Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bob Roberts Interview

My latest interview is with Bob Roberts, top angler and journalist who isn't afraid to tell it like it is, some great answers and he certainly gives lots of food for thought (all images courtesy of Bob Roberts)

Hi Bob, I realise you are an extremely busy man, so thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions;

You’ve match fished at a very high level but these days (much like the late, great Jan Porter) you seem to have switched to targeting big fish, why the transition and do you ever fish any competitions now?
I was a reluctant match angler who was forced in that direction to a degree because my love of river fishing and the Trent in particular was restricted by the sheer volume of club matches and opens on the river at weekends, which was the only time I could fish. Hard to believe now that the Trent was virtually lined, both banks, from Nottingham all the way down through the tidal towards Dunham Bridge.

Yes, there were places you could get in but the best areas were always matched up. Places like Burton Joyce, Shelford, Gunthorpe, Caythorpe, Hoveringham, Fiskerton, East Stoke, Rolleston, Farndon, Newark Dyke, Winthorpe, Muskham, Holme Marsh, Collingham, Cromwell, Sutton, Girton, Besthorpe, North and South Clifton, Dunham, etc, etc. All were matched up, Saturday and Sunday. You’d travel down the A1 at 7am and it was like a convoy of coaches so it was a case of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
And then beat them, of course! ;-)

Of course, the fishing on the Trent went downhill in the late-80s. It was never as bad as the papers made out. I remember after a particularly disastrous National Championships the Angling Times announced the river was officially dead. What a load of bollocks! So I contacted Richard Lee, the then editor and challenged him to come fishing with me. I took him to a stretch you sometimes see featured these days in Martin Bowler’s Angling Times column called Smeatons, near Newark whereupon I proceeded to knock out 70lbs of barbel, chub and bream.
I won’t repeat the language he used when realising what a clanger he’d dropped but I like to think that night and the follow-up article I shot there for the paper had some influence on challenging attitudes towards what was clearly a changing river.

What couldn’t be mended so easily was the collapse of the Trent match scene, particularly in winter. The big match scene died. The focus switched towards the South Yorkshire Canals which were improving dramatically. That and team fishing. It was a new challenge and one that I rose to. I did very well on the canals but it didn’t take me long to realise that match fishing isn’t just about winning, at least not for me.
I remember coming back from a match one day, a match that I’d actually won, and the wife asked, ‘What’s up?’

I replied, ‘I can’t say I enjoyed that.’ And that was it. It was over for me. I’d simply lost all interest. Since then I’ve maybe fished a couple of charity events, one of which I won, but I’ve never really had any inclination to return to match fishing since.
Saying that, I’ve run a huge match fishing competition for the past 18 years called the Club Match Angler Championship that’s purely aimed at club anglers in the South Yorkshire and North Notts area. Clubs enter their results each week to be published in the Sheffield Star which is syndicated throughout Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Chesterfield and Doncaster.

These match winners get invited to a semi final and the section winners in the semi go through to a final which is boosted by Sponsorship. Currently Daiwa plough several thousand pounds worth of tackle into the competition each year but during the era I’ve run it the total sponsorship has topped £50,000.
It encourages and supports local clubs, tackle shops and fisheries and I deliberately make sure none of the open match gunslingers gets an invite so it’s very much a grass roots affair. In fact, the very place I started. Way, way back when I was on the club match scene I actually fished the final a few times. I can’t claim credit for starting the event, that goes way back to the days of Colin Dyson and Colin Graham but I’m proud to have inherited it, kept it alive and seen year-on-year growth for nearly two decades. This year (2016) the competition celebrated it’s 40th consecutive year. http://www.bobrobertsonline.co.uk/blogs/greenclub/

What’s your favourite style of fishing?
The glib answer is whatever I’m doing tomorrow. You see, if I was restricted to fishing one style or for one species I’d soon grow bored and probably pack in fishing. I love float fishing on running water – that can be stick, waggler or maybe the bigger Avons. I love quivertipping bread in winter. Sight fishing for barbel. ‘Codding’ with a great big lump of meat on a flooded river. Surface fishing for carp. Bobbins for perch and tench. Bream..., and lately I’m well into the finesse fishing with jigs and drop shotting. Zander intrigue me, especially on the Trent and I do enjoy the odd pike session. In other words, if it swims I’ll fish for it and I’ll enjoy doing it, but no matter how much pleasure it gives me, chances are I’ll be doing something different next week.

Your favourite species?
Probably roach. Then tench and perch. I tend to occupy my mind with methods rather than species. Choosing the method tends to dictate what I catch.

