Fred Fishes With… Martin Salter

Martin Salter is Member of Parliament for Reading West and the government's special advisor on Angling and Shooting. He is also a very keen and successful angler. I met him on the banks of the Thames to get an insight into the life of one of our sport's most important figures.

Martin Salter…

……the Man

The River Kennet in Berkshire has been a constant factor in Martin's life ever since he first fished there at the age of 14. Throughout the ups and downs of his childhood, adulthood and career, he has always fished the river. Initially travelling from his childhood stomping ground of Staines, Middlesex, he now only walks half a mile across fields from his Theale, Berkshire home. Last September the river's famous Aldermaston Mill was the place of Martin's marriage to his partner Natalie, and after the ceremony he even found time to wet a line. He landed a nice chub and ran back into the reception with the chub raised aloft shouting “The marriage is now consummated!”

Martin started out his working life as a dustman, a lorry driver, and then a cargo handler at Heathrow airport. It was there that he became involved in politics, finding a role as union activist looking out for the rights of fellow workers. Sadly this ended in tears, Martin finding his efforts rewarded with redundancy. After this he decided he needed a change and in 1980 moved from the suburbia of outer London to the banks of his beloved Kennet in Reading. He has lived on the river ever since.

Martin's life has always revolved around two themes, - fishing and politics, two very absorbing subjects, and subsequently he doesn't find time for much else! If he does find a few free moments an L.P. or C.D. will have him tapping his feet. A keen music man, he describes himself as an ‘Old Hippy' with bands like Small Faces, Arthur Lee, the Rolling Stones and Mike Oldfield ranking amongst his favourites. More recent bands like Oasis, the Verve and the Corrs raise a smile. Being a busy M.P. doesn't mean Martin sees much T.V. but he really rates Channel Four's political comedy ‘The West Wing', and shot off after our interview to make sure he made it home in time! During the summer recess Martin occasionally finds time to travel, taking to the road in his trusty camper van visiting places like the Wye Valley and the Somerset Levels. A more distant holiday was his honeymoon with Natalie in Canada, enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Rockies and trying his hand at catching a Fraser River sturgeon. During an angling adventure on India's Cauvery River Martin took a huge 92 lb Golden Masheer, and says it is a must for any barbel angler, describing the fight like being dragged out of bed by an aeroplane! On the sports field Martin is at home holding a racket of some sort, either Tennis or Badminton, and plays the occasional game of Cricket, but more than anything is a mad keen Reading Football Club fan. His biggest dislikes are bigots, closed minds and fox hunters. Enough said I think!

 â€¦â€¦â€¦ the Politician

Martin's move to Reading saw him become further immersed in politics, being elected to the labour council in 1984. He campaigned, amongst other things, to get fishing allowed again on the famous promenade stretch of the Kennet, where fishing was banned during the lead shot row. The ruling was soon overturned and fishermen returned to the banks. 1992 was a big year for Martin, he became deputy leader of Reading Council and also started the Cleaner Kennet Campaign. The aim was to reduce pollution and abstraction on the famous Thames tributary. In 1996, after 12 years on the Council, and an election coming the next year, he stood down. In 1997 Martin stood for the closely fought seat of Reading West, and won it for Labour with a 3000 vote majority. By the time of last years 2001 election Martin had increased his majority to a substantial 9000.

Initially Martin's aim was to establish himself as an M.P., but soon the Minister for Sport, Dick Caborn was on the other end of the phone asking him about his love of fishing. Dick was selecting representatives from the House of Commons for 12 different sports, and choosing members who had particular expertise in each field. And so Martin became our man in the government, officially our ‘Parliamentary Spokesman for Angling'.  Martin's appointment shows the government's commitment to angling, and  for further evidence just look up their manifesto. With men like Martin on our side we have nothing to worry about! In fact the future looks rosy • everyone in angling now has someone in government they can talk to directly. And one of Martin's first activities once appointed was to organise an Angling Summit where key bodies like the National Federation of Anglers, the Salmon and Trout Association and the National Association of Sea Anglers were all present. The aim was to start a dialog between the sport and the government so any important issues could be aired. Top of the list at the first summit were cormorants, access to funding, youth development and the condition of our rivers. On the subject of cormorants Martin has no doubt as to what we should do. First step is a liberalisation of the cormorant licence because currently people aren't even applying due to the small numbers of birds that it allows the holder to cull. Next step would be getting the birds onto the ‘quarry' list, along with the likes of pigeons so the are fair game for shooters. Martin says the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are hypocrites, supporting the cull of the Ruddy Duck, but steadfastly refusing to budge on the cormorant issue. He believes the current research into the effects of cormorants on fish stocks in inland waterways is a total waste of time and money, and he challenges the current position, which is to wait and see what the research finds. Martin took fisheries minister Elliot Morley to see the problem for himself at infested Walthamstow Reservoirs but typically a thick pea souper meant that the island roosts, and the huge numbers of birds, were not visible.

