MEMBERS OF the sporting press, who pride themselves on their wisdom, critical judgement and vision, are acutely short-sighted when it comes to spotting their own shortcomings. Of all people, you would think we should know better. But every hack harbours dreams of being able to beat the professionals at their own game.
Let me give you an example. I met one, a chap who fancied himself as one hell of a snooker player. He actually bought the table that was used for a world championship final. One day, Dennis Taylor came round to visit. "Let's have a game or two, Dennis," he said. Of course, the hack didn't have a chance. Dennis gave him something like seven blacks, but still beat him in every game.
I laughed when I heard the story. But what was I doing last weekend? Trying to fish against men who are good enough to angle for their country.
Noel Coward once said to me, "I hate name-droppers", but I have cast a line with several world champions. Done it in competition too, and very occasionally caught more than them. A few years ago, true, but nothing wrong with dining out on past glories. But - and this is the point that we all fail to spot - they weren't trying. It was a bit of fun, a day off from the serious business. When it matters, the professionals play a very different game.
Every year, the Anglers' Conservation Association, a charity dedicated to fighting pollution, hold a big, invitation-only competition. The average fisher has no chance of taking part. Even French ticket touts couldn't get you a bankside seat. The best that Mr Average can hope for is the chance to watch the experts and maybe share a few words afterwards. But for some reason, one team of total duffers are allowed to compete.
Goodness knows why the press get the chance to put up a team. It may be tradition, some mistaken belief that it guarantees good publicity, or simply a comfort blanket for the others to know they cannot possibly come last. We ought to have more sense. It's hard to admire a fishing writer for his wordcraft when you discover that he can't cast for toffee.
Very few of our number should be allowed to ply their doubtful skills within sight of any who might read their scribblings. There are honourable exceptions: the Sun's Stan Piecha fished in England trials, while Dave Wesson once won the world championships when fishing for Australia. But both wisely declined a press team spot. I think the excuse was that they were washing their hair.
And so I got roped in. Well, it's for a good cause, I thought - I could easily get lucky and snag a few big 'uns. I've fished against these guys before, I thought. Ah, yes, but not when they were trying.
A further lure was the fact that five fish each carrying a pounds 10,000 tag had been put into the water. I was fishing for one of those fish. Trouble was, the people I was fishing against were after all five.
Well, miracles do happen. Beginners catch whoppers, champions get toppled by unknowns. You have to think positive. Especially when I discovered that the man I was next to was Dave Pimlott. Two weeks earlier, he had collected the largest prize in British angling, pounds 25,000, by winning the televised Fish o' Mania title - on the same water. It really gives you confidence when people walk past and say: "Thank God I haven't got Dave Pimlott next to me. That press guy's on for a right hiding."
I'd like to report that it was a blow-by-blow battle, an epic encounter that the spectators will talk about years later. I'd like to, but it was nothing of the sort. Dave caught 29lb, I had 1lb 10oz. Of course, if I had caught the lake's fabled 30-pounder, I would have beaten him. It was that close.
The only consolation was that I was not the worst of the press side by a long cast. A couple caught nothing, others just a few ounces. Predictably, we had maintained our record of being the worst side on display.
And when the call comes next year, I shall be washing my hair that day.