Saturday 28 November 2015

How (not) to write a fishing book

I am an extremely relieved man this week, with the final arrival of Crooked Lines the book! For all of you regular blog readers, this is a chance to get hold of two-dozen of my best ever stories in a collectible format, accompanied by original artwork from Lord Bunn and a foreword by Mr Matt Hayes. You won't find scribblings from this blog (which tend to be my least polished writing!), but a mixed bag of twenty-four original pieces, including plenty of new and unpublished work.

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The last few days and weeks (or make that months) have been "interesting" to put it mildly. Not least a lengthy delay due to the increased security with recent turmoil in Europe. I'd like to thank everyone who ordered early for their patience- as you can imagine, I was tearing my hair out. The printing of the book is a story in itself. It was printed by Tallinn Book Printers, Estonia, who are honest and excellent people to deal with. My last book Tangles with Pikewas also printed by them, via a company in London who dealt with admin and puling a few strands together. But I was later to learn that the Estonians were never paid! Hence I wanted to go directly to them this time and make sure they got my business and full payment (and show them that not all Brits are dishonest!). Amazingly, they were trusting enough to deliver the books without demanding an advance, on a pay on delivery basis. Good karma, I felt, and the finished item is fantastic quality. It just took an age to travel across Europe.

But this is merely the end of a long and yes, crooked, journey. The idea of the book had been long in the making. Regular readers may already know of some my frustrations as a fishing writer. Even pieces that had appeared before were often only a shadow of the original, once they were clipped and squeezed to short format. "A War of Worms" (pictured below) is a classic example. While I wanted to describe various highs, lows and downright hooky bits from a long, wet winter, the article that went to press was chopped to less than half length (rather like a worm?) and retitled something like "CATCH YOUR BIGGEST PERCH EVER THIS WEEKEND!" in a classic bit of editorial hack'n'slash.

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But the beauty of independent self-publishing is that you have nobody to say "you can't do/say/publish that." This digital age is a battle, quite simply, to cut through the noise and get your message out there. But it is also empowering because you can blaze your own trail without having to compromise, or follow someone else's agenda or the usual formula. A great freedom, because with this book I wanted to be daring and make it something original and totally different in its design and feel. I wanted to tell the hidden story of fishing with all the grubby, interesting bits left in.

The artwork and design would be critical, but I had a strong gut feeling that Sheffield artist Lord Bunn would be perfect. His standard fare is anything but standard, with signs, murals and even band artwork very much his usual thing rather than fishing (I had met him through encounters with friends of his, the excellent post-rock band 65 Days of Static, but that's another story).

It took a lot of inspiration and perspiration from both of us to get things just right, especially with the cover. Creative types grow through being outside their comfort zone though- and I just loved his take on the different fish species. He gave each its own personality and the detail blew me away (I especially love the eel, hiding in the beer bottle).

As for the internal illustrations… you'll just have to get the book! There are lots of great black ink pieces, including flies, worms, hooks and even the odd stray fag butt. He also produced the most beautiful ink lettering, to provide chapter titles that were bang on. Each is a continuous, crooked line in itself, perfectly suited to my own slightly anarchic sensibilities.

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As for the writing itself, it took several months and was laden with coffee and expletives. There are several completely new and exclusive pieces in the book and others I had been saving up, while I also revisited other favourites and partially published stories, sharpening them up and fleshing out the juicy bits to hold nothing back. Compared to this blog and many previous articles, it's like looking at a finished gallery rather than a sketchbook.

The actual writing is the fun part, but the process of hammering it into a finished book can be painful. Garrett Fallon was my right hand man to provide design and layout. Above all else, we wanted to give the traditional angling book a kick up the arse and produce something edgier, funnier and more entertaining. But his editorial skills were also hugely valuable, because as the author you do reach a point where you are so steeped (and jaded) with your own work it is difficult to see the wood from the trees.

Several nasty little dramas were negotiated as it was proof read and refined. But you also reach the stage where you have to stop tinkering and correcting, and leave it the hell alone. Because this way madness lies and, after a certain point, you can end up making it worse.

