I wasn’t really sure where to go with this post, the seed was sort of sown when we were all put on lockdown and fishing suddenly became off limits. I don’t think most people realised the Corona crisis was going to be this serious, I certainly didn’t when we held our last match at Dillington on 22nd March. For the record (and I’m not blowing my own trumpet here!), I think that match went really well, the anglers observed social distancing, one person did the draw for everyone and everyone stayed on their pegs while we did the weigh in. The only real area of concern was the handing over of money and as far as I’m concerned it’s no different than queuing at your local supermarket and paying with cash at the till.
I really think smallish matches could take place safely, maybe the bigger opens and qualifiers might still have to remain on hold but I think 10-15 peggers wouldn’t pose any problems. What’s the difference between ten pleasure anglers and ten match anglers around a club water? It’s the gathering element at the start and the end that is the problem but as I said earlier, there are ways of doing it carefully. At the end of the day though, it’s only fishing, it’s not life and death?
Or is it? I wrote a post a few years back about fishing and (anti) social media, it was very well received but the latest proposals from the Angling Trust have given rise to so much hate and vitriol on Facebook it’s like the last election or Brexit all over again, it’s not pretty to watch and certainly doesn’t paint angling in a very good light (similar to the whole otter and cormorant debate but I’m not getting into that here!) but that’s not really what this post is about.
Before I get into the guts of this post, I must just say that it’s not a cry for help or a plea for pity although I am going to lay out some very personal stuff that won’t make for pretty reading!
Going back to my formative years, like most youngsters I explored loads of sports and hobbies, from football to butterflies and judo to wargaming, I enjoyed trying most of them but it wasn’t until I tried fishing that I became ‘hooked’!
I still don’t really know why I love it so much, I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors, it’s the thrill of never quite knowing what’s going to happen or what you’re going to hook next, the excitement of the float going under or the tip going round, it’s the competitive side of it, the buying lots of kit, the social side, meeting for breakfast, reading about it, watching it, blogging about it, it’s a combination of all or some of those things, I really don’t know!
What I do know, is that it’s always been there for me and it’s my release, my ‘me time’, my emotional crutch, something to look forward to each week. I haven’t always been faithful to fishing and there was a time where my love for a night out meant I sacrificed a fair few Sundays (not always intentionally!) and there’s been the odd lady along the way that have persuaded me to give fishing a miss. The difference being that it was my choice not to go and now that I can’t I’m really struggling.
For the first three weeks or so, it was a bit of a novelty, something to get through before we could go again (a kind of mini close season if you like). Then the next three weeks passed painfully slowly and it felt a bit like when I gave up smoking after 27 years, it was hard going but you knew it was going to be worth it in the end. Now I’m not sure we’ll be able to go after another three weeks and even if we can, it will only be pleasure fishing. ‘What’s the problem with that?’ you may ask, at least you can get on the bank, the trouble is I’m not sure I will, I just don’t enjoy pleasure fishing and lose interest very quickly. I might just go out Dillington and chuck a feeder out but I get bored so quickly as I just don’t get the same buzz that I do from match fishing.
If somebody said, competition angling was banned for good, I honestly don’t think I’d go anymore and again, I’m not really sure why! Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed trips fishing for mullet, barbel, pike and of course trips abroad after more exotic species, so why not just do more of those sorts of things and I think the answer lies in that I’ve always done those things alongside, rather than instead of, match fishing.
Let’s rewind a little bit, around five years, my amazing, wonderful mum had a seizure just before my birthday and after much faffing about and being told it was probably a bad migraine and then CT and MRI scans, we were summoned to Southmead hospital in Bristol to be told it was almost certainly a brain tumour and the bottom fell out of our world. A biopsy followed and a few days later we were called to go for the results, the consultant came out of surgery, still in his operating gown and cap to tell us that, yes it was definitely a tumour and that it was the most aggressive type with no cure!
He went on to say that some chemo and radiotherapy might give us six months and even now I remember how I struggled to comprehend what he was saying, I looked at my mum and she just had this strange smile on her face, kind of like she was expecting it, to this day I’m not sure how you process hearing something like that, especially when it applies to you. The following four months were the most horrendous of my life, I was basically signed off work and everyday seemed to be worse that the last (even when I thought that wasn’t possible) and there were days when I wasn’t sure I could take anymore.
There were endless trips to Exeter hospital to prepare for her treatment and all the while, her condition was deteriorating, there were tears (lots of them), she got nasty, she hit her head and wanted to kill herself, trying to take pills on a couple of occasions. At one stage she wouldn’t get out of bed for nine days, just using a commode in her bedroom. She begged us to help her to phone somebody to do something, as to her it felt like nothing was being done, I’ve never felt so helpless.
More seizures followed as she started to lose the use of her legs and her eyesight was also impaired, one episode led to her being hospitalised at Musgrove in Taunton for three weeks when she should have been having radiotherapy in Exeter. We went and saw her everyday, even though she was horrible to us and I honestly think as the living nightmare continued, she just wanted it to end. She made it home again and we were having carers come in several times a day, I remember one day having to lift her off the commode so the carer could wipe her bum and she kept saying sorry and to this day, that is burned into my subconscious (as I type this I have tears in my eyes).
