Twenty-five years on from the iconic TV series ‘A Passion For Angling’, its creator Hugh Miles is as passionate as ever about fishing.
Dom Garnett met up with him at the opening of Pinnock Lake, a crucian carp and tench water set up by Wimborne DAC with support from the Angling Trust...
Q: Can you believe it has been 25 years since ‘A Passion For Angling’? How does it feel?
Hugh Miles: It’s quite remarkable and it’s lovely that people still appreciate ‘Passion’ after all this time. We still get some great letters and messages. Some of my favourites have been those from non-anglers who loved it, or the fisherman’s wife who wrote to say: “I now understand why my husband has to go fishing.”
There was one guy who claimed it had helped save his life as he watched it in hospital with a life-threatening illness. He even had a special ‘A Passion for Angling’ tattoo done on his thigh!
What’s nicest of all, though, is that we now have guys who watched it with their dads and are now doing the same with their own children.
That always makes me smile.
Q: What do you think explains the show’s longevity?
HM: Besides the great angling sequences, I think it captured a subtler essence. There were so many strands to this and we managed to get the atmosphere of fishing. The banter and interplay between Chris Yates and Bob James was terrific. The narration from Bernard Cribbins and music from Jenny Muskett were also lovely, along with the quotes from Chris Sandford. It’s the reflective moments between the action that add something perhaps lacking in many other shows.
Q:Do you have a favourite moment or quote from the series?
HM: I love the classic angling quotes set to Jenny’s music, accompanied by natural sights and sounds, like the early morning mist and birdsong. The beauty of the British countryside at dawn still gets me every time.
As for individual moments, Chris Yates and the scarecrow at Redmire has to be up there. In the end, I felt he waited for too long. But when you see it you still think “wow!” It’s so perfectly eccentric, but it worked.
Away from the camera, there were lots of great moments too. We played Frisbee by the Kennet on winter evenings, there were hangovers after we toasted to successful sessions, and there were boilie fights with catapults.
Q: Do you watch any of today’s fishing shows?
HM: I don’t watch a heck of a lot, but I’ve been enjoying a bit of Mortimer and Whitehouse. I was clamouring for a little more fishing footage, but I found it very nice viewing. It’s always great to see fishing on TV, full stop, to reach a wider audience.
Q: As someone with a keen eye on the state of our rivers, are you hopeful about the future?
HM: I’m fairly hopeful, but the reality is that things are pretty challenging, especially with an expanding population and increased water use.
Rivers are shrinking compared with 30 years ago, and fish populations with them.
Angler apathy is a main obstacle and it’s up to all of us to act. We need to save water and limit abstraction. We also need angling clubs to apply for cormorant licences where possible. They are far more of an issue than otters as far as I’m concerned, and are destroying freshwater ecosystems. The roach fishing in places has declined dramatically.
I’m hopeful when I see active clubs like Wimborne and District.
On an individual level, the obvious answer is to join the Angling Trust. It sounds simple, but it does a tremendous job and could do so much more with a bigger membership. Politicians would have to listen harder and we’d have more clout.
Q: What do you think would surprise people most about the making of the show?
HM: The amount of time and effort, probably. With me having to keep going with the ‘day job’ of wildlife filming to finance the project, it took four-and-a-half years to film in total. Getting some of the sequences was hard because I was very picky about the light.
Some of the time Bob and Chris wanted to fish, but they couldn’t because the conditions weren’t perfect. It was certainly a test of their patience! Chris was a bit challenging with timing (it’s okay, he’s here today but I don’t think he can hear me!). In some of the dawn sequences, we were up so early that he and Bob were three-quarters dead!
They could probably have strangled me sometimes.
Q: Tell us a little bit about the Angling Trust’s Crucian Conservation Project and today’s event. Are they a favourite species?
HM: I’ve loved crucians for as long as I can remember. Perhaps for similar reasons to roach; they can be subtle and elusive at times, especially when they get big. They’re such special fish and, even better, they take you to some of the most beautiful places in the English countryside.
Our leading crucian expert is Peter Rolfe, and I’ve known him for many years. I’ve fished at his fisheries and contributed to his books, so it was inevitable I would be involved with the special Angling Trust project.
In the past, so many crucian populations have been destroyed, with lakes ruined for the sake of carp. It should be illegal! Thankfully, though, things are changing. Lots of clubs have got on board with the project and are developing lakes, and the Environment Agency is now providing genuine crucians to stock, as is the case here.
A crucian lake should be crystal-clear, natural, weedy, and free of carp. Crucians pair very well with tench, hence these are also stocked here in the new Pinnock Lake.