By Bob Morris
It was two years ago that I last ventured down to France with my two piscatorial pals in search of carp and cats, but I must say that it doesn’t really seem that long ago. They say that time flies, and it also apparently goes even faster when you’re enjoying yourself, but perhaps I managed to miss that bit. I‘ve heard too, time accelerates as one gets older (and policemen get younger etc.), so maybe it’s a combination of all of these factors at work?
We were unable to get down there last year for a number of reasons so I was pretty keen to be off on a week long trip to tackle the Soane again for catfish. For some kinky reason we always steer well clear of established popular waters, small artificially overstocked venues, and even local experts, although this is out of no disrespect for the people concerned or the excellent service that they often provide. I think that it just follows our normal pattern over here in that we just get a much bigger kick out of finding out about new places for ourselves, rather than being put in the going swim with the going bait. This in some ways takes away any real challenge, whether you’re tackling Darenth, Cassien, the Ouse or the Nile.
Anyway we found our way there without incident (a real bonus and quite unusual for us), and after a few hours of hunting along the riverbank found an area that suited our requirements, although we had come prepared to move about if the situation warranted it. Normally our trips to France are relatively laid back and we tend to spend as much time in hotels and eating and drinking as we do on the bank. This isn’t a problem as both my fishing partner, Ian, and myself aren’t the greatest of bivvy dwellers, and need to frequently recharge our batteries. This trip was different, however. Due to various considerations including the financial ones, and the fact that the cats in the area that we had chosen seemed reluctant to feed during the day, we ended up spending more time than usual on the bank, with just the odd daytime visit to the cafe for refreshments and into the nearest village for provisions.
I’ve found that with cat fishing, rather like chubbing, it seems that you always miss a large proportion of the takes whatever type of rig you’re using. This session proved to be no different with a couple of positive runs within the first few hours resulting in "nil points" on the cat front. Ian soon improved his batting average with fish of 34 and 44lb, which really pleased him, as he’d never landed a cat before. I assured him that cats were most well behaved on the bank and would rarely move while being unhooked, and of course as a result of this his first fish lunged toward him as he approached, causing him to jump violently backward and fall over in the dark, but unfortunately not on camera!
We did have to move several times during our stay and not all swims produced action, but we did well to put up with the diabolical weather that developed during the first few days and tested our bankmanship to the limits at times. Various incidents occurred as usual that cause great amusement, although not always at the time. I managed to leave my rucksack on the grass near the front of the van one afternoon, and Ian drove over it completely squashing my famous old kettle and breaking the stem off one off my river reels. It could have been worse as the previous day I’d got my camera, video and echo sounder in it as well, which would have been my second camera to have bitten the dust inside 12 months. The last one featured in my Carp Talk column when it got drowned in seawater on the Isle of Wight last summer.
In another incident a screaming take just after dark resulted in my running off the top of a high bank due to some form of disorientation and crashing down on my side on the fortunately sandy margin below! Then in some pain, but with the Delkim still screaming in my ear, having to stagger to the rod and strike what turned out to be a small kitten of 14 lb, which then had a distinct advantage over a one-armed, one-legged angler!
By the standards of some of our trips abroad this one rated as one of the most well-organised and trouble free. Half of the takes were missed, but even so we felt that our time spent fishing was relatively productive and progress had been made. We know from previous experience that it’s easy to come back with very little to show for a week’s fishing on unfamiliar territory.
We landed cats up to 55lb, and even though it is not a monster by French standards it put a fair old bend in the rod (Eurospec 12ft), and certainly brought a smile to my face. Having said that, it’s always enjoyable going on these trips, and I can recall times when nothing was caught and everything went wrong but a great time was had nevertheless. My mate Richard Garner turned up on the day before we left and was fishing a couple of miles above us, and after a few hours of fishing phoned to say that he had already landed four up to 115 lb. What can you say? Well we thought of a few things as you might imagine, but in the end the only thing to say was well done that man. The truth is that it’s not easy and you have to learn how it’s done. Richard has and we’re getting there I think.
