Steve Partner: Admit it – we don’t love roach any more!

As another fishery owner stocks a lake with mostly silverfish, Steve Partner explains why it’s a doomed venture in a sport obessesed by carp – and populated by dreamers....

Are we really sick of carp? Are anglers really bored of a species that fights hard, eats anything, feeds in all conditions and enables them to build weights that, even 15 years ago, would have been unthinkable? Are fishery owners really considering emptying their pools of durable, willing and cheap pasties, only to replace them with the likes of roach, bream and tench? Is the fishing world really starting to turn its back on carp?

I ask these questions after reading how one lake boss decided to stock his new pools with mainly silverfish, believing they were what his customers wanted. While I commend his motives, I believe his decision, however worthy, will end in failure.

History, to start with, is one reason why. Numerous fishery owners before him have been lulled into believing their fortunes could be made with pools lined with silver only to discover, some months later, that it’s wiser to play it safe with carp. Despite saying otherwise, anglers have failed to embrace the change and fed up with not being able to guarantee a bite a cast and a bulging keepnet, they’ve stayed away. Empty pegs means empty cash tills and the owners of commercials like Moorlands Farm and Cudmore reverted to type, scratching their heads as they tried to explain why the experiment had failed.

They were, after all, only acting under instruction.

“We’re fed up with carp,” they’d been told, “let’s have some variety.”

Frankly, they were conned, hoodwinked by a contradiction that is inherent in much of the sport. The things is, so many anglers, I’m convinced, say one thing, then do another.

While some fantasise about misty dawns on remote lily-fringed lakes, they still spend their weekends around purpose-built pools man-handling huge lengths of carbon. While some dream about trotting a stick float down a glide on a wild river, they still find themselves queuing for a breakfast after parking their car on venues where every peg looks the same. And while some  reminisce about the prospect of a well-earned 30lb of silverfish, ultimately they still prefer 100lb of ‘easy’ carp.

Anglers like to toy with the idea of doing something more soulful but in reality they  defer to what’s comfortable, easy and convenient. Inevitably, that means commercials and carp.

Another example. In the last six years AT has conducted two large-scale reader surveys in attempt to discover Britain’s best-loved species. No-brainer you might think, carp are the obvious answer. Not so. The first one, in which thousands of anglers participated, ended up with roach as the No1 choice while the second, carried out this year, saw tench come out on top. 

It wasn’t a close run thing either – on both occasions the victor won by a country mile, carp nowhere near the winner’s podium.

What can we read into the results, then? That there are thousands of secret tench and roach anglers out there fishing old estate lakes and wild stretches of river? No. The truth is the sport is home to anglers who have an idealistic, not realistic, view of fishing. They look at fishing through rose-tinted spectacles, calling upon childhood experiences with a fondness that time has smudged and romancing about an era, they believe, was superior than today. They tell misleading stories of waters once full of mixed fish, of rivers untouched by predators and of a brotherhood of anglers united by a common bond.

Most of what they recall is, of course, the victim of age. Time has blurred the edges and distorted the truth. The memories are soaked in a sugary dose of  sentimentality. But that doesn’t stop them reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ and it doesn’t stop them fantasising about tench, roach or bream when they’re sat around a puddle catching stunted carp.

“Next week,” they’ll say, “we’ll find somewhere to catch some silverfish.”

Next week, though, never arrives and they find themselves on the same place time and again. Nothing wrong with that attitude of course, only that it distorts the truth. It’s why traditional fish score well in surveys, why readers want romantic features on far-flung places – and why fishery bosses get conned into believing we’re bored of carp.

Maybe the sport itself is to blame. You can only catch what’s in front of you, and if your venue has carp in it, that’s what you’ll end up with. Maybe carp have spoilt us. Once you’ve caught a 100lb of hard-fighting pasties, grafting for 20lb of silvers might seem an anti-climax. Maybe the tackle industry has contributed, with gear today designed for speed,  strength and, ultimately, carp. Choice has been strangled.

The lifestyle of the average angler has changed too. Time is more precious than it’s ever been and convenience, in everything we do, is king. If you’ve got one day to fish, do you really want to spend it struggling for bites on a venue that requires a long walk? Or would your rather head to a place where a big weight is guaranteed? Even the sedate  sport of fishing, it seems, is not immune from society’s desire for instant gratification.

So, despite the inevitable denials otherwise, it seems the answer to the questions posed at the very start of this piece are obvious: Emphatically, no, angling is not sick of carp.

Yes, there will be some who  pay lip service to the attempts to oust them in favour of roach, bream and tench, and others may even make the effort to visit these new silverfish pools. But they need to go soon.

I suspect it won’t be long before the fishery owner behind this latest attempt to offer us choice realises he’s been conned by a sport that seems unable to admit that it loves small carp.