Steve Partner: Carp world gone mad

Bait boats, portable TVs, DVD players and now internet access. AT’s Steve Partner questions the direction angling is taking...

It is, of course, a question without a definitive answer, but that doesn’t prevent it being one that’s worth asking. If Dick Walker were alive today just what would he make of the current carp fishing scene?

Nearly a quarter-of-a-century has elapsed since the man widely acknowledged as the Godfather of modern specimen-hunting passed away, and in that time the sport that he helped to shape has changed beyond recognition.

Today, angling – especially carp fishing – is a very different animal. No longer is the species shrouded in a mystery that once deemed them virtually uncatchable, and the veil that cloaked their existence has long since become transparent. Genuine secrets are few and far between. Where once 20lb carp were so rare they were considered history-making front-page news, fish of that size now live in innumerable waters where, every weekend, they are caught in matches by men wielding long lengths of carbon. 

As such, the reverence grown men once had for the species is no longer born from mystery, it is sheer size that provides the motivation.

Carp fishing is now a huge and growing beast. Increasingly, it seems to be populated by participants who camp on man-made fisheries with enough hi-tech and often unnecessary gadgetry to outfox much smarter creatures than the grown-to-order quarry they covet. For some it’s become not so much fishing as camping, not so much angling but trapping.

But for all the unpalatable elements that have come to make up much of today’s big-fish scene, it isn’t the overcomplicated rigs, the named fish, the vast array of multi-coloured baits designed to catch anglers, or the purpose-built, rammed-to-the-rafters fisheries that, were he alive, surely would have caused Walker to shake his head in complete bemusement. No, for that he would have had to wait until last week.

Four Seasons in Blackpool has just opened its doors to anglers for the first time, and as well as offering a big head of huge carp, the fishery website boasts how each peg houses a power socket for things like portable televisions, DVD players, radios, mini fridges, bait boats and any other electronic device you can think of. Oh, and the venue has wireless internet access too.

What do you think Dick, or any of the other big-fish pioneers of the 1950s, would have made of that? In fact, what do you think they’d have made of today’s carp scene in general?

It is, of course, harsh to single out one venue, and even harsher to hold it up as a typical example of all modern carp fisheries. There are still plenty of places well off the beaten track, waters that aren’t cut from a uniform shape or designed with pegs dug to an exact size at even intervals. But what the owners of Four Seasons have done is highlight, if in a slightly exaggerated way, the direction in which carp fishing is headed. The craving for convenience, it seems, is not just restricted to popular culture, it’s seeped into angling too.

More and more venues are going to extra, indeed extraordinary, lengths to attract anglers – and, as a sport, it seems we’re lapping it up. Safe car parking. Comfortable pegs. Onsite tackle shops. Toilets and shower blocks. Food delivered. Power points in swims. Wi-fi connection. Crikey, some places even offer permanent shelter in the form of a shed in each peg.

Where, you have to ask, will it all end? What further facilities can fisheries offer? Armchairs? Beds? Cookers? Sound ridiculous? Well, it’s no more ridiculous than if you’d have mentioned during Walker’s era that one day you’d be able to watch TV while you fish.

I suppose it all comes down to why we go fishing in the first place. To some the idea of being sat on a busy, man-made, heavily-stocked lake where the amenities offer most of the comforts of home is complete anathema. To them, fishing is as much about getting away from it all, about immersing themselves in nature and  pitting their wits against a wild creature, as it is about actually catching anything. But to others, time is precious and convenience king, so angler-friendly venues fit the bill.

Chris Yates, former carp record holder and a man who advocates many of the traditions of yesteryear, described these modern style of fisheries as ‘theme parks’ and there’s no doubt the rise of convenience carping does raise some fundamental questions about the direction the sport is taking.

Angling, surely, has to be more than just about catching fish, and if it’s made too easy and too comfortable, it becomes almost pointless. Isn’t fishing about the great outdoors? Doesn’t it provide the ultimate stress relief, making it a hobby that takes us away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life, somewhere to escape reality. Doesn’t it take us to a place where the sound of nature shouldn’t be drowned out by the opening bars of Coronation Street?

Has angling really just become something to do in between watching television, listening to the radio or surfing the net? Some anglers seem to have forgotten the very reason they went fishing in the first place.

There are, of course, many modern advancements that have made life easier – and better – for all carp anglers. Bivvies, bite alarms, powerful rods, big reels and superior terminal tackle have undoubtedly put more and bigger fish on the bank. But there has to be a limit to how far we go in our bid to make life as easy as possible.  Otherwise it leaves us barely a step away from a scenario where venue experts will find, cast and then hook fish before handing the rod over to the paying customer.

Laziness, a desire for immediate success and a culture that feeds the ‘big is best’ mentality has already taken us down a long road in a short time. Carp fishing is unrecognisable from what it was 40 years ago. Where it will be by 2050 is anyone’s guess. But one thing is almost certain - it won’t be to Dick Walker’s liking.