It’s Called Fishing Not Catching

Social media has been linked to higher levels of envy, anxiety and depression in many sectors of society. I could imagine that anglers are no exception to this rule.

Based on my own feed of images and information on Instagram and Youtube, one could be forgiven for thinking that the catch of a lifetime should be a weekly occurrence for any decent angler or, at least, it only requires the purchase of one more piece of ‘essential kit’.

Too much time spent scrolling through your friends’ fishing pictures can result in the setting of unrealistic expectations for one’s own trips. Moreover, the desire to capture the perfect ‘trophy shot’ of your own to share, can distract from the multitude of other (perhaps more important) reasons why we go fishing.

Less was more

Limited and now rather dated materials from the early 90’s, but nonetheless great inspiration

When I started fishing as a kid in England in the 90’s there were maybe one or two fishing programmes periodically on TV. My father introduced me to the sport and showed me the basic techniques of coarse fishing and watercraft, as well as fostering my appreciation of nature in general. From there, I then largely taught myself from a few books and magazines, along with much trial and error.

Back then the images of specimen catches available in print or on film were few and far between by today’s standards. However, less is more as they say, and the pictures you did see, particularly as a youngster, were always indelibly seared into your imagination as dreams to pursue. Moreover, you rarely saw a picture of one of your peers with a specimen catch and so expectations for your own angling experiences were managed accordingly. For most young anglers a bite was the only goal, and the capture of any fish, regardless of size, a wonderful bonus.

The limited information available also made for a very slow learning curve, but at the same time this developed the all-important angling skills of patience, perseverance and problem solving. I remember, for instance, having decided to teach myself how to fly fish, it took me well over a year and countless trips to catch my first river trout on the fly – a four inch parr caught on the River Wharfe behind High Mill at Addingham on a ‘Hardy’s Favourite’ traditional wet fly.

Fast forward to today and the average angler is inundated with a wealth of information and imagery from around the world. It seems everyone is an expert and everyone is catching great fish every time they go out. Of course that can’t be true, but people don’t post pictures from their blank days do they? In short order, the flood of pictures of smiling anglers with epic catches can cause you to become despondent with your own results. I know that I feel it as a reasonably competent angler who catches a few fish here and there, so I dread to think how it must feel for beginners starting out in the sport.

It’s important beginners learn to love all aspects of our sport and not just the catching bit!

Take for example my current situation. This season’s campaign has been focussed on a local reservoir where I’m trying to catch pike and perch on the fly. It is a notoriously tough water. It has a low population of predators, which are already well fed by an abundance of small bait fish – so getting your lure in front of one that is hungry is an uphill struggle. Further, the reservoir sits on a bed of fine clay and silt – so the water quickly colours up after wind or rain rendering fly fishing next to useless during periods of inclement weather. On top of these challenging natural dynamics, the water receives a fair amount of angling attention, including, unfortunately, from some who take their catches for the pot. Faced with such a combination of negative factors, the rational angler should not expect frequent catches. Nonetheless, social media would have you believe that catching big pike or specimen perch is child’s play. Consequently, I’ve found myself getting increasingly despondent – I’ve got the right gear, I’m using the same flies as my peers online and I’m generally fishing well – but my results have been meagre, and as the weather has taken a turn for the worse recently my already frustratingly infrequent catches have tailed-off even further. Aside from deciding to take a ‘digitial detox’ when it comes to social media, I’ve started re-evaluating my fishing objectives in order not to end up pulling my hair out or quitting entirely.

Be thankful

A beautiful dawn in the countryside

Firstly, I have reminded myself that the mere act of going fishing puts the angler in a unique and special position, each moment of which should be truly treasured. The angler gets to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature that very few others experience on a regular basis, if ever. Being the sole human on a river bank or lake shore, particularly at those most magical moments of the day – dawn and dusk – allows one to experience the very best of nature. The mist rising off the water at dawn, the sky in its myriad of colours, the whistling of the trees as breeze springs up in the morning and the silence that descends when it drops in the evening, and the vast array of wonderful animals that one encounters aside from, of course, the ultimate quarry – otters, deer, boar, foxes, mink, wildfowl, snakes, frogs, to name but a few.

Work your body, free your mind

Secondly, fishing provides a welcome release for the mind and exercise for the body away from the stresses, strains and screens of daily and working life. If you adopt a mobile approach to your fishing, you can easily get in your 10,000 recommended daily steps on a single outing and it is no doubt more enjoyable than achieving the same on a treadmill. A good dose of fresh air certainly clears the head and focussing your attention on the process of fishing may also give your subconscious time and space to chew over some of the issues you may be facing in your personal or professional life. In short, whether the day ends in success or failure on the angling front, time spent in nature itself is always a win for the body and mind.

