Angling today sometimes leaves me 'deflated and baffled'

 the beauty and fragility of our summer rivers

The beauty and fragility of our summer rivers... as they should be - Credit: John Bailey

Yesterday I was guiding. I met my man early doors so we could get out before the general school-holiday public decided to hit the river.

I own the fishing so I knew there’d be no other anglers about and we set up and waded 50 yards downstream to get ourselves above a barbel and chub hole. We’d barely cast out when a family of five, lead by a 40-some-year-old father, paddled, waded and floated past us, shouting and splashing as they went.

Father was a rod length from me when he smirked a “good morning” greeting and feigned surprise when I wasn’t effusive in my reply. I pointed out that the river banks were private, that he had ruined what was in effect my morning’s work and that he had taught his children that it is fine and dandy to pay no heed to others, but completely fine to do exactly what they want regardless.

Would this model parent have been so arrogantly cavalier had we been birdwatching, photographing water voles or releasing beavers? I suspect that he is a paid-up member of that part of the UK public that regards anglers as an embarrassment and angling as somehow contemptible. I have no doubt he looks down on the “white van" angler and despises the dry fly, posh purist and would like to see the oldest sport in the land scrapped altogether. Sadly, he is not alone in this. There have been recent examples of wildlife trusts cancelling long-standing leases with angling clubs that have used their waters for generations. And indeed, if you look on many wildlife trust websites , you’ll see fish are barely mentioned and evidently do not rate as worthwhile subjects for the naturalist. Fur and feather are fascinating whilst fin counts for nothing.

We were all saddened to hear of Bernard Cribbins’ passing last week. What a lovely man he was and how fortunate I count myself for knowing him reasonably well. The tributes he received were heart-warming and well deserved, but there was barely any mention of his love for angling and the work he did in the sport. The fishing Bernard was somehow airbrushed out of the story. I’m not name dropping here, but making a point. My life in fishing has led me to meet many of the well known, but it is perhaps not surprising that their angling passions are kept obscure. Paul Gascoigne and David Seaman apart, there are many ardent footballing anglers who prefer to keep quiet on the subject. Jeremy Paxman is one of the nicest, most generous men I have met and a fine angler to boot, though not many know this. Eric Clapton is fascinating company and a superb fly angler, a gift he keeps to himself. If the world knew that Johnny Vegas, Charlie Cooper and Mike Atherton, to pluck just three names out of the net, were keen anglers then it might just help our cause?

Of course, it has been pointed out that the runaway success of Mortimer and Whitehouse, Gone Fishing shows that the vast majority of the fair-minded British public have no quarrel with angling and indeed have a deep affection for it. I suspect that anti-angling sentiment is driven by the sort of extremists we see at work in every aspect of UK life. There is barely anything we do or think these days that is not examined and condemned by these few. I don’t know what we do about this state of affairs, but I do say long live Mortimer and Whitehouse and their message that fishing is a sport beloved for centuries and is about as rewarding a way of spending time that has yet to be devised.

On Sunday, I was again sitting by “my” river. It was a glorious evening and I didn’t even need to put up a rod to enjoy it. Swifts and martens were stitching through the sky and the first of the bats were amongst them. Tawny owls were conversing in the copse and a water vole, one of the few on the stretch, was thinking it was time to have a look about. But what is this? A cacophony of rap music is nearing fast, growing louder apace. A canoe and ghetto blaster hove into sight , a canoe piloted by two women I’d put in their early 70s. As they paddle past, one of them throws a crisp packet into the stream. I pack up and leave deflated, baffled and beyond defeated by this world of ours.