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World Fishing Day & Our Responsibility

There is more to fishing than trying to catch a fish! True, anglers love to tell a story and, even in the pub when the wind is howling outside and the rain beating down on the roof, anglers still dream of being on the water and will bore anyone prepared to listen about the fish they have caught, real or imaginary. History relates that most of these are likely to be yarns, or at least greatly exaggerated, but just occasionally the stories are so amazing that the facts suffice to make them worthy of a listen.

Alas, much of fishing talk these days is about the degradation of the water environment, be it streams, rivers, lakes, or the open ocean. Rivers are polluted, lakes full of algae, and the oceans festooned with plastic and their stocks depleted through over-fishing. It is not just a UK problem because the issues are common right across the globe, all exacerbated by the effects of a warming climate. The water environment is a natural barometer to the effects of increasing temperatures, and anglers can report the impacts with more credibility than most because they spend so much time beside rivers and the sea.   

World Fishing Day therefore provides an ideal excuse for us fishers to look at the wider issues affecting our sport and how we can play a part in protecting the water environment upon which fish and, of course, angling depends. Almost on a weekly basis in the UK, the media covers another story about agricultural or sewage pollution in our rivers and the water quality and fish kills that are the inevitable result. The people initially highlighting the problems are often anglers because they are the first to witness the resulting damage to the environment and local fish stocks. The longer-term effects, however, are wider ranging than merely an interference to the sport of angling.  

I was speaking recently to someone who lived in the southwest of England beside a stream that had been heavily polluted by slurry from an upstream dairy farm. The immediate impact was obvious – brown water, a putrid smell and the upturned bellies of dead trout floating downstream – and reported to the Environment Agency by an angler who had been fishing at the time. However, when the dust had settled on the event and the media long since departed to cover another story, a much wider impact became apparent. The fish population had been wiped out and so the kingfishers that my narrator had loved watching over the years had now disappeared. The rocky habitat had been home to dippers for as long as he could remember, but dippers feed almost exclusively on water invertebrates and they had been killed by the pollution as well, so no more dippers. Other birds were missing too – grey wagtails, chaffinches and even swallows that used to feed on or above the stream – but with no water-sourced food for them any longer, they had gone to hunt elsewhere. The whole water environment was dead, and it would take years to recover to anything like its former glory.

So, as the wider-thinking angler knows only too well, fishing is about more than just catching fish, because if we don’t look after the water environment, fish stocks will suffer and so will our sport. World Fishing Day is therefore a timely reminder that we anglers have a responsibility to protecting the environment in whichever way we can, individually or collectively. We have a reputation for being the eyes and ears of the riverbank, so we need to live up to that billing and become conservationists as well as exploiters. Few other sectors of society have such an invested interest in the health of the water environment, so we must be in the first line of its future defence.

But not all is gloom and doom. Angling is about the places the sport takes us to, the people we meet when we get there and, most importantly, the fish we catch and the experiences around those catches. I tried to capture all this by writing down people’s tales in my recent book, Amazing Fishing Stories, and World Fishing Day provides a great excuse for you to buy a copy! You will read some extraordinary experiences told me by anglers fishing every sort of freshwater and marine habitat right across the planet, and there are even a few ghostly tales amongst them.  

All the stories are based on real events, even the spectral ones – at least, the people who related them to me obviously thought they were real – but, as I say in the book, you are never quite sure what is and isn’t true when anglers relate to you their tales…!      

 

Paul Knight, June 2022

Paul’s book, Amazing Fishing Stories can be viewed here.