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Easter on the river - a time worth fighting for

Friday 14 April 2006

fisherman at Easter. Are there grave battles ahead?

LUNCHTIME on Monday found me eating a packed lunch sitting on a grassy bank surrounded by newly opened celandines (a month late) and watching a pair of swallows (a month early in this weather) as they desperately searched for the very few insects on the wing in the Aire Valley.

It was the first sunny break of this year's trout fishing season and I was in a good mood. I had just returned to the water a nice, feisty grayling which, a month ago, would have been my Tuesday breakfast.

But the grayling, as a coarse fish although it lives like a trout, is out of season, preparing for breeding. So I had unhooked its carefully with wet hands so as not to damage its scales, held it facing upstream for a few seconds allowing the water to re-oxygenate its gills, and released. It shot off like a mini submarine with my best wishes.

Easter on the river
Easter on the river

I caught nowt else that day - the trout have been as cold and as sullen as this so-called "spring" - but who cares: only true anglers understand that catching fish is only a bonus. A day on the river is the true prize.

Then I opened the paper that evening and my good day came to a worrisome end. For it was reported that a Home Office committee set up to study possible animal suffering during drugs testing had, of its own volition and without any approval from parliament, extended its remit to investigate any pain caused to fish by anglers (See News, Tuesday).

Now the argument about this has been going on for decades, with some scientists say fish do not have the nervous structure to feel pain and others saying the opposite. As a lifelong angler, I know that fish do suffer distress, if not pain, on being caught which is why I either knock them quickly on the head - I fish for the pot if I am ever lucky enough to catch owt - or I return them to the water as quickly and gently as I can.

My argument to support this is twofold. One is that, as a carnivore, catching a fish for supper saves my wife buying something else that has been killed. But, just as important, I have this desperate belief that man and his mate have moved so far from nature today that we are in dire danger of living a life of total superficiality devoted to money, property, cars and - God help us - the latest style in handbags!

Fishing is one of the very few activities which allow Western man to remain in contact with his role as a hunter. It teaches skill, patience, and a deep understanding of nature on and in the river. If more modern-day yobbos took up fishing rather than drinking, swearing and fighting, our streets this Easter would be much nicer places.

My travels with rod and line take me all over the Yorkshire Dales. I fish the Ure around Hawes, the Aire between Gargrave and Carlton, various bits of the Wharfe, and have just acquired the right to cast a fly on the upper reaches of the Nidd, a stretch of water I have not yet had chance even to see. This Easter, those rivers will be offering a welcome to hundreds of anglers both local and visitor, as they have for centuries.

Along those banks there are pubs, hotels, restaurants and cafes galore which cater for anglers, not to mention the shops where they buy their tackle and outdoor clothing, the garages that supply their fuel - and other fishermen to entertain with lies about the one that got away over a pint supped before a roaring open fire.

All this, as well as the multi-million-pound tackle manufacturing industry, could be at risk if the politically correct townies on this new Home Office committee get their way. We must never forget that fox hunting was banned because Tony Blair, against his own wishes, was goaded into taking action by left wing journalists who jeered at him during a televised press conference.

We anglers have one mighty weapon in battles which I fear are to come: the biggest sporting army in the land. Fishing is by far the most popular participation sport, with three million registered anglers in clubs and untold millions more who go out independently. And many of those are Labour voters. When political correctness clashes with the need to garner votes, the latter will always win hands down: power before principle is the absolute rule of British politics.

This said, I am confident (or shall I say, fairly confident) that angling will survive. With that thought, I hope everyone enjoys their Easter break in the Yorkshire Dales, with or without rod in hand. We are, after all, marking the death of a man whose best friends were fishermen.

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