I recently interviewed a very good friend of mine Mr John McAngus. I first met John more years ago than I care to remeber when I was a warranted fisheries and pollution officer working on the Great Ouse in Cambridgeshire. John was not only brilliant to work with but a very competent all round angler. Here is what he said.

GC. John you and I have been good friends now for more years than I care to admit. I worked with you on the Ouse as a bailiff when you were the head man. You were a great boss and I think we had a very good team then. I enjoyed my time on the river then very much. How do you look back on it now.

JM. I too enjoyed those days greatly, but it is nearly half a century ago anfd things have changed almost beyond compare.

That saidI remember vividly how wonderful it felt to be up and about early mornings, meeting anglers from all parts of the country, checking rod licences and just being at the centre of fisheries in the Great Ouse area. Fabulous winter sky scapes, witnessing and catching big pike, the camaraderie of a small group of bailiffs, netting rivers in the winter with ice forming on the lead line and seeing giant sea trout and just about every other species appear as we electro fished. It would be difficult for todays risk averse teams to relate what we did. Going over weirs, standing in a punt with electrodes in a 660 volt DC surge into the water, checking hundreds of sometimes difficult anglers without support and no mobile phones to call for assistance and sitting up alone all night in some out of the way corner of the fens to catch mysterious and usually illicit eel trappers. What a life, nothing I have done since has been so challenging or such a joy.

GC I worked alongside my old mate  and partner Nigel Armstrong. We did our jobs ina very professional manner when we were on rod licence duty but there were many amusing encounters. What were your most amusing moments?

JM I hope the training Imade you do helped a bit! When I first started it was a bit like the Wild West with every bailiff doing his own thing! There were many funny moments. We once capsized outr boat on the upper Ouse during an electro fishing survey. Standing around afterwards in just our unerpants as our cloths dried off, a new straight from the university fisheries scientist was desperately trying to start a Honda generator which we had just puled out of 4ft of water and was ruined and had to be scrapped. As he repeatedly pulled the starting cord, Cliff Cawkwell opined, ‘The plug may well be wet!’ Or the other time I checked about 80 Barnsley coal pit men fishing a match at Pophams Eau. I was not very popular as several had no licences. After i had checked the last one I went down to the waters edge to check there was no one else around and the bank collapsed under me catapulting me into 11ft of water. I couldn’t call for help and the steep fen banks meant that I was several minutes before I could get out of the water. As I squelched my way back to my van past the anglers I received a rousing cheer that lasted several minutes. Finally. One group of anglers refused to fish on their pegs because there was a mad bull in the field. I told them that we simply didn’t allow bulls in that area and walked into the said field. A very large black bull promptly appeared, snorted and charged me. I ran 50 yards in about 2 seconds and cleared the 5 bar gate at one bound as the bull smashed into it sending splinters of wood all over the anglers who were enjoying every moment. I learnt later that it was a rogue that had attacked the farmers Land Rover then swum across the river on to our land. Phew!

GC. Recently I was working with another of our mutual mates, Des Taylor. We were making a Tenc fishing film together. Des can fish a bit to say the least and is also the best of company. Over the years you have met many top anglers. I know you were a big admirer of the late  great Dick Walker. Who do you rate up there with the best.

JM. Genuinely you were as good as anyone I have ever seen. Bill Quinlan was way ahead of any big fish anglers at the time and Bill Chillingworth was a superb pike angler, and finally Ryan Tingay who was  excellent at match fishing, specimen hunting and also pike fishing. If I had to choose an angler to catch a fish in under 5 minutes to save my life…..it would be you….Cooperman.

GC. People often accuse me of being anti carp which is simply not true. I have caught more than my share of wild carp both in the UK and Spain. My grouse is what some folk have done to their image in terms of over tocked commercial fisheries and in my opinion the abuse of the species. How do you feel about that.

JM I think it is such a great shame that carp have ben stocked in such a dominant manner, not least because fish like rudd, tench and bream have often found habitat taken over and reduced numbers. Personally I rarely fish for carp.

