Fishing Lines: Heavy handed with the truth

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The main problem about displaying the fish of your dreams in a glass case is the inordinate amount of room it takes up. This week the press has been agog about the discovery of an 85-year-old "record" salmon. But after seeing the fish, I can understand exactly why it has remained incognito for so long.

The 53in fish was caught by Thomas Allen, a Shropshire landowner, in 1912 at the confluence of the rivers Severn and Tern. The fish reposed in the hallway of Allen's home at Waters Upton until 1967. His nephew John Adney moved it to his home at Atcham and kept in his dining-room. When he died earlier this year, his son Richard inherited the case. He has decided to sell the fish, allegedly after discovering it could be worth as much as pounds 10,000.

This "world exclusive" was uncovered by Angling Times, with the headline "Record Fish Sensation", and taken up by several of the national newspapers. If the fish did weigh 65lb, as Angling Times claims, it would beat the oldest record in the books, a 64lb salmon caught by Georgina Ballantine in 1922.

Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that it did. Most cased fish have lettering on the glass stating the fish's weight, who caught it and where. But Allen's giant has no such information, not even a hand-written piece of card which amateur taxidermists often used.

So where did the 65 lb weight come from? According to Angling Times' news editor, Richard Lee, the Allen family has always said that the weight was 65lb. So that's fair enough, then. (You might reasonably wonder how that particular piece of information worked down the generations, and whether exaggeration might not have crept in somewhere.)

The other "record" clue is the fish's dimensions. It is an inch shorter than Miss Ballantine's fish. However, Angling Times says: "With a depth of 10.5 inches, indications are that it is thicker." On the strength of this, the Daily Mail ran a full-page story entitled: "85 years on, the one that got away from the record books."

Well, I hate to be a party-pooper, but the depth of a cased fish is about as relevant as what it had for supper on its birthday. A taxidermist can make a fish as fat as Mr Blobby or as thin as Kate Moss. It is undoubtedly a very big salmon. But a record? A salmon could be both longer and fatter than Miss Ballantine's fish and weigh less. Without proof that it was accurately weighed at the time, there is no chance that Allen's salmon will displace the record.

Angling Times says that the fish is to be removed from the case "to settle the hottest story in angling". All that will do is to lower its value. Examination of the scales, as the paper claims, will certainly not reveal the fish's weight. That's like looking at the branch of a tree and hoping to find out show many apples it bore in 1985.

More to the point is: who would want to buy such a monster? My friend Chris the Stuffer once gave me a model of a 10ft marlin, because nobody would buy it. I soon found out why. My London flat didn't have a straight wall long enough to hold it. I rigged up a complicated wire arrangement that had the fish dangling from the ceiling, and swinging around gently in the air currents. It made walking round in the dark hazardous.

The thing is, a very big fish is only attractive to the angler who catches it. To others, it's an enormous eyesore. Richard Adney's heart probably sank when he knew that he had been left That Fish. And I'm sure his wife had a hand in the decision to find it a new home.