Image courtesy of Will Millard.
Prior to his lecture on 17 July at King’s Lynn Festival, we caught up with BBC presenter and author of The Old Man and the Sand Eel, Will Millard, to discuss his book, love of fishing and explorations of British waterways.
What inspired you to write The Old Man and the Sand Eel?
Four years ago a heady mixture of incompetence and ignorance saw me lose a British record fish in ridiculous circumstances. Initially the book was inspired by a simple need for redemption, a two-year quest to break and register another record of any fish species, but the story soon evolved into one of love and loss, both within my family and with our threatened freshwater environments in Britain.
What are your favourite memories of the Cambridgeshire Fens, and what influence did they have in writing the book?
My experiences in the Fens were central to the book. It’s part memoir, so the detail of my childhood, growing up around our creeks and drains, and that real sense of childhood freedom runs right through the story. Eventually I ‘come home’ to the very spots I first learnt to fish.
My favourite Fen memories are all sat with Grandad, catching my first fish together with him.
Why is fishing so important to you?
It’s a release. As I get older and the strain and pressures of my adult life increases, it’s the only thing I’ve found that can truly transport me into another world and mindset. One where the fish and the natural world are the only focuses. A good day on the banks, even one without fish, can feel like a week’s holiday.
What is your most memorable fishing experience?
Aside from my first fish, or the times I’ve pulled something special out of the bag with my very last cast, it was probably the 55lb giant trevally I caught off the coast of New Guinea. It was so big it could’ve swallowed a sugar beet without it needing to touch the sides!
Where is your favourite place in the UK to fish? Are there any hidden gems that aren’t well known?
I fish an awful lot in South Wales where I live, but the Fens will always give me a tingle inside. I just know the place so well. There are so many hidden gems. Since the death of heavy industry our cities canals and rivers are back from the brink. Hardly anyone fishes them today and, believe me, there are some real monsters to be had!
Why should people explore waterways rather than other aspects of the British landscape?
I think water has a real therapeutic quality. It’s why so many people choose to have fish tanks and water features in their homes. Yet we take it completely for granted. Freshwater and the animals that live in it are by far the most endangered on earth.
Have there been any changes to the environments you describe during the lifetime of the men mentioned in the book?
Definitely yes. In the last 50 years half of wetlands have vanished and one-third of all freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction today. Just since 1970 the number of endangered animals in Britain alone has increased by two-thirds. We’ve lost the burbot, the orache moth, the large copper butterfly, the pool frog; water vole numbers are down 90% in just the last twenty years and I went from catching eels every day as a kid, to not even seeing one for over a decade.
What can people expect from your lecture on 17 July?
It’s my love letter to water and the Fens. It’ll be a bit on why rivers and lakes are so important to fighting our way back from environmental disaster, but mostly I’ll be capturing the essence of angling, those first giddy fish, the hidden giants, and how being near water can help restore us all.
Buy your ticket now to hear Will recount his return to childhood innocence, when anything was possible and the wild was everything.
17 July at 6.15pm, King’s Lynn, Norfolk.
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