Falling in and falling about

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The Independent Online
MY brother Phil pointed out a fascinating snippet in the Cambridge Evening News last week, about an angler who fell into the water five times during a competition at Frant, East Sussex. Paul Johnston said afterwards: "The bank was like slippery cement, and every time I leaned forward to put a fish in my net, it gave way and in I went again."

Johnston's achievement easily beats my own record, a mere two unscheduled dips in a day. But it should be mentioned in despatches for far more worthy reasons. First, it shows a remarkable resilience on Johnston's part. Lesser anglers would have packed up after only one immersion. But this hardy individual went through not one but five duckings, and still kept fishing.

Unfortunately the clipping I have does not detail whether he actually won the competition, but I'll bet he caught more than the anglers around him. This is because it's almost impossible to concentrate when someone next to you falls in. Your instinct demands that you rush to rescue him. But a sadist lurks within. You will, I promise, ignore the fact he may not be able to swim, and merely screech with laughter at his misfortune.

I know what it's like to tumble into a Scottish salmon river in February. One minute you're casting away, concentrating so hard you're oblivious to the snow that's starting to fall. The next moment, you're up to your neck in fast-flowing water, colder than a politician's smile.

If you're lucky, your tackle washes safely ashore. If you're unlucky, you may have to stay in and grovel around in the hope of retrieving the bag that contains your car keys. Meanwhile your companion, far from dashing off to rescue any items that are floating, will be rolling around on the bank, hooting at your misfortune.

You will not see the funny side of this. Driving back to the hotel in your underpants, you will say in a very grumpy voice: "It might be funny to you, but if you fell in, I would be straight in to help you out." At some stage, the same thing will happen to your companion. Despite all your pious words, you too will make a dash for the camera instead of rushing to his rescue.

lt shouldn't be amusing. Several anglers drown every year. Hypothermia is a very real danger, while wearing waders can be lethal. If water rushes inside, they can easily flip you upside down. But show me the man who doesn't double over with laughter at the sight of his companion bobbing down-river like a giant float with two antennae, and I'll show you a liar.

Water falls can happen for all sorts of reasons. Freshwater anglers often find that staring at a float has a mesmeric effect so restful they sometimes topple gently into the water. Banks, especially those on boating rivers, often get undercut. The weight of a fisher and his tackle will make that area suddenly give way. Carp anglers, who go to extremes on almost everything, often wade in up to their necks deliberately to retrieve a snagged fish or work as a human plummet and discover the contours of a lake bottom.

Smart anglers carry spare clothes in their car. A wet rock, slippery grass, a wasp in your shirt, even a seat that collapses unexpectedly: all can send you headlong. But nobody will sympathise. I fished one competition where the elderly chap next to me tumbled off his box and into the river. As he resurfaced, spluttering, the club secretary shouted out to him: "Oi! Wading's not allowed here, you know."