If I see
a jay bird I’m admiring its blue mid-wing, if it’s
a pheasant I’m checking out the length and breadth
of its tail feathers and, if it’s a grey squirrel,
I see nothing but its bushy tail. It’s the same with
road kill. I’m even taking more of an interest in
brushing the dog.
Fly tying has a corrupting influence and it’s bothering
me. I’m wondering if I will ever look at a bird or
a furry animal in the same way again. Just as a sex-obsessed
man might undress a woman with his eyes; in his mind at
least, the fly tyer might be quietly dressing his size 16
hook with your favourite budgerigar. Lock up your pets if
there’s a fly tyer in the vicinity.
The trout season is nearly upon us and fly-fishers are
getting twitchy. I have two up-coming salmon-fishing trips
to Scotland and the anticipation is becoming unbearable.
As a soothing gesture I gravitated some of my fly boxes
to the bookshelves in my office and every now again I snap
open a box just to look at its contents.
Book-reading can be calming. I you are taking up trout
fishing or of you just need to brush up on a few things
before heading out for an early season cast, you could do
far worse than read River Fly-Fishing, The Complete Guide
by Peter Lapsley. It’s instructive without being dogmatic.
It doesn’t talk down to the reader and it doesn’t
assume any previous knowledge of the subject. But it’s
comprehensive enough to benefit those who have been fishing
You might also, if you are bold enough, venture on to some
of the many fly fishing forums that have sprung up over
the last three or four years. The value of a forum is that
you can get first hand knowledge and detailed advice from
people who really know their stuff.
Just as books, like that of Mr Lapsley, tell us plenty
about fish behaviour, forums are a great place to observe
another strand of fishing, that of angler behaviour.
Down by the river, anglers can reveal themselves as shy,
unobtrusive creatures. The more experienced they become,
the more they blend in to their environment. But experience
can dilute an angler’s levels of tolerance and nowhere
is this more evident than in the fishing forum.
Typically a new member blunders in to some fierce debate
between a couple of prolific posters only to be told to
mind their own business. Perhaps the best approach is to
adopt the techniques of angling.
First there is concealment behind a nickname – a
controversial issue since anonymity can be used as a cloak
for rudeness and all kinds of bad behaviour, hence the presence
of site monitors who perform the duty of the bailiff.
Second, there is tact. Just as you wouldn’t walk
in to a pub and start sounding off loudly from the bar,
it is not wise to do so on a forum either. That said, I
have been surprised by the lack of charity displayed by
some who frequent these places and I’m wondering if
this is simply something symptomatic of angling.
After all, G E M Skues was barely tolerated by the dry
fly purists in the early part of the 19th century. This
kind of purism, bordering sometimes on Puritanism, still
exists on the chalk streams. That’s fair enough in
some respects. If you join a club you sign up to its rules.
Unfortunately clubs and their members can become steeped
in a dogma that long ago dispensed with the suggestions
If I might be allowed one plea in this growing noise of
communications within angling, it would be for anglers to
think a little more about tolerance. This may seem a little
preachy - I hope you will forgive me for that – but
angling must remain the broadest of churches. We can’t
all be perfect and neither can we be wholly selfish. There
has to be room for herons too.
See also: A
plague on all our fish