The many faces of Mel Russ

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The Editor of Sea Angler, Mel Russ, has obviously taken to heart criticism that the magazine should be renamed Mel's Monthly. These cruel jibes reached a peak with the February issue, where the ubiquitous Russ's photograph appeared 27 times. (His critics point out that this figure does not include other members of his family, who can generally be relied upon to grace the magazine's pages and its sister publications Improve Your Sea Angling and Boat Angler on at least a couple of occasions every issue.)

Sour grapes, all these scurvy taunts. What his detractors do not understand is how much time Russ spends, scouring the world to bring his readers the latest in sea-angling techniques. While other staff members swan off to glam locations like Dungeness, Clacton and Lowestoft, it's Mel that gets lumbered if someone has to write about sailfish in the Seychelles, marlin in Mauritius or bonefish in the Bahamas. The lad must have more air miles than Richard Branson. It's a rotten job, but someone's got to do it.

Sadly, Russ seems to have taken the digs to heart. This month's issue features a mere nine photographs of our hero, and his only trip abroad is to Kinsale on the south coast of Ireland. It would be a great shame if he gave up his quest to fish every country in the world just because of a few ignoramuses. And any effort to cut down on his personal appearances could prove counter-productive.

The man is undeniably deeply involved in the sport. He could never stand accused of being a Teflon editor, able to run a magazine on paint polymers, croquet or traffic management with equal facility and little heart. Furthermore (or so he tells me), a host of female readers could desert Sea Angler in droves unless there are adequate pictures of Mel to paste on the walls of their tackle dens.

The life and times of Mel Russ may be a compelling reason to take Sea Angler, but it is not the one that tempts me. My attention is inevitably focused upon a page called "Readers' Tips", which is a quite extraordinary tribute to the ingenuity and loopiness of fishermen.

I have been addicted to this page ever since one tip started: "Take the battery out of a hearing aid..." Remember those books (alas, no longer popular) which told you things like: "Mix strong cold tea instead of beer or stout to your Christmas pudding mix to keep it moist..." or "When threading sewing needles, place something white behind the needle's eye..."(You can tell I've still got mine.) Well, Sea Angler's "Readers' Tips" page is the fishing equivalent.

Sea fishermen are the sort of people who can mend a broken crankshaft with a pair of tights and a pipe cleaner. Most of their tips find hundreds of uses for the most mundane things. I must have read at least 30 handy things you can do with the inside, top or plastic casing of a biro. Other popular materials include drinks bottles (for unwanted hooks and line); pipe foam insulation (to stop your rod sliding along a pier or to keep mackerel featers from tangling); and electrical tags (to identify your catch from your mate's when you're sharing a fish bag).

It's easy to mock and imagine the contributors saying: "Hmm, that could come in useful..." about anything from a cup with no handle to an empty toothpaste tube. But the funny thing is that you find yourself saying: "Well, that's a good idea," and failing to return the tennis ball that next door's kids threw in your garden, because you're going to turn it into a bite indicator, a tide flow monitor or a nose protector in case you slip on a wet boat deck.

Never happens, of course. I've learnt the hard way that there's always something a little bit wrong with these handy tips.

So if anyone walking along Chesil beach comes across a beach shelter with a strange device attached, please send me back the umbrella. You're welcome to the wind-beating beach anchor. Better still, send it to Mel Russ.