Fishing Lines: Don't bank on a monster hit when the TV crews turn up

Don’t bank on a monster hit when the TV crews turn up
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The Independent Online

My friend John Bailey has spent weeks with rough, tough Russian caviar poachers. He opened up fishing for taimen, the world's largest salmon, in the wildest parts of Mongolia. He passed (very slowly, and very fearfully) within 20 feet of a female tiger with cubs in India. John knows a bit about risking life and limb to catch a fish.

That's why he was my first thought when a friend who's a senior TV chappie approached me about a programme. The theme is extreme fishing, and he has asked for some suggestions. Philip wants it scary, the wilder the better. The only stipulations are that the fish has to be big and there has to be a happy ending. Television companies aren't too keen on hunting the mythical gudgeon of Atlantis unless it climaxes with catching the monster.

This immediately rules out anything living in the sea. Some years ago, a group attempted to recreate the 1930s fishing off Scarborough for giant tuna. But boat and film crew spent most of their time in harbour pubs, waiting for the weather to change. For nearly three weeks, it never did. An hour-long film of morose blokes in harbour pubs drinking beer proved a tough one to sell.

So I'm not even bothering to suggest trying to catch great white sharks off Scotland, record swordfish in Portuguese waters or 2,000lb marlin off Australia. Neptune has a warped sense of humour on such matters.

I know a chap who promised his best friend he would catch a tarpon. "It's guaranteed," he assured his pal. "There are loads of them. I've never failed." They even took along a cameraman, as the tarponless fisher was semi-famous, and they thought his celebrity would assure the film's success.

And it may well have proved a winner – except one of Florida's hurricanes wanted to get in on the act too. They got some great footage of their roof being blown off and a tree smashing their car, but no tarpon.

I fear, too, that the decision-makers won't bite on goliath tigerfish, although Philip and his boss got very excited when I showed them pictures. Imagine a fish with a mouthful of Dracula teeth, growing to more than 100lb. The bad news: it's only found in the "Democratic" Republic of Congo. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel there, "due to continued insecurity and lawlessness".

I'd love to fish the Congo River, yet going there with just a fishing rod, a happy smile and belief in man's inherent goodness would be a great but very short story. A friend who experienced its delights in the late 1980s says his second greatest moment was sitting on a plane as it took off from Brazzaville. "Every day I thought, 'I wonder if I'll be alive tonight'," he recalled. "People looked at me in the way that a cat looks at a goldfish."

You might say that spending months in a country rated as bad for your health as eating asbestos is just asking to be robbed by river pirates (as he was). The silly sod made the trip not once but three times in his quest for goliath tigerfish. He was threatened with knives and guns, contracted malaria and lived in appalling conditions. That's extreme angling.

Next week I'll tell you my less fearsome choices.

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