TV presenter and journalist Matthew Wright
When did you start fishing?
I first wet a line in 1973, which seems a terribly long time ago now. My dad took us sailing on the Norfolk Broads in a huge boat that ran aground with tedious regularity. I’d escape from the ensuing madness, tears and recriminations by float-fishing a maggot from the bow. My dad had bought me an all-in-one fishing kit with cheap centrepin reel, a quarter of a pint of white maggots and some size 14 hooks to nylon, you see. I remember getting them from the shop in Potter Heigham as if it were yesterday. The first fish I caught there was an eel. I had 14 roach, bream and perch before the week was out.
What’s your favourite angling book?
I hate nailing down any one title and saying, “This is my favourite!” when there are so many wonderful books. I love the way Jon Beer writes. He has a gift for taking the reader along with him, whether to some storm-lashed island in the Hebrides or the bowels of a museum. He never shuts the reader out for want of knowledge or experience. At the other end of the scale I’ve been really taken by Peter Hayes’ book Fly Fishing Outside the Box. I know Peter, we’re both members of the Wilton Fly Fishing Club. He’s got a brain the size of a planet and when he turns that intellect to the watery world of trout it’s inevitable he’ll get your noggin working, too. Whether or not I’ll ever tie duns backwards for those rare days when a strong upstream wind turns naturals back-to-front remains to be seen. I am currently enjoying Simon Cooper’s Life of a Chalkstream, a really lovely read.
Would you rather catch a trout or a salmon?
I know you occasionally print pictures of people holding salmon in this magazine but like the lunar landings I’m convinced they are all fakes. Seriously, you’ve run articles where people have spent ten years before they caught one. Ten years! Like a lot of trout enthusiasts, I think flogging the rivers of Britain for salmon is bonkers.
With whom do you most enjoy fishing?
If I’m absolutely honest, I prefer my own company. I love camping in Wales on my tod and use the passport scheme to explore all the fishing thereabouts. Bliss. A week can go by and I won’t have spoken to anyone but myself – an unnatural response I guess from someone who earns their living by talking. I love fishing with my wife Amelia. We have walkie-talkies when we’re bonefishing as we can be apart for
hours and lose sight of one another. I love trouting with my Schnauzer, Wiggy. They’re not famous for loving water but Wiggy’s spent a lot of time on banks since he was a pup and is well behaved. Understandably, livestock farmers aren’t so keen on him.
Name four dream fishing companions
As I’m mad keen on cricket and have just started fishing with earphones so I can hear Test Match Special from start to finish of each day’s play, I’d have to say Ian Botham (even I can drag him away from the salmon nonsense); the late George Melly whose ribald fishing stories got me hooked years ago; Henry Winkler, alias The Fonz, who I’ve discussed fly-fishing with many times when he’s visited these shores – he does wonderful work for dyslexics these days; and, finally, Jimmy Buffet, the American country music star. He spends a lot of time bonefishing near my place, flying in by vintage seaplane. Our paths have yet to cross but I’d love to show him our magnificent rivers.
You’re allowed one more trip: where would you go and why?
The River Usk, an early summer’s evening, with the trout greedily sucking spinners down. As the sun slowly sinks you get your seven-weight out for a bit of late-night sewin action, a barn owl silently flying past. Magic, pure magic.
Has being a celebrity opened doors to better fishing?
To some degree but I’m also a genuine enthusiast. I turn up for Wild Trout Trust get-togethers, I campaign in Parliament. I love doing it, but it’s nice to have your efforts rewarded with the offer of a lovely day’s fishing here or there.
What’s your most memorable fish ?
I suppose my first permit is my most memorable but for all the wrong reasons. I had a flu bug in Mexico and was struggling to concentrate at the front of the skiff. I saw what I thought might be two permit and lobbed, rather than cast, my Verkerke Mantis Shrimp at them, the fly landing miles away. The next thing I know one of them zooms over, swallows the fly and swims off, hooking itself before I got the line tight. For a moment I forgot my fever. I got the fish in and had some photos taken before curling up in a ball on the deck and begging to be taken home, only for the guide to say, “What? You no want a Grand Slam?” A couple of paracetamol later and I did indeed complete the slam but as for permit being hard to catch, I’m living proof they’re not if they’re in the right mood.
Do you think the image of fly-fishing needs to change?
When I was growing up in London in the 1970s/’80s I used to perceive trout and salmon types as being posh, nothing like the lads I fished with. As I’ve got to know fly-fishing better, it’s clear while there is still a bit of that, it’s a more welcoming activity than I first gave it credit for. I think younger people are far less aware of all the class nonsense and in the push for greater equality it’s wonderful to find a sport where girls can compete on equal terms with boys. I expect many more women to come into fly-fishing over the next 20 years.
“I expect many more women to come into fly-fishing”