No sex please, we're anglers

Fishing lines
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The Independent Online
WANDERING round a backwoods fishing shop in Massachusetts last week, I was taken by a sign that said pithily: "If it's got tits or wheels, sooner or later it'll give you trouble." Such sentiments, it appears, are not limited to the rednecks of Franklin County. The England manager Dick Clegg has banned his team from sex during England's defence of the world coarse fishing title this August. Wives and girlfriends will not be allowed to stay at the team hotel.

Clegg's team have just returned from the inaugural European Championships on the river Vienne in France. The captain is quoted in last week's Angler's Mail as saying: "The entire squad were under lock and key in a small country hotel. This was not Paris, so there were no temptations. But even if there were, the lads know nooky is strictly forbidden. When I took over this job 11 years ago, I insisted there were no wives or girlfriends prior to world championships. The same now applies to European championships. You have to be at your physical peak in this game."

Funny, that. Having travelled with the team for almost 20 years, I never once realised that I was mixing with finely tuned athletes. If they were cartoon characters, they would be closer to Porky the Pig than Roadrunner. But what do I know? Clegg has collected an MBE for his services to angling and he has won the world title five times.

Nevertheless, most people would find his approach odd, to say the least, when it comes to fishing. But some anglers are remarkably, er, focused when it comes to choosing between fish and women. I can illustrate this with a slightly risque but revealing yarn about a well-known carp fisher.

The angler in question was fishing a notoriously difficult lake. He had already spent a week on the water, fishing night and day without sign of a fish. Normal people might see such behaviour as seriously deranged, but among carp enthusiasts it is quite normal. Equipped with tents, beds and even carpet, some drag along a generator so that they can have electric light and watch television.

My friend Des, who was in a tent nearby, had been on the water for a week, too. Des is himself numbered among angling's elite, and the pair chatted about how good the sport was, and whether this particular night would be any different. They agreed that it would probably be fruitless, too.

Facing such a prospect, the other angler decided to visit the pub, and asked Des to guard his tackle. A couple of hours later, he returned with an attractive woman. Des, who hadn't seen a fish - let alone a woman - for days, was mesmerised when the couple disappeared into the tent.

Sound, as you know, carries well across water. Des was close enough to hear every kiss, moan, gasp and grunt. He felt like a peeping Tom as buttons were loosened, zippers undone and clothing discarded. Soon, those sounds made by a couple who know each other very well wafted through the night air. Poor Des found it hard to concentrate on fishing.

Suddenly a high-pitched shriek broke the calm. It was not the woman complaining, but the other angler's electronic bite indicator, registering that a big fish had grabbed his bait and was making off with it. Des prepared to go and wind in the fish himself - but his colleague was made of sterner stuff.

"Excuse me a moment, love," Des heard him say. And, unbelievably, the angler appeared outside his tent in the moonlight, plainly showing his excitement at getting a bite. He lifted his rod, and hooked the fish.

After about 15 minutes, he steered the fish close to the bank, only to realise that his landing net had become tangled in some brambles. "Des, give us a hand, will you?" he shouted. So Des hurried along to net the fish, which turned out to be a corker.

There is a ritual involved with the capture of a big carp. The fish is laid upon a padded mat, unhooked and weighed. To add insult to injury, Des, who hadn't caught a thing all week, had to be the official photographer. The fish was carefully returned, and the rod rebaited and recast before the angler returned to his tent.

Not surprisingly, the woman involved had found it less than flattering to find her charms rated lower than a fish. Unnoticed, she had gathered her clothes and flounced away. The angler only noticed when he peered back into his tent. "Shame, that," he said.

"Think we'll get any more carp tonight, Des?"