Imagine winter shore fishing from those iconic places immortalised in so many books and journals. Rocks and beaches of my native North East, the Arbroath cliff-line, Mumbles in South Wales, and Dorset’s famous Chesil beach all feature… and never once in my mind’s eye adventures are codling in short supply. Equally evocative visions are of summer days in North Wales, or on lonely Mull of Galloway rock edges hauling wrasse, coalies and pollack. Neither is there a shortage of bait with big, fist-sized peeler crabs under every weedy rock, sausage-thick lugworms at every turn of the fork, and endless strings of flashing mackerel. Are these memories from long ago, or examples of wishful thinking perhaps? Both maybe, but youthful dreams are an important part of the fishing maturation process - a process I regularly indulged as a teenager whilst enduring another algebraic interrogation.
Peering through foggy classroom windows, I vividly remember, being wonderfully preoccupied with the aforementioned successes. A downside to growing up is our ideological viewpoint changes, but although we are acutely aware of the ailed state of some elements of our fishing, we remain eternally optimistic as we don waders and oilskins in preparation for another session on rock, beach, pier or pitching boat. Often, it appears, we highlight the problems in our sport too readily: the litter-louts, the vandals and thieves, the anglers who keep undersize fish, and those who offer no help to juniors or newcomers to the game. After 40 years of fishing around the country, but predominately in NE England and SE Scotland, I have come to terms with what fishing means to me; what I try to do every time I indulge; and how fishing has helped me as a person.
I agree fishing is about catching fish, but as I have ‘matured’, the catching bit has been relegated to last in my actual order of importance. Yes it’s nice to be successful, not least because decisions regarding mark selection, bait and tactics are borne out. Equally, it’s pleasant to have the respect and approval of your peers, but catching is not my ‘be all and end all’. What then, is it that maintains my personal enthusiasms? In no particular order, what follows are some of the core elements of fishing as I understand, embrace and enjoy them. The area between high and low tide is a living-breathing-moving thing, and constantly changing. What may have been successful yesterday may not be tomorrow. As the tide ebbs and floods, so the hotspots change, and recognizing them is something the good anglers among us can do at a glance.
Moving at just the right time is not luck but experience based upon prior knowledge, coupled with an ability to read what is unfolding in front of knowing eyes. Fishing demands dignity and respect. Remember looking for peeler crabs in the rock-pools as the tide ebbs? Remember how painful the nip was from one of those gnarled old doggers? Remember indignantly wanting to smash him against the nearest rock, simply because he stood up for himself? Well fishing means knowing every crab has its day, and putting it back safely ensures its chance to breed again. The same applies to the fish we catch. How many do we need to keep, and how many can we return? Even codling pulled through batteries of snags will survive with a bit of TLC. With debate raging about conservation we need to be the proactive ones.
Much of my fishing is a solitary pursuit. Now living and working in Staffordshire, I can only fish when free time permits travelling and proximity to the sea. Restricted opportunities often amount to unsocial hours and rotten sea conditions, uninspiring to potential companions. But, once in a while, variables conspire correctly, presenting the rough and potentially dangerous seas beloved of the cod angler. Past experience can again be called upon. Remember standing too close to the rock-ends and getting soaked? Remember trying to access somewhere too early, or wading out a little too far and getting a boot-full? We’ve all had a good laugh at such ‘educational’ incidents. Underlying however, is the message that the sea doesn’t favour the wise, and ultimately takes no prisoners. Rather, it demands total respect and concentration, while its machinations require my undivided attention. Careful behaviour and surefootedness are always prerequisites to success. In first taking great care, I take great pleasure from some of the truly awesome spots I fish.
Solo fishing focuses the mind… there is no one else to blame when things screw up! Remember losing a good fish because the knot to the hook pulled through? Or recall that night when you hung up and lost fish after fish, and could do nothing right? We’ve all been there and experienced the frustration and annoyance. The thing is it’s gone; you can’t change it. The only hope is for a better outcome next time.
If you fish for hours in the cold and wind, only to finish bite-less, who wins? The fish certainly, as they live to fight another day, but I’m a winner too. Why? Simply because I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be than clutching a rod; experiencing whatever nature throws (good or bad), and knowing that I’ll carry any lessons forward to the next session I partake in. Fishing in any set of circumstances is all encompassing: a bubble of total concentration in which to address and meet changing conditions with considered decisions. Reflection is likewise important: a time to review and assess events. Sometimes I catch a lot of fish, sometimes none at all. The quantity of fishing is secondary to living - preciously for a time - by the tidal clock, and absorbing the different demands and joys that such places upon me.