Fishing lines: Mad world of a match man

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THE former world angling champion Kevin Ashurst was surrounded by a group of admirers. They were asking him technical questions about elastic strengths, storing bloodworm and the best shape for a pole float on fast-moving water. Just then, an attractive woman walked past. Ashurst stopped talking and watched her shimmy by. His questioners respectfully waited until the woman had disappeared from view. Then one asked him: "Would you rather have her or a 4lb bream, Kevin?"

Ashurst breeds maggots for a living and is not the sort of person you would debate the merits of, say, the various endings to John Fowles's The Magus. It was a tough question. But he didn't hesitate.

"In a competition?" he replied.

There is something about match angling that inspires a quite extraordinary fanaticism. You do not need to search long to find examples of lunacy in most disciplines of fishing: the carp angler who fished the same water for 12 years, only leaving the bankside to cash his Giro cheque and stock up on provisions; the marlin angler who played a fish for 32 hours before it escaped; the Irish angler who took friends out in his boat, only to discover five miles out to sea that he had forgotten to put in one of the two engines and water was pouring in; the tuna angler who played a lobster pot for four hours; I could go on and on. But for truly deranged fishing tales, you really need to look at those who only fish competitions.

A friend who fishes contests regularly tells of finding a pair of waders left in an Oxford car park after a competition. He looked inside them, hoping that he would find a name. Instead he found written on one boot: "Left foot". The right-foot boot bore the message: "Other foot". Small wonder that the joke: "What has an IQ of 100?" Answer: "A hundred match fishermen," has more than a glimmer of truth.

However, it's not just those matchmen with room-temperature IQs who are paid-up members of the Fruitcake Party. Step forward rocket scientist Rob Spurrett. Success in competitive fishing demands single-minded dedication. But few can ever have achieved the commitment of Spurrett from Abingdon, near Oxford. He has turned down an all-expenses paid trip to watch the World Cup final in the magnificent Stade de France in St Denis next month, so he can fish in a team competition on the river Trent at Nottingham.

I'll give you a moment to absorb that. Yes, the Trent at Nottingham. The unlovely embankment stretch, right in the middle of the city. Still, he's giving up his ticket for an equally big event. The World Cup final clashes with the national final of the Angling Times winter league, where the winning team will pick up pounds 6,000.

In an interview with Angling Times, Rob said: "I've got no choice. With the amount of hours and effort we've put in to get to the final, I've just got to be there on the big day. You don't often get the chance to be in the team championships final, so I want to make the most of it." Spurrett, 34, got his World Cup final ticket when his friend, Andy Lade, won a competition organised by Mastercard.

Even his team captain, Bob Watt, is bemused by Spurrett's decision. "I couldn't believe it when he told me he was turning down the chance to go to the World Cup final. He's not even been named to fish in the match yet." So Spurrett could find that he's given up his World Cup final ticket just to watch his mates fishing.

Watt added: "It's a brave decision, and it showed a lot of dedication for the cause. For us, the team championships is our World Cup final."

Amazingly, Spurrett is not the only team member to face a tough decision. Another of the Browning squad, Keith Habben, is trying to persuade his wife-to-be that they should rearrange their honeymoon so it doesn't clash with the final.

At present, she is said to be a little reluctant to swap the Canary Islands for the embankment at Nottingham.