Fishing: Boggling art of wiggling

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EVERYONE assumes that a keen angler yearns to own his own tackle shop. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's true that owning an angling shop means you get the chance to try out the latest tackle. But there isn't much else in its favour.

Of course, you would be talking fishing all day. But there's a downside even to that. The average angler rarely has an IQ that exceeds room temperature. Even if you could put up with fish talk all day and every day, it would be the last thing you would want to hear, because it would come from people who had been fishing and were going fishing when you couldn't. Some tackle dealers, it's true, fish all the time. But their shops don't last long. They are anglers first and businessmen a very poor second, working on the principle of: "If a rod costs me pounds 100 and I sell it for pounds 150, I've made pounds 50."

I've never owned a tackle shop and have no desire to do so. I worked in one during my school holidays and the experience is still with me. I've had more fun watching wood warp. You need to spend a quiet month in a tackle shop to understand the joke: "Why don't tackle dealers look out the window in the morning?" Answer: "Because then they would have nothing to do in the afternoons." When I found myself arranging the floats in colour and height, I knew it was time to get out.

Last week's presentation of the Evening Standard's Pike Angler of the Year trophy brought back memories of those days. It was held at Farlow's in Pall Mall, a superb emporium that smells of money rather than maggots, real leather rather than Taiwan patent. The staff are unfailingly polite, beautifully spoken and hugely knowledgeable. The shop even has its own magazine with articles on everyday things such as bonefishing in Cuba. I was musing how they would react if you entered without a tie, or at the very least a cravat. But they probably have a stock tucked away in a drawer.

Choosing a rod or reel here is much more than pointing to something on a shelf and saying: "One of those, please." That would rob the staff of much of their pleasure. It's a salutary lesson and one that too few anglers observe. You wouldn't buy a car because you saw one in a showroom and liked the colour.

Of course, the experience of paying pounds 500 for a reel or pounds 700 for a rod is a novelty in itself. Farlow's has rack upon rack of those rods you get when you retire after 25 years' tireless service. Loomis, Sage, Orvis: you feel like Mr Greedy accidentally locked in the tuck shop.

But here's a strange thing, and it applies whether you're in Farlow's or Fred's Bait and Tackle - one thing that all anglers do in a tackle shop. They take down the most expensive rod, and wiggle it. This means holding it like a paintbrush and flicking it briskly (first ensuring that the ceiling is higher than the rod is long, or you will be walking out with a very expensive rod with a broken tip).

Why? What does wiggling a rod tell you? I'll tell you: nothing. Unless you build rods for a living, it's impossible to tell anything from waving a rod around like a conductor's baton. You need, at very least, to fit a reel. But really you must cast the thing with a line too. I know all this. But there I was in Farlow's, wiggling away a six-weight Sage and thinking I looked one hell of a fine fellow.

The staff, though far too polite to say so, doubtless thought I looked a complete twerp. It's another reason why I don't want my own shop. Imagine having to put up with rod-wiggling idiots like me every day.

Tip for pike-loving Londoners: Wandsworth Common is the hotspot. It's won the trophy for the past two years, this time with a 29-pounder.