It must be a bloke thing, but I love making lists. Not shopping ones I hasten to add, but ask me to draw up my favourite anglers, fish or, in this case, TV shows and I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. Working out who’s better than who is always great fun.
It’s also the ultimate in vanity journalism - the chance to reminisce, indulge and then reach conclusions you know are likely to kick off a debate.
Picking this list, I should add, wasn’t as tough as it might have been.
Angling and television have only enjoyed a fleeting relationship over the years. And, given my age, those shows before the mid-’80s, like Jack Hargreaves’ Out of Town, couldn’t be fairly judged.
I have also invoked one self-imposed rule. My top five comprise only shows that have appeared on terrestrial. The emergence of satellite might now give the impression fishing is well represented, but the audience figures for most of these shows are small. You can’t claim to have made a significant impact on angling and beyond unless 1m - not 1,ooo - have tuned in. So, here they are - my top five shows ever.
1 A Passion for Angling
I know it’s become a bit of cliché to pick this one out, but there’s a reason why it’s a favourite with so many anglers - Hugh Miles’ original fishing series is an absolute masterpiece.
Lavishly shot over three years, it was the first time angling was given a proper canvas to breathe on television, with each of the six episodes running for 50 glorious minutes. To sit down and watch Childhood Dreams, Redmire Legends or Midwinter Madness, was sheer angling indulgence.
Much has been said about Chris Yates and Bob James’ on-screen camaraderie, and there’s no doubt the eccentricity of Yates worked well against James’ more ruthless modern approach. But, for me, the real joy came from the ground-breaking and genuinely inspirational way it was shot. Misty dawns and fire-red sunsets set against gentle orchestral music may have become the norm nowadays, but it was Hugh Miles who got there first.
The end result, 17 years after it was first aired on BBC2, is that everyone has their favourite ‘Passion’ moment.
Mine? Chris Yates acting out the role of scarecrow pips Bob’s amazing haul of Avon roach. But only just.
2 Go Fishing
I’m an ‘80s child, so I will always have fond memories of gathering around the family TV to watch John Wilson travel around the UK, then the world, in search of big fish. Essentially, I grew up with that famous laugh and infectious enthusiasm.
You have to remember that we were, when it came to fishing and television, starved back then, left to pick over the crumbs that were the likes of ‘Hooked’ for our angling fix. These were pre-satellite, four channels-only days, so Go Fishing stood out like a beacon.
The love, admittedly, was not unconditional. I was never much of a fan of game or sea fishing and, as the series grew in popularity and John headed further afield, I found it harder to connect with vundu catfish as I had done with carp. But no matter.
Wilson used to make me want to go fishing. For that reason alone, his shows will always make my top five.
3 River Monsters
It’s always easy to get caught up in the moment and carried along with the hype. Genuine quality requires the passing of time to put it into context, so picking something in the here and now is always a gamble. But I honestly believe River Monsters, presented by Jeremy Wade, is destined to become an angling classic.
I know he’s not fishing traditional English venues with traditional English methods, but is someone scratching bits with bloodworm from a bleak northern canal likely to make good TV? Hardly.
So bring on the goliath tiger fish, the giant skate and the piranhas. Let’s visit places like India, Brazil and Thailand. Because when the presenter is as good as Wade, it really doesn’t matter that these fish and venues are way off our radar. His understated mix of considered opinion and daring do (I once described him as the Indiana Jones of fishing and I see no reason to change that opinion) make his shows a seamless blend of education and entertainment.
A classic in the making? I reckon so.
4 Catching the Impossible
It seems somewhat indulgent to pick a second Hugh Miles production in my top five, but I think that says more about the man’s prodigious talent as a film-maker - and the relative lack of competition - than it does anything else.
Catching the Impossible was always going to be compared to ‘Passion’ and it was always going to be rated second best. Most people had decided that before it even came out.
However, let’s be clear. In its own right, ‘Catching’ is a brilliant set of films that stand head and shoulders above almost anything else ever made about fishing. The underwater footage is mind-blowing and the size of the fish caught for the camera, truly immense.
No, I don’t think it’s not as good as ‘Passion’. But neither is anything else ever made for the small screen. Judge it without the baggage - because when you do, it’s still very, very good.
5 River Cottage Gone Fishing
I accept this last choice is a bit of a curve ball because this was a series more about cooking than it was angling. It’s highly unlikely even the most novice of fishermen was ever going to learn anything about technique from the show’s presenter, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
But I loved it on two levels. One, Hugh is a superb TV personality capable of producing thoroughly entertaining television. But, more importantly, the three hour-long shows were an unashamed celebration of what angling actually stands for.
While the fish is food philosophy is complete anathema to English-speaking coarse anglers, it was ¬ and still is - a way of life for others. And we shouldn’t forget that fact.
So when Hugh caught, killed and then cooked up his catch - the whole process filmed and broadcast to millions - he proved that the general public have a completely indifferent, even fond, view of fishing, and aren’t the rabid bunch of anti-angling liberals some from within the politically correct element of the sport would have us believe.
Hugh’s ‘I’m an angler and I’m proud to be one’ message was very simple ¬ but unbelievably powerful, too.