Keith Arthur: 2009 - good, bad and tragic.

Hello 2010, goodbye 2009. Hello Teenies, goodbye Noughties. It’s hard to say whether 2009 was a good year for angling. If I were pressed I’d probably have to come down on the negative sides.


The Angling Trust

The setting up of a unified representative body, the Angling Trust, was a cause for celebration, even if most anglers didn’t embrace it as far as joining it goes. The inaugural meeting at Fishmongers Hall was amazing, and everyone there thought angling had cracked it.

I’m sure we all knew the figures for recruitment bandied around were way beyond those that were genuinely achievable ¬ what we couldn’t have known was that they, or numbers similar to them, were the basis of the budget for the Trust. The ensuing deficit came so close to bringing about the Trust’s demise that the fact that the involvement of what was branded by the media as ‘The Magnificent Seven’ (not their choice!) and the Advisory Panel was able to assist in a rescue was little short of miraculous.

There is still a very long way to go, and there are still trees in front of the Trust, as it is far from out of the woods. I believe that there is now a will to operate within the available means, but it is vital that more anglers join up.

Ruth Lockwood and Martin Bowler were the two prime movers behind getting that help up and running, and I know that neither is enchanted with the current state of play, but there is a defining moment approaching next week¬ too late for Tuesday’s Angling Times, unfortunately ¬ that could see the fortunes of the Angling Trust go either way. Until the whole thing is totally clear it is extremely difficult to push harder with recruitment. My view is one of confidence, and there could be some truly great things happening in 2010.


Sea angling

For a great many sea anglers the past 12 months have seen a definite improvement in cod sport. For those on the eastern half of the English Channel and the southern half of the North Sea there have been cod to catch all year. It is hard to put this down to anything other than the success of quotas for commercial fishermen, much as it pains me to say it as I was one of those that thought the medicine could kill the patient rather than the disease.

I have spent more days sea fishing than matchfishing in the past 12 months and, apart from one complete blank when my inadequacies were shown up by the regulars, my catches have been spectacular. On the day I blanked, the other seven anglers boated over 30 pollack, most of them doubles and most of them released too.

I simply couldn’t work out the right retrieve for my jellyworms or shads. Alan Yates next to me had it bang-on and had seven or eight fish, including a 14-pounder.

That was on Paul Dyer’s Brighton Diver 2 out of the marina down on the south coast, during a competition sponsored by Fox International.

Dover also featured in my sea sorties, on Mike and Tara Williams’ Firefox. You may recall the last trip I had, when Nigel Botherway battered me more than the cod! It’s the last time I let him have ‘Cod Corner’.

Dave Gibson, on Lady Godiva out of Weymouth, also skippered me to some superb sport. I had a summer day with Dave fishing over rough ground for cod. There were massive shoals of impressive fish over the brittle starfish beds.

I remember catching cod ‘in the old days’ and the fight ¬ well, that’s an exaggeration in itself ¬ was not really exciting. Nowadays, using braid, it is possible to fish with a fraction of the lead required, so that means light rods, and with a good multiplier with a decent drag the fight is really good.

Okay, it’s not a sailfish or an amberjack but they certainly ‘hang on’ as Matt Hayes would say. I’ll be having more of that in 2010.


Coarse fishing

Coarse fishing has not been as good. I know there have been ‘record’ weights in matchfishing but for me, and most of my contemporaries, they are little more than weightlifting contests that massage egos. I almost agree with Des Taylor about some of the venues. There must come a time when a prerequisite of opening a coarse fishery is some kind of fishery management qualification. Some won’t like it but the fish won’t like their fisheries, even if anglers do.

Oddly, some of the better-managed fisheries have huge weights. Not a single person could criticise fish welfare at Rolfs Lake, for example. Rolf Wobbeking, who developed the lake, is no longer with us but John Bennet, who took the baton, has maintained the same level of excellence and the reason for the huge weights isn’t that the place was rammed out with fish: those that live there grow big, and not just the carp. Fishery management in action.

On rivers the one stand-out is the demise of barbel. I know that many anglers much closer to the situation than I and with far greater reputations than I lay the blame firmly at the door of the otter and those that released them in numbers that are unsustainable, given the massive reduction in natural food such as eels.

Whatever has caused it, barbel appear to be missing and chub are in decline too. I actually predicted what is coming to pass in the mid 1990s, when cormorant invasion was at its peak. I wish I could open my old floppy disks because I KNOW that on them will be copy mentioning what happens when the then-current year classes die out, because recruitment will be low, at best.

It has come to pass and now that the barbel class of the 1980s has gone ¬eaten or died of old age ¬ there are no young fish to replace them. Barbel aren’t really the best examples, as they don’t have successful breeding years that regularly, if at all, on most rivers.

Stocks are augmented for many. Chub are different, though, and an immature chub is a hot-dog for a cormorant. I believe we are in for a chub famine within the next five years ¬ and my hard drive should last that long.


Other stuff

On the whole I’ve had a good year, even if angling in general hasn’t. The highlight, off the bank, was being rewarded with a new contract by Sky Sports, taking Tight Lines to mid-2011 ¬ and, of course, I mustn’t forget my first book being published. Just today I was stopped in Tesco car park by a total stranger telling me how much he was enjoying it. That is lovely, I tell you.