fishing lines : Better Yates than never

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The Independent Online
Britain's best angling writer started his book The Night in 1982. Completion, he claims, is just a few well-turned phrases away, but his publisher is not printing the party invites just yet. As befits a man who writes all his books with an ancient fountain pen, Chris Yates does not like to rush his work.

It probably wouldn't matter if he churned out the same grey prose that typifies most angling literature. But Yates is a sublime writer. His most recent book, The Secret Carp, is among the best fishing books written.

So publishers makes allowances. When they telephone, he will probably be fishing, though he could be watching dragonflies or creating protective areas for the slow-worms in his garden. He will almost certainly not be working. He freely admits that his ethos is to avoid anything that means doing the same task on successive days.

"Life must be varied or time goes too quickly," he says. So he no longer takes the photographs for the covers of Dick Francis books, and his written output is sparse for a man who lives by his pen. Yates admits to a fairly cavalier stance on completion dates (though even he confesses that The Night is a little behind schedule). To him, deadlines are fishing rods that are not catching anything.

But all that is about to change. Yates, who takes life at such a easy pace that he could probably never use a self-winding watch (always assuming he owned a watch in the first place), is about to become a magazine editor. "Yes, it goes against all my principles," he agrees. "But Waterlog will not be like any other magazine. I want energy and irreverence. So articles may be obscure, anarchic or simply daft - but the magazine will not stand accused of being dull."

To this end, the first issue - due out at the end of November - features articles about South African wolf herrings and a spoof Chaucer. The octogenarian Bernard Venables, father of modern fishing, writes on the philosophy of angling, and Peter Stone talks about the time he got caught pike-fishing in C S Lewis's garden. "He can claim to have caught pike in Narnia," says Yates. There will be an obituary column to things like the lower Lambourne and a carp called Sandra. "Maybe we will even have an issue where the word 'fish' isn't mentioned once," Yates says.

The first issue also includes an article by Richard Walker, probably the most influential angler of this century, on the nature of bubbles and what to do with them. This unpublished gem was the catalyst for Waterlog. "It was going to be the journal of the Golden Scale Club [a collection of oddballs dedicated to ancient tackle] back in 1981," Yates says. "When my publisher, John Allen, who runs Medlar Press, saw the articles I had collected, he demanded: 'How long have you had this?' It had just slowly grown from that first Walker article. This is the fully scaled version."

Yates, editor-in-chief, is adamant that it will be an antidote to the pap of angling weeklies and monthlies. "They are just mush that is no good for your teeth. With Waterlog, there will be something that will appeal to people with a a spirit of adventure and fun who like good writing. So we will get as excited about lampreys as 20lb barbel. It will put some zest back in angling writing."

Yates admits that finding writers is not easy. "A lot are boring and their writing isn't challenging enough. So I have several who have never been published. I hope this will encourage others to write better." But how will it affect his legendary lifestyle, so ably portrayed in the acclaimed television series A Passion for Angling? One thing is certain: it's going to be a late Night.