With the introduction, however, I just couldn't feel satisfied. It was pedestrian and lacking in bollocks. Then, at the eleventh hour, it came together. I was up late one night with the flu and suddenly the right words came flooding out- or so I thought. Bloody predictive text almost put paid to that! I had written about the essence of the book, the nutters and strange places I had enjoyed the most. But modern autocorrect doesn't like angling terms. I hate autocorrect. It is lethal. It wants to change "tiddler bashing" to "toddler bashing" and my website address ( to "dogfighting uk" (I shudder to think what such a website would be like). But the worst was yet to come. My line about "the camaraderie of the bankside" was automatically changed to "the camaraderie of the backside!" A very different message- and typing this blog the same has just happened.

Jesus Christ on a bike, this was a disaster, because the files had already been submitted! I tried to solicit a little sympathy from family and friends but mostly just got howls of laughter. My line about the brotherhood of fishing had been changed to some sort of statement about fishermen bumming each other (whatever floats your boat I guess?). But mercifully, after frantically trying to contact Tallinn, we managed to correct this line before they pressed print. Some of you may of course be sadistically wishing it was left in, but I am relieved in the extreme. I had had visions of having to hand-correct 2,000 books.

So perhaps you can understand my titanic sense of relief in the project even more now. The even longer road will now be selling the thing, to ensure I'm not permanently in debt after financing the project. With independent publishing you take all your own risks- but my aim is always to be read rather than make stacks of money (wishful thinking in the fishing world!). Too many angling books are hoofing great coffee table ornaments, aimed at collectors and sold for anything up to £40 or more a copy. Sure, some of them are truly lovely, but to my mind, this isn't affordable for most anglers so I wanted mine to be available for a tenner. The margins become smaller, but I want as many readers as possible to enjoy my work, not just a handful of book collectors. It's always nice to sell books, obviously, but I much prefer signing scruffy well-loved copies of my work at events, rather than pristine and unread editions, probably destined for Ebay in the year 2050. Dare I say it though, collectors could always buy one to use and abuse, and another to collect?

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You can get the book directly from my website (CLICK HERE) or also as an E-book from Amazon UK for just £4.99 (CLICK HERE). You can also buy the real thing from Amazon, but please use my own site, because Amazon nick about two quid from every book sale. They also pay bugger all in UK taxes- but are a necessary evil I am afraid.

After months of work, I am now looking forward to actually going fishing again on a regular basis! If nothing else though, I'm getting savvier at making the most of small windows of opportunity these days. I had a fantastic canal session for perch on the fly recently, with a lovely fish of two pounds and six ounces to a new fly pattern (you can read more on the blog I currently produce for Turrall Flies- CLICK HERE).

Otherwise, my next stop will be the Tiverton Angling Club's Christmas match. I don't fish many contests these days, but this one is always a good day out and very well attended. Even the poorer pegs produce lots of bites from small roach- although I seem to have a knack of drawing right by the car park. Please let this be the year that I draw a flier! I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday 21 November 2015

How can we help protect our fishing?

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More book and fishing news on the way this month, but for today's blog, I wanted to tackle an issue that every single angler should be concerned about. Because while activities like fish theft and pollution make blood boil on Facebook, a lot of us don't really know how we can act. Virtually every person reading this will have some experience of the dodgy or downright criminal activity that blights fishing. But with so much fire and smoke on Facebook, forums and the rest, the facts and our own part can be unclear.

Too many of us, myself included, can be tempted to jump into the fray when illegal nets, sewage or a pile of dead fish are staring at us. These topics are highly emotive (just read George Monbiot's latest Guardian piece, for example, and tell me you're not alarmed). But it's easier to vent your spleen than educate yourself on what can be done.

In this social media driven world however, expressing indignation or clicking a share button seem to be how many of us "take action". But just as with the government, the national football team and everything else, growing incandescent and ranting is no substitute for action. And so rather than add yet another load of opinions, I wanted to list a few things that any of us can do to actually make a little difference. So here goes:

1. Always report illegal activity: So many times, anglers will see illegal fishing or blatant poaching and grumble without actually acting. The answer is to be active and willing to report. Every angler should have the EA Emergency number stored on their phone (0800 80 70 60), while there is also an excellent guide to reporting environmental offences on the Angling Trust Website. If there is one sure way to ensure the authorities ignore us it is not to report what is going on!

2. Get smart and get it recorded. Observation is key and neither the EA or police can act without intelligence. Reporting that you saw two dodgy people taking fish won't cut it. What did they look like? What was the exact time and location? Did they have a vehicle? What equipment did they have? Information is power. Don't confront people or put yourself at risk, but do take notes and pictures if it is safe to do so.
So often I hear the claim that "the EA/Police won't do anything." You're damned right they won't do anything if you can't be bothered to supply them with any information!

