A great catch

I love our canals and rivers. I live overlooking one. And, like most people of the female persuasion, when I see a neat little row of anglers early on a Sunday morning fishing out tiny silver prey from the black, murky waters I have to wonder what on earth is so compelling?

Sitting there for hours often in the rain, handling maggots and who knows what else. So, imagine what I thought when asked to upload a number of stories to our website for our new series on the ‘Greatest angling writers’. Not just anglers, but people who felt the urge to put down on paper what they felt about this seemingly alien activity.

Oh, how uneducated was I. These great and good of the tall (or should that be long) fishy tale are more than just grey old men on the side of the bank endlessly waxing lyrical about the ‘one that got away’.

These are British spies, WWII heroes, teachers, newspapermen, artists, inventors, TV presenters, footballers – indeed, many have represented their country for reasons other than fishing. I was surprised, for example, to see Arthur Ransome’s name on the list – he of ‘Swallow and Amazons’. Although you will be sad to learn that a certain J R Hartley doesn’t feature this time.

These writers’ books are not just niche periodicals to their chosen passion. But love letters to the cold creatures they court.

Our series, written by one of their kin, Keith Elliot, himself having written 9 million words on the subject, shows these men to be analysts of the human condition. It’s as if their prose anthropomorphises their not so tiny cast of thousands. Caught up between the ‘my carp is bigger than yours’ machinations are the struggles to save fisheries and the environment. The years of searching for pisciform perfection. The friendships, the bonds, the discoveries and legacies that lurk beneath the calm seam between our world and theirs.

As a writer, I feel comforted by reading these stories of men that made a difference in their discipline. And, as we launch our Facebook vote to decide which is indeed the greatest ever angling writer, I suspect the answer is simple - whichever one reels in this non-believer into opening the pages of their prose and diving into fishy heaven.

Last date edited: 15 November 2017