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Donkin on Fishing - General Fishing Columns


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 for years.

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 box.

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

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