Time Served

The other day, I heard a song on the radio where the lyrics went something like; “If I had my chance to start again, would I take it this time but without the rain?” To be honest, it was a pretty unremarkable song but that particular line stuck with me, not least because I thought about it in relation to my fishing – as I do with most things! In the singer’s case, subsequent lyrics informed me that if she’d had her time over, she’d have done things in exactly the same way, as the traumas endured had made her the person she was today - good for her. However, in terms of my fishing, it needed a little more thought!

On the face of it, if I’d known back when I started what I know now, there’s no doubt I would have caught hundreds more fish, and some fine lumps amongst them no doubt, but surely there’s something to be said for trial and error, learning by your mistakes – or is that just something we say to hide the fact the life rarely goes the way we want it to?

I suppose much depends on how you view success or happiness. Viewed in terms of numbers alone, then without a doubt, having all the necessary skills and tackle right from the start would have made things much easier and success would have been assured, but is true angling not also about enjoying the journey?

Speaking to some of today’s carp anglers, I’m beginning to wonder if I might be in the minority! Blank sessions are regarded as failures, catching all but the biggest fish in a lake is simply no good, and if it’s not been proved (by somebody else catching it) that there’s a big fish in the water you’re fishing, you’re wasting you’re time… and if you’re not ‘Top Rod’, then God help you!

Am I missing something? I must be. When I look back to my formative years I don’t remember worrying about any of the above. My only concerns were how long it would take to get there and how long it would take to set up. Thereafter, my only overriding concern was how long I could leave it before packing up and getting home without incurring the wrath of my Mother. I failed on that score most weeks but, only for the fact I loved fishing so much, I would happily go home to a plate of cold tea! Twenty years on and it’s exactly the same, although it’s now the wrath of the wife I have to worry about!
It does seem there is a lot of pressure on newcomers nowadays to catch anything that moves – with only  a cursory nod given to actually having fun – when’s the last time you read a carp article about enjoying yourself!? Question is; where does this pressure to catch come from? Do newcomers apply it to themselves by virtue of their own beliefs as to what constitutes success, or do we as more experienced anglers heap it upon their shoulders with tales of our own magnificent quests and great bravado, or indeed is the angling press to blame with constant stories about banking this and that? I don’t know the answer - I guess it’s a mixture of all three.

The more I thought about my own introduction to the sport all those years ago, and the opportunity of starting over, I too like the singer realised that my past, albeit littered with failures (in the technical sense) made me the angler I am today – one who enjoys the sport for what it is – a pleasurable if not addictive pastime where I return home happy after every session, irrespective of whether I’ve caught or not.

As for trial and error, I’d take it any day over an ‘instant’ result where I had no idea what had caused it to happen. Yes, when I think back I’ve made some real howlers which I know for a fact have cost me fish, but in doing so, I’ve then gone on to analyse my mistakes; not just so I avoid them occurring again, but so that I learn how to adapt - to become even better at perfecting the art. 

For me the problem lies with competition – there are too many people out there competing against each other when really they should be competing against themselves as, for me, that’s the only true way to grow as an angler. I fish among those who are both better and worse than myself when it comes down to sheer numbers alone, but that makes me no better or worse as an angler - every single catch is subjective, not least because the quarry has a mind and will of its own!

I once listened to a couple of lads arguing, quite heatedly I might add, about whose capture of the same fish deserved greater merit. I kid you not. One lad had caught the fish on a single hookbait at distance and argued that his capture required more skill than the other lad (who had caught it closer in) because of the skill required to present the bait effectively at distance. The other lad countered that although his cast had been shorter, he was using a PVA bag so had to get it right first time. It went on at length with neither giving ground. I suggested the only way to settle it once and for all would have been to ask the fish – it didn’t go down too well, egos can be funny things!

As an aside, I had once stalked the exact same fish from a spot not more than a foot from the bank on a freelined worm after tracking it for almost an hour. I guess the ‘merit’ for that capture would not even have registered by their standards!

If a group of anglers all enjoy their sport, irrespective of skill or results, then surely they are equal in that above all else? Don’t get me wrong, competition can be a healthy thing - but it needs careful handling. In the last week alone, I’ve heard a dozen stories of bickering, fallouts, and full on war between various factions on waters all over the region. It’s nothing new, it happens every day; usually started by somebody trying to make themselves out to be the next big thing, or worse, better than the person in the swim next door. It’s a shame really; if these people put as much time and effort into their actual fishing rather than cultivating their own egos, they’d make fine anglers, but of course I mean angler in the true sense of the word!
The only person I’ve ever competed against is myself. I leave the bickering and backstabbing to others as best I can - I have little enough time to fish as it is, so when I’m out on the bank I’ll be away trying to pit my wits against the fish - not other anglers on the lake.

Do I class myself as a good angler? In truth, I suppose I do, but this has little to do with an ego at work. I simply have a strong belief in my own abilities. After all, there’s nothing wrong with self-esteem (where ones own idea of importance or worth is usually of an appropriate level); it’s when those same opinions get over inflated that the trouble starts. When you somehow think your catches rate more than the next persons, or that you deserved a fish more and so berate other peoples results, well… it’s time to take a step back. It’s no wonder conflict occurs with such mentality on the bank.

We all have to learn. Even the loudest mouthed anglers on the bank once had no idea how to tie a rig, cast a lead or net a fish. So never be afraid to make a mistake. When I reminisce with friends about past blunders we often end up howling with laughter, but in a good way. Casting out bags which we thought were made of PVA only to reel the whole thing back in hours later, making casts that land anywhere but in the water, taking three hours to set up a bivvy. One of my own personal favourites was when a bloke told me to inject air into lobworms to pop the heads up of the bottom. As
a beginner I had no idea how much to use and never thought to check it in the margin. It turned out I was putting enough air in to raise the Titanic! The worms were popped up the full length of the twelve inch hooklink! The irony was that I used to catch a few fish off it too, but the mate who finally pointed out my mistake still finds it funny to this day, but do I let it bother me? Do I heck – I laugh along with him - it’s all part of the learning curve.

The key is not to worry about what others say or do. Just go out and enjoy your own fishing – even if you don’t catch. By all means analyse your results and try to develop a strategy to improve your skills as an angler – but don’t forget what it was that enticed you to the sport in the first place. I don’t class a blank as a failure, I’m happy with each and every fish that I catch - irrespective of size, and when I do bank a true specimen I respect my quarry as more than just a number and revel in the journey that led to it’s downfall, but above all else, I enjoy myself each and every time I leave the house with a fishing rod!

It shouldn’t be too easy. If it was I’d get bored. The challenges are what keep me going and I’m glad they are there. In my view, if you want to become a good angler, then you have to serve your time – rain and all. The minute I have to stop trying, I’ll take up golf!

Julian Grattidge

Carp Fishing Lake
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself: Views like this never fail to take my breath away.