Hi Keith, you must get loads of requests for interviews so thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions;
You’ve had a long and varied career in the angling industry, from working in fishing shops to making videos, writing for the Angling Times, Daiwa rep and presenting Sky Sports Tight Lines and Fisherman’s Blues’ on TalkSport radio. Did you always intend to have a career in angling?
Not really. At school – I went to an excellent London grammar school, Dame Alice Owens – I was asked what I wanted as a career. My response was “A BBC newsreader.” There was no such thing as presenter in those days but I was very good at reading out loud, winning the school reading prize whilst in the 4th year…and the school went to upper 6th!
However, I left soon after, in 1963, and started laying carpets. My best mate, Bill Allen, who is a wonderful angler, was a carpet planner and I fancied it too. My boss soon found out I was pretty good at words and numbers and had me planning and measuring rather than fitting, for the princely sum of £5 a week, with the benefit of company transport: a Lambretta!
From there I want to selling carpets and furniture for the Times Furnishing Co, eventually managing a branch. Twelve years on, in 1975 the owner of the tackle shop I used, George’s in Hackney, asked me to manage his business and in 1984 I moved on to Acton Angling so fishing became my career rather than news-reading.
The broadcasting bit became about by accident. I’ve always tried to say yes to people so when Clean River Video asked me if I would make some films with them in 1989 in Northern Ireland – Mark Downes and I made two each on the same trip – I agreed at once…especially as they were paying me!
I went on to make many more videos with them: I even worked for them for a few months as technical producer as well as presenting before joining Daiwa in 1990. By then I also had a column in Angling Times, all written longhand on ruled A4 paper and posted in every week.
Apart from an appearance on The Big Breakfast when the Mum of the ‘Family of the Week’ wanted to try fishing (we managed to catch some roach and perch outside the studio on the Hertford Union Canal in Bow, believe it or not – and I also rehearsed Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ with those very cool ladies in the video for the song whilst presenter Paul Ross had his breakfast) my first TV show was Fisherman’s Tales on a cable channel called Sportswire.
That closed in 1995 but the format was taken up by Sky Sports who asked me to co-present with Bruno Brookes. My days on the road for Daiwa were over! Barry Hearn became my manager in 1997, TalkSPORT came along with an offer in 1999 and Fisherman’s Blues (my choice because I love the Waterboys’ song) was born.
That’s a very long way of saying not really, haha, fortune and saying ‘yes’ as often as possible played a vital role. I’d had some success in match fishing and was always happy to share my knowledge and experience: that’s what got me where I did for sure.
Do you think it would be possible to replicate your success these days or was there a certain amount of being in the right place at the right time?
There is currently a huge amount of talent in angling, especially match and carp fishing, making and presenting videos, both instructional and informative. Just look at the Korda and Guru stuff, Andy Ford and Rob Hughes’ “On the Bank” on mainstream broadcast TV, never mind the YouTube channels. Television channels simply don’t make those kind of programmes any more. There are so many available, often for free, paid for by sponsors, that they don’t need to. Plenty of people have at least part of a career on the box so what I did is being replicated the whole time, just in a slightly different way.
Oh, I also read the news on TalkSPORT a couple of times during Fisherman’s Blues when the link to our provider, Sky Radio News, went down. So perhaps I did fulfil an ambition, haha.
Have you got any hints/tips or advice for any of the readers who would like to pursue a career in angling journalism?
I would say it is more difficult now. Most anglers who produce copy for magazines – I had monthly features in David Hall’s Coarse Fisherman and Match Fishing for several years too – produce features backed by a sponsor, often as part of their deal. The mags love it because they sell ads on the back of it and often don’t have to pay for the features either,
That’s not to say it can’t happen. Anyone who can catch fish successfully, with a degree of specialism, and who has the ability to put what they do on paper can submit copy to magazines in the hope it will be accepted and paid for. It’s not, and never was, enough to make a living but I didn’t care about that: I wanted others to enjoy fishing as much as I did…and still do…and rather vainly thought I could inspire and help them. Obviously being paid helped and I was exceptionally well rewarded by Sky Sports for just one month short of 20 years and TalkSPORT for 15.