Where is your favourite venue?
That’s a tough call. If you buy a bicycle it’s a bicycle until the day you get rid of it but venues change.

Take the Trent. When I was a kid it was quite heavily polluted but it teemed with roach and gudgeon. Then it became a chub river, then it was crammed with ‘bottle tops’. It was empty (apparently) and then it became a barbel river. In between times it was a bleak anglers’ paradise – remember Tom Pickering coming to prominence as the Bionic Bleaker? It also had a spell when there were carp everywhere. Today it holds a significant population of zander and more catfish (and sturgeon) than folk would care to admit. And the tidal was always a better roach river when it came to the size of fish.
So, how can I say the Trent is my favourite river? It can only be a favourite at a given moment in time, or perhaps during a particular decade but the Trent currently is a far cry from the Trent of the 1960’s as it was indeed from the Trent of the 1980’s.

The same can be said for many of my favourite rivers of the past. Take the Idle. I learned to fish a stick float on the Idle and caught my first 2lb roach by design from there. By and large the roach disappeared but in recent times I’ve caught double figure barbel from it.
I’d rather just say I like rivers first and foremost but I still spend plenty of time on lakes and canals. You’ll even find me on commercials in the winter months.

Have you any angling heroes or anyone who has inspired you?
I have many, if indeed hero is an appropriate term. After all, catching a fish is a far cry from saving a life.

Colin Dyson probably had the biggest influence on me when he was editor of Coarse Angler. I used to send him letters, picking his brains. This was long before the internet and mobile phones. Eventually he tricked me into writing a series of articles. It was never my intention that they would be published but he ran them all the same.
I was shocked and stunned but in the 30 years since then there’s never been a month when I haven’t been in a magazine somewhere or other. After overcoming my initial reluctance I took to it like a duck to water. If you include the various weekly columns I reckon my output to date easily exceeds 1,500 articles and columns, so yes, Colin did have a huge influence on me. I utterly respected him.

David Hall was a rogue, a charlatan and a genius. ‘One day you’ll write for me.’ He said, and sure enough it was an experience I’ll never forget. I treasure the times we shared, the many times we ate and drank together and the confidence he gave me.
Tom Pickering was someone I looked up to. I was privileged to spend a little time with Ivan Marks. Ken Giles is an utter gentleman, a walking education but there was an era of my fishing life when I was climbing the steepest learning curve and I would pause, stop whatever it was I was trying to get right and say to myself, ‘What would Kevin Ashurst do now?’

Kevin was/ is a one-off, and though I’ve only met him a few times he’s one of the few people you can sit behind and realise he’s actually doing something different from anyone else.
And then there’s Keith Hobson. Hobbo’s a proper one-off! A thoroughly great river angler. As good as I’ve ever fished against and then some. Always smiling, too.

I’ve been lucky to fish with and against some of the greats of the match and specialist world. Just because I haven’t included them doesn’t mean they haven’t influenced me or that I deem them to be any lesser anglers.
What’s your biggest fish in the UK? And abroad?

Don’t even want to go there. In reducing your catches to numbers lies madness. I don’t even carry scales normally. You tell me what it achieves when someone fanny’s about for 5 minutes to determine a barbel weighs 6lb 3ozs. Then he photographs it and is proud that he laid it on a mat and took the time to nurse it back to recovery. What’s that about?!!! It’s a barbel. Is it a PB? Then why the f$%£ are you weighing it?
As for nursing it back to recovery, barbel don’t need nursing if you treat them properly in the first place! Folk are too quick to whip them out of the water after they hit the landing net and they then keep them on the bank for far too long yet have the audacity to lecture others on fish care. Sorry but they’re idiots!

And let’s say it is a PB and you post a picture on the internet. Better make sure it looks bigger than you reckon because you’re only inviting abuse. Such negativity. And it’s all driven by jealousy. And suspicion. And lies. Because in a lot of the cases they are lying! Any fool can see that fish ain’t nowhere near the claimed weight.
And most scales are inaccurate anyway, so it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.

Perhaps there are times in your life when such trivial things matter but trust me, if you’re obsessed with numbers you might just be missing the whole point.
Have I caught some big fish? Yes. Home and away. And so have lots of other people. Fish the right waters, put in a decent amount of effort and apply a modicum of competence and you’ll catch big fish. It ain’t rocket science. Let’s be honest, catching big fish abroad is not a lot to do with skill. It’s more to do with ego and opportunity. It’s showing off!

