Angling for a freebie

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Contrary to what most people believe, writing this column does not open the door to a wealth of tackle, free holidays and invitations to fish exclusive waters. Never mind the fact that this newspaper frowns upon such bribes, believing that they could damage a man's integrity... Chance would be a fine thing.

I'm sitting here looking at one of the few perks of my job: a new style of rod handle ergonomically shaped to make fly-casting easier. It looks an excellent idea. The problem is, I now have to buy two graphite rod blanks, line guides, reel fittings, whipping cotton and varnish, then build the rod, to find out how effective it will be. So for a pounds 2 rod handle that I received for nothing, I would probably have to pay another pounds 60 for materials. Then there's the actual assembly, which because I'm left- handed will take me twice as long.

Free fishing? You've got to be kidding. For the past 25 years, I've written an angling column in the Reading Evening Post, a throwback to the days when I worked there as a lowly sub-editor. A couple of years ago, I suggested to the chairman of the area's main club that he might like to send me a complimentary permit for all the publicity I gave his association. It was a privilege I was unlikely to use more than six times a year, but it would be a nice gesture and I could see at first hand the improvements taking place on the waters, blah blah. He reacted as if I had accused him of sexually abusing hamsters.

His argument (though not quite in these words) was that I would have to write about them anyway as the main club, so why should they waste a free permit on the likes of me? So I continue to act as the club's publicity officer, though I'm not allowed to go on to their waters. However, because I'm petty and vindictive, I now take every opportunity to criticise them when they do something stupid (which is actually quite often). And I still haven't got a free permit.

This week, however, my faith in the milk of human kindness was repaid when I received a free permit from Wellingborough and District Nene Angling Club. Accompanying the club book was a delightful note from the secretary, Richard Blenkharn, saying: "Please come and enjoy our waters or come on a club match."

The club has stretches of the river Nene (locals pronounce it Nen), the Ouse and several lakes. Better still, Wellingborough is only 30 minutes' drive away. I haven't fished any of the waters but I am sure they are all excellent. There! Who said journalists were unbribable?

I have only one pootling worry. A story in this week's Angler's Mail reveals the activities of David Payne, a professional fruitcake. Almost every water has been frozen solid over the past couple of weeks but this has not deterred Payne.

The photographer donned a wetsuit and smashed more than six inches of ice so he could take pictures with an underwater camera. If it had been for a client, or to snap fishy behaviour in low temperatures, you could have understood. But he did it so he will know the best spots to fish.

Alas, his whacko scheme has so far been unsuccessful. Visibility was very low and he could see only for a few feet. He spotted just a couple of perch and a tench, which are probably still dining out on the story. Payne, however, hasn't finished. He has only covered about 25 per cent of the lake, so there's still three-quarters to go. It probably hasn't struck him that most fish, on seeing something black and six feet long, would probably swim as far away from that particular spot as possible.

You may wonder what possible relevance this has to my new permit. It's just that Payne comes from Kettering, a town within spitting distance of (you've guessed it) Wellingborough.

I'm not sure what I would say if a diver surfaced where I was fishing and said: "Sorry, but I was just looking for fish." Probably something like that Reading club chairman said to me.