Interviewed by Jason, added on 09/12/2008
1. Firstly Jon thank you for agreeing to do this short interview.
You're welcome, it's nice for us to have a proper conversation instead of texting each other every time one of us blanks, catches or runs in to trouble on a forum somewhere.
2. I know you have written for magazines before, but your maiden book A Can of Worms, has had some splendid reviews. How did the idea for a Barbel fishing history book first come about?
It wasn't my idea at all. Jon Ward-Allen at Medlar, who I've known for a few years, rang me and asked me to write it. I wasn't sure, but he mentioned a small advance and I bit his hand off. He made a link that I, strangely, had never made. I'm a historian by trade and an angler by inclination, and have always wanted to write a full-length book. He realised that an angling history book might be just the project for me - I'd spent years writing articles, reviews and half-baked attempts at my own 'Casting At The Sun', without ever seeing a large project through to completion. This one gelled immediately, and I adored every moment of the process.
3. I know you are currently working on a few more book's for Medlar at present. Would you care to give the reader some insight to these?
The main project at the moment is a travel book. I have been retracing the routes of the old anglers' trains from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, doing some fishing and collecting anecdotes and a bit of social and angling history along the way. It covers a broad spectrum of British angling - Scottish salmon fishing, Looe shark, Thames barbel and pike, estate lake tench and so on.
It is one of my bug-bears at the moment that this new industry - 'destination fishing' - has emerged, hijacking foreign waters for big money, providing sport for the few, and this book is partly a response to that - there are enough angling adventures left in our own back yard and we could all live and fish contentedly for a long time without leaving such a disastrous carbon footprint, and without paying inordinate sums to glorified travel agents who don't give a toss about the locals they are displacing. Some of the stories coming out of India , for example, about the Mahseer fishing industry, and it IS an industry now, are the very antithesis of what angling means to me. I've nothing but respect for the pioneers who sought out paradise in South America , Russia , India and elsewhere, but the profiteers have moved in and in some cases it hasn’t been pretty. We'd be better off exploring the Thames or the Trent or the hill lochs of Sutherland. That said, I'm usually an easy-going person, and it's not my place to tell anyone how or where to fish. What I have just said is a very personal view, but one that is important to me.
When JWA and I were discussing this book, I wanted to call it 'Mahseer, my arse', but common sense has prevailed and it will come out as 'A Train To Catch'. I don’t expect it to sell well among the destination anglers, but British fishermen might just enjoy it.
In addition, I'm working on a series of anthologies of great and forgotten angling stories and a book on ferox fishing. There are some children's books in the pipeline, but they won’t be of much interest here!
4. Sounds good mate. Now I know you are proud to be a "Floppy Hatter", and enjoy all kinds of rods. Your favourite though would be..........
I'm anything but a tackle tart, and have a strange assortment of old, new, wooden and carbon rods, and no particular favourites. I do own a Barder barbel rod, which is a joy, but other than that they are all just tools which carry a few scars and scratches. I am impressed by Greys, Harrison and Free Spirit coarse rods and Vision fly rods, but if there are fish there I'd use pitchfork if that was all I had with me. I'd be a sponsor's nightmare, as my product loyalty is minimal!
5. Moving on to cane loving eccentrics, how did you first fall in with the GSC?
I used to help run a small carp syndicate in Hampshire. We were a traditional bunch, no boilies or hair rigs as the fish were unpressured, and part of my role was organising the Christmas meal. I wrote to Chris Yates, via Carpworld magazine as I didn’t know where he lived, asking for a raffle prize. He sent a generous parcel of goodies back with a very nice letter. Two weeks later, he rang me up to cadge a lift to a Carp Society conference. It seemed that we lived quite close to one another. From that two-hour phone call onwards he’s been a good friend, and through him I met and befriended Bernard, Stoney, Barder, Jon Ward-Allen and the Golden Scale Club. I see Chris infrequently, but at least twice a year we get down to St. Mary’s to watch the less-than-mighty Southampton . We’ve taken Hugh Miles and other friends and family members from time to time, and even participated in a pitch invasion on the last day of last season. I have photographs, Specki, as you well know…
6. And your GSC club name is "Guido". What is the story behind this?
Guido is in honour of Guy Fawkes. At my first club gathering I took some huge industrial-sized fireworks to set off in the pub garden (the Mayfly at Leckford), and this caused a little fuss from the management. I think we were banned for a short while, but I could be imagining that. I then write for Waterlog, briefly, under the same nom-de-plume, and it has stuck.
