We talk to CEO of FishPal and passionate angler, Mark Cockburn.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I have lived in Edinburgh for most of my life but I also spent 12 years living in the Scottish Highlands.
Have you always worked in the fishing industry?
My background is in financial services in the banking sector. I have been at the helm of FishPal since 2012.
Do you plan to keep expanding the website and featured rivers? Are you hoping to add more countries to your site?
Absolutely! Our aim is to continually introduce new rivers to our site in the UK and we are also currently working on a new initiative to give us access to some of the best fishing available around the world. We have also recently introduced our FishPal Insurance Policy to allow anglers to insure against the possibility of being flooded off etc., and our new FishPal app allows anglers to use their phones to keep up-to-date with river levels, latest catches and all the information they need.
How does FishPal generate revenue?
We charge a small amount of commission on the price of a day ticket and through advertising on the various sites. Beats also pay an annual fee to be represented on our river site.
How do the updates work?
Our registered ghillies use a bespoke automated text service to instantly update details of their catches to their own fishery page and the Latest Catches page during or at the end of each day. Most will also send us their weekly blog to keep visiting anglers up-to-date. We also work with river reporters who produce the weekly reports for each river. Anglers can register for these free reports to be automatically emailed to them.
In terms of the latest catches pages, which rivers get the most views throughout the fishing season?
Not surprisingly, the four main rivers in Scotland are by far the most viewed, with the Tweed, Tay and the Dee standing out as being the most popular. Other rivers are starting to catch up though. We currently have 712 fisheries selling fishing, but there is potential for many more!
What do you see as the main draw to the site?
We have all the information anglers need about a particular beat and/or river and they can book and pay for a day's salmon or trout fishing in one place. Everything, from river levels, latest catches, information about the fishery, and river reports to accommodation can be found for each river.
What does the average day in the life of Mark Cockburn entail?
Every day is different! My work takes me to rivers across the country, meeting various anglers and owners.
What do you most enjoy about working in the fishing industry?
When you meet someone who is equally as passionate about salmon and trout fishing, it really is a pleasure to discuss business with them. I am also lucky enough to walk some amazing beats and, time permitting, cast a line for salmon. Although my wife often finds it hard to believe that what I do is indeed ‘work'!
Is there anything you don't particularly enjoy about the industry?
With a growing audience of anglers requesting information, it can be frustrating when a particular river or beat is either not represented in full or, indeed, not represented at all on our system. With smartphones and the internet, the way many anglers find and book their fishing has changed in recent years. Rivers with a ‘full river approach' (where every beat on a river is represented on the river site) offering fishing to suit all budgets, are the rivers that attract the most anglers.
When and where did you start fishing?
My earliest memories are of a family holiday fishing for crabs from a pier. I was then given my first fly rod when I was 10 years old and this started my love affair of fishing rivers and lochs across Scotland for wild brown trout. My first salmon trip was to the Tummel, just below the dam at Pitlochry. Many trips later this was also where I caught my first salmon on the fly.
Do you tie your own flies?
When I look at the quality of salmon flies being tied by so many talented people, I am happy to buy theirs. They are far better than anything I used to tie!
What is your favourite form of fishing?
Salmon fishing on the fly is my main passion, but I still like a day's fishing for wild trout on a Scottish loch with my sons.
Do you remember your first ever fish?
As a young lad I fished local rivers and burns for wild trout in many different parts of the country, with my first ever fly-caught trout taken from the Water of Leith which runs through Edinburgh.
Do you have a favourite river and beat?
For me, it depends on the time of the year I plan to go fishing. I love fishing the big rivers, the Tweed and Spey for salmon on the fly in particular. I also love to fish some of Scotland's spate rivers such as the Alness or Snizort. Fishing a highland loch for wild brown trout would be high on my list, too.
If you had one day's fishing left, where would you go?
Tough question. To cast a fly in autumn on the Upper Tweed would be up there with spring fishing on the Spey. The mighty River Tay would feature too. Then again, the English Tyne is a great back-end river for salmon.
What is the biggest/most memorable fish you have caught to date?
My most memorable fish was not my biggest. Fishing the River Lyon, a small Scottish spate river with some challenging steep banks, I hooked a salmon which decided it was not stopping and duly headed back to sea at a rate of knots! After my failed first attempt to climb the steep cliff bank to land the fish, I fell into the pool below, but despite this, the fish didn't come off. My fishing buddy finally came to my rescue with the net and landed the fish after it had turned and headed straight for him. It weighed 10lb and was released shortly after – we decided that it definitely deserved another chance!
How many full fly boxes do you own?
Around 30 boxes of various sizes for salmon and trout fishing, built up over a lifetime.
What is your stance on catch and release?
I release every salmon I catch these days. I think that we can all do our bit to preserve and look after our future, rather than just killing everything. I agree with the odd fish being knocked on the head at the ghillie's behest and at the right time of the year. I think this keeps a sense of realism and perspective for those who like to take home a fish for the pot, but this is a million miles away from the old days when it was standard practice to kill every salmon you caught.
Are you concerned about the future of wild salmon stocks in the UK, and what do you see as the biggest threats to both their numbers and the sport in general?
I will always be someone who is concerned with the future of our wild Atlantic salmon stocks. Salmon farming, the netting of salmon at sea, conservation of native species and the introduction of exotic species are all key issues which need to be better understood so that we can protect our rivers for the future.