Tight Lines ended when Sky cut their live studio production of all sports back and I quit Fisherman’s Blues, putting my old buddy and stand-in Nigel Botherway up for the role when the station cut the show to one hour. They didn’t reduce my fee but I just felt a single hour wasn’t enough for what I had to say…I can natter by the way!
Now of course it is back to two hours and I’ve really enjoyed being Nigel’s stand-in when he’s been off.
What are your views on the impact the internet has had on angling, do you think it’s a good or bad thing i.e. loads of free content available now at the click of a button (although there’s no guarantee of quality!)?
The internet has had a massive impact on the way our sport is presented. The amount of information online now is simply huge although I have a problem with the fact there’s no filter and production standards that, occasionally, leave a lot to be desired at the very least.
What must never be forgotten is that angling isn’t and never will be a perfect science: it’s all about opinions and, like noses and bums, we’ve all got those. Some things are just plain misinformation presented by wannabe experts whilst there is also some really brilliant stuff available. It’s sorting the wheat from the chaff that is tricky.
In a similar vein, do you think the days are numbered for angling magazines and weeklies, I’ve seen a fair few fall by the wayside in recent years?
I hate to say it but I think ALL print media is in jeopardy except books, many of which are purchased as collectables. I’m an avid fiction reader and buy nearly all my books via Kindle, except angling books and some special volumes – the latest is “Letters from an Astro Physicist” – that I keep almost as reference books to dip in and out of. They aren’t story books, like my Jack Reacher or Dave Robicheaux thrillers stored electronically.
Can you tell us how you got into fishing and what was your first fish?
I have no idea why I started fishing. It wasn’t in my family within two generations but I was a ‘Baby Boomer, born in 1946 (I know, I don’t look it…) and there were loads of kids lived locally who went. I think we all did it to varying degrees but some of us stayed with it. The first fish I recall catching was a little perch that I caught with my cane rod laying on the ground while I jiggled a worm in front of a mouth I could see sticking out from the girder that formed part of the back of the model boating pond at Highgate Ponds in north London.
I might have caught something before that at Finsbury Park Lake but I don’t remember it.
Have you got a favourite style of fishing?
Just two words for this one: stick float
This changes a bit. Currently at home, coarse fishing, it’s roach. At various times it has been chub, barbel and dace and I’m always overjoyed to welcome a golden wonder (crucian) to my landing net.
Abroad, no challenge: it’s tarpon.
Where is your favourite venue?
I live with a short stroll of the semi-tidal section of River Thames at Richmond. Opportunities there are so diverse it has to be my choice. I’ve caught double figure carp and barbel, bream over 8lb, roach over 2lb, perch over 3lb and virtually every freshwater fish species that swims in Britain – not catfish or grayling…yet – plus flounder and bass!
Abroad, again no challengers to the Florida Keys.
Have you any angling heroes or anyone who has inspired you?
Peter Burton was an angler I fished with for several years who inspired me to become better. He was the best match angler I ever encountered. I’ve fished with, perhaps that should be against, most of the great match anglers down the years. Don’t forget in the 70s and, to a degree, the 80s we had to travel often a long way to fish matches. The furthest I’ve gone for a single match is probably Liverpool but I regularly fished the Trent back in the day.
What’s your biggest fish in the UK?
Coarse fish, I’ve had carp to mid-20s by design. Sea fish, I’ve had porbeagles and blue sharks over 100lb.
You regularly travel to the Florida Keys and catch some amazing fish, are there any other exotic locations you’d like to visit or species you’d like to target?
If I’m brutally honest I’ve done far more than I would ever have dreamed of and caught more species than I knew existed, some of them bloody great big things too. Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Gabon, USA and many countries in Europe too, often for Tight Lines. It’s been an incredible journey.