I loved John Wilson’s programmes when they were set in and around Norfolk. I found the foreign stuff boring. I never watch a Matt Hayes programme till the end because the minute he says he’s off to Cuba I’m off to put the kettle on. Yawn!!!!
Foreign fishing is something you do, not something to drool over. Most of it’s a sham anyway. How many times have you heard John Wilson ask the guide, ‘What will you give me for that?’ And the guide knows his tip will be in direct proportion to the weight he estimates and that the number he comes up with is aimed at potential customers watching the show.

Then there’s the, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m brilliant ‘cos I once caught a great white weighing 1,500lbs.’ Really? Based on what? A guestimate? How accurate is that? Yet you’ll actually weigh a 6lb 3oz barbel?
Truth is, yes, it’s a big fish, like an elephant is a big animal, or the Shard is a tall building, but you can’t even get an accurate measurement of its length and as for the girth...? Who’s going to try to measure that, eh?

No, good luck to anyone who’s caught a big exotic. You paid enough so you deserve it. It can be incredibly exhilarating, but don’t pretend it was all down to your own skill and please don’t be giving it a spurious number unless you are equally prepared to cut some slack and offer the same leniency to a guy who claims he caught a 25lb barbel from the Trent but left his scales and camera at home.
By all means dig deep and queue up for a ride on the Space Mountain at Disneyworld. It’s great fun. That’s all. Accept it for what it is, a thrill ride on a roller coaster. It really is okay to dispel reality and believe that Mickey Mouse exists but don’t confuse it with the real world. Same goes with foreign fishing.

You do a fair bit of fishing in far flung exotic places, are there any countries you still really want to visit and any species you would dearly love to catch?
Not really. I enjoyed my travels and had some amazing experiences off the beaten track. Watching the sun rise in the Himalayas, seeing it set over the Nubian desert, listening to animals roaring at night in the jungles of Uganda and Zambia. I’ve witnessed dolphins, whales, manta rays and turtles, found leopard prints outside my tent in a morning. I’ve stood on a river bank with crocs and hippos in front of me and elephants behind. I’ve got up close and personal with lions in the wild, closer than you would dare to imagine. I’ve rubbed shoulders with a Government Minister on TV and seen abject poverty up close and personal, yet shared experiences with some of the most amazingly friendly natives. I’ve played cricket with kids on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean and football on the banks of the Zambezi. These are the shining times of our lives. To be honest, catching fish comes a poor second to the overall experience.

I love travel. I love to visit new places. I’ve been fortunate to have visited a lot of countries so far and my goals include visiting Australia, Japan and Alaska in the very near future and fishing won’t really enter my head. When those boxes are ticked I aim to explore South America.
A lot of people say commercial fisheries have been the saviour of match fishing, especially with the decline of the rivers but more recently there seems to have been a swing away from carp back towards silver fish matches and rivers, where do you think the future of fishing lies?

Hate to say it but I’m not sure match fishing as we know it has a future. Look around. Where are the eager 20-year-olds. Those in their 30s and forties? It’s frightening. Match anglers are an aging breed. Many are only still at it because they can drive to their pegs. The concept of carting gear over fields and fences for a mile is alien. No, they’ll keep plugging away at their 20-peg opens until they fade away. It’s sad.
The new blood coming into the sport tends to be attracted to the carp scene which is vibrant, happening, connected. Until they get fed up. Then they try barbel fishing for a while and presumably pack up. Maybe they will go the full circle and return in their later years. I do hope so.

The press and the Angling Trust need to get around a table and paint a vision for the future. One the world needs to see. Publishing results in a national paper of a 20-peg Wednesday ‘open’ at a carp puddle is a joke. The most boring job in the whole world has to be typing out Fred Blogs won the ‘X’ match with 200lb of carp using 16 metres of floating pole, firing out 4mm pellets at Peg 2. And then doing the same fifty more times until the page is full. What’s that about?
We need a Premier League of matches that matter featuring only the very best anglers. The rest are inconsequential. Sorry. But that’s the way forward. It needs centralising and co-ordinating. Until that happens, the match scene is going no-where.

And when did Winter Leagues ever finish in October? Another load of bollocks. That’s barely even a late summer league. And what’s the point of having 20 leagues where each has a ‘seeded’ team that wins every year. Perhaps they think it’s the Champions League Groups Stage or World Cup Qualifiers. Well let me tell you. It isn’t.
But if those same 20 teams were in two leagues. One North, one South, then you’d have two matches a week to report on in the papers with the top, top teams and the very best anglers on show. Fill two pages with that and forget the rest. Now you’ve got Arsenal vs Chelsea, Man U vs Liverpool. Readers might actually start to care again.

