Fishing Lines: Will I flop in the end-of-the-pier show?

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The Independent Online

Even in fishing circles, fame is a fleeting thing. Nothing illustrates this better than the sad tale of a friend who was pike fishing on a desolate East Anglian river in winter.

Nobody was catching, and he got into conversation with a pair of pike anglers nearby. As you do, they discussed their past successes and failures, until one of the other fishermen said: "Ah, I remember you. You were big in the Seventies, weren't you?" Ouch.

Guess I was "big" in the Seventies, too. I had just won the national sea championships on Southend Pier, and I was working at Angler's Mail, an experience I have Tippexed out of my CV. When I won the three-day title, my own magazine was too mean to send a photographer to the event, so the picture it used of me was taken in the office, holding a cup of coffee. Ah, happy days.

God, I was good then. I even fished a trial for the England team at coarse fishing (there were 100 others taking part too, though). But fame and glory, even in fishing, passes you by if you blink. Now the average angler would say: "Keith who?"

Well, I thought that was it. I'd tasted Chateau Celebrity, but the goblet has moved on round the table. Demand has changed. Fishermen have developed more complicated, sophisticated tastes. Suddenly, I was yesterday's man.

But now a chance has come to revive my fortunes. It's scarcely an angling version of Celebrity Love Island, but it could be just the thing to show the whipper-snapper generation that we old 'uns have been there and done it.

It all came about after a conversation with Darren Taylor, the editor of Total Sea Fishing. His magazine runs a monthly feature on pier fishing, and I mentioned that Southend was where I had my 15 minutes of fame.

Darren saw this as an opportunity to do a Southend Revisited. Could the man who had conquered the pier all those years ago still hack it?

Of course I could. Some years ago, I used to drive children from a care home there, take them out on the mud to catch crabs for bait, go on the pier and catch their supper. They got covered with mud and we caught plenty of fish.

Much harder to do these days, of course, what with extra insurance cover, loony health and safety rules, police checks to show I'm not a pervert planning unmentionable things with young boys, applications in triplicate and so on.

I still go to Southend once or twice a year for old times' sake, though these days I buy my crabs rather than collect them. (There is nothing worse for your back than a few hours' crabbing.) But if I'm going to look the part for the camera, I'll need to hunt out 30 or 40 softback and peeler crab, so I went to Southend this week for a practice run. Could I still find crabs? Could I still catch flounders, garfish, mackerel, even mullet and bass, from various points on the world's longest pier?

Er, no. Judging by this trial run, I'm in serious doo-doo (very similar to Southend's mud). Next week, I'll tell you what went wrong - and my hastily contrived secret plan that could still save the day.

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