Right. That's got that one out of the way then. The year I mean, Okay, and the century too, for those pedants among you. Here we are then, in the year predicted by Arthur C. Clarke to be the age of rebel computers. Of course, I'm talking about 2001 A Space Oddessy - youngsters get a copy from the library.
It all seemed so far off, way back in the early 70s, watching the all-seeing red eye of HAL competing with humans. HAL was the system, always one just one alphabetical character away from IBM, the Microsoft of the day, and our obsession with acronyms had barely begun. All we knew for sure was that any giant organisation known by it's initial capital letters must be evil! SMERSH, CIA, KGB etc. Name one goodie organisation which was known by an acronym! Even the ACA was called by its full name in those days. I digress. As usual. Back to the plot. If there is one.
Today most of the wonder of the fictional '2001' has been lost. What started as figments of a powerful imagination became everyday realities. Most of us now battle with computers on a daily basis, on a somewhat smaller scale than Stanley Kubrick portrayed perhaps, but we battle nevertheless. Fighting the systems.
The angling scene has also seen some changes through that 30 year period. Wow. What an understatement! It has actually changed beyond belief in many ways. Don't think so? Well, angling is a paradox. Compare the content of this article with Dave Steuart's piece this month, and take a glimpse at some old photos - it might show you a few changes. Here are just a few things that have altered…
The good old local fishing club, the backbone of angling all through the years up to the end of the 60's is no longer recognisable as being the same creature that it once was. That particular death knell was sounded by our society in general becoming more affluent. In 1961 hardly anyone owned a car, by 1971 it was a rare household without one. The Sunday club coach outings lost popularity as the private motor car gained favour: anglers became more able to fish venues where they wanted to go, rather than where the club committee wanted to send them. Before they owned cars, anglers only journeyed to venues which were served with a local railway station within walking distance. The car changed all that, opening up huge new vistas of bankside for travelling anglers to visit.
Those anglers who remained within the clubs found them ever more match-oriented as the club officials battled to retain a membership. Open matches proliferated. Match angling and single-species specimen fishing both boomed. The fashion fish changed from being the roach in the 60s to the carp in the 70s. Carp, previously unseen by 95% of the angling population, were introduced almost everywhere. They become commonplace sights, first in the weekly angling papers and, ten years later, on almost every bankside.
The tackle business too exploded. Rodmaking materials went from cane, solid fibreglass and tubular steel through hollow glass to Kevlar and carbon fibre. New products were introduced to supply a booming new tackle market. Electronic bite indicators, unhooking mats, rod-pods, poles at £1000 a pop, the matchman's platform systems, the bivvy, the baitrunners and the braids - the list goes on. Baits became a separate industry and with the invention of the shelf-life boilie, the carp industry changed again.
Fly fishing opened its doors to the common man. The opening of giant Rutland Water heralded an avalanche of stillwater trout fisheries, places where the factory worker and the boss could share a boat. Barriers were being broken down between game and coarse anglers at the same time that new divisions within coarse angling were segregating matchman and specimen hunter. The big-fish hunters formed new associations and membership snowballed. The Carp Society and Pike Anglers Club flourished even as the LAA went into decline.
At sea, the rape of the oceans took place - and is still taking place. Here at least there is little change, unfortunately: though the sea angler has thrown away his thick Burma pole and replaced it with lighter, more sporting gear, including fly fishing tackle. The cod is thinner on the ground than ever. All the authorities seem to do is introduce new and lower quotas for the trawlermen, which will no more work in the year 2001 than it did in 1971. The same sick joke goes around. One day there will be two cod left - so the quota will be reduced to just one fish.
The water authorities changed and changed again. Confusing the population and themselves with contradictory Close Season rulings. Moving the goalposts with the license regulations: centralising things to do away with the duplication of administration but never actually explaining, to my satisfaction at least, what happened to the money that was saved.
In the rivers, the dace and roach vanished, and continue to vanish, down the gullets of protected cormorants: adult birds driven inland in search of food, their progeny grown up on a diet of freshwater fish. Barbel changed sex midstream due to a surfeit of oestrogen in the water as huge, Spanish speaking, wels catfish materialised out of thin air and transported themselves mysteriously into Home county stillwaters.
In the last year, 1999/2000, the Environmental Agency, strutting about the river's newer, cleaner (peppermint flavour?) water, released over a quarter of a million salmon into the Thames and it's tributaries. No doubt they crowed about the success of the program when the catch returns came in - showing that just one returning fish was caught. I bet they don't make that mistake again.
I seem to remember making that same bet 30 years ago. It's reassuring somehow to discover that some things haven't changed at all.
Open the pod bay doors HAL, and please, those in power, STOP wasting our money!
It's no good. Not now, or then. It's like talking to a machine. What can we do about it? If you think you know, please… email firstname.lastname@example.org