My old I-Spy book would have awarded huge points for one of the riverbank's rarest creatures. Wandering along the banks of the Ouse at St Ives last week, I spotted... a woman fishing.
The I-Spy book would only have allocated five points if she had been with her husband. But this woman was on her own, and fishing merrily away. A rare sighting indeed, certainly worth more than any otter or 10-spined stickleback.
It's strange that so few British women fish. I don't mean accompanying husbands or boyfriends and having a random cast. Almost every angler I know has tried to sell fishing's charms to his partner - and failed miserably. "You'll love it, the nature and all that," we say. A sudden downpour, a few mosquitoes or a bit of mud, and it's plain that fishing is about as attractive to the opposite sex as farting contests.
Love is supposed to conquer all - but not on the riverbank. The few women I've found willing for a repeat performance end up making daisy chains, reading War and Peace or just going to sleep. It's not just me meeting the wrong women, either. Both my daughters used to fish when they were younger, and would happily pull the legs off crabs for bait, or shiver on the River Bure at Wroxham for the chance of a big pike. But mention going fishing now, and they're always washing their hair.
Some of this may be a fashion thing. It's true that angling apparel has some way to go before it's seen on the catwalks. Mostly, it hasn't moved on from drab greens, though carp fishers have fallen for the camouflage look, while match anglers have adopted curious outfits seemingly inspired by tropical parrots. One team were nicknamed the Rainbow Warriors because of their outlandish team uniform. But it's not the stuff women want to be seen in, even by very close friends.
This may all be about to change. A company called FisherGirl, according to the magazine Tackle Trade World, proved the hit of the ICAST show in Las Vegas. Their USP? Products targeted at the female fishing market. They also donate 10 per cent of every sale to breast cancer research.
Their CEO, Terri MacKinnon, had the idea two years ago because "I could not believe that the female market was not being catered for. I started by going to all the big players and explaining my idea, but they just laughed." All men, you see.
But she didn't give up. She set up her own company, who have just won the best rod-and-reel combo in ICAST's awards. Their range includes the Mermaid (for adults), Foxy (for 12-18s) and Tadpole (for juniors). These products are being trialled by Wal-Mart; MacKinnon expects them to go national next year, and is aiming to float the company by 2007.
Most interestingly, Jeff Pontius, the president of Zebco, one of the world's largest tackle companies, and chairman of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, predicts that FisherGirl will expand into hats, clothing and accessories.
So what's the secret of their early success? Pink fishing rods and reels. One thing's for sure: if my wife starts using FisherGirl gear, I won't be stealing her tackle.