3. Volunteer as a bailiff. The EA has some excellent bailiffs who are keen to help, but they are only a few pairs of eyes and legs in each region. Imagine if every one of us acted to help them! Why not become a bailiff for your local club? It is not a vast time commitment, and will often just be some basic training and checking tickets when you are out fishing or walking the bank. Better still, you could contact the Angling Trust about their Voluntary Bailiff Scheme, which is already making big strides to protect the sport. For those in the South West, there will be a volunteer bailiff induction day in late February. Contact if you would like to be there and help protect your fishing!

4. Join the Angling Trust: Angling has over three million participants but only a tiny fraction are members of the sport's most important organisation. Other groups, such as the RSPB, have enormous clout by comparison. Why? Because their much larger memberships give them a much greater funding and influence at all levels! There might be a few things you don't quite agree with the Angling Trust on, but this is no reason not to join. Do your sport a huge favour and sign up today at the Angling Trust website.

5. Be savvy with social media: I have done it myself: venting frustration about a situation that has occurred. At best this will start yet another debate, but it could also be counter productive when it comes to catching offenders. A recent example was the barbaric nets found on the Thames. Had this development been kept hush hush, authorities could have waited for the offenders to return, rather than simply causing outrage and tipping off the offenders in the process. By all means express opinions, but be careful with what you share on social media.

6. Broaden Awareness! Facebook rants might be one thing, but another useful role anglers can play is in widening public awareness of the issues our waters face. How many of the general public, for example, have no idea that it is illegal to remove most freshwater fish (and will gladly ask you "have you caught your tea?")? Similarly, they think of environmental issues in terms of carbon, but have no idea of the pollution of fisheries. Anglers have specific knowledge that they can share and even non-anglers are interested in the life of our waterways.

There are various other things you can also do to support and protect fishing, but slagging off immigrants and venting on Facebook have no impact at all, other than reinforcing a sort of impotent anger and the popular lie that we are powerless and unable to help.

Major progress is being made however. Ok, so they might not grab the limelight like a record fish or the latest hilarious YouTube fishing clips, but things are changing. The Angling Trust's Fisheries Enforcement Team, led by ex police professionals including Dilip Sarkar and Nevin Hunter, have made big strides by taking fisheries protection to the highest level with government and police forces. Here are just some of the great things happening:

Project Trespass is a joined up initiative specifically aimed at tackling poaching. This is a far reaching, multi-agency approach that works with landowners, farmers, the police and other sources to tackle environmental crime. You can find out more here: HERE.

Operation Traverse has taken the issue of illegal fishing to highest level, garnering support from the Association of Police Officers and National Wildlife Crime Unit. It rightly points out issues such as the threats to livelihoods in the countryside caused by illegal activity, as well as working with European police forces to share information. Thanks to current efforts, the police are now identifying activities such as poaching as serious criminal activity and working closely with the EA and Angling Trust. After a successful pilot project in the South East, it is now being rolled out across the whole country.

Building Bridges is a scheme that looks to integrate and educate, rather than simply slag off anglers who migrate to the UK from other parts of Europe. It does this through action such as social events, competitions and also producing and sharing information in other languages, so that Poles, Romanians and nationals of many countries have the facts about fishing in the UK. We might tend to tar them all with the same brush, but there are now Poles and other nationalities actively patrolling our waters and playing their part, such as my friends Seb Nowosiad (below) and Marcin Kwasniewski.

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There are many more projects and initiatives both in place and being developed (find a handy summary of these is on the latest Angling Trust Fisheries Enforcement bulletin). Another great place to keep up with developments is Dilip Sarkar's excellent Angling Trust Blog. Knowledge is power!

Regardless of your take on the current threats to fishing, the very least any of us can do is join the Angling Trust and be willing to report and share information with the EA, Angling Trust and Police. Because the alternative is to address problems via internet forums and pub style rants; activities that produce plenty of rage but do absolutely nothing to protect the sport we all love.

Besides the challenges faced by fishing at present, there is a huge opportunity to protect the sport with the new initiatives and smarter ways for us to act. But whether we secure a positive future for fishing in the UK depends on more of us taking action and being a part of that change.