Just as I remember in crystal clear detail my first-ever fish, I can recall with equal ease the minutiae of the first ‘proper’ one too. June 20, 1987, Frensham Great Pond. Tench, 6lb 8oz.
Having spent my formative years on the local canal, that fish was a giant, a beast, a creature of almost unbelievable proportions. To a boy who had never caught anything, let alone a tench, above 4lb, it was a defining moment.
I walked on water for a week.
Contrast that experience with the comments made by Steve Lee about his 10-year-old lad Louis, who featured in last week’s AT under the headline ‘Father and son’s 800lb floater session’. Having plundered Drayton’s carp non-stop for 12 hours, Steve said: “In the end the action was so prolific that Louis was getting a bit bored.”
If ever a sentence summed up the state of angling circa 2010, this is it.
Let me be clear. This is not a personal attack on a 10-year-old. Not remotely. In fact, I empathise with the boy. I too have been left crushed by the tedium of reeling in carp after identical-sized carp until I’ve seen fit to do something more interesting instead. Like watch paint dry. He only said what most kids, and adults, would have.
So please, Louis Lee, don’t take any offence where none is meant. You just happen to provide a perfect example of the problems that face fishing today.
Let’s go back 25 years. In the mid-1980s most kids wouldn’t have seen a double-figure carp, let alone caught one. If they did achieve the near impossible, it would have left them a wreck. It would have me, anyway.
Fast forward to 2010, and carp of that size are two-a-penny. Venues burst with greedy specimens so hungry they eat anything. As such, they’ve lost their value, their credibility and, as Louis Lee discovered, their magic, too.
We’ve made fishing too easy. We’ve killed the challenge. And if there’s no challenge, there’s no longevity. How many of today’s kids will hang around if the first fish they catch is a 20lb carp? Long enough to get a 30-pounder? Or a forty? That’ll be about five years, then. Anyone who starts fishing now, especially if carp are the target, is liable to achieve their goals within a decade. And where do they go from there? To the golf course, probably.
On a very basic level I can understand the appeal of fisheries that provide ease, comfort and regular sport. If leisure time is short, why spend a weekend blanking when you could be somewhere with a stocking density that guarantees success?
But instant gratification does not lay the building blocks for lasting affinity. As human beings we need to earn something for it to feel of value.
Will youngsters who’ve never struggled for bites on sparsely populated natural venues, or felt that sense of satisfaction as each small milestone is reached, ever grow a deep-seated and unshakeable love for a sport that at its centre is supposed to provide a challenge? Of course they won’t.
Fishing was never meant to be easy. But in dumbing it down we have, as Louis Lee discovered, made large parts of it inescapably boring.