It’s not much of a secret that I don’t really like pike. Nothing personal, it’s just that I find the whole process of trying to catch something with more teeth than brain cells all a bit clumsy, crude and, more often than not, painful. There’s too much metal and blood for my liking. Then, of course, there are the anglers who fish for them. In my experience, these boys are the sport’s biggest stroke-pullers, angling’s rule-bending elite, men who make politicians look like saints. No-one flouts - and ignores - the law like this lot.
But all that said, I still find myself fighting their corner when it comes to the prickly and very topical issue of livebaiting.
The current round of debate began when the committee at the Birmingham Anglers’ Association made the decision to ban the practice on all its waters. A committee, incidentally, that has watched its membership plummet from 70,000 to 11,500 in 30-odd years. Hardly figures that provide cast-iron proof of a club that listens to what its anglers want, is it?
Anyway, much has already been written not only about the decision, but also the ethics of the tactic. Tim Kelly, president of the Pike Anglers of Great Britain, has spoken the most sense, largely avoiding the predictable and clichéd ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument, and instead pointing at how divisive and destructive the ruling is.
By banning livebaiting, and by default alienating every piker in the club, the BAA is essentially saying it values one type of angler over another. And that, in an era when unity is ever more important, is naïve as it is ill-considered.
I believe it is, and must remain, the basic right of any angler to use a live fish as bait. For me, it really does begin and end there.
One argument is that if we admit that hooking a living creature with the purpose of catching another fish is cruel, then we admit the same about fishing itself. But that’s not why I justify its use. There’s a world of difference between bringing a fish in on rod and line, unhooking it and then returning it alive and attaching it to a pair of trebles and waiting for a predator to take a sitting duck.
No, I see something even more fundamental than that. There is something basic, something essential, something pure even, in livebaiting. Man has practised the art since time began and I see, as long as it’s done correctly, no reason for it to be banned. For one thing, it would be another erosion of rights, some of which have been too readily surrendered already.
The sport, then, needs cohesion and solidarity on the issue, not division and disagreement.
The latest person to wade into the debate is the manager of Predator Angling Centre, Monty Finnemore. In arguing against a method that I would imagine many of customers regularly use, he claims that if you need to use a live fish as bait, you aren’t much of an angler. Quite apart from this being an exercise in customer relations straight from the Gerald Ratner school of PR, I can’t help but think he’s missed the point.
This debate isn’t, and never has been, about what kind of angler you are if you opt to livebait. Instead, it’s about defending the fundamental right to choose.