Steve Partner: How our love affair with June 16th died

There was once a time when June 16th represented the most significant day in any angler’s calendar. But, as Steve Partner argues, that’s not the case any more….

When it actually happened no-one can say, but happen it surely has: June 16th has lost its magic.

Not all of it has gone, of course. For some – those who only ever fish running water or venues where bye-laws are still upheld – it still retains some of the old majesty. But not for many. What was once the defining day in the angler’s calendar has become just another date in the diary.

For the less sentimental, it matters not. For others, those with a bit more romance in their soul, it’s the loss of another tradition from a more innocent era before commercial pools, 100lb weights, 16m poles and stunted carp. 

They mourn the loss of that feeling of anticipation, the butterflies-in-the-stomach-can’t-sleep-the-night-before excitement that once preceded its arrival. They pine for the build-up, the preparation, the needless but no less enjoyable trips to the tackle shop as the days count down. They wish for a return to a time when weeks were spent reading, planning, visiting and pre-baiting. Most of all they miss that unique feeling of being on the bank as dawn breaks on opening morning.

What we have now is a new generation of anglers brought up on easy fish-a-chuck commercials that never shut, or runs waters where success isn’t measured by how many but how big. June 16th? They really don’t know what all the fuss is about. 

The real irony is that we brought this on ourselves. The clamour from within the industry for the abolition of the closed season, first on stillwaters in 1995, then canals in 1999 – built on a belief that more days to fish would lead to a boost in the trade – was the beginning of the demise.

Now we take all-year-round fishing for granted and, as such, we have left the ‘Glorious 16th’ without any great relevance or meaning. But does it really matter – and does anyone care? So many of the sport’s old traditions have already been eroded by the never ending wave called advancement that another surely matters not? Who cares about a date that, on most lakes, ponds, pits and canals, is lost among 364 other days? Not many, it seems.

There are, of course, a minority of anglers who exclusively fish rivers, and for those June 16th will forever be a massive day in the calendar. But they populate a tiny, tiny fraction of the sport. There are even the devout traditionalists who resist change and refuse to visit stillwaters in any guise for three months after March 14th. But these are fewer still.

No, the vast majority, it seems, don’t really care at all.

Some, it’s true, do feel a sense of guilt about it. These are the anglers who tried to resist change when the rules were first amended but, like children in an unmanned sweet shop, temptation became too great and their will-power wilted. Feelings of remorse disappeared the moment the float went under. Why wait until June 16th when you can fish your favourite stillwaters in April and May?

Specimen-hunters, meanwhile, didn’t think twice. They had got what they always wanted – the chance to target species like tench at their heaviest, pre-spawning weights, and they grasped the opportunity without a glimmer of guilt. Weights naturally jumped, and serious-looking men in floppy hats soon stared out from the pages of the angling press with bloated, obese specimens and the fishing world celebrated rather than condemned their captures. Suddenly no-one really cared about June 16th any more.

Matchmen, too, saw the extra three months as a bonus. More days to fish meant more contests to compete in and, naturally, more money to win. And for them, cash is king.

As for pleasure anglers, they simply love to fish. Ninety-three extra days were never going to be wasted, particularly at a time of the year when the weather begins to wear a kind face again, so they grabbed the opportunity with both hands. No longer did they have to head to the coast or to the trout reservoirs in search of their fishing fix – their local waters could now provide that all year round.

The trade saw pound signs. The assumption was simple – more fishing days meant more money. But it didn’t turn out that way. What was gained in the coarse market was lost in the others, and the pre-June 16th rush, when the next-best thing to fishing was being in a tackle shop talking about it, was lost and the expected upsurge in profits never materialised.

Instead, what the sport was left with was increasingly one-dimensional anglers who, having given up on sea and game fishing during the old closed season, found themselves spending their entire time in pursuit of freshwater species. As a result, the sport has become a duller, less colourful place and the genuine all-rounder – the angler who can fish for all species, regardless of disciplines – is largely a thing of the past.

So, does it really matter that June 16th has lost its magic? No, not from a practical point of view anyway. But on another, more spiritual level it matters hugely. Much of what makes fishing great is the anticipation, the hope and the excitement that precedes every trip. And June 16th stood as the greatest manifestation of all that expectancy.

Remember, it was a majority of anglers who, back in the 1990s, wanted year-round fishing on stillwaters and canals. Eventually they got their way. A growing number now want to truly render June 16th obsolete by lifting the closed season on rivers too. But as many of those original campaigners will now testify, you really do have to be careful what you wish for.