Clive Gammon was a lot more than a Welshman who wrote extensively about sea angling. Clive, who died in 2012, was arguably the greatest angling travel writer. His books, ‘I Know a Good Place’ and ‘Castaway’, are surely among the best travel books you’ll ever read.
Once, I told him for fun, 'Outer Mongolia.’ An hour later, I found myself filling out a visa application.Clive talking with his boss at Sports Illustrated
And he's surely the only angling writer (of modern times, anyway) to have had a butler.
He was one of the world’s top sports journalists, covering the Olympic Games, Muhammad Ali fights, Superbowls and World Cups. He was also a critic for ‘The Spectator’, making him, he later said, “the only man in the world who earned his living by fishing and watching the telly”.
As a star writer for the American magazine ‘Sports Illustrated’, then with a circulation of more than 13 million, Clive covered almost every major sporting event for two decades from the late 1960s. Ali, James Hunt and Gareth Edwards were friends, as was the irascible baseball star Ted Williams.
Regularly called on to produce the longer ‘bonus piece’ at the back of the magazine, Clive was able to call on extraordinary resources. When the racehorse Shergar was kidnapped, he was in Yucatan, Mexico. ‘Sports Illustrated’ sent a private jet to pick him up, flew him by Concorde to London, and from there to Ireland to cover the story.
But fishing was his first love. ‘Sports Illustrated’ had its own travel agency that launched Clive on pioneering and adventurous expeditions from Christmas Island to the Falklands. After he had covered a major sporting event, Andre Laguerre, the magazine’s assistant managing director, would ask: “Gammon, I suppose you want to go fishing now. Where do you want to go?”
Clive recalled: "Once, I told him for fun, 'Outer Mongolia.’ An hour later, I found myself in the travel department filling out a visa application." He went on to catch a 70lb taimen, easily a world record had he bothered to record it officially.
Clive’s interest in fishing was inspired by his eccentric grandfather Willie Jones, who caught his 100th bass from Swansea Pier using his gold watch chain as a weight, having lost all his other fishing leads. Clive went to Swansea University, later completing an MA at Oxford. The subject of his thesis was Izaak Walton, author of ‘The Compleat Angler’. He started teaching in Manchester but moved back to Wales to Pembroke Grammar School.
To supplement his teacher’s salary, he began writing fishing columns for ‘Angling Times’, ‘The Field’ and ‘Creel’ magazine. His first book, ‘Better Angling for All’, was commissioned by John Arlott.
His friend, the foreign correspondent George Gale, then put in a word for Clive at the ‘Daily Express’, and Clive wrote a weekly fishing column for the newspaper for most of the 1960s.
This brought him to a wider audience. He started covering general sport for ‘The Sunday Times’ under the pseudonym Nicholas Evans - a combination of his son’s name and his first wife’s maiden name, but also a nod to Hemingway’s hero Nick Evans.
His writing caught the eye of ‘Sports Illustrated’, which used him for articles on anything outside America. Eventually the magazine offered him a full-time job, which meant moving to New York. Gammon took over a flat from George Plimpton, the famed sportswriter, opposite Frank Sinatra’s apartment. He enjoyed two decades of an opulent lifestyle. But as ‘Sports Illustrated’ took a more parochial (and cheaper) approach, Clive found himself enjoying the job less. He moved back to London and soon returned to his roots in south Wales.
A knee injury in Malaysia in 2006 severely limited his mobility and he moved into sheltered accommodation in 2010, admitting: "I have to face it that I’m never going to go wading out into the surf or splashing waist-deep in salmon rivers again."
He was equally at home with coarse, sea or game fishing, and was no purist. (Clive once wrote an article for ‘Classic Angling’, for whom he was a columnist up to his death, on the finest upstream worm fisherman for salmon he had ever met.)
A friend of Bernard
He also wrote several pioneering books on Welsh and Irish fishing, as well as ‘Hook, Line and Spinner’, a magnificent work centred on Bosherton Lake in Pembrokeshire that he dedicated to Bernard Venables. He was close friends with Bernard, and relates a story in the book about the last time they fished together, which also gives you a taste of Clive's wonderful eye for an anecdote.
"Bernard had arrived by train, and was hailed by a man who looked at his tackle quizzically. 'What are you doing, going fishing at this time of year?' the man demanded. Obviously for this gentleman, only game fishing existed. Bernard gave him the answer he deserved. He said: 'You must be only half a fisherman.'"
Last date edited: 24 March 2020