Nightmare line-management

fishing lines
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You Would have to be blind as a venetian not to notice the fantasy fever that has gripped this country. I'm not just talking about football and cricket here. The concept has inspired all sorts of oddball spin-offs, from motor racing to soaps, from golf to tennis.

There is even Fantasy Synagogue, invented by a London Jewish magazine, where you score points for events such as weddings and bar mitzvahs. So I suppose it was inevitable that fishing, which is more fantasy than fact most of the time, would join the party.

The weekly magazine Angler's Mail now runs a Fantasy Fishing League, whereby readers pick five from a list of 300 fishermen. At the end of the season, in mid-March, the winner collects a pile of tackle, presumably to help him claw his way into that elite list.

Winning also brings the accolade of Fantasy Fishing Manager of the Year. The benefits here are more nebulous. You cannot see it being an awful lot of use in meeting girls or getting a better mortgage deal. Still, it could be useful in influencing the National Federation of Anglers when the England manager, Dick Clegg, retires.

The league depends on hundreds of competitions that take place all over the country every weekend. If your chosen angler finishes in the top four, he notches up points.

Those who get pleasure from this form of angling are called match fishermen. Unlike most fishers, who can wander to a spot they fancy, matchmen have to take the spot they are allocated and catch all they can from that area in five hours. The catch is put into a keep-net, so called because all the fish are freed when they have been weighed.

Perhaps slightly unfairly, match anglers have a reputation for not being very bright. A typical joke runs: "What in fishing has an IQ of 200?" Answer: "200 match fishermen". It's true that many who indulge in the competitive side appear to have been fishing when the brains were handed out. A friend who found a pair of waders on the bankside after a match looked inside for a name. Instead, he found written on one boot: "Left Foot". The right-hand one said: "Other Foot".

Such men see nothing odd about buying a special fridge to keep their maggots at optimum temperature, or trying to catch fish smaller than a pin. (Matchmen have a special word for these fry, calling them Reyes.) Ask them to spell their names, and you'll probably find several people called "X". But give these same people a lake with one fish in it, and they will probably catch it. At the highest level, they are the most skilled, instinctive anglers of all.

For reasons that are too complicated or boring to explain, I know many of those in the elite 300. So you would think I had an edge when it comes to picking five of the best. But it hasn't worked out like that.

This week, the magazine published a list of the top 50. With seven weeks gone, the leader has 28 points. My team wasn't in the list, so I phoned up to see how many points the quintet had amassed. The answer? Two. Which has put me in 3,260th place.

Those who follow fantasy leagues will know that, just for fun, the organisers occasionally publish lists of those who are doing badly, as well as an occasional rundown to show how the pundits or national writers are doing. Over the next couple of weeks, I shall be visiting all of my team members and telling them to buck their ideas up, or they can forget fishing for England when I become the manager.