This spring has been a mixed bag for me and I’ve done a bit of perch fishing, landing fish to 2½lb, plus a bit of stalking around the margins with tench and bream to 6lb, plus one or two double figure carp. More recently I’ve had a decidedly dodgy start on our syndicate lake with so far four sessions producing only two takes, albeit carp of 24 and 28 lb. I’m promising myself a bit more time on the carping this summer but the river season is now under way and the call of the barbel is loud in my ears, so I really do need just a little bit more time to squeeze it all in.
Maybe I’ll get it now as a short while ago I made the decision to close the shop. However, I’ll continue to run the business on a mail order only basis, concentrating mainly on the rod making, bulk bait supply and a few other types of gear that would not require a warehouse full of stock to run. There were various reasons for this change of direction, not least the deteriorating state of the fishing tackle retail trade due to a number of different factors. There’s no doubt that fishing as a hobby in this country is generally in decline, with numbers noticeably less than a decade ago. This is particularly so with youngsters, who probably find other pursuits and hobbies more interesting these days, and would rather play with their computers than pit their wits against a wily chub or a big roach. Carp fishing, of course, is still popular, but my feeling is that even this area of the sport may now have peaked. The trade reflects this trend, and most of the dealers who don’t specialise or largely cater for the carp and specimen market are finding it increasingly hard to compete.
Alongside this decline in the popularity of general coarse and sea angling has come an enormous increase in the number of companies trying to produce tackle in greater quantities and often, in the case of the huge mountain of foreign imports, at lower prices than dealers can work with and still make a profit. The glut of unwanted gear has produced a climate of cut pricing and desperate discounting within the trade that will only benefit the consumer for so long. Eventually the smaller dealers will be forced out of business, and the relatively few remaini
ng large outfits will then be able to dictate the price and variety of tackle available.
This grim situation for most average tackle shops has been made worse by the abolition of the closed season, as many anglers who would normally have fished during the winter months now wait until April to go, and then many of them are not seen after October. I know that in our case the closed season used to bring on a fever of spending during the run up to the 16th of June and this has been lost to a great extent, with the extra months’ fishing time unable to compensate for lost sales. Probably this frenzy of spending was a result of boredom mixed with a desire to get new gear for the coming season, whereas now the situation is that what you were using last week will be good enough for next week. I find that the winter now lasts a lot longer in the shop and this is one of the main reasons for my decision to close, although there are others.
The overheads and fixed costs of running a shop are incredibly high and disproportionate to the size and turnover of a small business, as is the stock value in most cases. This makes the chances of running it profitably throughout the year difficult in the extreme. On top of this you have to put up with a constant stream of people trying to rip you off, bouncing cheques, using stolen credit cards, or simply stealing things from right under your nose, and I’m no longer prepared to put up with this. These people are scum, and I prefer not to even breathe the same air as them. I won’t dwell on this aspect of the reasons for closing as I find that thinking about it winds me up and poisons my mind in some way. Suffice to say that I have had enough of running the shop, and by the time that you read this the sale of the property will almost certainly have been completed.
We will still be operating on the same phone/fax numbers, and email & website location will also remain the same. A clearance sale is now under way and anyone interested can contact us for details of what is on offer. Having said all this in a rather negative manner I must also say that it has not always been doom and gloom in the trade and the shop is now sixteen years old, during which time I have had some great times and met some interesting people. I could write a book about the amusing and not so amusing incidents that have occurred during this period, and perhaps I now will as I may be able to look at it all from a different perspective, not to mention the possibility of getting a bit more free time. It would be impossible to run a shop for this length of time and then close without feeling sad in some ways as the establishment had become a sort of meeting place. Somewhere my lady friend Jan once referred to as "not so much a business, but more of a gentlemen’s club" - which was undoubtedly accurate, except for the gentlemen bit, I always said. This aspect of it all I will certainly miss.
Anyway I would like to thank all of the friends and regular customers that have supported us over the years. Hopefully, many will remain with us and keep in touch by phone, fax or email, and become part of our customer database that we’ll endeavour to contact on a regular basis. I really appreciate the assistance I have received from my family and all the members of staff who’ve given us so much help and support during these often-difficult times. This all sounds a bit formal and makes me feel a bit like a retiring cabinet minister who’s forced to leave his office for personal reasons and needing to spend more time with his family!