And get those bloody Nationals away from commercials. What a brilliant way to kill of the clubs and associations funding streams. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
You’re quite an outspoken guy who’s not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, what really gets your goat? And if you could change one thing in the angling world, what would it be?

No idea where you get that idea from! ;-) Although I suppose my favourite headline in all the articles ever written about me was in the Angling Times. It went something like: ‘If I’ve Upset Anyone It’s Probably Because They Deserved It!’
That actually sums me up perfectly.

One of the very best pieces of advice I was given, very early on in my writing career (when I was actually quite the shrinking violet) came from David Hall. He told me that if you are going to write articles for the angling press then 95 per cent of the readers will most likely enjoy what you do and like you. The other 5 per cent won’t and nothing you can do will change that. So spend your time with the 95% and £$%& the rest!
It was very good advice.

Of course this was all before the emergence of internet trolls and the like. Unfortunately the more we become connected through technology the more idiots you are likely to attract with their irrational suppositions and prejudices. Unfortunately I am prone to react but it is possible to expose them for what they are. It’s taken me a decade but I’ve ground most of them into submission now! I still have a few idiots clutching at my coat tails but nothing I can’t live with or indeed that even bothers me.
In a similar vein, if you had a time machine is there one moment in fishing you wished you could go back and change? i.e. a dream fish coming off at the net or a decision in a match that’s cost you a title?

I doubt I’ll ever forget losing the Wychavon Championships in the most unfortunate, gut-wrenching fashion. The river was up a foot and I’d drawn really well, just above the town bridge. It was going to be a low weight day and all I had to do was put the fish I hooked in the net. Unfortunately there was an invisible bed of lilies in front of me that were submerged beneath the coloured water.
Things were going really well until I hooked a bream of about two-and-a-half pounds. It fought really well against the light tackle and took ages to pull up against what was quite a fast flow, long enough for a huge crowd to gather behind me that spread out across the bridge and over the other side. Old Hally was bigging me up on the live commentary so that drew folk from other areas as well. You get one hell of a buzz from an experience like that.

I was just about to bring the fish onto the surface and net it (to the roar and applause of the crowd)when everything locked up. The bream has snagged in the pads and I was in big trouble. I could gently lift the fish so far, the feeder would swing well clear of the water and then everything locked up solid, just out of netting reach and bear in mind I was sat on a platform over a fair depth of water so there was no possibility of wading out to free it.
The fish kicked and slowly took line. I watched the feeder descend into the water and then stop. It was stalemate. I could get the fish back up to the pads again and it could take the line back, see-sawing back and forth with not a thing I could do about it.

Each time I lifted you could hear the crowd take in a collective breath; each time the fish took line back they sighed in unison. My knees were knocking, my heart pounding and there was nothing I could do and the end result was inevitable. The line would give up sooner or later and so it did to a loud groan from all around.
This happened three or four times during the match and each time was worse than the last because the crowd just grew bigger and bigger. The Wychavon was there for the taking and an unkind person might say I blew it (although there was nothing I could do about it in reality) so I had to settle for fourth. Had you told me beforehand that I would have finished fourth I’d have snatched your hand off but that was the most excruciating experience I’ve ever endured in match fishing.

Then again, given the chance to go back in time I would not be match fishing, I’d either be on the River Idle or the Tidal Trent in the 1970s, using the tackle and knowledge I have now. Oh, what roach fishing I would enjoy. They were amazing times, little did I realise, but I was only a small step up on a very steep learning curve at the time.
Have you got one piece of advice that will help the readers put more fish in their nets?

Inside the front cover of my old 1980’s fishing diaries I wrote a motto that I’ve followed since. It says: ‘Adopt, Adapt, Improve’.
In other words, observe what others do, analyse what makes it work for them, adapt it to your own style and then find ways to improve on it. Therein lies the secret of success.

There’s another by Nigel Shadbolt, Professor of Artificial Intelligence that I’ve taken on board more recently. This one is: Data, Information, Knowledge.
In reality it’s a three-step process to unlocking specialist angling.

Match fishing has been steadily becoming more professional with anglers smartening up their appearance, big money televised events and more and more sponsored anglers but there are still only a handful of full time anglers, do you think there will ever be a time when match angling can become a viable career, like say professional footballers?
In a word, no. Before we can have professional anglers we need professional administration. Look at it this way, follow the money trail. Where does the money come from in football? From external sponsorship, from advertising, endorsements, from TV, from spectators. Where does it come from in fishing? From anglers.

