Steve Partner: Can this man catch 700lb in six hours?

Last week Gary Huth, who claims to have had the biggest match weights ever, boasted how he now wants 700lb. Steve Partner takes a look at the prospects...

Can you imagine just what kind of place the angling world will be in five years’ time if men like Gary Huth get their way? I can and, frankly, the vision borders on apocalyptic.

I see commercials, many of which are already grossly overstocked, resembling trout cages, where fish density is so high that the need for mere survival overrides natural caution and every morsel of food is the subject of frenzied competition.

I see those who still perceive this kind of fish-a-chuck free-for-all as angling continuing to plunder bigger and bigger nets in the belief that the better the weight, the better the angler.

I see the tackle industry, keen to meet the demands, developing heavier and stronger gear, until poles resemble broom sticks and elastic is as thick as rope.

I see the angling press carrying banner headlines of 1,000lb weights – their insistence on printing these-mega weight stories and making stars of those responsible helping to perpetuate the myth that fishing ability really is measured in pounds and ounces alone.

And, crucially, I see matches, already on some commercials more a test of stamina than skill, being reduced to mere feats of endurance. Getting a bite won’t be the issue – the simple speed in which it takes to net the fish will be the only difference between first and anywhere else. 

Yes, I have seen a glimpse of what the future might look like on Planet Huth – and, frankly, it’s a scary vision.

Given the media coverage, it’s unlikely that Gary needs much introduction. But for those less well-versed in the world of keepnet-splitting weights, let me explain.

In recent weeks, the Essex-based angler has been back in the headlines after breaking first his own six-hour match record with 682lb from Hawkhurst Fish Farm, before heading to Rockells Farm to set a new (not his own this time) five-hour best with 525lb.

Those – before we get into the greater debate here – are the bare statistics.   

Now, let me first make one thing very clear. I have never spent any time on the bank with Gary, so I can make no assumptions as to what type of character he is. I can, however, pass comment on his fishing preferences. Why? Because he’s made it my business to do so.

Remember, this is a man who courted media attention from the very moment he decided he wanted to be recognised as the angler capable of extracting the biggest weight of fish from a venue in a specific amount of time. He’s organised his own matches, hand-picked his competitors, and selected specific venues – all with the sole intention of setting, what he believes, are ‘official’ world bests.

Last week he even told us how he had written to Guinness Records to seek international acknowledgement after fishing’s own governing body – the Angling Trust – refused to recognise his latest achievements. It does make you wonder which is bigger – his net at the end of one of these matches, or his ego. 

This isn’t, I believe, the place to discuss the logistics of what Gary does. I am aware that there are many within the matchfishing fraternity who, just like the Trust, fail to acknowledge his feats by giving them even a shred of credibility. They argue the matches in which these weights have been taken are too small, they argue the level of competition is not strong enough (the angler who finished second when Gary took 682lb was almost 400lb behind), they argue that the 60-minute break in between the six-hour contests at Rockells Farm (to return the fish and allow the venue’s aerators to be turned on) render the contest irrelevant. They also argue the lack of independent and official witnesses – and supporting photographs – undermine the weights.

But these doubts aren’t what lie at the core of this debate. It’s the morality of wanting to do it that interests me.

What, for example, is the skill level required to catch nearly 700lb in a match? What methods are required, what tackle is needed and what amount of bait has to be introduced? More importantly, just what is the motivation?

Let’s answer each of those questions in order:

l Skill level? Negligible. Bites are more or less guaranteed so it becomes less about fooling a fish into taking the bait, more about how quickly you can extract it from the water.

l Methods? Presenting a float under your pole-tip inches from the bank – or even at five metres – hardly displays a wealth of tactical genius and as for tackle and bait, well, a top section coupled with either paste or pellet isn’t exactly groundbreaking.

Look, I’m not saying that I, or many other anglers, could do what he does. But I do believe that most competent matchmen – should they want to – probably could. Thankfully, they don’t.

Quite honestly, how anyone can actually derive pleasure from simply catching – because that, and not fishing, is exactly what it is – carp after carp after carp, is simply beyond me. As I’ve already said, these matches are more endurance tests than angling contests.

Match angling – where like-minded individuals line up to compete against the fish as much as they do each other – I can completely understand. Having to employ the use of experience, know-how, subtlety and clever watercraft to take the largest weight on any given day from any given peg is clearly a huge test of skill, and watching the country’s best matchmen at work is an education.

But to essentially shoot fish in a barrel? I’m sorry, but that is beyond my comprehension.

Questions too, have to be asked of the venue. Just how many fish have to be present to enable one angler to put that kind of weight on the scales? Neither Rockells nor Hawkhurst are especially big venues, so the density of fish is clearly very high.

I remember the Environment Agency once making very public statements about how it wanted to crack down on those venues that flout current guidelines on stocking, but I’ve yet to hear of a single place being held accountable for breaking the rules.

What I want to know is this: when is enough going to be enough? When, as a sport, are we going to say ‘no more’? When are we going to condemn and not congratulate an individual for removing nearly 700lb of fish in six hours? And when are we going to question how we’ve allowed this to even be a remote possibility?

I’ve written in the past that choice lies at the core of modern society and angling, being so diverse, is many things to many different people.But there comes a point when, for the sake of its long-term future, that same choice needs to be removed. And, in my opinion, we’ve just reached it.

Gary Huth may not take his place in the Guinness Book of Records but his name could yet be remembered long after the headlines are lost to time. It would be a welcome irony if the man who has come to symbolise these obscene weights of fish was, inadvertently, responsible for hastening their demise.