Fishing Lines: Horny old devil with a genius for trout and affairs of the current

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The Independent Online

Marrying a fisherman is unwise. Marrying a carp angler is plain stupid. But wedding someone who's addicted to catching sea trout... that's a recipe for disaster.

Sea trout are brown trout that, for reasons of their own, decide they want to visit the seaside. Like salmon, they find a life in the ocean wave very agreeable. After a year or two, though, they yearn for their old mates and, anyway, want to show off their new silvery coat. So home they come.

Fishing for them is problematic. The time to angle is at night. Once, we'd have a few casts as it got dark, then head for the pub. No more. Thanks to an extraordinary man called Hugh Falkus, serious sea-trouters fish right through the night. And the next night. And the next.

As you can imagine, such a lifestyle plays merry hell with friendships (most nocturnal casters only know other sea-trout fishermen), the ability to retain a steady job and any semblance of a relationship.

Falkus himself, author of the definitive book on sea trout, is a classic example. Married four times (he was up to three wives by 35, and had dismissed children of his earlier amours from his life), Falkus still embarked on a stream of affairs, even leaving his long-suffering wife Kathleen in his sixties for a woman half his age.

He was not merely a womanising cad. He was vain, quarrelsome, boastful, short-tempered and dogmatic, according to a new biography*. Even his close friends admitted he was "difficult". But God moves in mysterious ways. To make amends, Falkus was a magnificent writer, a wonderful storyteller and a hugely talented broadcaster, as well as being a superb naturalist, brilliant angler and fearless sailor.

Films that he narrated or presented won many awards. 'Signals', a film about the life of seagulls, won top prize in the Montreux Film Festival and a Blue Ribbon Award at the New York Film Festival (even beating a documentary of the Apollo moon landing). Falkus attended neither ceremony. He claimed he hated "all that bullshit".

For many, Falkus could do no wrong. But Newton's book reveals that even a claim to be a war hero does not stand serious scrutiny. Though Falkus claimed to have shot down two German bombers before being downed himself and spending most of the war in various POW camps, his RAF record shows nothingof the sort.

Newton never met his subject. He wrote him just two letters and received quick and courteous replies. When he decided to write 'Hugh Falkus: A Life on the Edge', which took three years, he knew some unsavoury things might come to light, although a Falkus book inspired his own fishing.

Bravely (and perhaps because, with Falkus dead, Newton was not swept away by his subject's undoubted ability to charm), he has written a warts-and-all book. That doesn't mean it denigrates and destroys its inspiration. Instead, it is a superb, often moving portrait of a hugely talented man whose demons degraded his genius.

It's right up there with the best biographies of the year – and a warning for daughters with an eye for sea-trout fishermen.

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