If you follow the money trail in any of the big money angling finals you’ll find it is generated from the participants during the preliminary rounds. Take Fish-O. How much does it cost to enter? How much of that is paid out in prizes in the qualifying matches and how much is skimmed off to fund the final?
And who watches it? The final is a bunch of random qualifiers, a bit like having a world cup without Germany, Spain and yes, England.

If Des Shipp is going to go head-to-head with Alan Scotthorne and we get the tactical thinking of each as the clash progresses, then yes, I’m interested. If it’s 30-odd blokes catching F1s, half of whom I’ve never heard of then nah, I couldn’t really care who wins.
I’ve no idea who won last year’s Fish-O, or Parkdean, the 1st Division National, or any other major event you care to mention. Most folk don’t. And it’s on a subscription channel, not BBC or ITV. Sky don’t pay for the rights, do they? We beg them to broadcast it.

Barry Hearn isn’t a philanthropist. He’s a professional boxing promoter who’s Matchroom business exists to make money. Everyone involved is paid a wage except the anglers who have actually paid to be there. Think about it.
As for smartening up our image, I look back at old black and white photographs of anglers and they were pretty smartly dressed and frequently fished matches wearing collar and ties. Standards fell in the ‘swinging 60s’ when folk generally got a bit scruffy. Along came Sandra Halkon Hunt and we adopted smarter team colours but come on, the benefits of that change should have been felt 30 years ago and more, not today. Go along to any match and open your ears. Listen to the folk who are fishing. Listen to the language. You can dress up a monkey in a fine suit but the swearing is unacceptable. There’s your Achilles heel as far as a spectating public is concerned.

As for ‘professional’ anglers, how much is it going to cost? Even if we set the bar really low, let’s say the average UK wage is £26K, though really, that needs to be much higher if we are talking a professional sportsman, you then need to add on pension costs, vehicle costs, fuel, office overheads, management, etc, etc, etc. Around £50K per year would more or less cover it, assuming he always fishes locally and there are no major hotel costs involved.
And what if we then involve the tax man? Or do we not want to be quite that professional?

So tell me, go on, name one angler who makes that kind of money directly from fishing each year. You can’t. And remember, Wayne Rooney doesn’t pay a match fee to Manchester United so he can strut his stuff on the pitch, nor does Andy Murray to play at Wimbledon.
Look, we can’t even find sufficient sponsorship to send Wales to the World Championships. We expect England Ladies to self-fund. Any idea that we can have professional anglers on respectable salaries is not wishful thinking, it’s in cloud cuckoo land territory. It’s time to get real.

Well thank you for giving up your time but before I let you go, here’s a few more quick-fire questions,
What’s your favourite drink?

I drink very little these days though I do enjoy a nice glass of wine with a meal. Not much beats a good pint of beer though.
Favourite meal?

I have varied tastes and love cooking. A good curry takes some beating but the emphasis there has to be on good. There’s a lot of rubbish served up out there.
Do you support a football team?

Yes, I have endured a life-long love/hate relationship with Doncaster Rovers. The cling-ons of the Premiership Teams can never understand what following a real team is like or what it means. I totally get Jeff Stellings’ passion for Hartlepools. I don’t get this adopting a successful team and talking about ‘we’. Sorry folks, you’re sadly deluded glory hunters. You’re just mug punters who buy the shirt and kiss the badge. You’re a revenue stream.
Favourite film?

Perhaps One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or Green Mile. Modern films are spectacular but they don’t have the emotional impact of, say, a Deer Hunter, or any of the Hitchcock movies.
TV show?

Currently enjoying Blacklist, Westworld, Ray Donovon, Sherlock, Elementary. The list goes on. Some great dramas on the terrestrial TV channels, too.
What music do you listen to?

Ranges widely. Depends on my mood. I love Joe Bonamassa. Santana, Jason Mraz, the whole punk era was epic, new country, Nirvana, Eels, in fact practically anything that isn’t X Factor inspired. Hate Radio One, not a fan of Radio Two or any of the retro stations. Never quite understand why there are no radio stations for ‘grown up’ music giving inspiration and opportunities to current acts. We just get a straight choice between cobwebs and crap. Before long we’ll have stations entirely dedicated to dead musicians.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?

Waking up and feeling healthy does it for me every time. The rest is just whatever takes my fancy.
Many thanks again Bob, from Against Men and Fish


Ivan Currie said...

Well that was a worth while read. 👍

Jamie said...

Glad you enjoyed it Ivan :)

Ivan Currie said...

Makes you think differently. Well done.