Fishing: Secrets of the Gazza strip

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The Independent Online
A RIVER bank is the perfect place to escape when the world seems set to self-destruct. Fish don't worry overmuch about dishonest ministers, Third World debt or pigs escaping from an abattoir. If you want to sort out the really important things in life, paddle around in a stream or lake with a fishing rod. No phones, no faxes, no worries. It's better than any psychoanalyst's couch. Cheaper, too.

Anglers often get accused of escapism. Darn right: just give us an excuse. Being unable to face everything that accompanied Princess Di's funeral, I went fishing. You wouldn't believe how many others were on the lake that day. Best of all, none of them wanted to talk about how her campaign to outlaw landmines had touched their hearts.

You may have noticed that an event called the World Cup takes place in France next month. Now, I don't mind a good game of football, but 150 hours of the stuff? It really struck me how lunatic the whole thing had become when I attended a press briefing last week. It was convened by Ariel, announcing proudly that it was the official washing powder for the England team, and Sainsbury's, now the official supermarket (or should it be hypermarket?). Where will it all end? Still, at least it's possible to escape the madness by grabbing a rod and heading for the river. Or so I thought. But sad to report, even fishing has been infected.

I am a regular reader of The Field. Those who haven't seen the magazine or those who have preconceived ideas about its content would be agreeably surprised to find that it's as likely to cover camel racing, the decline of wild orchids or mole catching as hunting, shooting and fishing.

This changed emphasis is almost entirely down to its editor, Jonathan Young, who treats the publication as his own private fiefdom and only prints articles that interest him personally. The result is, like Young, cranky but entertaining.

Regular readers will easily spot Young's current passion. At the moment it's fly-tying, so the magazine features a "Fly of the Month". Mostly, it highlights a fly that nobody has ever heard of, but readers have come to expect the unusual. What they will not have expected was the latest issue acknowledging the imminence of the World Cup by featuring..."The Gazza" fly.

According to the magazine, it is similar to a fly called "The Footballer". This is an imitation of the chironomid midge pupa which gets its name from the black and white striped effect of the natural creature's abdomen. "The Gazza", however, has a red and black pattern. It's new to me, but The Field assures us that it was devised during Euro 96, has caught trout to 8lb and works well on small trout fisheries.

It is not well named. The artificial fly is a thin sliver of a thing. It would be more true to type if it looked like a bumblebee. The completed Gazza needs coating with varnish or superglue "for an indestructible finish", which seems a bit hopeful given the player's current form and attitude.

It should have sported England colours, or at least those of Middlesbrough. But there is a reason for this. The fly's secret ingredient (and here we see Young's influence) is that the vivid red body has "a narrow strip cut from a Walker's crisp packet".

For those who do not tie fishing flies, I should point out that crisp packets are an irregular feature in the average tyer's box. Marabou or peacock feathers, silver tinsel, a bit of squirrel or seal, maybe, but not much that comes from supermarket shelves. It must be that Sainsbury's influence.

However, there are two good reasons for using a crisp packet. First, Gary Lineker and Gascoigne were advertising crisps at the time of Euro 96, and second, using a bright red strip from the packaging ensures that the fly retains its colour in the water.

Traditional materials such as fur, silk or feather darken in contact with water. Finally, Gascoigne is a keen angler. Well, you can't win 'em all.

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