On the 23rd March 2020, our lives changed dramatically when the Prime Minister made the announcement that we should stay at home. For many, this was the point when the threat of coronavirus suddenly became very real and it took our freedom of movement being severely restricted for us to recognise that. With the exception of shopping for basic necessities, medical needs or to care for the vulnerable, travelling to your place of work (if you cannot work from home) or to partake in one form of exercise per day, we were effectively locked down.
And the message was clear: stay at home.
Understandably, this sudden announcement caused widespread panic across the country as the population faced every imaginable dilemma ranging from work and childcare arrangements to the prospect of not seeing their loved ones for the foreseeable future. Those discussions are still very much prevalent across social media and although they are incredibly important to each and every one of us, this is not the place to further add to that discussion.
Not since Brexit have we witnessed the sea angling community act so divisively as they have in the last fortnight. I am, of course, referring to the great debate of whether or not sea angling could be regarded as a form of exercise. The government stance on this at the time of writing remains vague and the entire statement in this regard is open to interpretation. Local police forces have not helped matters by seemingly reading off of different scripts when it comes to enforcing the social distancing protocol that we are all now being asked to live our lives by.
Our right to fish is one that we as anglers are fiercely protective of and if at any point in the past that right has been threatened, tempers have flared and a ‘I’m doing as I please’ attitude has come to the fore. The coronavirus lockdown is no different and it’s becoming clear that there are those who are interpreting the daily exercise rule in a way that best suits their own agenda. But are they actually doing anything wrong?
Some anglers have long been recognised as masters of social distancing. You may recall a previous edition of Hookpoint magazine where I described the angler as a ‘loner enduring a hermit like pursuit’. I stand by that inference and, at this current point in time, that’s probably a persona to be proud of. This is, after all, what is being asked of us. Perhaps if everyone in the country was a little more unsociable when it came to their hobbies, we really could curtail the spread of this awful virus. Nevertheless, for as many anglers that choose to pursue their interest of rod and line by themselves, there are likely just as many who fish within a larger social circle and whose habits are, let’s say, not as in line with social distancing and contrary to what is expected of us.
It’s been suggested that there are those seeking loopholes in that original government statement but I wouldn’t go quite as far to suggest that. People trying to interpret the information given and drawing their own conclusions – yes. When the announcement was first made, I actually considered the prospect of fishing as my ‘one a day’ form of exercise, but before you dismiss me and this piece out of hand, let me explain.
I am extremely fortunate in that, by some marvellous stroke of luck (rather than judgement), from where I live I can cross the road directly onto a beach in less than a minute. It’s not the most productive angling venue by any means but it is a beach all the same and can produce a fish or three. I know for a fact that I could do that late one evening with little chance of being seen or heard and without coming into contact with anyone or anything that could potentially spread coronavirus and endanger a member of the public or myself. In my mind, this was a logical conclusion to arrive at and only further practicing that social distancing element that angling has instilled in me for decades. As with many things in life, rash decisions are often a bad idea and as the lockdown was in its infancy, the urge to go fishing was not unbearable and any angling related thoughts left my mind.
As the days ticked by, the virus death toll increased rapidly and thoughts of being by the sea seemed to become more and more irrelevant. My exercise became a beach based run or a short bike ride, just to get some fresh air. Thoughts of pursuing the passion that I’ve invested much of my life in gradually began to evaporate. This played on my mind, as did many practical reasons why angling would not be the best of ideas right now, and I considered them all.
An accident, by its very nature, could happen at any time but by placing yourself in a potentially dangerous environment (which lets face it, the sea even in it’s tamest form has the potential to be) you’re putting yourself at unnecessary risk that, in a worst case scenario, may require assistance from the emergency services. That’s an extra burden on an NHS that is currently facing its largest logistical challenge to date. And no one wants to be the person adding to that.
Further implications of that ‘innocent’ and harmless trip to the beach include other would-be anglers seeing you there and following suit. The difference might be that, when they draw the conclusion in their own minds that it’s actually okay to go fishing, they decide to travel further afield, visit a service station on route and travel as a group of four, throwing absolute caution to the wind and disregarding everything that has been asked of us as a society.
Would I want to be indirectly responsible for the actions of those individuals? No, of course not and I doubt anyone reading this would want to be held accountable for anyone who fails to see the bigger picture. I am as passionate about sea angling as anyone and I’ve read many times how anglers refer to their time by the water as a way of life. I can wholeheartedly agree, but guess what? Life, for now, has changed and we have to overcome, adapt and move forward. It’s important to remember that, as much as we miss seeing those who we are close to and the routine of life as we knew it, this is not forever.
It is not so much whether we should, could or can’t go fishing, but rather is it morally the right thing to be doing at this moment in time? If you answered ‘no’ to that question, then you have understood the point I have been trying to get across here. I won’t be fishing. Let’s show the general public that anglers are a decent bunch of human beings by adhering to those few simple instructions: stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.