6:00 AM November 2, 2022
I’ve mentioned the excellent Simon Cooper and his fascinating Fishing Breaks’ newsletters.
Very recently he initiated a poll of readers to nominate the best ever angling depiction on screen. I was , obviously, devastated that my own masterly performances over 30 years on ITV, BBC, Sky and Discovery got barely a mention, but I have recovered now and feel strong enough to attempt this column on the subject.
In top spot, the Fishing Breaks voters put A River Runs Through It. This 1992 film adaption of the 1976 semi-autobiographical novel by Norman Maclean was admittedly beautiful, glamorous and did show fishing in a desirable light, but having Brad Pitt star and having a budget of trillions surely gives this choice an unfair advantage.
Second equal, I think, came the 1990s series Passion For Angling, featuring Chris Yates, Bob James and the exquisite camera work of Hugh Miles. Our own John Wilson joined them, as you would expect.
Mortimer and Whitehouse trotted in fourth, so ricochets of reflected glory for me there, and there were honourable mentions for Out Of Town, the Jack Hargreaves country life almanac of half a century ago.
Interestingly, not mentioned were The Fishing Race of the 1970s and its follow up, The Golden Maggot. Not a single vote went to any of the bang, crash, wallop stuff ITV4 routinely show and even the heroic Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters garnered no support (I like Jeremy hugely and the fact we were both bottom of the pile cheered me up a little!).
More importantly, it would seem that gentle, reflective, beautiful and non-egotistical representations of our sport are what the thousand voters like. Yee haa hipster type anglers crowing atop monster fish are not to my taste and it would seem I’m not alone. Monsters are not what most of us catch and not what we want to see, certainly not all the time. There’s a difference between aspiration and simple showing off.
This poll reminded me of the good old days when I worked with the venerable tackle firm of Hardy as a member of their ‘creative team’. We sent out a questionnaire to several thousand customers asking them what type of fly fishing they liked the most. We expected the clear favourite would be catching clonking rainbows from still waters, the type of stuff all the magazines concentrated on. Not a bit of it. Something over 90pc said their love was for modest brown trout from dancing little rivers.
It was quite obvious to us that the silent majority liked using nice tackle in nice places for nice fish that were born there and not brought in on a sacrificial lorry.
Of course, there are plenty of anglers who only want big fish or big bags of fish and their surroundings are irrelevant, providing their float continues to go under and their rod tip endlessly whips round.
I talked a while back with an evergreen Norfolk match angler whose river skills had dazzled me in the 1970s. He had completely moved off running water and had become addicted to commercials where he was guaranteed a 4lb carp every chuck and 100lb in the keepnet by lunchtime. This is his right, of course, but I don’t get it. Fishing and football have dominated (ruined?) my life and can you imagine winning 10-0 every time you strapped on your shin pads? Nice for a while, but surely jeopardy is what both sports are fundamentally about.
Slowly, laboriously perhaps, I have got around to what I want to say. It’s called fishing what we do, not catching, and there are many to whom how and where we fish is more important than what we catch, at least to a degree.
I’ve never visualised this column as a place to go into the niceties of technique, thinking not many readers want to shot a float shirt button style. However, I do see myself on something of a mission to bring engaging approaches back into coarse fishing, especially, and so I am happy to announce that for a while at least I have a slot every week on the excellent Thomas Turner website. Here I’ll be discussing all manner of tactile, tantalising ways of catching fish with not a buzzer or bolt rig in sight.
I’d love you to join me there , starting in the next week or two. Who knows? I might even get a TV slot on the back of it!