fishing lines : Hooked on Hall of infamy

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The launch of a new magazine is rarely a reason for sadness. But I shed a small tear this week when Let's Go Coarse Fishing landed on my doormat. Not because it's awful (actually, it's pretty good as long as you're a duffer), but because it replaces the Private Eye of fishing.

A magazine whose editor has no idea of journalism, the law of libel or fairly basic rules on grammar and spelling would seem destined for a short shelf life. But David Hall's Coarse Fishing was at the cutting edge of its market for 21 years.

It revolutionised angling magazines, sweeping aside the formulaic style of contemporary publications and replacing it with in-your-face writing that preceded Loaded by two decades. Wild, ungrammatical, idiosyncratic, often libellous and crude, it crackled with raw energy. Unknown writers became famous (TV fishing celebrities John Wilson and Chris Yates are prime examples) under its tutelage. Unlettered by any rules, the magazine's success proved that coarse anglers could actually read without moving their lips.

I rang its founder, David Hall, to commiserate. I should have known better. The first thing he said was: "There are some very sad people out there. All week I've been getting phone calls from people saying 'I feel I've known you for years', and quoting wholesale from some of the old writers. What's the matter with them? It's only a magazine."

For a generation (myself included), it was a lot more than that. Making and breaking reputations, branding people with nicknames like the Nottingham Rapist but getting away with it because the recipients became proud to have been insulted: it was a mixture of the sublime and the utterly childish. "If it was true or probably true, I wrote about it," Hall said. "I often wondered why people kept threatening me with libel actions."

In 1975, Hall was managing director of a public company and had all the trappings of success: a flat in Mayfair, an E-type and international travel. He woke up one morning, phoned in and resigned. For 18 months he pondered what to do, and decided on a fishing magazine. Doyens such as Richard Walker, probably this century's greatest angler, told him: "You'll lose your shirt."

Hall says: "People said coarse fishermen didn't read, but that's because nobody gave them anything to read. It was blind faith - but it worked. My criterion was 'Do I like it?', and never mind the literals. It was a wonderful time. We were men behaving badly." (I'm included in the "we", but that's another story.)

He adds: "In 1975 it was an illiterate market; now it's a sophisticated one. We've become dinosaurs. We produced the finest articles that have been seen on coarse fishing, but people don't want what we write any more. When I started, the average age of readers was 21. Now it's 39. Times change. People now want 'how to' magazines, so that's what I'm giving them. I could have kept Coarse Fishing going, but it would merely have been an expensive indulgence."

There are other factors. Hall is no longer editor of one rogue magazine. Now he's a respect-able publisher with a stable of titles. His hair, once black, is silver. As chairman of the Angling Trades Association, he is a powerful man in angling politics. He has changed from enfant terrible to pillar of the establishment - quite a volte-face for the man who once suggested the National Federation of Anglers (NFA) stood for No F----- - Ability.

Surely he must have a few regrets at seeing his magazine close after so long. "Yes. I feel sorry because I like writing and now I don't have a platform anymore. It's staggering that so many people remember things I wrote 10 years ago. I realise now that people took it a lot more seriously than I ever did."