The last four years and an Angling guiding qualification.
Matt Powell of Fishing and foraging Wales set out to create a bass and wrasse saltwater angling guiding business five years ago. He tells us about the original set up foundations and his latest achievement in becoming the first qualified saltwater angling guide under the Wild fishing Wales scheme, set out by Natural resources Wales sector. A Welsh government scheme for guides and the first of its kind in the U.K. And here is his story.
The last four years have been exciting and a real eye opener for me. I am and have been a chef for eighteen years and I worked along some of the best names in the business for a lot of my time when I was learning my trade. Eventually though I really had had enough of working the long hours in a restaurant kitchen and the stress levels of working in such high end places along with staffing problems, long hours and getting treated like dirt. These are not the best mix for a job and career choice.
I turned my back on the career I had set out to pursue and headed home to Wales. What was to be my next step? I took time for myself and ventured out along the Welsh coast path. I needed to take my mind off things. I visited the places we visited on family holidays.
I originally had a one-man tent and would be away from home for a few weeks and started to get hooked on my bass fishing again. One rod, a reel with braid, a spare spool and some lures. Money was extremely tight so I could only afford a few lures. If I lost one it felt like the end of the world to me, as, I would have to replace them as they were catching me fish. I soon stopped losing lures as I again became better and improved. I now maybe lose a lure or two a season. I started casting lures and my catches started to become far more prolific, it was just like the old days where I would as a teenager pop simple crab baits out and enjoy the thrill of catching this perfect creation of nature, our beloved dicentrachus labrax the European saltwater bass.
Then it hit me “there’s something in this, maybe I can turn this into a venture” I am still learning that sometimes the things we need are right there in front of us, subtle callings in a quiet manner.
Two years prior to starting the business were spent on working out new marks. Now I was away from my family for months at a time. My girlfriend Naomi and our son Oliver came to visit when they could. It seems a bit mad now that when my mum saw my tiny one-man tent that I was living in, she cried in despair to see her son living in such difficult conditions. I was almost completely feral eating the wild foods I gathered, no electricity and no running water. Although I never killed a bass. I guess I love and just respect them too much, and I still feel like I owe them something. I felt a connection and a new lease of life, the bass had, and have, given me so much.
Anyway, I soon saved for the 5m bell tent made by Soul Pad that I resided in for the next four years. It was still difficult, again no electricity and no running water. Running the business from this base was hard, through all the weather. High winds at night causing sleep deprivation.
Then about three years ago I decided I really wanted to get an angling qualification under my belt, I tried contacting various angling bodies around Wales but to no avail. Then one day I phoned the Welsh fisheries branch of the then Environment Agency about my concerns about the future of the bass in Wales. I was passed on to a really nice guy named Rhys Llewellyn a very helpful chap and I had called to share my concerns about the future of bass in Wales and also that I was trying to get a qualification in becoming a certified angling guide. Rhys then mentioned there was soon to be a Welsh government course being set up. Wow, I asked him to please keep me informed on the course, as I would love to be part of this special scheme, a first for Wales and the U.K.
I have never been an academic person, I failed at school. Although I know my passions (bass fishing, the outdoors and wild food and cooking) and when I want to learn I will go to great lengths to learn as much as I can. “I am a disciple of experience”.
I was worried about what the modules for the course would be, would I pass? If I failed I would be devastated, would I be able to re-sit the paper if I did fail? This part of my life, of becoming a bass guide and setting up my small business to succeed, were all I cared about and all I still do care about.
The modules I had to study were as follows –
Angling and the law
Biology of fish
Map and navigation skills
Planning a guided trip
And as part of the course first aid and criminal record checks were compulsory. As a guide you also need these for insurance purposes. I refresh my first aid every two years my last one was at the beginning of 2015.
I feel I should say here anyone can go out and guide but, if you are not proficient at it, or if you are looking to make a lot of money or a quick buck then you’re in the wrong game. If you don’t know your game and cut corners, then you will get found out.
You cannot be lazy to be a bass guide.
The hours are long, I walk miles each day, day in and day out. I put myself under enormous pressure to get my clients onto fish and for them to enjoy their time with me. I love spending time with my clients because they have the same interests as myself to certain extents. I find talking about bass and teaching people watercraft infectious. Seeing a client catch a bass from the shoreline is a very special feeling for me.
I fish two tides a day for the best part of six months, doing this is a different animal to fishing as a hobby or pastime. It’s a marathon and most definitely not a sprint. You’re governed by and live by the time of tides and current flows. Wind direction, air pressure, rainfall, bass behaviour and baitfish hatches and locations.
I am my own biggest critic and I judge everything I do. I am never happy with mediocrity and each day I try to improve on the last day’s experience. “You’re only as good as the last dish you served, or the last cast and retrieve you took” perfectionism is something you can strive for but for the utmost you will never ever achieve it.
Being a guide is a different kind of stress but one where you are in nature’s hands and to the most extent no matter how much I know this part of coast you cannot ever guarantee catches. There’s a lifetime of knowledge to be learned and then some. Its hard work but it’s very rewarding. The memories I now have are more valuable than anything money can buy.
To find out more out about Matt Powell please click here
Images and text © Matt Powell