7. I know you are friends with a certain Mr.Yates, is it true he invaded the pitch at St.Marys on the last day of the football season, last year? Staying up or going down this season?
Of course we’re staying up. CY and I will go soon, that always guarantees three points. Bloody cheek!
8. Another much loved angler was BV. I'm led to believe you read his eulogy at his funeral? Do you think another angler/writer will come along to take his mantle
and be remembered with such affection?
Not sure where you heard that – I didn’t. I attended, and also went to the memorial service, but I didn’t play any specific role. He was a wonderful man, and I felt lucky to know him. The first time we met was at my first GSC meeting, and Chris asked me to pick him up en route.. I got to know him, and his fabulous wife Eileen, over a period of 7 or 8 years, and occasionally acted as driver for game fairs and the like too. He was unique – feisty, opinionated, gentle but determined, and with a wholly natural and empathetic viewpoint on the world. Fishing in Britain is different, and better, because of Bernard.
9. The internet for angling issues. In light of recent events (not ****ing much pal), what's your take on the whole angling forum thing?Has it had it's day?
Internet forums are wonderful places for people with an interest in internet forums…but that is where, for me, their value begins and ends. They can offer quick advice to anyone starting out after a new species, as long as the participant is willing to suffer the slings and arrows hurled by self-appointed and usually anonymous experts. Are they any sort of alternative to time spent by water? Not at all. Like the Newark Needle Float, baiting pots and John Seargant’s dancing career, they have a shelf-life, and I suspect the day when they are culturally redundant is close by. They could be so much better than they are, but since many are hijacked by those with an agenda or an axe to grind, to the detriment of worthwhile debate, I prefer to keep my participation to a minimum. Like you though, Specki, when I see something particularly obnoxious being posted, or one of my friends being maligned, I can’t help myself!
10. I guess many only knowing you through your books and various articles may assume you are a one species angler. What species really fires your imagination at the moment?
I’m anything but a one species angler, and have fished for all coarse fish, trout, ferox trout, salmon and some sea fish for thirty-five years. At the moment, my barbel book and erstwhile editing role for the Barbel Society might suggest otherwise, but the reality is that barbel amount for less than a quarter of my time on the banks. I do love them very much – as Roger Barnes says, they are the new rock n’ roll. Right now, though, the prospect of a big river pike and a return to ferox fishing are giving me sleepless nights. I’m also searching out some wild carp for next summer. In essence, I just adore fishing – it’s one of the few things I’ve encountered in life that makes any sense at all.
11. Angling seems to have lost some mystique over the last ten years or so with big and names fish in the media. How do you think the magic and unknown quality of our child like years can be re-kindled?
Easy – ignore the forums, the celebs with sponsored product to sell, fishing fashion and all the other rubbish that clutters up our angling lives, and simply go to the river. Fishing is essentially a simple, beautiful and worthwhile thing to do, and when we are doing it we are accountable only to ourselves and the fish we are chasing. Just grab the rods and go and find some water.
12. Jon,bit of an odd one this. But you have one day left on gods earth to fish. Where do you head and why?
Bodle’s Burn, Alness, Scotland - with a short spinning rod and some worms. That’s how I started, and I’ve being trying to recapture the brilliance of that first day ever since. It would seem right to finish it as I started. If I could be granted two days, a quiet carp lake in summer with a bag of dog biscuits would be a must.
13. Forty years of age early next year. New horizons or mellow reflections?
New horizons, but with less monster-hunting zeal than in my youth! It’s inevitable that we’ll all be on our death beds one day with uncaught fish swimming in our imaginations, but I’m determined to reduce the shoal between now and my arrival at the pearly gates. I’ve yet to encounter a huge river pike, a double-figure sea trout or a really big roach, and it would be lovely to do so, but I’m less concerned about size these days. New places and doing it on my own, simple terms matters much more.
14. Lastly thank you for taking time out to do this short interview for PurePiscator, I know with your teaching and writing you are very busy. Hope to see you soon bud.
It has been a pleasure! Nice to talk to you when you’re sober x
N.B: For more information on Jon's book and his forthcoming work, please click here