Rippled waters of time

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The Independent Online
Readers of the Independent have been bombarded by an orgy of navel- gazing to celebrate the newspaper's 10th anniversary this week. Its sports writers have waxed lyrical about changes in their specialist areas. So on this momentous occasion I thought it appropriate to look back at angling and just what this column has achieved to further the sport over the past decade.

Even the most loyal readershave not seen every article. The first few columns were produced for trial issues, which were sent to advertising agencies and industry gurus while the paper ironed out technical difficulties. I would like to tell you what they were about, but those collectors' items were bashed out on an ancient computer called a Sirius, and you've probably got to travel that far to find a machine that can read those disks nowadays.

They weren't all my own work. A couple were written by my wife while I was exploring untrodden areas in the Himalayan foothills. We'll draw a veil over the treacherous opinions about anglers that appeared in those articles, but those who wrote congratulating her are still banned from reading the paper.

At first, this column was fortnightly. I was then asked to write weekly. "I'm not sure I will have enough material," I protested. What you're seeing is the result. Still, as I look back through old articles, it's obvious this column has achieved certain things. Probably the most momentous was the revelation about where an angling enthusiast hides maggots in a family fridge. My advice: "Always check under the lettuce in the salad cabinet," uncovered lots of boxes with small wriggling things inside, and earned eternal gratitude from mothers of small boys and wives of larger boys.

The follow-up on freezers proved educational and has since been incorporated into household advice books. Ten years ago how many wives would have thought their partners sneaky enough to put frozen peeler crabs in a box marked Emergency Dog Food: Frozen Tripe? Thousands of parents have been able to judge the quality of a swain courting their daughter from my test paper for suitors. Typical question: Your fiancee falls into a fast-flowing river just as you hook a huge salmon. What do you do? (The correct answer is, of course, land the salmon. She can swim, and there's a shallow spot about half a mile downstream where she can easily wade ashore.)

In a quest to give readers information about never-fished areas, I have journeyed to exotic climes such as Arunachal Pradesh and Ecuador, fished through holes in the Finnish ice and been swept down a wild river in Maine. The fact that I never actually caught anything worthwhile on any of these expeditions is incidental. Thanks to my missionary zeal, anyone travelling to these countries now knows exactly what not to do.

I have had to counter charges of failing to address the key issues that have beset angling over the past decade: increased abstraction, pollution, high seas netting of salmon and sand-eels, fish farming, a government authority that cares more about collecting licence income than looking after fishing. Even good things like initiatives for youngsters, TV programmes like A Passion for Angling and the trend of releasing fish such as salmon and trout have gained only passing mentions. But you can get those in other papers. Where else would you have learnt about Neil Wilson, the man who wanted to be a fish and who suffocated in his green body suit? That's the stuff of posterity.

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