FISHING LINES : Of sandwiches and saboteurs

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The Independent Online
A READER recently observed that this column reads like Pamela Anderson looks. At first I took this as a compliment. But as I read on, it became apparent that my correspondent was not a Baywatch fan. He berated me for a tendency towards flippancy (hard to believe, that), especially on important issues affecting angling. So I wrote a very polite letter back, vowing to tramp the high ground when the occasion arose and generally to adopt a more serious tone.

The trouble is, being a moral crusader is all very well but other things get in the way. Take today, for instance. My conscience tells me I should be reporting on the annual meeting of Pisces, the anti-angling rabble, in London. Sadly, I shall have to send my apologies. It clashes with a long-standing commitment: the annual cheese sandwich competition.

For years, six of us have competed for this coveted award, a trophy that looks as if it were designed by Dali on a migraine day.The rules are simple. We head for a suitable water (this year it's a pond on the Welsh borders) with tackle but no bait, fly or lure. One member of the group makes 12 cheese sandwiches. Each person takes two sandwiches. In three hours, we try to catch the greatest weight, using only those sandwiches for bait and sustenance. Any legal angling method is allowed but cheating results in dis- qualification and a formal ducking. Gamesmanship is an integral part and some frightful stunts are performed in the quest for victory.

As you can see, it would be impossible to miss such a tradition, though I concede that Pisces would be a worthy issue. It's just that the prospect of spending three hours in the company of strident, serious-minded vegans with rings in odd places will be about as much fun as window- shopping in Sarajevo.

Actually, I'm a little worried that it could prove a dull affair. Judging by Pisces's list of national officers, this could be a slightly lower- key affair than the British Gas annual meeting. Pisces has so few members that most undertake two committee jobs. Angling Times reporters who infiltrated a recent meeting found that they almost outnumbered the piscaphobes.

These disappointing attendances could be explained by a paragraph in the group's newsletter praising the "dedicated angling sabs of Newcastle", who have been using "non- violent tactics to disrupt angling matches and pleasure anglers". Unfortunately, the local police keep arresting these tireless defenders of the faith. The story continues: "The sabs have appeared in court many timesand this eventually meant that two were given a number of short prison sentences. This hasn't done them any harm; they admitted it was a good chance for them to have a bit of a rest!" So that's all right, then.

This newsletter is good stuff. I heartily recommend it to those recovering from a serious illness, or suffering from depression. Sadly, the group's cunning tactic of throwing in bread and groundbait in advance of an angling competition appears to have been shelved, probably because it encouraged fish to feed better rather than filling them up. But this void has been filled by a campaign highlighting cruelty to cockles. Pisces are concerned about the stresses that creatures like winkles suffer from being trapped, and are battling to win fair treatment for shellfish such as oysters, whelks and clams.

Pisces are also targeting Chinese restaurants over the use of sharks' fins in Chinese soup, though it's not quite clear where anglers fit in on this one. Perhaps a lot of them like Chinese food. Nor is it clear why fishermen should carry the can because "one heron chick died and three others had to be hand-reared after their nest was destroyed by British Waterways staff felling trees to stop cormorants nesting in them".

I would have liked to discuss such issues with Pisces. But the Welsh trip must come out on top. It's even probable that our competition will involve more people than the meeting. According to the agenda, the highlight at Pisces promises to be a resolution to change from quarterly to annual meetings "because of poor attendances at previous quarterly meetings". Then there's the food. Our contest is followed by a decent supper (lots of red meat) paid for by the one who finishes last. Even those plain cheese sandwiches would be better than Quorn and soya lumps. And let's be honest: faced with nettle tea or a bottle of Montrachet, which one would you choose?