Fishing lines | Keith Elliott

It's a painful pursuit. And I should know
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How clever and sensitive of that anti-angling group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) to come up with a website called I'm right with them on that.

I've said some cruel words about them in the past, I'll admit. Loony vegans is one of the kinder epithets I've saddled them with. But I've clearly been unlucky in the few I've met – those with so many body piercings that if you took out all the studs, you could use them to water the garden. No more cruel generalisations from me, though. Underneath their batty exteriors, they are almost like us.

Peta are best known for their activities in the US, although they claim 700,000 members worldwide. They have a cute way of recruiting that goes: "Do you think cruelty to animals is wrong?" The average person might spot a trap, but Peta target celebs, who generally have the IQ of a lugworm except in matters concerning themselves. It's the simplest way to gain lots of celebrity supporters.

I'll let you into a little secret. Peta was started not by an American, but by a British vegan called Imogen Newkirk. My friend Clive Gammon (yes, the same one who dared to suggest recently that we should cull Canada geese) interviewed her once, and she told him that her dislike of angling came about after she went fishing and caught an eel.

Clive recalls the incident vividly. Imogen told him: "Before it left for another planet, the eel turned its eyes to me and said: 'Fight for me'." This should reassure those thinking of joining Peta. You will be under the control of a woman who talks to eels.

I've wandered off the point. Peta, you see, announced this week that they were planning to bring a billboard poster campaign they had been using in the US into the UK. It pictures a dog trying to eat a hooked herring, with the message: "If you wouldn't do this to a dog, why do it to a fish?"

Wanna know more? You are urged to contact the website There you will discover fascinating facts such as "Eating fish is dangerous", "Don't mistake seafood for health food" and "Jesus was probably a vegetarian". Sadly, I couldn't open the link to Linda McCartney's anti-fishing PSA, whatever that is, but I'm sure it would have revealed similarly interesting information.

According to newspapers, anglers are up in arms about the Peta campaign. Can't see why. Would you let a nation that elects George W Bush as president tell you what to think? And remember, those in the forefront of this campaign have subjected their bodies to the most appalling agonies to take piercings in unmentionable places. Now that's cruel.

And anyway, they are right. Fishing does cause serious discomfort. Every time I go fishing with John Bailey, who runs marathons for fun, it takes my body weeks to recover. He works on the principle that fishing can't be any good if it's within 20 miles of the car.

But there are worse things. Few are as painful as revisiting a cherished childhood lake and finding it has dried up (usually because of rapacious water authorities), or discovering the tiny brook where I caught my first trout is now a ditch used by a local caravan site as a rubbish tip. That's when fishing really hurts.