Fishing Lines: Spare the rod, spoil the angler

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IF YOU'RE looking to start fly-fishing, I can highly recommend a rather nice graphite rod by Sage that will set you back a mere pounds 544. Balance this with a Swedish Hi-Tec reel (they're almost giving it away at pounds 330), a couple of fly lines, and there's pounds 1,000 gone. You haven't even started on the multi-coloured flies, the flosses, floatants and filleting knives, never mind vital accessories such as leaders, landing nets, line trays and a bag to put it all in.

No wonder several newcomers have written to me, asking about a pounds 9.95 kit comprising 110 pieces of tackle. These include jigs, poppers and a stringer to carry home your catch. It all sounds very tempting. Advertisements littering the Sunday supplements show 'the rod and reel that has taken the USA and Australia by storm', alongside a net holding a brace of fine rainbow trout.

Unfortunately for those who would like to tempt the trout of the river Test, in Hampshire, or with an outstanding invitation to angle for Tweed salmon, I have to say that the Complete Traveller's Fishing Kit is not quite the bargain it appears to be. Far from impressing fellow fishers with your thriftiness, it is likely to get you arrested.

Let's have a look at what you get for your money. First, the 5ft 6in telescopic rod, which folds away to just 16in, is well-named. It's certainly ideal for travellers. However, it's not those who fly to Florida for their holidays who will find it most attractive, but those long-haired ones commonly associated with MOT- less vans that house scowling urchins and snapping mongrels. A rod that fits down the trouser leg is perfect for poaching - but very little else. Its lack of stature means it is incapable of casting the odd-looking lures that come with the set much farther than the end of the rod.

North Americans, of course, use these kiddie rods all the time. But any British angler using even halfsensible tackle on their prolific waters will catch far more than their Yankee counterpart. They may be able to put a man on the moon, but when it comes to fishing, most Americans are still at the Huckleberry Finn stage. You might think it is obvious that the longer the rod (up to a certain size), the more control you have over its actions. In Britain, the average rod is between 9ft and 13ft. In the US, rod length is determined by how easily it fits into a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The millionaire entrepreneur Peter Clapperton who once owned Land's End, is hoping to bring civilisation to the Americans in the form of British tackle and methods. He has just returned from an expedition to deepest Oklahoma, and stunned locals with how many more fish our longer rods, finer lines and sophisticated rigs will catch. 'The trouble is that the Americans are where we were in the 1950s,' he says. 'It's not going to be easy.'

At least the SE420 fixed-spool reel (no relation to the Mercedes, this) matches the traveller's rod. The bad news for would-be trout anglers is that together, they make an outfit designed solely for spinning. In the purist world of trouting, using a spinner is akin to rabbit-hunting with a machine-gun. Because trout are so dumb, the only accepted methods are those that make them much harder to catch, and there is a rigid code on what the tackle should be. A fixedspool reel makes casting too easy; so simple, in fact, that a child can learn to use one in a couple of minutes. Such instant success is unthinkable.

Not that you would catch very much on the worm supplied with the traveller's kit, even on a heavily stocked trout water. I suppose this bright red, plastic monster might trap a few fish that were helpless with laughter, but generally its chance of trapping anything with fins are lower than the Prime Minister's popularity rating.

Surely all those hooks, floats and swivels are a bargain for a tenner? Sadly, no. Only deep-sea anglers trying to catch conger eels would use hooks that large. The floats could double as marker buoys. But the swivels look quite good.

But the bottom line is: will it catch anything? Yes, an awful lot of people who don't know better, I'm afraid. Well-meaning mums and hopeful dads will turn their offspring off fishing if they handicap them with such an ill-matched collection of junk.

Then again, spending pounds 1,000 on a Sage rod, Hi-Tec reel and attendant accessories won't necessarily catch you many more fish. But at least you'll look the part. And that's ever so important.