Fishing Lines: Partners who refuse to bite

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The Independent Online
THE strange tale of a fisherman who advertised his wife in a Tackle for Sale small ad set me thinking: what makes anglers think they are such a good catch?

It seems that John Drake, after a row with his wife Karen, put an advertisement in Angling Times saying: ''One wife for sale, pounds 50 or very near offer, good condition.' Drake, who had phoned the publication to advertise a fishing box, says he decided to offer his wife as well because the ad was free.

'I had a bit of a tiff and did it on the spur of the moment,' he said. 'I was dead honest with her and told her what I'd done, though she didn't believe me.' Karen was soon to find out. Drake, a dustcart driver for Bexley Council in Kent, gave his home number, so Karen answered many of the calls. The others went through to Drake's mobile number in the dustcart.

Now here's the revealing part. He received about 200 calls as a result. Not all were serious, but many were genuinely interested in finding out more. Karen, who has been married for three years, said: 'They were miffed to hear I wasn't really for sale.'

The last National Angling Survey, carried out in 1988, showed that there are supposed to be 375,000 women anglers. Goodness knows where they all go fishing. I suspect the figure was reached by asking the question: 'Do you go fishing?' To which thousands replied: 'Yes.' If the question had been 'Do you fish?' the response would have been in the low teens.

This is because every fisherman thinks the sport is so interesting that any new girlfriend is dragged on to the riverbank to appreciate its delights. To add further to their pleasure, they are allowed to carry the heavy items of tackle.

But after a day's torrential rain (the fishing umbrella is always used to cover important items of tackle rather than transients), wading through fast-flowing rivers in fashion boots or getting bitten by mosquitos during a night fishing session, very few women ever return to the waterside.

For a breed supposedly famed for their patience, anglers are notoriously short-tempered when teaching their loved ones how to cast or pull in a fish. Long-time fishermen can spot such relationships a mile off and keep well clear.

It starts with solicitous teaching, moves to raised voices and ends in

sulky silence. I've seen bored women throw stones at a float or unconsciously pluck the feathers from artificial flies. But love may win through, as it obviously did for Karen and John Drake. A woman may make the mistake of marrying an avid fisherman, though by now she will not be stupid enough to join him on his excursions. Before long, they will start to bicker over the amount of time he spends fishing, a sport she understands only too well. No wonder many anglers are single or divorced.

A few believe they will meet a woman who will share his passion for angling, who won't mind fishing in the second-best spot, spending every holiday alongside renowned rivers and passing the spare time by sieving maggots or fly tying. Such paragons are as rare as turbot in the Thames. I know of fewer than a dozen. The best of the lot smokes like a kipper, has a bad back and can't drive. But she loves fishing. If only she wasn't well into her sixties . . .

The price that John set for his wife is obviously laughable. Any woman who puts up with the unsocial hours, constant spending on expensive (but essential) accessories and a car that smells like the unsavoury parts of a seaside harbour should be treasured, not advertised. If her husband is a successful fisherman, she and the family will get heartily sick of trout or whiting. If he's a duffer or a coarse angler, she won't get even that.

And what price for a 32-year-old balding dustcart driver (admittedly one with a mobile phone) whose idea of spoiling a woman is to take her for a day down to Bexley Ponds?

Or, indeed, for a 47-year-old journalist, who is writing this in a boat on the Norfolk Broads (alone, sadly), who spends every possible spare hour on lake, stream or pond instead of taking the children swimming or to ballet, and who is going to have a hard time explaining away the herring aroma in the car (left them in the sun on the parcel shelf).

You won't catch me advertising my wife. On the contrary. I'm counting my blessings.

PS: My wife told me what to write.