Since my piece ‘Under Lock and Key’ in the April issue of Hookpoint magazine, I have spoken with many anglers who are still trying to comprehend the fact that they cannot go fishing. For those who have enjoyed spending time by the sea all of their lives, this is undoubtedly a difficult time and for those for whom fishing is a huge part of their lives, they literally are struggling to cope. It’s even been suggested that the very fact that we are not allowed to fish makes us want to even more, and there’s a lot to be said for that old saying that ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’.
For the most part, along with the rest of the country, the angling community have abided by the government’s instructions and remained at home, in the interests of everyone. However, a small proportion have decided to do their own thing and although I’m not here to play judge and jury, it’s natural to question their actions, given the possible implications. Perhaps for those who use their fishing time as a form of therapy as much as anything else, the need was so great that they felt it was something that they simply had to do. Perhaps for others it was simply a case of not seeing any reason why they shouldn’t and being confident they could get away with it (as enforcement in general has been weak). As I say, it’s not my job to bring anyone to account but when restrictions are relaxed slightly, I do worry that the freedom could be abused by some people. This could, in turn, lead to greater restrictions that will have a further detrimental effect on anglers and maybe even the health of society in general.
In the rush to get back to what we enjoy so much, I see the potential for problematic circumstances unless clear guidance is issued and adhered to. Initial lockdown recommendations were hazy in places and open to misinterpretation, leading to questions from those who were confused and seeking clarification. If anglers here in the UK are not issued with some clear guidance, we could see a repeat of these circumstances. Along with other recreational groups, we could possibly even incur a further state of lockdown if, through misinterpretation or intentional rebellion, we don’t gratefully comply with the freedoms that are granted.
My biggest concern is that as soon as that golden ticket is issued, droves of anglers, be they regular enthusiasts and seasoned big fish hunters or casual anglers who would otherwise have fished perhaps twice a year on average, will all be tearing to the coast quicker than you could ask, ‘Are the mackerel in?’ Congestion at popular locations could see anglers fishing much closer to one another than they may have initially intended to and, in doing so, breaking social distancing rules. This could inadvertently assist the spread of the virus that, we have to remember, hasn’t actually gone anywhere yet.
It’s been said many times that it’s not the virus that travels, it’s people who travel and large gatherings in one area, be they intentional or not, would defeat the entire purpose of relaxing restrictions on angling. Fishing as a pursuit, by nature, discourages close contact with others. To some extent, this may well be inevitable but by considering our actions and even our perceptions of others, this worst case scenario that could see any privileges that are granted quickly removed again is easily avoided.
This is a golden opportunity to fish somewhere a little out of the way, perhaps check out that quiet spot on the coast path that you’ve walked past a million times whilst out with the dog and always thought that you’d like to give a go one day. You’ve never seen anyone fishing there so the chances are you’ll have it to yourself. Inform your significant other of your intentions and the time you are likely to return home, just so that you have a form of safety barrier in place, considering you will be fishing alone.
Anywhere that is popular with large numbers of anglers really should be avoided. A venue that instantly springs to mind is a certain shingle beach in Dorset that receives an incredible amount of attention throughout the summer months. Car parks will attract many visitors. Again, ideas of social distancing could go out the window and consequently, the privilege of enjoying the outdoors in the best way we know how could be retracted by the government. No one wants that.
Along a similar line is the fact that anglers wishing to fish will also need to source bait. Popular worm beds and areas that are recognised by those foraging for shellfish could see increased activity and so should be visited discreetly and with caution. With mackerel showing in some areas already, these offer a tantalising prospect when it comes to filling the bait freezer but many locations associated with mackerel fishing also attract numbers of anglers fishing shoulder to shoulder.
Again, this really should be avoided and if you can find somewhere a little off the beaten track, this would certainly be the better option. Far be it for me to tell anyone what they should or should not be doing but at the same time it is in all of our interests to act responsibly and maintain that crucial distance from one another when we are out on the coast. You only have to take a look at the surfing fraternity in the South West to see how things should not be done right now.
Given the serious and unprecedented nature of what is a global pandemic, it’s difficult to find any positives at times but that is what we need to do in order to get through this. We need to be practical and cautious in our actions and remain upbeat about the future. There are a number of positives to come out of this situation and I, for one, am looking forward to fishing locally this year far more than I would have otherwise. And I’m also looking forward to doing this alone.
Many anglers enjoy the social aspect of fishing, be it a competitive event or pairing up with your ‘wingman’ in pursuit of a particular species of fish but I actually feel that by fishing alone, we enable ourselves to focus closer on our own game without distraction. Without a doubt, fishing with a pal or in a small group is a good way of pooling your knowledge but it can also lead to information overload when you consider all of the variants within fishing and you start to question your own approach. We’ve all been in that situation where our buddy is fishing just a few feet away from us, seemingly in exactly the same manner as we are with regards to bait, rig, casting distance etc. but for whatever reason he is pulling fish out and you’re not. That (obviously) doesn’t happen when you fish solo. You’ll be able to fish how you like without need to question your approach or worry about being influenced by your pal. You’ll be able to reassess what works for you, play your own game and to some extent, reestablish your fishing roots.
What is important, now more than ever, is to be especially conscious of those around you, or even those that are around you when they shouldn’t be. Those anglers who choose to fish a little out of the way are known for their lack of tolerance when it comes to members of the public enquiring as to their luck. What is far more critical now is to maintain your distance from those inquisitive people and to politely ask anyone who threatens to enter your space not to do so in the interests of everyone’s safety. Because, let’s face it, after what seems like umpteen weeks of being held under lock and key, there’s going to be some rather wayward casting going on!