Urban Fishing. It’s a funny term. Take a second to digest it.
I’ve been doing it for a while now in the most urban of UK settings and I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it’s about.
My search started with the fish. We fish for fish so I guessed Urban Fishing was fishing for “urban fish”. I’m not sure what I was expecting from an urban fish. Underprivileged fish wearing counterfeit sportswear, hanging around in gangs on the corner looking for trouble maybe. Perhaps in some areas there might be particularly well to do fish hanging around coffee shops drinking sophisticated coffee and talking about European politics. I couldn’t comprehend what I was supposed to be expecting.
I caught some urban perch and realised that they were no different to the suburban and rural perch I had caught on my days out Suburban Fishing and Rural Fishing. If anything the urban fish were smaller and less numerous than the other perch I had caught. They ate soft plastic baits in pretty much the same way and didn’t respond to a slightly more metrosexual wiggle of the lure either (I did try). Urban fishing clearly wasn’t about the urban fish.
So it wasn’t the fish that made Urban Fishing so different. I had to tackle the other angle, the Urban bit. Now here there is an immediate and tangible difference. Sometimes there are kids hanging around in menacing gangs. Even worse sometimes there are gangs of caffeine addled neo-Liberals buried neck deep in the Guardian tutting loudly as I release another micro-perch. To start with this was a pretty frustrating part of the experience, it put me off.
The more I fished around London though the more I began to enjoy some of these interactions and I learned that if you approach these situations in the correct manner then actually they can be positive, fun and even a little inspiring. I think back to a group of particularly terrifying kids walking towards me on the Grand Union canal at the dark end of dusk. I heard them from a few hundred yards away and decided to keep my head down, but then, disaster – I hooked a fish. The four fearsome hoodies noticed and stopped to watch. I was genuinely shocked by their reaction, all four were absolutely fascinated by the little perch I was unhooking and asked a few genuine questions about the fish, about the canal and about fishing. I explained that there are plenty of fish in the canals even though there is lots of rubbish floating around that if folks took a little more care of the canal there would be even more fish.
The interest shown by the public in fishermen constantly amazes me. A recent trip with my friend Ben on the Regents Canal garnered attention from some beautiful girls representing the Canal Trust, American and Japanese tourists and a photography student called Carlo who is now basing part of his study project on pictures of Ben and I catching fish from the concrete clad canal.
Urban fishing is as much as about being out of your comfort zone as it as about actually catching fish. If you’re desperate to catch a big perch then don’t fish the Regents Canal in central London. Urban fishing to me has been far more about taking an adventure to a place I’ve never been before, a place that I feel like I shouldn’t be catching fish in or every now and again a place that I just shouldn’t be in at all. It’s the character of the places and the people tat make fishing in urban places a unique, interesting and rewarding experience.
Fish aren’t scared off by hoodies, or macchiato drinkers, or graffiti, or high rise apartments or any of the other things that turn anglers away from urban angling. The very fact that fish continue to exist and even thrive in these areas is a cathartic reminder to us all that regardless of the chaos man creates in his search for some sort of perfectly synchronised pre-fabricated infrastructure and existence, nature is irrepressible. The dull grey paving stones, roads, office blocks and cities that we’ve created are entirely at the mercy of the force of nature which is already claiming the canals as its own.
There’s no such thing as urban fishing. It’s a myth, a fallacy, a made up term. There’s fishing in different places sure, but environmental diversity has always been one of the great challenges for an angler and angling in urban areas is just a part of that. In fact when it comes to canal fishing the urban environment tends to harbour more structure and features than your average stretch of cut in the green and pleasant lands – the fishing can actually more engaging even before you take the environment in to account.
So what is Urban Fishing? I haven’t got a clue, it’s just fishing I think, just fishing in Urban Places. The outcome isn’t as grandiose or extravagant as I hoped but it’s been a great adventure. Very much like urban fishing I guess.