You have to feel a little sorry for Robert Townsend. He has just caught the biggest perch ever seen in the UK – but it looks extremely unlikely that he will be acknowledged as the new world, European and British record-holder.
Townsend, from Banstead, Surrey, was fishing for pike when a 6lb 2oz perch took his bait. The fish, the first perch officially recorded over 6lb, was caught from the lower Thames at Thames Ditton, and beat the existing British record by 3oz. Townsend even had clear photographs to prove his claim.
Everything should have been a formality. Townsend merely needed to submit a claim to the Record Fish Committee, witha separate claim to the International Game Fish Association, for a world record.
However, the waters started to muddy when the owners of Thames Ditton Marina saw pictures of Townsend clutching his catch. They say fishing is not allowed in their marina, and that large signs state this. Townsend had been poaching inside the marina, seen in the background, on the day in question, they allege – an accusation he denies.
Further doubts were raised on the catch over suggestions that it was weighed in the boat, which many claim can produce an inaccurate reading.
Townsend might have argued his way around these accusations. But last week came one that has him bang to rights. He didn't have a valid rod licence. Anyone fishing in England and Wales needs a £24.50 annual licence (£66.50 if you're going to try for salmon). So Townsend was fishing illegally, and far from picking up money from tackle companies eager to use his record-breaker in their adverts, he could now face a hefty fine.
In December, the Environment Agency prosecuted 344 fishermen without licences. They were fined an average of £150, with costs on top, and one was banned from fishing for a year.
So how did all this anti-Townsend material turn up? Probably because the fishing world gets remarkably bitchy when an "unknown" breaks a record. When a teenager, Matt Micallef, broke the chub record last year, some of fishing's biggest names rushed to rubbish his claim for the 9lb 2oz fish: specimen fish knew better than to take a novice's bait; the water where it had been taken had never yielded large chub before; pictures clearly showed it wasn't that big... Never mind a monster fish; this was all about another monster, one with green eyes.
Then the same chub was caught again from the same water, an ounce larger. I checked websites and columns written by these self-proclaimed experts, and not one admitted "I was wrong". Funny, that.
So the lesson is: if you want to become a record-breaker, you need to establish a bit of a reputation first. Give up your job and fish full-time. (This may cause problems domestically, but are you serious or just playing at it?) Write for angling magazines and websites. Self-publish a book (don't worry about spelling and punctuation) that shows your dedication to the pursuit of outsize fish. Acquire strange habits (talking to spiders and giving them names would qualify here). Don't shave. Wear camouflage clothing all the time (even in bed). And remember to buy a licence.
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