Fishing lines: Cast to the wolves

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The Independent Online
One great delight in writing this column is the ability to insult, with relative impunity, those who are deadly serious about their fishing. Taking angling seriously is like looking for a deeper meaning in Tom and Jerry cartoons. It's really just a game involving sticks and string, pointy things, mud and water, after all.

But the Apple Mac is not always mightier than the 14-metre carbon pole. A couple of times a year, those who are publicly mocked for complaining that they have "only" caught a 10lb carp, or three trout in a day, or 10lb in a five-hour competition, get their revenge. These are the occasions when the press are invited along to public events and demonstrate their skills (or lack of them).

This was brought home sharply to me a couple of years ago at the annual Game Fair. The former world casting champion Peter Anderson, a huge Scotsman who looks like a salmon angler should (kilt and all), had crowds clustered round as he entered the casting event and flicked his fly unerringly into the targets, as if they were powerful magnets rather than floating rings. A commentator kept the excitement going by announcing over the public address system: "And now we'll see if the press, who talk a good story, actually know how to hold a salmon rod. I notice that next in line is Keith Elliott, and we'll see how close he gets to Peter's score."

That should have been a cue for me to leg it into the crowds and wear a large beard and glasses for the rest of the day. Anyone with half a brain cell knows you never, ever go on public display directly after a world champion. Even if you're reasonably proficient, you will look incompetent - and that's without taking into account the Y factor (why am I doing this when I'm sure to get the line tangled round my foot in front of several hundred people?).

I blame my below-par performance on the fact that the rod was set up for a right-hander, whereas I'm a staunch leftie. But it was really the fear induced by following a superstar, performing before a cast of hundreds, and knowing that everyone wants the press to do badly, thereby confirming their prejudices.

You would think I would know better by now, and keep out of the limelight. But this weekend near Retford, I shall again be displaying the skills that have made national writers a B-word in angling. My only excuse is that it's for a good cause, the Anglers' Conservation Association, a body whose sole aims are to fight pollution and prosecute polluters. They're pretty good at it, even taking water authorities, Britain's worst polluters, to court regularly. For that alone, they deserve everyone's support.

All the country's top sides are invited to the ACA Masters: England internationals, national champions, teams that haven't been beaten for years - and the press. Last year our normal team captain David Hall passed the captain's armband to me. Afterwards, I passed it straight back to him after leading the press to seventh place out of eight, feeling that even beating one side in such august company was a triumph I was unlikely to replicate.

There are a couple of stars in the press side, who can compete on almost equal terms with the best. But they are outweighed by those like me. To make it worse, the organisers put name placards behind each angler.

However, I have acquired some small wisdom from getting involved in such occasions. To avoid destroying your illusions, I can now reveal that this is being written well in advance. Readers will be unable to turn up on the day, because the competition took place . . . yesterday.

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