Apologies for this digression into the higher realms of mathematics. It was sparked off by browsing through the latest lure catalogue from the Harris Angling Company. Many of the gaudy creations sport two or even three treble hooks. Tough luck, fish. Any predator swimming in the vicinity seems certain to get nabbed. But it doesn't quite work like that. Extra hooks, I have learnt from bitter experience, mean two things. Neither results in more fish.
The first is that a treble hook means there is three times more chance of hooking yourself. With two or three trebles, if you hook your coat (or worse, part of your anatomy), one or more of the other hooks impales itself by the time you have removed the original offender. If you insist on using treble hooks, never wear wool. At the end of a day, your jumper will look like an exhibit from Revenge of the Moth People.
But at least you can hack out a hook caught in clothing. A hook impaled in your skin is more serious. While fishing the Great Barrier Reef, one of our party hooked himself with a hefty sea treble and had to be flying- doctored to hospital. This incident produced a wonderful comment from one of the Australians with whom we shared the boat. Among our group was The Times' Brian Clarke, who takes notes with a small tape-recorder. To protect it from moisture, he encloses it in a sock. As man and hook flew off to hospital, one Australian turned to me and said: "Geez, you Poms are funny buggers. One of youse tries to hook himself up for bait, the other one talks to his socks." Brian hates this story, so I'm delighted to offer it for wider enjoyment.
I only use barbless hooks these days because of the uncanny attraction that trebles hold for human flesh. Hands are most common, but ear lobes are frequently hooked ("nice earrings" is the traditional remark from nurses), and I know of one horrific case where a friend was trebled in the nadgers. The pitch of his voice changed to match the hook that had caused the damage.
Which brings me to the second disadvantage of treble hooks. Artificial lures that imitate small fish are probably the best thing to take when you're angling for predators in unknown waters. But a strange thing occurs in transit. When you open your luggage, the tin that held dozens of neatly arranged lures now holds just one - a wicked-looking cat's cradle of brash colours and sharp hooks.
This has happened to me so often that I have ceased to wonder how it takes place. Logically, there is no way that the point of one hook could possibly enter the eye of another. But it does. The first day of any holiday is spent trying to disentangle this gordian knot - which, of course, brings us back to point one. The sensible course is to take the trebles off the lures and reunite them when you're ready to fish. Trying to refix the hooks with cold, wet hands is a nightmare task. Which brings us back to point one again.
However, there may be a solution to this problem. Chris Harris sent me a couple of small plastic widgets called hook bonnets with his latest catalogue. These push on to the treble hook, covering the points and stopping them intertwining. At pounds 2.50 for a pack of 20, they will certainly pay for themselves.
The catalogue is a fisherman's toybox of wonderfully named lures like Scumfrog Popper, Suspending Thunderstick, Snap Beans, Crystalina Shallow Runner, Baby Shallow Raider, and Giant Jointed Tracdown Jawbreaker. They come from all over the world because in this country, lure fishing is still in its infancy. But it's interesting to note that the catalogue also features a first-aid kit. I wonder why.
l Free copies of the 80-page catalogue are available from the Harris Lure Company, Blacksmith House, East Ruston, Norfolk NR12 9HL; tel 01692 581208.Reuse content