Late last year I wrote a piece about the merits of catching fish thanks to the expertise of a guide, concluding that they didn’t really count.
There wasn’t enough effort, I argued, on behalf of the angler for the catch to be considered a genuine feat of fishing skill. The equation, for me, was simple: guide + angler equals no credibility.
In the aftermath of publication I came in, unsurprisingly, for some stick. I received angry emails, took abusive calls and even spawned several forum threads - most, I would guess, generated by anglers who’d spent a small fortune travelling to far-flung corners of the earth in order to pose with something that required little more effort than being reeled in.
But among all the correspondence was one letter that stood out from the rest. And not just because it was written by Matt Hayes.
In what was essentially an essay, he argued that it was almost impossible to measure angling skill and how, ultimately, what we take from fishing is entirely personal.
According to Mr Hayes, in demeaning these guide-led catches I was wholly missing the point.
Being pulled up by one of Britain’s most popular anglers wasn’t, though, what stuck in my mind. In presenting his case Matt also explained that we have an entirely skewed view of what amounts to skill in this country, paying particular attention to the big-fish scene.
“I believe that the measures of angling skill applied by the specialist British angling press are often totally misguided. Fish are too often judged in mere pounds and ounces alone,” he wrote.
It was those comments, above all others, that really struck a chord. A chord that resonated once again recently when Angling Times reported news of David Jagger’s capture of the season’s heaviest tench - a giant of 12lb 9oz.
While it’s impossible to argue with the bare statistics of the catch, I do think it provides a perfect example of what Matt was talking about. Is it really, you have to ask, a measure of skill if the angler, having decided to spend three months bivvied up beside a lake, goes on to catch the biggest fish in it?
At what point is the line between fishing and camping crossed? After 48 hours Maybe. What about a week? Probably. And three months? Definitely.
Surely it doesn’t compare with a man, say, who drops on a venue and takes a smaller fish in just an afternoon? Yet the headlines, inevitably, will always belong to the angler cradling the giant.
Look, I’m not denigrating this specific catch. I’m simply using it as an example of how we always seem to define success by weight and weight alone, how that barometer has somehow become the norm when, in reality, it should never, ever, have been used as a yardstick in the first place.
Matt signed off by drawing a vivid comparison: “As a final thought,” he wrote, “when you assess the merits of one capture over another I have a simple test that you might like to apply. Could you teach a monkey to do it?
“Imagine, for example, bivvying up in the same barbel swim for several days and dropping out a pair of PVA bag rigs loaded with pellets. Eventually, after several ‘lesser’ fish, the big one hangs himself. This is a classic example of something that you could teach a monkey to do and therefore, in my eyes, no great feat in angling. It’s food for thought, isn’t it?”
I don’t know what’s more damning ¬ my assessment of catches taken under the stewardship of guides, or the realisation that most of today’s specimen fish could have been caught by primates?