Fishing Lines: A hook needed for the stinker

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The Independent Online
ONE advantage of having the sort of face generally described as "ideal for radio" is that you can slag off angling television programmes with little fear that you are jeopardising future work. I'm speaking here as a seasoned small-screen reject. On three occasions, I have helped to set up TV projects, only to be sidelined when it came to filming. But I'm not bitter. Much.

My brief TV career can muster only a few forgettable appearances. Perhaps the best (or the worst, depending on your viewpoint) was on the late unlamented Wire TV, where I foolishly shared a phone-in with the world champion Bob Nudd and the great white sharker Vic Sampson. No prizes for guessing who got the fewest calls. Forgetting that I was miked up, I made the mistake of slipping in little asides that unfortunately went out live. "Can I ask Bob Nudd a question?" asked one caller. "No you can't, you boring fart," was one memorable example. It's been downhill ever since.

At least I seem to have cured the distressing habit of unconsciously mimicking the person I am talking to. Rather like Woody Allen's Zelig, I found myself slipping into a music-hall Belfast accent if being interviewed by an Irishman, or sounding like an extra from EastEnders if chatting to a Cockney.

Even my close friend Dave Hall, who made more angling films in a year than the rest of the industry has made in the history of the world, never invited me as a guest. This was particularly hurtful because almost anybody who had ever held a rod, and a few who hadn't, eventually appeared on his videos. He did, however, faithfully send me pre-production copies of every one. Most of them were awful, except for a few which were dreadful. But Hall, who is so cute that he can walk on water without getting his feet wet, judged the market perfectly, got out at the right time and sold the lot to someone who knew no better. For all I know, you can still buy them. But I wouldn't bother.

This is not to say that there haven't been any decent films about fishing. The late Jack Hargreaves's Out Of Town series was terrific. The manic John Wilson has done wonders for the sport. Paul Young's Hooked on Scotland series has rightly won international awards, and Hugh Miles's monumental A Passion for Angling will probably never be bettered. Then again, it was made by probably the world's top wildlife cameraman, and he did spend five years making it. Which probably explains why most fishing programmes are so dire: they are made by one man and a video camera on the riverbank for a few hours. No fish? Tough.

Try to tell anglers that their sport makes worse viewing than watching your toenails grow, though. Only this week, an association of fishery owners called Premier Fisheries claimed that it was "set to transform angling on television with plans for a dedicated fishing channel". The group's chairman, Cyril Brewster, said: "It's not a question of if, only of when. We would like to be able to televise matches on a national basis."

Fishing competitions are dressage, Valium and watching wood warp all rolled into one. For those who have never seen an angling match (and believe me, for an observer they are about as much fun as trying to get out of the car park at Wembley), let me describe one. A lot of fishermen are each allocated a 15-20 yard space of bank. They fish in that spot for five hours, trying to catch as much as possible. These fish are put in a keep net. It's so-called because at the end, the fish are released. The winner is the one with the highest weight. And that's it. Exciting, huh?

Oh yes, there are subtleties such as the size of hook, the way you attract fish ... for participants, it's fascinating stuff. But for non-anglers it makes as much sense as a pelican trying to make love to a grapefruit.

I suppose a digital TV station devoted to angling could mean more work for me. What price? Fame is all very well, but if it means being known as a man who commentates on match fishing, I'll stick to radio.