Fishing Lines: Counter argument in the tackle shop debate

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THINKING OF taking up angling? This is precisely the right time to do so. Not because of the quality of your potential catch (spring is actually a pretty duff season for fishing), but because you can stock up on almost everything you need, simply by going to your newsagent.

W H Smith or John Menzies are not the first places that come to mind when you're thinking of tackling up. And it has to be admitted there are certain disadvantages (limited choice, a lack of atmosphere and technical knowledge, to name but three). But the alternative is going into a fishing tackle shop.

Oh, they were fine a few years ago, when cormorants hadn't gobbled up all the fish, and fathers could take their children to river or pond without being mugged for pounds 9 just to entertain junior for an hour. But discussing why the Environment Agency is trying to price fishing out of existence is outside the scope of this article.

Anyway, in those balmy days, tackle shops were full of anglers. Most fishers were there not really to buy anything but for endless free cups of coffee and the social side. This was so exceptional that some shops took to staying open all night and even running dances on Friday and Saturday evenings. Sadly, these did not catch on because, whatever else anglers may be, they have a rooted objection to boogieing with someone who thinks the smell of fish is an aphrodisiac.

For newcomers, walking into such a shop was a heady experience. Scarcely were the words "I want to take up fishing but..." out of their mouths, than a shoal of unpaid shop assistants descended upon them. The tackle dealer could do nothing but grit his teeth as his erstwhile customers dismissed hand-made split-cane rods, nickel- silver reels, monogrammed creels and a pounds 100 permit for the best lake in the area. "You don't need those," the beginner would be told. "Just get a bit of line and a few floats. I've got an old rod you can have. If you're going fishing this weekend, come along with us. We'll help you with all the other bits."

It's a very different story now. Those jackal tackle dealers have all become minicab drivers. In their place are those very customers who once lurked on the other side of the counter. They bought the shop, believing that combining hobby and work would be the best of both worlds. They have realised, too late, that chatting in the shop for an hour may have been fun, but being in it six days a week is worse than listening to a continuous tape of sitar music with vocal accompaniment.

For a few summer months, business can be good (though last year the World Cup spoilt that too). Otherwise, it's like selling Christmas cards, thanks to the Enviroment Agency, the weather and the state of Denmark. No wonder those poor proprietors look as if they chew on lemons all day.

They do not find this joke funny. "Why don't tackle dealers look out of the window in the morning?" Answer: "Because then they'd have nothing to do in the afternoon." If you try to buy something, the owner gloomily starts on the premise that you will want the cheapest possible. He has plenty of this, having been swamped by surprisingly good but soulless Taiwanese tackle. But it takes all the fun from trying to buy all you need for pounds 50.

Rather than face such a gloomy scenario, the answer for beginners is to buy every fishing magazine. At this time of year, every one, from Catchmore Carp to Angling Times, tempts readers with cover mounts. You're probably used to the useless pens, transfers and car stickers that are the usual fare. Not in fishing. A typical gift is a spool of line, costing about pounds 3 (and this on a magazine costing pounds 1). There are hooks, artificial flies, floats, bait boxes, disgorgers (for removing hooks without damage) and fish bags.

It has reached such a stage that this month's Trout Fisherman carries a free line worth more than pounds 20. You also get a deal on a half-price reel, and other lines at half price. The magazine costs pounds 2.40. At that price, it's worth keeping the line and throwing away the magazine. To an outsider, this seems the economics of the madhouse. But as any tackle shop will tell you, that's what the fishing tackle business is all about.