What would you have done if you had just landed a potentially record-breaking fish, only for it to die in your hands?
Just ponder that question for a second or two. Really think about it.
Because I reckon when you do you’ll come to a different conclusion to all those who have been quick to hammer Dave Williams, the angler who lived out this exact scenario last week.
And you’ll soon realise that he not only didn’t have a choice, he also had to cope with one of the worst things imaginable for an angler.
For those who need a reminder of what happened, here are the facts. The Midlands-based angler was fishing on the River Severn near Newtown, in Wales, when he hooked and landed a grayling that he reckoned to be 5lb. The fish, which if genuine (that’s a debate for another day) would have set a new national best by nearly 12oz, was deep-hooked and despite Dave’s best attempts, went belly up.
So he took it home and ate it - an act that not only removed any chance he might have had of entering the record books, but also led to him being damned as a disgrace by some within fishing. One poster on one internet thread even accused him of being a ‘murderer’. I kid you not.
What, I want all of these idiots to answer, is this: what the hell was he supposed to do? Let it wash downriver to be eaten by rats? Chuck it up the bank? Build a miniature coffin and conduct a burial ceremony? Nail it to the nearest tree in some kind of anti-game fishing protest? For me, he didn’t have any other choice. Setting it up in a case might have been one, expensive, option but eating it was just about the most sensible outcome of the lot. He made the best of what was undoubtedly a bad scenario.
And that is the point most critics seem to have overlooked. Far from being the perpetrator of a crime, Dave is the victim here. Pity, not condemnation, is what he deserves.
The catching of a record fish should be the ultimate in angling success stories. So just imagine how you’d feel if that moment ended in heartbreak.
Remember, the fish, in this instance, was not wilfully killed. Its death was the result of an accident, pure and simple. We have all, at one point or another, lost fish through deep-hooking, but for most of us it proves to be little more than an unfortunate after-thought. For it to happen on a specimen that could have broken a British record isn’t just bad luck, it’s likely to live with the angler forever. You wouldn’t wish that kind of misfortune on your worst enemy.
What’s also worth considering here is that there was a time when killing fish would have been the norm. Specimens of either historical or personal significance were often taken and stuck in cases to act as permanent reminders of success.
I’m not suggesting that we return to those days of self-indulgent slaughter (although, it has to be said, it would instantly stop the problem of repeat captures and record lists dominated by one fish), but we need to retain a sense of perspective here.
Dave Williams doesn’t remotely deserve the moniker of murderer.
The Unluckiest Angler in Britain is far more appropriate.