Let me make one thing clear right from the start - I haven’t written this piece to puncture dreams or trash life-long ambitions. I’ve written it because there are a growing number of people who clearly need a reality check - people like Matt Hamilton, a student from Woking in Surrey, who wrote to AT this week asking how he could become a famous angler. A famous and rich angler, I might add.
Well, sorry to disappoint you Mr Hamilton, but it’s not going to happen. Not now. Not ever. Time to pack away those dreams, son. Time to study and think about getting a proper job.
First and foremost, angling simply doesn’t have the money to support bona fide celebrities. Granted, plenty have got rich as fishery owners or from within the trade, but very few have done it on reputation alone. Fishing doesn’t translate to TV so that revenue stream, and the subsequent sponsorship deals that make the best in other sports rich, doesn’t exist.
Secondly, fame is much harder to achieve nowadays because there are so few things left to be famous for.
Everything’s been discovered and everything’s been caught. The days when a record fish guaranteed recognition have gone, lost to the monotony of recapture and drowned amid a chorus of ‘so whats?’ Tackle developments, once measurable in huge leaps, are now made in tiny steps, with over-blown hoorahs saved for a tweak to a swimfeeder and not genuine advancements like the advent of bite alarms, boilies and the Baitrunner.
And, thirdly, where there was once only Angling Times, with each of its contributors assured of stardom by default, there are now scores of publications all featuring their own ‘stars’.
But don’t be fooled. Most of those who write in these sparsely read mags aren’t really famous. You can only claim to be that if your name allows you to make a living from fishing. And I’m not talking about earning enough just to scrape an existence on Pot Noodles and Strongbow while holed up in a bivvy somewhere. Being paid - as 95 per cent of these anglers are ¬ in bait and tackle does not foot the bills.
Real fame is getting recognised in the supermarket. It’s being the only angler your non-fishing mate knows. It’s reaching an audience measurable in seven digits and not seven fingers. It’s lasting beyond the time it takes to read a product-laden article in a title read by less than attend a conference football match. And it’s leaving a legacy that will be remembered in 20 years’ time.
What fame isn’t and never has been, though, is catching old Mug Fish a couple of ounces heavier than it came out the week before and then believing that entitles you to lasting grandeur and wealth.
Angling, in my opinion, has had just three heavyweight stars in the last decade - John Wilson, Matt Hayes and Bob Nudd. The first two got there thanks largely to TV, the latter by not only winning golds, but through his continued presence in angling publications. Exposure made each, in fishing anyway, household names.
Master Hamilton signed off his letter by telling us what a good angler he was, citing a number of personal bests as evidence. He should have saved the ink in his pen.
This idea that fame and money comes from simply being able to catch fish is a complete non-starter. It merely lays down the base that gives you a chance of success.
On top of that you need to be able to write, take pictures, appease sponsors and display a professionalism that means sacrificing fishing to provide features for an ever-greedy fishing media. Luck helps, too.
Despite its millions, fishing is not a pastime that supports an abundance of famous people.
So please, anyone who’s thinking of attempting to make a career from catching fish, don’t bother. Enjoy angling for what it’s meant to be - a hobby. An enjoyable, exciting and relaxing one, yes, but a hobby all the same.