Fishmail: Communication breakdown

August 24th, 2002

This Internet thingy is a pretty wonderful invention, I think. I spend a lot of time writing about it, in one way or another, partly because people seem to keep asking me to do it and partly because like many of you, I keep discovering new and exciting uses for it that I can't keep to myself. This week, it has been helping me plan my trip to Australia and New Zealand in November, with remarkable results; there is no stage of the trip that I cannot research on line, no journey or hotel that I cannot book via email, no piece of water that I cannot learn more about with the judicious use of a search engine. It is a true killer of distance and time zones – it is as easy for me to find out about renting houseboats in the Hinchinbrook Channel as it is to find a narrowboat on the Grand Union canal, and a lot more fun too.

So here's a small challenge for you all. See if you can find out what the fishing's been like at Hanningfield this week, using only your Web browser and Internet connection. It should be pretty easy, right? If I can find out how the fishing's been in Queensland, there should be no problem finding out how it is on my doorstep. But I bet you can't do it. And this tells us something important about the way our trout fisheries work.

I like Hanningfield. It was the first trout-holding reservoir I fished in the UK, and I have had many fine days there over the last few years. It's not quite the nearest reservoir to my London home, but it's near enough that it's somewhere I'm happy to drive to on the spur of the moment. I can even catch fish there, something that I cannot say about the marginally closer Bewl Water. But it's testing my patience. This week, I tried to find out how the fishing was. I'd already learned the hard way that very few timely fishing reports are available online (Grafham being an honourable exception, thanks to the efforts of its trusty Fly Fishers association) so I did something I try hard to do as rarely as possible – I picked up the phone and called the lodge.

At least, I thought I called the lodge. As it turns out, I was transferred to a very nice lady in what seems to be a call centre run by the reservoir's owners, who read out a report to me that told me what sort of flies I might expect to catch fish on and which parts of the water might yield a fish or two. Sadly, that report didn't actually include any indication of whether the fishing was any good or not, or what the rod average was for the week or month, or even what the weather was like in Essex – as far as I could tell, she wasn't even in the same county, let alone anywhere near the waterside.

So I stayed at home, thus depriving Northumbrian Water of the money that I am generally happy to pay for the privilege of putting its fish back when I catch them. I may be pretty stupid most of the time, but even I'm not dumb enough to drive for 90 minutes and pay the best part of fifty quid to fish somewhere if I don't think I have a reasonable chance of catching a trout. I doubt that they'll lose much sleep over this. The fact that they have the most expensive catch-and-release fishing in the country seems to trouble them not one jot, so it's pretty unlikely that their failure to collect from me will trigger any kind of guilt response or poverty check.

I've singled Hanningfield out because of the absurdity of its call centre policy – a massively inappropriate use of technology if ever there was one. But many of the other fisheries out there are equally bad at telling us what we need to know before we go fishing, despite the availability of this cheap, ubiquitous, far-reaching thing called the Web that seems to be catching on around here. (Bizarrely, Northumbrian Water does publish fishing reports on the Web. But it doesn't think Hanningfield is important enough to warrant inclusion).

It's a small thing, I know. But in an age where we all take technology so utterly for granted, how hard can it be for them to get their heads around the idea that we might actually like to know about some of this stuff? The number of fly-fishers in this country is in decline, and it's hardly surprising when so many of the venues make so little effort to market themselves or even do a good job of staying noticed. There are some honourable exceptions to this, Stocks fishery in Lancashire being a good example – they send weekly reports by email, and no doubt trigger a few impromptu fishing trips as a result. If I lived closer, I'd go there a lot more just because they make that effort. And on that note, I'm getting back to my trevally research. At least I know how the fishing is where they live.

Sean Geer ( is a freelance journalist and author. He specialises in ritual humiliation by fish on four continents - most recently in Ireland, where he became the first angler in history to not land a mayfly-caught trout on Lough Corrib in the middle of the mayfly season. A retired seahorse conservationist and self-taught zen origamist, he is currently writing a novel about sex, death and the meaning of fish.

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