Steve Partner: Our No1 whingers

A week after Angling Times broke the news of the fishery owner who decided to ban complaining match anglers from his venue, Steve Partner asks what it is that makes these people so antagonistic?

What is it with match anglers? What is it that turns the vast majority of them into the sport’s biggest moaners?

Now, before I alienate thousands upon thousands of you, let me make one or two things absolutely clear. I’m not talking about match anglers per se. Those clubmen, who generally fish as much for the banter and camaraderie as they do the money, are exonerated from blame. As too are those at the very top end of competition fishing – the men whose position in the public eye demands the very best of behaviour.

No, I’m talking about the other element of this competitive fraternity – the open matchman.

You might wonder what it is that differentiates this individual from the rest. If so, let me give you a brief synopsis.

This kind of angler can be described thus: he’s intense, driven and entirely focused on one thing – winning. He doesn’t fish for the good of his health, and far less the simple enjoyment of being on the bank. No, for this individual, the pleasure he derives from fishing can be measured in three things – pounds, ounces and hard cash.
Generally localised to one area of the country, this person will specialise on a specific kind of venue, mostly commercials, but occasionally natural waters, the common denominator for both being the place where the biggest pay-day is to be found.

Ruthless, calculated and determined, the open matchman is a formidable angling adversary. But for all his qualities, he’s also a master in the art of complaining – and finding excuses.

These individuals find it hard to accept defeat, rarely acknowledging it’s the result of their own failings, and always find something – or somebody – to blame: The venue’s rubbish, the draw’s unfair, the pegging’s awful, the pools are too expensive, the pay-out’s too mean, the opposition is too good, the rules are too strict, the rules are too lax, or there are simply too many rules. And the list goes on.

Consequently, they have built a reputation for themselves as the sport’s biggest whingers.

Three recent examples why.

First off, Sam Hostick, owner of Hostick’s Ponds in East Yorks, decided he’d had enough of this kind of attitude and banned open matchmen from his fishery. His reasons? Because he got fed up with, “the moaning and bitching.” He went on to elaborate. Accusations of cheating and the win-at-all-costs mentality left him so weary that he shut his doors. He’s not the first either, with Stubpond Fishery’s Robert Harman another who  did the same.  

Then there’s Greenridge Farm. The boss of this Hampshire-based venue has been forced to ban the use of floating bread – or risk his livelihood. Why? Because the visiting match anglers threw their toys out the pram.

It turns out one clever brain became too good with the method and went on to win seven matches in a row. Instead of rising to the challenge and embracing a new tactic, the regulars cried foul and threatened to stop fishing.

The owner, therefore, was left without a choice and the successful angler punished for being better than his peers.

Example No3. Although the angler in this case is reluctant to go public, the following definitely took place. After fishing – and winning regularly – at a northern commercial, he realised he was getting slightly too much attention as a result of his success.

Again, rather than refine their own tactics, his competitors took to extreme measures to work out his secrets. Binoculars were used to spy and, when the opportunity arose, his tackle was rifled through too. Hard to believe, but true.

What these three incidents underline is the mindset of many of the country’s open match anglers – and it’s not one that paints a particularly edifying picture.

Maybe it’s entirely understandable that a match angler, fishing for himself, is inherently a selfish individual. By the very nature of competition, coming first is the sole objective, so it’s each man for himself.

But there are limits. Whinging at every given opportunity, getting methods banned because they’re perceived to be too successful and spying with binoculars are surely beyond the realms of respectability and fair play.

Maybe too, such extreme behaviour is the inevitable consequence of making money the incentive for victory. The lure of cash, often no small amount of it either, can cloud the judgement of even the sanest individual and cause such erratic, selfish and, at times, malicious behaviour.

Realistically, the rules in any match are impossible to police 100 per cent of the time, and fair play is at the mercy of those that take part. Expecting everybody to show goodwill in any competitive environment, regardless of the sport, is perhaps naïve, especially one as malleable as fishing. 

Let’s acknowledge one thing, though. Watching top matchmen in full flow is something of an art form, and I concur with those who rate the men at the peak as the very best anglers of the lot. I know for a fact that if I needed one person from one part of the sport to catch a fish to save my life, I’d pick a matchman.

But that doesn’t change the facts.

The popularity of open match fishing has waned since its peak in the late 1970s, and as the numbers have fallen in this area, so they’ve risen on the club scene. Yes, the prolif-eration of commercial venues has coincided with the demise of natural venues, but that can’t be the only reason.   

Could the increasingly sour taste the antics of many of its participants leave be a factor in driving people away? Could the way in which so many of them push and probe the rules to the point where fishery owners no longer want them on their fisheries any longer be another reason? And could the way in which they happily stab each other in the back for the chance of a few extra quid have been a factor too? 

I’ve heard it said that you can pay an open match angler his winnings in tenners and he’d moan about the colour of the notes. However tongue in cheek that comment may be, its sentiments are crystal-clear – these boys haven’t earned their title as the sport’s biggest moaners for nothing.