Fishing Lines: Soothsayer of the riverbank

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The Independent Online
NOT A lot of people know this. But as well as being the angling correspondent for this newspaper, I provide golden words for a much older, higher-selling and more influential publication - Old Moore's Almanack.

Yes, it's true. Alongside advertisements for Persian love charms, amazing candle rituals (guaranteed to work or your money back), the incredible cards of Doctor Ellah and wishing cork trees, is the 'Angler's Guide', written by yours truly. How I became the Russell Grant of mystical angling matters is a tale of coincidence and strange circumstance that only Old Moore readers would truly understand. But I'll tell you anyway.

It seemed a very ordinary day when, 15 years ago, I walked into my local newsagent. There were no portents: no bolts of lightning nor storms of fishes. I merely wanted to buy the Times. But as I reached for a copy, my arm brushed a pile of grey booklets printed on cheap newsprint. One fell to the floor. I bent to pick it up. And that's when it happened.

For the booklet, instead of falling unopened to the floor, landed wide open. I bent down, picked it up. The words 'Angler's Guide' leaped out at me. What was this strange tome? I had to find out more. So I walked out with the Times and Old Moore's Almanack.

The language was strange, befitting a publication that has been around since 1697. Its fishing page talked of greaves, which my dictionary defines as 'the refuse of tallow; the fibrous matter or skin found in animal fat, which forms a sediment on melting and is pressed into cakes to serve as fish-bait', and the spinal cord of a bullock. Neither has been used for bait in my lifetime. Furthermore, it encouraged anglers to fish for burbot, a snub, ugly fish that hasn't swum in British waters for decades. And there I might have left it, an archaic page in an oddball publication - except for what happened next.

The unsigned advice highlighted the optimum time that month as two days hence, when by coincidence I was going fishing. You can guess the rest. I hauled out fish after fish. It was the best sport I had that year.

Obviously Old Moore was trying to tell me something. I contacted Barry Belasco, who tends the vintage tome, and pointed out that the angling column, though undoubtedly worthy, had become just a little dated. He admitted that it probably hadn't changed since Victoria's reign. But with that instinct of the true believer in fate, he asked me to update it. Though feeling unworthy of such an influential role in people's lives, I did.

The next year, I contacted Belasco again. Did he want the 'Angler's Guide' updated again? Goodness me, no. Old Moore merely needed the basic information to throw the entrails and discover the best times for fishing. So my wise words (July: good catches of most species will be taken) haven't changed for more than a decade. There's every chance they won't change this century.

But recently, I started to worry. Old Moore is looking thinner. Its circulation, once an extraordinary 3 million, is down to 900,000. And is my advice really helping all those born under the sign of Pisces? Unlike this column, I haven't had a single letter from grateful or ungrateful readers. But Belasco, wise as a pelican, reassured me.

'Back in the 1970s, while running another magazine, I removed a feature called 'Castrating by the Moon'. I thought people didn't want it and I was trying to pitch the publication more to the high street and the family readership. But I was astonished. I got a huge postbag from farmers up and down the country asking where it was. It was very important in the farming world, and those who followed its lunar rhythms found their calf mortality rate fell sharply.'

Worried that I might not have made the connection between castrating calves and catching carp, Belasco continued: 'Don't worry about the lack of letters. I know that if I took out the fishing column, there would be a host of 'Who turned the lights out?' letters. The country people out there know it works, and take it for granted that it will be part of Old Moore.'

So there you have it. The man who knows says my predictions are standing the test of time. And, by the way, next Friday afternoon should be a very good time for fishing. You might even meet a tall, dark handsome stranger on the riverbank.

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