Lost Fishing Letters

It has long occurred to me that often when guiding, the anglers with me are more interested in hearing my stories from sixty years in the sport than actually catching fish. I have been lucky in that I have met and even fished with so many anglers of note over my life in fishing, and that these anecdotes of mine are based on fact not hearsay. Very often, my memories are sparked by stumbling onto letters from the distant past, letters that open up all manner of long-locked memories. When I do come across these letters, there might be interest in my telling of the tales surrounding them?

This letter from Chris Tarrant is a case in point. My wife Enoka found it in a dusty copy of Fifty Fish To Catch, and all the vividness of that period came flooding back as a result. The short letter has not kicked off recollections of Chris alone. In the years around 2006, when the letter was written, I was involved with Chris, but also Ian Botham and especially Bob James. All three of these characters merge in my story of that period, and perhaps that story is worth telling. I say that because though I have searched the internet, what I have in mind saying I do not think you’ll find elsewhere. I am very aware that whatever I say is from my point of view, and there will be other sides to the events recalled. I’m also aware that dates might not be precise. I keep a fishing diary but not one of fishing politics.

All this starts very early in the new century when I met Bob James ever more frequently down on the river Wye. I had long been a supporter of the Anglers’ Conservation Association, and around that time Bob, and wife Jane, suggested that I accept the post of Vice President of that organisation. Jane was of course the CEO (or some such) and Bob was responsible for PR. Chris Tarrant was also President, and that is how the relationship started. I think we got on, all of us. In 2008, Chris agreed to write a foreword for Fifty Fish, which no doubt contributed massively to its comparative success. We all met frequently on ACA business, and I remember the occasions with affection.

At that time, I was working for the Hardy Creative Team and was the member who helped set up the TV series called Botham on the Fly. That was filmed in 2005/6 and featured Ian, along with game angler friends like Eric Clapton, Mike Atherton and of course, Chris Tarrant himself. There is SO much I could tell you about that filming experience, but this is about CT so I will restrict myself to his episode with Ian, shot on the Tyne. OMG. Botham and Tarrant! Two huge characters. Both prowling alpha males. Competition writ large… though not as large as the bar bill I recollect. Chris had to be levered from his bed at the start of the filming, looked like a ghost, but once the cameras rolled, went on to be the calm, assured TV star that he always was. A complete pro. I can’t remember a fish being caught, and perhaps that was all for the best given the nature of the two big beasts on the bank. Mind you, they could both fish, as could Liam, Botham’s son who was with us that shoot.

The bonds began to creak a few years on from that. Bob and I had started to guide together, and that was a mistake for both of us. I had been warned against any involvement with Bob by Hugh Miles, but I am not here to apportion blame. Our trips on the Wye were tough, but two trips to Spain proved disastrous. I remember saying after the second of these that you work for fun and/or money, and Spain provided neither. The end of the collaboration was nigh. Bob’s fault or mine? Is any divorce a simple case of rights and wrongs?

But of course, what actually finished it entirely was the furore at the ACA itself. Some of you will recall the acrimony of the period when Bob and Jane were the victims of a witch hunt… to a degree. Bob and Jane had been in the habit of bringing friends onto the ACA council (for want of a better word, and me included) but not all turned out to be as biddable as expected. Bob and Jane were evicted from the ACA offices at Leominster, and we were all called to a meeting soon after… to which Bob and Jane were not invited. The press at the time was full of speculation, whilst bonkers assertions were made. Both Bob and Jane drove around in matching Range Rovers. They had a house in the Caribbean paid for by the ACA… that sort of thing and more.

I was the only person voting to save Bob and Jane at that meeting, and they were duly evicted. Chris Tarrant, who always remained close to Bob, cooled to me as a result, and I think he believed I could have done more. I was sorry about that as he had been a good friend, though a distant one admittedly. Bob, too, felt let down by me and that signalled the end of our long relationship – after all, we had met in happy circumstances back in 1987. Perhaps he was right. My feeling then and now is that Bob and Jane did nothing wrong, and if they were paid handsomely, then that was not entirely their fault but that of the trustees equally or more so.

No, my guess is that there were those in the ACA who wanted to see the organisation subsumed into a much broader one… the Angling Trust, and indeed that was soon to actually happen, in 2009, I believe. Possibly the James era had to come to an end. Possibly the brand, spanking new AT demanded more modern thinking and leadership for the many challenges to come. Probably the intervening decade has proved the wisdom of this decision.

In retrospect, Bob, Chris and Ian were all good for angling in their different ways. I remember them all three with affection and still think it is shame that events turned out like they did. So, there you have it. A snatch of history that you’ll struggle to find elsewhere, even though, as I am the first to admit, these are my memories of a stressful time that might not accord to theirs.

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