At the time I was fishing Walt Bowers lake at North Muskham for carp and had caught some cracking tench and bream. He wanted to know if his partner in the bait business, Carl Hill might have a session there and use it in the video.
I arranged things with Jane and contrary to some of the backstabbing Internet forum rumours that were spread around at the time, Carl didn’t pre-bait, fish for several days, or do anything the fishery owner didn’t agree to. He simply turned up, plumbed around until he found an area he liked, baited it accurately and presented good baits on tidy rigs. He simply caught a shed load of fish through good angling.
We shot the necessary footage and I did an introduction for the video in a simple piece to camera. We then shot across to the Trent and Mersey Canal and did a similar piece with Paul Denis before wrapping up on the Trent.
Clearly I’d done okay because the team who came over to do the filming asked if I’d be interested in doing some other work with them.
These guys worked for a cable television company called Channel 7 on Humberside, (Channel 7) so I drove over to have a look around the set-up and couldn’t believe what I discovered. The headquarters was at Immage 2000 studios in Immingham and had only recently been opened by Sir David Putnam no less. Immage 2000 studios could provide printing, graphic design, video production, information technology such as touch screen media, sound recording, conferencing, facilities and equipment hire but the jewel in the crown was its TV studios; Channel 7 actually broadcast live TV shows to its cable audience so it had state of the art digital mixing suites, the lot.
Okay it wasn’t going to be a paid gig but Chris and Robert were dead keen to make a series of fishing programmes specifically for a Humberside audience. It meant I would have to shoot most of it on Humberside and that it would include sea and fly fishing as well as the coarse stuff but what the hell, here was an opportunity to learn how to make programmes and be at ease in front of the cameras.
I made something like eight shows, including a wild cod session on a tossing boat where the producer refused to leave the harbour and the cameraman kept throwing up.
We did the bank side bits and the studio stuff, too. I had a ball and learned so much.
A decade on from its inception Fish ‘O’ Mania is still the only inroad that match fishing has made into TV, and that’s on one of Sky’s premium channels so it’s mainly watched by football fans. If it works for Sky, why doesn’t it work for the terrestrial channels? Why doesn’t competition angling work for Discovery, say?
How come the scrabble for £25,000 gets live coverage for six hours and more while the World Championships, the European Championships and the Home Internationals don’t even make it onto Teletext? It sure as hell beats me.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Fish ‘O’ Mania is fantastic competition and I went to all of the early finals including the very first one at Mallory Park in 1994 when Andy Little was the match fishing expert in the commentary team. I was invited along to do some coaching that day and had a brilliant day on the ‘concrete’ lake.
Those of us who were involved with the coaching basically set up our tackle and fished. If anyone asked to have a go or wanted us to show them how to do something we obliged. I had the privilege of not only helping a youngster to catch his first carp on a pole, it was also his first double. Back then poles weren’t the poker stiff jobs we use today and I have to confess it would have been my first pole-caught double had I landed it, too.
We travelled down on Friday afternoon and stayed over in the Bosworth Manor Hotel. Barry Hearn had invited a number of celebrities along so it wasn’t such a big surprise to bump into Barry McGuigan in the lift.
I was to bump into him a few years later before a Tight Lines show at Sky’s Studios near Osterley. I was in make-up; okay, hands up, we all wear makeup on the telly, and who happened to sit down in the next chair to me but Barry McGuigan, dressed in the sort of suit you’d pay two months wages for.
“Look Barry,” I said, “If you say nothing about seeing me I won’t tell anyone I saw you tonight wearing makeup. And a frock!”
“Yeah, best not mention the frock, Bob!” He said.
I guess seeing a world champion boxer wearing makeup makes it okay for you to do the same.
Sometimes after a show we’ll shoot off to a nearby pub for a quick drink to wind down. This particular night Keith was in a hurry to dash off so I cadged a lift back to Osterley tube station with him as it’s a good three hour trip home by tube and train.
It was only when my tube pulled into the platform that I realised I was still wearing makeup and I’d little choice but to keep wearing it until I got to Kings Cross. Now some folk might feel okay with that but I felt a right pillock!
Fish-O-Mania switched to Hallcroft (1995 and 1996) before putting down roots at Hayfield Fisheries just outside Doncaster (1997 to 2007). It’s home territory for me and I usually call in there during the week leading up to the final just to see who’s coping best.
It was on one of these visits that I sat and chatted with Kevin Rowles. He was hammering out roach on a 4 metre whip. They were decent roach, too, averaging 3 to 6oz each. Hmmm, I thought, if the crowds put the carp down and it fishes poorly he could easily win on this method.
Come Friday evening I’d dropped in for a chat with Keith who happened to be playing around with a fly rod, on which he caught the first and only barbel I’ve ever seen taken on a fly. Keith suggested if I was around the following day that I come into the studio as a guest and that’s the sort of gift horse you don’t look in the mouth.