Although she’d missed her radiotherapy sessions, I begged the consultant to do something and he reassessed her and agreed to schedule a few more (I think to appease me more than anything), she managed a couple before having another seizure that she never recovered from. Now I’m recounting this not because I want you to feel sorry for me (and thousands of people go through something similar everyday) but because I want you to understand how important fishing was to me during those dark days.
Every Sunday, I would ask if it was alright if I went fishing and both dad (and mum when she could) encouraged me to go and I honestly believe it kept me sane. Now it’s well documented that fishing is good for your mental health but there are a couple of different scenarios,
1 – pleasure fishing and being out in the countryside with loads of wildlife does wonders for your wellbeing. It gives you plenty of time to think your own thoughts, which can be good if you want to think something through but by the same token if you’ve just suffered a traumatic time, the last thing you want to do is relive it all again. Similarly a match on somewhere like the Isle can be quite a solitary affair where you are left to your own devices for six hours.
2 – match fishing on a club pond or commercial where you meet up for breakfast and then fish where there’s loads of banter during the day and you’re really concentrating because you want to do well and at the end of the match, you’ve had a laugh in the fresh air with your mates and your mind has been elsewhere for a few hours.
That might have over simplified things but hopefully you can see what I’m getting at, let’s now fast forward a few years to 2019 and my dad has been diagnosed with vascular dementia and just for fun, along the way let’s bung in losing a baby with my ex girlfriend! I knew nothing about dementia and just assumed it was another name for getting old and a bit muddled but it’s actually a horrible disease that robs people you love of their faculties and their dignity.
To start with there were just funny little things that occurred like putting coffee in the sugar bowl while trying to make a brew or saying something a little odd, obviously these symptoms get worse and it’s not the same for all sufferers but you end up doing more and more for them without even realising it. So even though my life became a little more stressful and a lot more busy, in the very early days I could still have the odd night out and go on foreign holidays and of course I still had fishing on Sundays to look forward to.
Then one day I realised there was no way I could leave him for a night, let alone a couple of weeks, it just sort of crept up on me which meant my fishing became more and more important to me. He also had a couple of falls, ending up in hospital and we reached a stage where I felt I needed some more support so I arranged for some carers to come in while I was at work or fishing, only fairly short periods to help with personal care and meals but also for a bit of company. His brother and sister-in-law would also pop in a couple times a week for a chat and a coffee.
It was working pretty well even if most nights it was around 8 ‘o’ clock before I finished doing all the jobs I needed to do (it also meant I wasn’t getting the latest blog post online until Tuesday or even Wednesday some weeks!). Then one day I got home and there was a police car parked outside! So many things go through your mind as you open the door but thankfully he was sat in the chair and apparently he’d wandered off down the road and a kindly neighbour spotted him and phoned the police.
Obviously this was a worrying development and I was in the process of increasing the level of home care dad was receiving when the Corona Virus arrived and everything changed. I went from working at home one day a week to being home based full time. Couple this with lockdown and not being able to go fishing and all of a sudden, everything is intensified and your world becomes very small.
Being with dad 24/7 is incredibly stressful and with nothing to look forward to at the weekends and everyday merging into one, you start to lose perspective of days and times. Also with being single and having no partner, no siblings and no children, it all boils down to me and the pressure seems to ramp up everyday. When mum was ill, obviously dad was able to help and I could still fish on Sundays but now it’s just me with nothing to look forward to and it’s quite a dark place with seemingly no light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
It’s funny how you take things for granted (i.e. having breakfast or going fishing) and I never ever thought something other than ill health would stop me doing the thing I love. Over the years people have said that I’m crazy for going fishing in extreme weather and I’ve come in for some criticism saying that ‘It’s all about the money’ but for me, fishing matches is my way of keeping a semblance of routine or order to my life. Even when I’ve been out in the snow and blanked and moaned on the blog about how rubbish it was, it still feels like I’ve done something with my weekend and if nothing else, these endless weeks of ‘Groundhog days’ have confirmed this.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the odd pleasure day but interestingly I watched an online chat with Matt Godfrey, Andy Bennett and Paul Holland the other day and somebody asked them if they would still fish as much if competition angling here was more for medals and trophies rather than money and all three basically said that would rather fish for the money but couldn’t quite put their finger on why and I know exactly what they mean! They said although a nice pick up does offset the costs of the day we all know you don’t go fishing to get rich, if it was about that you’d go to work on a Sunday and earn double time!
Paul mentioned he’s won some nice medals and I love winning trophies too, really nice mementos and memories, Matt said it sort of hones his competitive side and again I know what he means. It’s really difficult to pin down why the majority of match anglers find it so addictive and going back to some of the comments on FB I’ve seen, really derisory things about why can’t we just go and enjoy catching fish when we’re finally allowed back out and the thing is we want to but for me there has to be that competitive side to it.
My mental health has taken a real battering over the last five years and I don’t think there’s going to be much let up in the near future either but fishing has helped me get this far and it will be there for me again when we finally get through this. It’s starting to look like we might be able to get out on the bank very soon but like I said earlier, I can’t see me doing a lot until things get a little closer to normality. Whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, please stay safe and hopefully I’ll see you soon.