‘Don’t do ANY-THING you ****! Let the ****** run like **** till you’re sure he’s got the ******* live bait right down his ******* gullet. Only when I say — and NOT UNTIL, you **** — do you put down your bail arm and start reeling the ****** in. Keep the rod up. And when the line’s taut, strike like ****! Ready? NOT YET you ****. Not YET!’
You are now reading an expurgated version of a pike-catching lesson with Mike Daunt, ‘Bounder’ to his friends, complete ******* **** to his enemies and some of his ex-wives, widely reckoned to be among the finest and (certainly the most foul-mouthed) fishing teacher in the whole of the British Isles.
I’ve probably made it sound scary — daunting, even — and it is a bit. Daunt works on the old-fashioned principle that if you terrify the bejaysus out of your pupil the first time he makes a mistake, he’s that much less likely to repeat it. But he’s such a delightful, jolly fellow and he swears so frequently about pretty much everything — when the line snags on a blade of grass; when the hook needs rebaiting; when there’s a ‘Y’ in the day of the week — that you know he doesn’t really meant it.
Besides, his crossness when you get it wrong is as nothing to his ecstasy and unbridled praise when you do things even slightly right. ‘My boy, WELL DONE!’ he booms, when you execute a halfway decent cast. And you should have seen the fuss he made of my nine-year-old Boy Delingpole during our day out on the Kennet when he landed his first fish. ‘You will blood him, won’t you?’ remembers Daunt anxiously. So I smear Boy’s face with trout blood and he vows never to wash again.
Mike Daunt is on a mission. Together with his best friend and co-author Sir Richard Heygate, aka ‘the Bart’, he wants to reintroduce us to all those marvellous rural pursuits and fascinating local eccentrics that make our country the greatest in the world — and which New Labour’s grisly modernisers have, of course, sought to erase from the landscape.
Pike-fishing would come high on this list. ‘There are some ghastly snobs who’d say, “Pike? Aren’t they just for those frightful coarse fishermen with green umbrellas?”’ says Daunt. ‘But they don’t know what their ******* talking about. The pike is a magnificent sporting fish. And it goes like ****!’
Daunt does have snobberies of his own, but they have more to do with authenticity than social class. He is scathing about City boy pheasant shoots, which he considers a dreadful sport. And he is not a fan of the vulgar rainbow trout, which was only introduced to British rivers in the 1850s, and is as inferior to our native brown variety as the grey squirrel is to the red. ‘It’s the classic New Brit fish. It’s showy, it likes fighting, eats too much, puts on weight quickly and dies relatively young,’ he says. ‘The punters love it, which is fine by me. Keeps them away from the places I want to fish.’
As they demonstrated in the pilot episode for a series that was never commissioned, the Bart and the Bounder are naturals for television. The one show they did do last year — poaching for salmon in Cornwall; shooting pigeon — drew audiences of nearly three million: pretty impressive for complete unknowns. But the follow-ups never came because of a BBC policy not to commission any new series with older presenters. (‘Ridiculous,’ says Heygate. ‘We may be over 60, but then so’s half the national demographic.’)
This hasn’t stopped their lively and enjoyable book Endangered Species (see www.bartandbounder.com) from accelerating up the bestseller lists. Cunningly, they have managed to bypass bien-pensant metropolitan trade routes by appealing directly to their natural rural constituency through contacts and word of mouth. Love them or hate them, they’re not going to go away.
If you fancy being taught by the Bounder yourself, try emailing email@example.com, though personally I think you’d be miles better off with his ten-year-old son. Not only is young Hugh Daunt a lot more polite than his filthy old man, but he’s much more skilled at getting in the fish: three trout and a pike on the day, compared to mine and the Bounder’s measly zilch.