Come Saturday lunchtime and the match had got off to a very slow start. Hardly surprising when you consider that there can be anything like ten thousand people tramping around on the banks behind the anglers. My allocated time slot arrived, I sat down in the makeshift studio atop a pile of scaffold overlooking the lake and during our chat I suggested that we might just see a shock this year and that Kevin Rowles would win with a net of roach.
Cue folk looking at me like I’d lost the plot.
Well, if you check out the records you’ll see that Kevin did win and he won from an unfancied peg with 40-odd pounds of roach. Mystic Meg would have been proud of a prediction like that.
Footnote: Fish’O’Mania relocated again in 2008 to Browning Cudmore Fisheries.
Having A Ball
But let’s regress to 1998 when I was I was given a really big break. Trish (O’Mania) Tolchard rang and asked if I’d be willing to fish on the end of the match length so the studio crew could direct me to demonstrate various methods to the camera when they talked about them.
I really fancied that because it meant I would be 17th man in the match with an end peg to boot. Okay, I wouldn’t be fishing for the £25,000 but I could enjoy exactly the same atmosphere with the huge crowd behind and do instructional sequences live on TV.
If that wasn’t enough I also got an invite to attend the Fish-O-Mania Ball on Friday evening sitting on the same dinner table as the England team. I mean, how much better does it get?
Alas the fishing gig fell through late on but I was asked to be a roving reporter in the field instead. I’d be wired up with an earpiece that carried the studio feeds, have a mike and access to all competitors inside the ropes, during the actual match.
The Ball was brilliant. Absolutely a fantastic night. In between courses we were treated to a young kid delivering the most incredible operatic songs, Nessun Dorma, the lot. I’m not certain but he was from Salford way on and had a name like Watson, Russell Watson or something, they called him. I had a great chat with him and his dad in the car park as I was leaving but that’s another story.
It was fun to watch the competitors’ behaviour in the bar. Understandably nerves had got to most of them in one way or another. Some reacted by turning to drink. Can you imagine, you are fishing for the biggest prize in angling, live on TV, and you’re downing pints of beer like you’ll never see another in your life?
This was the first time I’d met Steve Ringer and boy was he nervous. At least he was sober. We had a chat and I told him that I just had a feeling that he’d pull it off on the morrow.
And sure enough he did.
One day I’m going to have to start backing some of these hunches I get.
Saturday was one of those unforgettable days for me. I reported to the producer early on and she took me inside the outside broadcast van to show me how things worked. You’ve probably seen the vans at football matches or horse racing. They look like a big furniture van but inside they are jam packed with electronic equipment, monitors and people. This is the heart of the show. It takes feeds from the studio cameras, the cherry picker high above, the island camera, the roving cameras and so on.
By the time I was miked up the match was ready to start, ‘Just be out there and well find you when we want you. Give us an insight on what’s happening down there from an anglers’ perspective.’ And I was away.
It’s a similar function fulfilled by football reporters when they go ‘round the grounds’. A quick, punchy update and out again.
Trouble was my earpiece was playing up. When it was working it was manic. All you could hear was the director screaming to folk, feedback coming in and ten people shouting at once.
Eventually it was my turn. I’ve worked out exactly what I’m going to say, the camera’s in front of me, it’s big eye glaring at me and I can’t hear a thing. I’m waiting for my cue. And waiting. And waiting.
Something’s wrong. I don’t know whether to just deliver me piece or just keep quiet. By now I’m going out live to the nation with nothing except a puzzled expression on my face. Panic sets in but it’s too late.
I imagine they’re saying, “I’m sorry but we appear to have a technical hitch…” But that’s no consolation to me.
Time to shoot back to the OB van to change headsets. I simply cannot believe the pandemonium when I step inside. The Producer is doing a great impression of a porn star in the midst of a graphic orgasm, “Cut to camera seven,” Shot of a carp in close up, rolling over the rim of a landing net in an explosion of spray,”Yes, oh yes, yes, yes, ooooohhh yeeeessss!!! Give it to me baby!”
Quite what people who’re passing the door make of it I can’t imagine.
Back on the bank we shoot several more pieces to camera, this time successfully but they’re never the ones you remember, are they?
I’ve Decided To Make You A Star
“Errr, sounds great John, what’s the catch?”
“Well you don’t get paid and I need you in London tomorrow for an audition, can you make it?”
“Well, yes, but tell me more…”
So I spend a whole day going down to London and back for a five minute audition, which I pass with flying colours and I’m on the show, with the housewives heart throb, Charlie Brook the following week.
I’ll never knock those QVC nick-nack sellers again having been there and done that. Demonstrating equipment to a camera on your left hand side while talking to different one in front of you while trying to keep an eye on the monitor so everything stays in shot is pretty damn tricky I can tell you.
If you enjoyed this article more extracts from Tales Of The Riverbank can be found here