On other matters Martin is equally as outspoken, hating fox-hunters and saying we should join Greenpeace and the environmental lobby rather than letting ourselves be branded as a blood sport. His message is that we need to get professional. When he became our representative in the commons instead of people from the sport queuing up to speak with him, he had to seek them out himself to start discussions. Do you think football's representative had to phone the F.A. to start talks? I don't think so! Come on angling, Martin's there, let's use him! 

………… The Angler

The best thing about having Martin as our representative is that he is a proper fisherman. I know this sounds like an obvious thing to say, but he really knows his stuff. He's fished for 35 years, and understands the ins and outs of our sport like the rest of us.

As a true Kennet man, he's obviously mad keen on barbel, chub and roach. Being lucky enough to fish Upper Benyons on the river in it's heyday, he's taken thousands of barbel, chub and roach. One day in the winter of 1982 he took five roach over 2 lb on the float and centrepin. His best chub of 6 lb came with a brace of 2 lb perch! But despite his intimate knowledge of the river and taking double figure barbel from four other rivers, a Kennet double still eludes him. This remains one of his biggest angling ambitions, along with a 3 lb roach. He's had fish to 2 lb 14.5 oz, with 2's coming from the Kennet, Dorset Stour, Hampshire Avon, Bristol Avon, Evenlode and Windrush. Various still-waters make an appearance on the list too.

Early in the season Martin, like many specimen hunters, likes to fish for tench, and has now had 9 lb fish from three different Thames valley gravel pits. Gravel pit tench suit his hectic lifestyle, feeding from mid-morning to mid-afternoon, meaning no dawn or night sessions are needed! He uses a variety of methods, from the ‘lift method' with a float and centrepin, to a bolt-feeder over lots of groundbait. Next on his list from a gravel pit is a big bream, his current best of 10 lb 2 oz coming from famous carp venue Dinton Pastures.

His biggest fish is his 92 lb Golden Masheer, but having fished for them once before, he has plans to go one better than Masheer and catch a huge Sturgeon from the Fraser River in Canada. Good luck mate! Any room in your suitcase?

But overall the one thing that strikes me about Martin, whether he's on the phone, helping take youngsters fishing, at work, or fishing in his spare time is his enthusiasm for fishing, the surroundings he fishes in and talking about fishing. Long may it continue!

………… The Session

Martin and I decided to fish a little fished stretch of the Upper Thames, where we would have a chance to talk, take a few photos and maybe catch a barbel or chub. We met in the early evening and spent the long walk over the fields considering the prospects of catching. Neither of us had fished the venue before and so were excited about what size of fish were present.

We chose to fish a weir at the top of the fishery where we could sit side by side and both have good spots to fish. Martin fished next to the sill, a classic spot for Thames barbel, and I fished weedy gravel run just downstream. Initially I didn't fish, instead sitting next to Martin and taking notes on what you've just read. He plugged away on a maggot feeder, getting bites every cast from small perch and skimmer bream. Soon a local lad, known to us only as James, walked past and popped over for a chat. He knew the weir very well, and had caught some very good barbel and chub there. Martin and I were getting pretty excited at the chances of a good fish, but James told us to slightly alter where we were fishing, which we promptly did! You don't argue with the experts. With evening drawing on we sat fishing and chatting to James. He was a fountain of knowledge on the stretch, especially tactics. Martin and I had come equipped with all manner of high-tech pastes, boilies and pellets, but James informed us that luncheon meat would be more appropriate. How refreshing! Martin found his ‘emergency tin' in the bottom of his holdall and soon shared it out. So there we were, touch-legering big lumps of luncheon meat, just like the good old days!

We didn't have any taps or trembles for a while, and the fish James had promised us didn't look like it would come. But then without warning my rod hooped over and I was firmly attached to a bearded torpedo. A typical weir-pool barbel fight followed, with the fish taking a fair bit of line a couple of times but I soon had it under control. I got it's head up, and slid it over the net. It was a really nice looking fish and went 8 lb 14 oz on the scales, which was my new best from the river. Obviously I was very pleased, but kept hoping that Martin's turn would come. Sadly before we knew it the time had come for Martin to go home, he had an early start the next day in the Commons. We walked back to our respective cars happy that at least one of us had caught, and arranged a follow-up trip on the Kennet. I'm sure that when that weekend comes he won't be walking back to the car without a barbel or three under his belt!

Special thanks go to James for his fishing tips, and of course to Martin for his time and help when compiling the interview. Next time I'm carping with species ace Colin Davidson. Until then….. Tight lines.