Fishing Lines: Thanks from Jimmy Carter, then thanks to Gordon Brown

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The Independent Online

That's what you call a good week: an invitation to fish in Sweden, a letter from a former American president thanking me for my help, and a friend collaring an MBE.

Jimmy Carter's letter was the real thing: not some photocopied missive, but on his personal notepaper, Dear Keith and an ink signature. I'd like to pretend he is constantly in touch to discuss affairs of state. The truth is somewhat more mundane.

It all came about because I attended a fishing auction last November in Boston. Among the 2,200 lots was the impressive tackle collection of John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres. The stuff of dreams for a collector, it included rods and reels owned by presidents and celebrities such as Bing Crosby. When you own a baseball team, though, I guess money is not much of a problem.

I don't know how much the Moores items made, but he generously donated all the proceeds to The Carter Center, a charity which promotes human rights. At $5,200, Bing's reel was beyond my shallow pocket, but I was top bidder for a well-used cap, decorated with grotesque flies and badges. It had been owned by Ed Zern, probably fishing's funniest writer.

I was delighted, especially as it has just earned me a gracious thank you from a former president, himself a keen fisher. Turns out I can even write the cost off against tax, because the Carter Center is a 501(c)(3) charitable organisation, whatever that is. Yeah, I can just see the Inland Revenue allowing that one. $350 for a fishing hat? We're not wearing that one.

Even better news was hearing that Fred J Taylor is getting a gong for services to angling. I played a small part by writing a letter to Gordon B, saying why I thought Fred should get some recognition. Don't think it will change him one bit, though.

He lives in a small semi near Leighton Buzzard, and at 88 he won't be moving upmarket now. But in his pomp he was one of angling's pantheon, pals with great names such as Richard Walker, Peter Stone, Hugh Falkus and Bernard Venables.

Fred has written more than 20 books and still turns out columns for various magazines. He played a key role in popularising Canada as a fishing destination for Brits, and though recognised for services to fishing, it might equally be for services to ferrets and ferreting he wrote definitive books on both or for his writing about the countryside.

As fishing-mad kids we used to joke about Fred, not just because of his Friar Tuck looks (he was an Army chef in the days when lard was popular) but for things written about him. He worked at the time as a rep for a tackle company, and its brochure said of him: "He's an expert in his own field." We retorted: "Wow! Fred's got his own field!"

Funny how the wheel turns. I've just fronted a CD of Fred and his close pal Fred Buller talking about their lives, which comes out later this year. That meant it was easy to write about his achievements for New Year Honours consideration.

I didn't feel that formal letter was quite the place to include Fred's most memorable quote. Fishing on an icy, rainswept day, he turned to Dick Walker and said: "I'll be glad when I've had enough of this." Ed Zern would have been proud of that.