December 9 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
It was Somerset Maugham, I think, who on the eve of his 80th birthday addressed an audience about the advantages of growing old.
There was a long and ultimately embarrassing silence broken only when Maugham explained he was trying to remember what those advantages were. I’m not quite at Maugham’s stage of life yet, but the other day I was standing knee deep in one of our rivers with a friend from the Environment Agency who asked me whether I thought the fishing was better today in East Anglia than it was when I was a kid.
It’s 2013 now. Let’s take an earlier date of 1973 as our year for comparison. That was the time I was fishing seriously in Norfolk, after uni and after I’d decided to settle here for my foreseeable adult life.
Let’s do this thing species by species.
We obviously must begin with roach, the standard bearer for our whole region. Without doubt, I think we’d all plump for 1973. Today, a two pound genuine roach, especially from a river, is gold-dust. I’ve seen a few more in these last few years than I used to do in the ‘90s, but I stress few. If we could magic ourselves back to 1973, however, I could take you to scores of places, particularly on at least four rivers, where two pounders would be nearly a certainty. It was only slightly before that year that my old friend Jack Fitt, one-time fishery manager for the Norfolk Flyfishers, took 26 two pounders in a single February afternoon. That’s more than all our rivers now produce in a single year.
Our next legendary species must be the pike. Better news here, I guess. I think most of us would be happier with 2013 than 1973. The massive pike venue of the earlier age, the Thurne system and its associated Broads, had been destroyed by prymnesium in 1969. Possibly not all pike were killed but the venue remained a write-off for years to come. In 1973, there were other Broads, true, and some estate lakes, but I think today the vast proliferation in pike pit fishing would tip the balance to 2013.
If we stick with predators, perch are a difficult one. Again, I’d just go for 2013. In 1973, the disastrous Perch Disease was just over the horizon and it would decimate perch stocks around that era. Today, we are all catching countless perch over two pounds in weight from stillwaters and rivers alike.
If we look at carp and tench, we’ve got to go for 2013. In 1973, it would have been even quite difficult to find more than a dozen or so viable carp venues. Today, carp are everywhere and at a far, far bigger size than we’d ever have guessed at back then. It’s the same with tench. Every season I catch nine pounders. In 1973, I believe the record was still around seven and a half. My personal best then was still under five pounds, would you believe?
It’s exactly the same with bream. Back then, the record bream was a low double figure fish and I recently wrote about an East Anglian fish approaching 20lb. Over the years, there have been endless pits, especially in the Wensum Valley, that have produced bream in excess of 15lb. I’ve even had doubles from the rivers. A big bream in 1973 was five or six pounds whereas today it would have to be seen as double that weight.
As for chub, I barely need make any comment. In 1973, many Norfolk anglers hadn’t even seen a chub. Today, chub are our dominant river species and save endless tedious winter days of blanking. Barbel, however, are a different kettle of fish. My recent Barbel Failure would suggest that barbel are very much at a crossroads. In 1973, they were emerging strongly. My own first barbel success came at the end of that decade and so, with hesitation, I’d settle on the earlier date.
Crucian carp are a recent favourite species of mine though I’ve loved them all my life and adored them when I was in short pants and at four ounces they looked as big as the sun.
For me, 1973 was more buoyant and more exciting with new frontiers to cross. However, I guess that is simply an age thing. What there is today is far more understanding of the fragility of fish and the vulnerability of fisheries. Back in 1973 we were very careless when it came to fish welfare. Keep nets were in common use and the gaff had only just really disappeared from the scene. There were barely any conservation bodies whatsoever and it’s good to know that today we are valuing our planet like never before.