When you are confined to a 15-metre patch for three hours, much of the skill in top-level angling involves tempting fish from your neighbours. Increasingly, this is done not with handfuls of maggots, but with flavoursome additives. It is no coincidence that one of the sponsors of this year's event at Holme Pierrepont, the national rowing course, is the French company Sensas. It makes a range of ground baits that are a far cry from the buckets of mashed bread used by old-time fishermen.
'These ground baits don't really feed the fish, they tempt them into the area and stimulate them into feeding without filling them up,' Sensas director Trevor Tomlin said.
A 1kg bag may comprise 30 ingredients, from sweeteners and emulsifiers to amino acids and scents. The art of using these ground baits has become so advanced that experts use different combinations depending on the depth and colour of water, the fish sort, and even the weather.
So what chance does a simple fish have, faced with such sophistication? Well, quite a lot, if the first day of these championships is anything to go by - despite the blandishments of 150 top anglers and a sensory assault that included the aromas of chocolate and strawberry.
It is unfair to blame the anglers for yesterday's miserable fishing, which saw half the field fail to catch anything. A permanent sign on the bankside said 'Swimming prohibited', and in some areas the fish took it literally. Stretches hundreds of yards long failed to produce a single fish. Elsewhere, they had shoaled up, for the few lucky fishermen caught perch all day. South Africa, unfortunately, had no one in these prolific spots. None of the five-man side caught a fish. 'We don't have anywhere to practise because we don't have anywhere like this in South Africa,' one of the team said.
The South Africans, Australians and many others who have travelled thousands of miles for the event would not have been pleased by the antics of a cormorant fishing along the water, and appearing to catch a fish on almost every dive. The black, fish-eating birds are blamed for decimating the once fish-rich water. 'This place should have been re-stocked,' said Carlo Chines, manager of the Italian side, who won the event last year but were eighth yesterday.
Only two teams had all five men with something to weigh in. One was Sweden, who have never even finished in the top four in the 41-year history of the event, but yesterday totalled 41 points to lead going into the second day. France were second, two points behind, and England third. The home country had only one team member failing to catch. He was Alan Scothorne, who said afterwards: 'If the fish aren't there, you can't catch them.' Even with the smell of Chanel.
Fishing lines, page 11