GC.Carrying on that theme of over stocked carp puddles. I see anglers who visit Ireland now who’s angling ability  and water craft are almost none existant. They simply cannot cope with what we have to offer here. It is my humble opinion that in general the development of carp puddles has helped greatly to take away the skills that many UK anglers once possessed. There is angling practised by anglers and then catching for catchings sake. Your opinion please.

JM I agree fully. John Austerfield and I were fishing at Bluebell lake a few years ago. Several ‘anglers’ had been camped by the lake for nearly a week without a bite. Each was fishing three or four rods around the clock. Some came round to se us as we were catching and had only been there that morning. We were fishing floats on centre pin reels close in for the tench and they couldn’t understand what we were doing. Later May Davis was fishing maggot feeder in the margins for tench and whipped out four carp between 18 and 22lbs in about 2 hours. Carp anglers were offering her cans of lager to explain how she did it.

GC. When I lived at Offord on the banks of the Ouse the Offord and Buckden Angling Society had a thriving junior section. During the summer months I ran two matches every week for the local kids and always had great turn outs. Are the juniors still coming through like they were then.

JM Short answer. NO. Most of todays anglers are our generation and I believe it is a dying sport. The Great Ouse Championship had always between 1100 and 1300 anglers competing. Now you would be lucky to rustle up 30.

GC. Following on from that then. Where do you see angling going in the next 20 years.

JM. Sadly it could die off almost completely and I think it will.

GC. To use a well worn phrase, you always had apassion for what you do angling wise. I regard myslef as a one trick pony so to speak. I was an out and out match angler and not much good at say, fly fishing and specimen hunting. I don’t wish to flatter you but you can do the lot. Which is your favourite discipline?

JM. I love them all but for me it would have to be touch ledgering or float fishing for tench on a sunny windy morning or sitting quietly beside a beautiful river like the Ivel fishing for perch as late autumn darkness deepens around me.

GC. I know that you have recently retired as President of the perch fishes society. Is the perch your favourite fish.

JM. Tench or Perch.

GC. Although I love to fish anywhere my first love is rivers and canals. I understand they are much neglected venues these days. If I came back to fish are they just as good as when I worked alongside you and what are polltion levles like these days.

JM Things in the UK pollution wise are much better than they were in the sixties and seventies. Privatised water companies manage their effluent much better and the demise of heavy industry around the country has greatly reduced pollution. With rivers hardly fished many species  grew quite big in the 80s and 90s most notably roach, chub and barbel. The downside is that clearer rivers have made it easier for predators and a dramatic increase in the numbers of cormorants and otters in the last decade is having a major effect on fish populations. No one has been able to assessthis realistically and I imagine rivers are probably going to decline somewhat over the next few years. One good thing about getting old is I have seen this cycling of fish populations before and expect in 20 years time things could well be on the up again as predator numbers decrease through lack of feed.

GC. This is a very pointed question John. Over here fish stealing is rife and there are some waters that are quite badly polluted. I am told that because of lack of funding very little is done to alleviate the situation. What is the situation in the UK and do you think the English EPA are doing a good job.

JM. Bluntly. NO, I think there are many good people working in fisheries for the EPA but they are poorly funded  and led. However as you know it was always a bit like that. I heard a chairman of a newly privatised water authority in 1976 describe fisheries as ‘The wart on the arse of this authority’ Fishing has always been seen as rather unimportant by bureaucrats and anglers have always been their worst enemy, with the result few take them seriously. Perhaps the Angling Trust will change all that, but I have seen too many similar organisations set out with similar hopes and I am yet to be convinced.

GC. Finally if you could wave a magic wand over the whole angling scene what would you like to see happen.

JM. I would develop several effective fish farms which would breed vast numbers of native species. Then I would remove carp from 99% of our still water fisheries and stock with tench, rudd, bream and perch. I woould also want to see annual stocking of rivers with all native species suitable for individual rivers including trout and salmon where appropriate.

GC. Thanks for that John and hope we fish again together soon.


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