In the Eighties I was obsessed with salmon fishing to the point where it broke up my first marriage. I guess Tweed did it, using up all our surplus cash. The situation worsened when my ex-wife started eventing. Her frequent, cackling question was, “What’s it all for? You never sodding catch anything anyway!” I didn’t, or not much. Rivers were always too high or too low. I should have always been there last week, yesterday, never today. I wasted hours, thousands of road miles and creel loads of brass on precious little Atlantic silver; she probably did right to swap me for a stay-at-home guy who likes gardening.
But had FishPal been around, things might have been different. Had I owned a computer, had I been able to tap in www.fishpal.com and had I been able to discover where to fish, at exactly the right time and right price, I might still have been part of the Norfolk riding set. FishPal is the revolution
I needed then and many thousands of others are revelling in it now as they plan their increasingly complex angling lives.
Speaking to James Leeming, FishPal’s chairman and founder, my enthusiasm is pumped up even further. “FishPal didn’t emerge overnight,” he explains. “It grew out of FishTweed, FishTay, FishDee and then FishSalmon. FishPal is becom-ing ever more encompassing. There are some periods when there are 300,000 rod days available on more than 700
different fisheries within our system. At the click of a button, you can see what was caught last month, last week, yesterday and even this morning on scores of fisheries; you can also find out the state of water levels. No longer is any angler dependent on rumours along the bush telegraph. Everything is here, fed by gillies and fishery owners on a day-to-day basis. Catch details are constantly logged.
“It’s a complex operation to hold such huge amounts of data,” he continues. “We hold over 24,000 files. And we’re getting stronger by the day. Our strength in Ireland is growing. Soon we will have Canada. Chile are coming to see us later in the year. We’re looking at new species everywhere in the world. And our range of services is growing: we can offer you guides, instructors, tackle hire, tackle sales, a wheelyboat if you’re disabled and rod alerts to tell you if there is fishing available where you’ve specified. And you can even ring to talk to a living, breathing expert who can help you find your own day in paradise.”
I have a vision of a piscatorial James Bond set with oscillating dials, flashing graphics and Leeming himself stroking a white cat behind a vast desk. “Oh no, it’s not like that,” laughs marketing director, Anne Woodcock. “We all just fish. I’m off salmon fishing tomorrow but my speciality is mullet on the fly. This is what makes FishPal so compelling – we know what anglers want. Customers tell us they log on every day because it’s the next best thing to actually fishing.”
FishPal looks fine in theory but what is it like in practice? Tim Smith, resident fishing guru at The Arundell Arms, says, “FishPal is definitely good for us down here. We sell a good few grayling days through it but it always springs surprises on us. For example, we recently had an angler visit us all the way from Japan – a first for the sleepy Westcountry. It shows that FishPal is increasingly global. FishPal seems to be giving the tourist industry a real shot in the arm.”
Corporate lawyer Neill Stephen enthuses, “FishPal is perfect for me. I can finish in the office on a Friday and get up to the Tyne knowing I’ll get two full days at absolute prime time. FishPal also gives me freedom of choice. I used to fish with my grandfather and we’d go to the same Scottish river at the same time of the year every year. I’d get bored of the usual beats and we were hardly ever there at the right time. Moaning about conditions was one of the joys of salmon angling before FishPal came along. If you get practised on FishPal, you begin to predict water levels and fish runs more and more precisely. You’ll see what tributaries affect particular river systems and how the fishery will respond.”
Dave Lambert is a painter and decorator from Brighton. “FishPal is ideal for poor boys like me,” he laughs. “Years ago, I wouldn’t have got a shot at some of the rivers on offer.
I know a lot of beats are dead man’s shoes sort of thing but
I can still save up for classy places where I know I won’t be wasting my money. I can paint myself silly, keep an eye on the reports and then just go when the right thing comes my way. I’m also looking forward to FishPal expanding more in England and developing into coarse- and sea-fishing.”
Dan Goff, a Norfolk hotelier, explains. “Like everyone, I don’t have a second of spare time or a quid of extra cash, so any fishing I do has to be precisely targeted. Before FishPal, salmon fishing could never be that. In my business, I’ve noticed people going for short breaks rather than family fortnights; they’re booking later, often on the spur of the moment. I’m seeing a tighter economy and a whole new set of requirements. Fishery owners will look more closely at their lettings, perhaps more like the airline market: cheap fishing well in advance but pay more if you leave it later. However fishing develops, FishPal will be at the hub of it, no doubt.”
How rosy can all this get? Two doubts come to mind.
Possible losers, surely, are the traditional outfitters who might just find themselves bypassed and, secondly, fishery owners whose waters are going through a lean spell. Joy Hicklin-Bailey, MD at Angling Travel, isn’t particularly worried. “Outfitters offer a bespoke A-Z service to places that aren’t as accessible as a Scottish salmon river,” she says. “Clients wouldn’t just book seven days’ fishing in Mongolia and plough off into the unknown. For big trips, anglers need the experience and structure that companies can provide.”
On the question of fish shortages, Leeming is bullish: “Two things – a fishery with low returns one week can have buoyant returns the next. That’s the way it goes with salmon. Another thing – no conscientious fishery owner wants to sell rods when he knows there are few fish in the river. The last thing he wants is discontented customers who won’t come back. FishPal gives such exact statistics that clients can draw their own conclusions without the usual guess work.”
So, in a dream world, what does James want this article to achieve? To be deluged with bookings, perhaps? “That would be nice,” he admits. “But more important is to get more and more people to the website and get their feedback. There’s no end to what we can do and we are always open to suggestions. Internet sites are always inventing themselves and FishPal will only move forward on the feedback of its customers.” And me? I’d like FishPal vouchers for Christmases and birthdays to come. I guess I’m assured good fishing. And at these prices, I might just save my present relationship.