Fishing Lines: Time for revenge on the pirates of the pier

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LOST A fishing rod and reel this week. Good gear, too: an Abu Ambassadeur 7500 and a 12ft Nash Pursuit with a 2.75lb test curve. Actually, lost is the wrong word. It implies something that has been mislaid. I know where my errant tackle is hiding: somewhere in the Thames Estuary off Southend. It was pulled into the sea.

One minute I was lounging on Southend Pier with my daughters, boring them to death with explanations about how mackerel were related to ocean giants like tuna, that grow to more than 1,000lb; the next minute, the rod did a perfect cartwheel, as if one of those giant tuna was on the other end, and disappeared into the briny.

Up to that point, it had been a pretty good day. We had caught six mackerel for the next day's breakfast, and Fleur had nobbled a near-3lb bass that had grabbed a strip of mackerel as she wound in. I've fished the pier for more than 20 years and never had one that big. She thought the bass was pretty good, but enjoyed even more the acclaim from nearby fishermen who came to admire it.

Losing rods is an occupational hazard to anglers, just as golfers lose the occasional ball. Some fish (carp, cod, bass, marlin) grab a bait so aggressively that if your tackle is not hunkered down, it can disappear in seconds. In a pond or river, this is not too much of a problem, if you don't mind getting wet. In the sea, especially in depths of more than 500ft, it's a bit more problematic.

On a boat, beach or pier, it's wise to secure the rod somehow. A lanyard tied to a railing or something immovable works pretty well. It's also a good idea to stand close enough to grab the rod, but not close enough to get clouted. One of the most delicious moments I've experi-enced came during a trip off Bradwell, in Essex. My friend Mike was standing behind his rod, looking out across the ocean, when a cod grabbed his bait. The rod butt came up and whacked him in the bootmenders. He squealed and clutched himself, only to be cracked on the forehead and knocked on his back by the rod, which disappeared over the side.

It's infuriating to have a rod pulled in, even worse if you can't retrieve it. But you feel a sneaking admiration for a fish that can get revenge over an angler in such spectacular fashion. However, my smart rod and reel didn't fall victim to a fish. They were dragged in by a speedboat. It came zooming alongside the pier at full speed, only feet from the stanchions. The driver laughed as it pulled my rod into the water and broke other lines, and appeared to say in sign language that he planned to do the same thing twice. The butt and reel missed Fleur's face by inches.

Jet skis have been attracting lots of negative publicity recently because anyone can buy them. But the same is true for speedboats, I discovered. I phoned the Royal Yachting Association and spoke to their powerboating section about regulations governing speedboats. Wish I hadn't bothered. I got some appalling jerk who blamed me for putting my line in the way, even though it was just dangling over the side, and suggested that fishing probably wasn't allowed on the pier anyway. "We are an island community and we have every right to navigation," he told me. This means that even oiks like him, with more money than sense, could buy a boat and do what they damn well liked.

I wished this son of the sea a good day, hoping that my lost rod and line might find its way somewhere near his engine and do terminal damage. Then I spoke to the Southend foreshore department, who were much more helpful. They had seen the boat in question, watched it break about 27 by-laws and hauled the owner over. Turned out he had been letting his mate drive (no rules, you see, we're an island community). It also turned out that the owner had given a false name and address.

That might have been the end of it. Goodbye, rod, goodbye compensation. Except it turns out that any boat using a slipway has to leave details of its insurance, for fairly obvious reasons. The foreshore department, furious at being duped, is on the case. It knows the launch site used, and is intent on tracing the culprit. I might not be able to hang the bugger from the yardarm, but I might yet get a new rod and reel out of it.