Eat, drink …

Preparing a riverside lunch Russian style

Thirdly, the disillusioned fisher could do worse than take a leaf out of the Russian angler’s handbook. I lived and worked in Russia for nearly 10 years and whilst I didn’t do as much fishing there as I would have liked, I went on a couple of trips and saw how Russian anglers go to great lengths to enjoy a bankside feast shared amongst angling comrades. They have signature dishes that are cooked on the bank – ukha (a fish soup boiled atop an open fire) and shashlik (skewered marinated meat or fish often grilled on a small, fold up barbecue called a mangal) – and favourite snacks often hidden away in their knapsacks – salo (cured pork fat) and vobla (salted and dried fish jerky), for example. Invariably, these delicacies are enjoyed with a tipple or two of something strong.

Now, I must admit I don’t cook a meal on the banks every time I go out, but taking the time to pack some good food and drink fulfils a variety of uses for the angler. A warming drink can be useful on cold winter’s days, the process of boiling a some water in Kelly Kettle to make a cup of tea or coffee itself being an enjoyable, primal process; some comfort food can be a useful ‘pick me up’ when things are tough or you need an energy boost; and a bottle of beer keeping cold in the stream or a hip flask in the bottom of your bag can be used at an opportune moment to toast the day come what may. It all just goes to make your outing that little bit more special even if the fish aren’t playing ball.

… and make merry

Moments to remember – great days, fish or no fish

Fourthly, to quote a line from a favourite film of mine, happiness is only real when shared, and some of my most memorable fishing experiences have been defined not by the size or numbers of fish caught, but the moments shared with close friends and family in nature. Rare are the opportunities when we spend time with those close to us with little or no other distractions. Cherish those days.

Remember – good things come to those who wait

You may say well that’s all well and good, but I’m going fishing and I want to catch fish, otherwise I might as well just go for a hike and take a picnic, or just go to the pub with my mates! The point I’m making however is that, despite what social media may have you believe, all anglers have their share of blank days. As the old saying goes it’s called ‘fishing’ not ‘catching’ and sometimes you need to remind yourself of this and focus more on the ‘journey’ not just the ‘arrival’. Moreover, if catching good fish was easy then the sport would quickly lose its fascination. It’s the endurance of the blank sessions, hard lessons and setbacks that makes the final catch all the more gratifying. 

I recall last spring on the reservoir when, after catching a pike on my first outing of the season, I then suffered blank session after blank session. After a while I gave up with my flies and reverted to fishing for roach and bream with maggots and worms. Following the many fruitless and exhausting hours wading and casting for those elusive pike and perch, it was a relief to just sit still and watch a float for a while. A few relaxing sessions spent catching some lovely coarse fish gave me my mojo back and on a late spring day, when heavy thunderstorms in the afternoon gave way to a beautiful sunny evening, I felt ready to return to the lake with my fly rod.

A nice bag of early season bream – watching a float regularly disappear was a relief after a number of blank days chasing predators on the fly

The usual spots were thoroughly fished for a couple of hours, but, as I had become accustomed to, there were no takers. I began working my way back along the roadside bank towards where my car was parked and decided to make a few final casts there alongside some overhanging trees. It was a cast that I had made many times before that season to no avail, but the deep channel beneath the thick bankside foliage always felt like it should be home to a predator or two. Then, as I carefully retrieved my blue and white Clouser Minnow, there was a single electric jolt on the line. I instinctively knew it was not the fly bumping a rock or catching on weeds, only something living could affect such a sensation. A moment later the line pulled tight and a fish was on. It ran up and down the bank seeking sanctuary amongst the tree roots, but eventually I prevailed and gently brought a beautiful pike to hand. It was no certainly no leviathan, but what great sport it provided on the fly rod. The cold beer I enjoyed immediately after slipping it back to his watery home tasted all the better for the long wait I had endured for that single modest fish. Immediately, the despair of those blank sessions was replaced by the sense of satisfaction and reward for all the hard work that had been put in to get there.

So forget social media, blank sessions are part and parcel of fishing. Learn to appreciate the journey, and the arrival will be so much the better – it’s all part of the process.

Finally … a modest pike that put a smile on my face
Keep it simple … keep your priorities right … and enjoy!

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