Fishing lines: Wilson's legends of the falls

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The Independent Online

If the fishing-tackle industry ever cast a statue to its greatest benefactor (a sculpture made entirely of hooks, perhaps), it would surely be of John Wilson. I can see it now: his bearded, smiling face atop a pedestal of carbon-fibre rods, and a hidden sound system playing that annoying but engaging laugh.

Wilson's contribution is immeasurable. He has probably been responsible for more people taking up angling during the past 18 years than anyone else, through his Go Fishing television programmes. Even non-anglers watch his stuff.

Best of all, he remains unaffected by it all. At fishing shows he signs autographs, chats to kids and helps those planning trips abroad long after the doors have closed.

Wilson started with half-hour programmes on Anglia about catching fish in Norfolk. They were so popular that other regions took them on. They sold well abroad, too. He has just completed his 120th programme, which forms part of a new series. He now runs the company that produces the programmes, and has written more than 20 books. Not bad for a former hairdresser and fishing-tackle dealer.

What Wilson did, and continues to do, was to follow a tradition started by Jack Hargreaves in his Out of Town programmes in the 1970s, where angling was part of nature, and catching fish fitted into a wider picture. He is a keen naturalist, and can tell a reed warbler from a sedge warbler, marshwort from pennywort. Programmes about catching fish and nothing else leave him cold: "We caught eight sturgeon up to 300lb on the Fraser river in Canada, but what's the point of showing them all?"

His success is down to meticulous planning. "You can't just turn up and expect to make a decent half-hour programme in a day," he says. "A week's hard filming will give me two programmes, but I've done a lot of work before we shoot a thing."

Hard work, maybe, but with a few small perks. For a start, he now travels all over the world. His latest series ties in with his new book, John Wilson's Greatest Fishing Adventures, where he picks his favourite spots and fishes them. It's a tough life, but someone has to do it.

Money is tighter for programme makers on terrestrial TV these days. "All they are interested in is reality TV, gameshows and football," Wilson grumbles. "Cable is getting all the good stuff now."

He's 60, but shows no signs of slowing down. "I'm already talking about a new series," he says. "I love going to dangerous, exciting places." His favourite? "The Murchison Falls in Uganda, where the Nile is funnelled through a fissure in the rocks three yards wide. Whenever I fish there, it gives me shivers."

'Fishing Safari' will be shown on Fridays at 10pm from 5 Dec on Discovery Home and Leisure. 'John Wilson's Greatest Fishing Adventures' is published by Boxtree at £20