Fishing Lines: Some award nights are a dead cert for television

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The Independent Online
IT'S FASCINATING how otherwise sensible people assume that angling writers have infinite wisdom when it comes to matters piscatorial. Bad mistake. Goodness knows, I wouldn't trust most members of the Angling Writers' Association with anything more complicated than putting a two- piece rod together, and then they would probably need several goes. But this week, out of the blue, we were called upon for a highly responsible task: to act as arbiters for a series of national awards.

The man behind this inspirational idea was Keith Arthur, whose fishing programme appears on Sky Television's Tight Lines. He is known for his quirky sense of humour, so when his producer Andy Storey rang, I assumed it was one of Keith's japes. But no. This was serious: Sky's move to score one over the BBC.

It was largely sparked by the BBC's failure to invite Alan Scotthome, who last year became the first man to win the world angling championship three times in a row, to its Sports Personality of the Year. If the weekly fishing papers are to be believed, this had furious fishers from Aberdeen to Zennor ready to chain themselves to the railings of Broadcasting House. Nothing happened. Anglers can't even be bothered to look up the meaning of apathetic.

Well, as the saying goes, a sleeping fish is not necessarily a kipper. Sky saw an opportunity to discomfit the BBC. "It's something I've been wanting to do for a while because it's such a worthwhile event," Storey said. "Even if the BBC did give angling coverage in its awards, it would only be a quick mention. We intend to do the job properly." Sky wanted five names in each of seven categories for a national awards ceremony - "Who better to decide this than the AWA?" Storey asked. Who indeed.

As chairman, I got landed with co-ordinating members' nominations, but Sky wanted the shortlists in a couple of days. The results of a frantic phone-round were very revealing. One member nominated someone who has been dead for a couple of years. A household name in fly-fishing, struggled to think of a single name for Game Angler of the year. One, who shall remain nameless, put himself forward. Most struggled to name five candidates. "Tell me whom other people have suggested," was a familiar cry. Then they said: "You can't possibly have him."

Eventually I cobbled together five names for each category, though some, like Female Angling Personality of the Year, baffled most people. But like a good journalist, I hit my deadline and sent the list to Sky.

Wouldn't you know it? They were on the phone the next day, asking why one person had been chosen and not another. I realised that in the awards game, everyone's an expert. No wonder the Booker Prize generates so much controversy.

Even then, I didn't get it right. A couple of people nominated John Gill, who caught bluefin tuna of 860lb and 900lb off the Azores, and released them both. Others endorsed this choice. Considering that each fish is worth as much as a Porsche, that's a laudable piece of conservation. Trouble is I discovered the fish had been caught late in 1997. By then, it was too late to stop publication in the angling press, notably Angling Times, which trumpeted the awards as "Angling's Oscar" and urged readers to send in their votes.

The winners will be announced at our annual conference and prizegiving at Millwaters Hotel, Newbury, on 6 March. Sky is coming along to televise the ceremony (gripping television assured), which will include our own awards for Angling Book of the Year, Writer of the Year and so on.

Mind you, there should be no problems selecting winners for our own categories, none of this nonsense about getting a consensus. I've delegated this to one person, whose decision is final. To make sure he (oops, clue there) doesn't get lynched by all those who don't win, his name will remain a secret. To add a bit of drama, the winners' names will be in sealed envelopes. Even I won't know who they are. Oh, we'll give the Britpops a run for their money. Eat your heart out, BBC.