Fishing: Confessions of an imposter

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The Independent Online
TURNING down a fishing invitation this week brought me a dozen new ones. This was a bit of a mystery because I'm not usually swamped with landed gentry begging me to have a bash at their trout. Eventually I twigged that it was down to the old school and my tie. The trouble is, I'm an imposter on both counts.

I was supposed to be paddling in the upper Kennet on Monday, but I reluctantly shelved an invitation to one of our prettiest rivers because it clashed with a conference on Angling and the Environment. The idea of spending all day listening to other people talk about worthy causes is not my idea of fun. But an old school friend was one of the speakers, my car needed servicing and in any case, the Kennet was too clear for good fishing. So I put on my only suit without curry stains and boarded the London train. As an afterthought I had taken off the blue tie with yellow Plutos and donned more sober neckwear. The River Wye Preservation Trust tie was to prove an inspired choice.

Mingling with so many of angling's big hitters could have been intimidating. But my Wye tie was the only business card I needed. The Trust is a coterie of people fighting various threats (pollution, canoeists, cormorants) to the Herefordshire river. They are almost exclusively large landowners, many with several miles of prime fishing. My Wye links are more nebulous: I got my tie after writing a flattering article about Major David Shaw, a former Courtaulds director and the Trust's executive officer. (It wouldn't take Hercule Poirot to work out that I don't look anything like someone with a million quids' worth of salmon fishing. But then they're a funny- looking lot down there.)

On its own, the tie may not have been enough. but my old school chum was Dr David Solomon, possibly the country's foremost fisheries scientist. His CV of honours and committees is longer than my back garden, but he's remarkably unaffected by it all, even to the point of acknowledging a grubby journalist with something like affection.

Soon after greeting him, I was talking to another group who asked how I know him. "We went to school together," I said.

Where was that?" someone asked. "Oh, Slough Grammar," I replied.

Now that's perfectly true. But among a certain set, Slough Grammar is a gentle in-joke when mixing with the peasants; it is a synonym for a far more august school that is only a couple of miles away - Eton.

A further casual remark convinced even those who were still unsure of my pedigree. We were talking about holidays, and I mentioned that my next trip was to India, fishing for mahseer. This pursuit was once the indulgence of irascible colonels in the days of the Raj - or more recently, by country squires with time on their hands.

Well, you can guess the rest. Word spread. For the rest of the conference, I unknowingly enjoyed the cachets of being an old Etonian with prime fishing on the Wye, who was reviving the ancient tradition of Indian mahseer fishing. (Never mind that I'll be sleeping in a tent rather than staying at colonial clubs).

I left the conference with pockets full of business cards and enough fishing offers, on prime waters, to keep me going for much of next year. Most of the donors probably expected a reciprocal offer but were too polite to suggest it. Somehow, I don't think my local stretch of the River Ouse at Huntingdon would be quite what they had in mind.