I lost a swordfish literally 15ft from the boat in Islamorada in the Keys and I’d love to get a proper release on one of those. The fish I lost was probably 75-80lb and I’d like one over 250lb. A bluefin tuna off our coast would be nice but if I had to choose one above all others, it would have to be a yellowfin tuna over 150lb…before I’m too old to handle it…if I’m not already…on 50lb-class stand-up gear. Luckily yellowfin only live in exotic places so anywhere would do, although I have a mate who runs a charter boat in Costa Rica and he makes it sound amazing. Perhaps one day…
You’ve match fished at the highest level and have some enviable honours, like the John Smith’s and Wychavon, to your name but do you get to fish competitively much nowadays?
Simple answer is no. Fisherman’s Blues every Saturday and Sunday hampered my availability for matches and unfortunately my wife had a cardiac arrest in 2016 that resulted in a brain injury which has left her physically sound but unable to fend for herself in any meaningful way so I just don’t have the time. I commit as much effort and time as I can to Get Hooked on Fishing. I’m chair of the board of trustees and volunteer as often as I can, at least once a week. It’s very rewarding, if that doesn’t sound too patronising, to see the results we get from working with young people who don’t fit normal education or have mental health issues. We also play a large part in partnership with the Angling Trust – who I support unequivocally – fulfilling their contracts with the EA to increase participation and Sport England.
A lot of people say commercial fisheries have been the saviour of match fishing, especially with the decline of the rivers but more recently there seems to have been a swing away from carp back towards silver fish matches and rivers, where do you think the future of fishing lies?
That is the million-dollar question. It’s almost like there are two circuits at the moment because to compete at both forms of the sport demands two completely different sets of tackle, I think this polarisation will continue, perhaps even more intensely, with pole, feeder and rod-and-line float fishing being seen as separate entities.
Match (and festival…a newish phenomenon) organisers are looking for an edge to promote their product. It’s something that will provide more innovation and keep the match tackle industry buoyant. It’s in trouble otherwise.
The general consensus seems to be that the ‘Golden Age’ of match fishing with massive turnouts and characters like Ivan Marks has long gone but there now seems to be lots of big money matches and judging by social media there are more anglers than ever fishing three or four times a week plus there’s the ever increasing festival circuit, is match fishing now more professional? What are your thoughts?
Match fishing ‘in my day’ (donkeys’ years ago) developed from club fishing. Indeed in the many matches I fished over 1000 pegs, most of the competitors were club anglers, with the major contests such as Nationals and river championships being part of their club’s calendar.
Now commercial fisheries are the new club matches, with many anglers fishing the same venue every week exclusively. Of course many clubs still exist and run their own matches but these are often on commercials anyway as that’s where the majority of their members want to fish. The days of fishing for 5lb of roach on a canal are largely gone I’m afraid.
On the whole, match angling is an ageing sport (present company excluded of course!) any ideas on how we can get more youngsters into the sport?
Our population demographic makes a huge difference to increasing participation. So many people that have come to live in our country since I started fishing do not have angling as part of their culture, with the massive exception of eastern Europeans, who are even more angling oriented than our indigenous population! Therefore I expect angling participation numbers to increase organically within the next decade…subject to bloody Brexit of course.
Access to tackle is becoming more of a challenge with local tackle shops dropping off the map regularly. When I was 12 I could easily walk to 4 sources of tackle and bait. When I rode my bike to the Lea from my home in Holloway I cycled past another four or five.
It’s now at least two buses or trying to find a parking spot to my closest tackle shop…remember I live right next to the Thames between Richmond and Kingston, neither of which can boast a tackle dealer! There used to be three in Kingston and another just over the bridge in Hampton Wick. That’s part of the problem for recruitment. Some of the tackle I’ve seen available from various sources online is frankly unusable which creates a different set of issues entirely.
What we need as a sport is for tackle – basic but decent, proper tackle that can be used ‘out of the box’ to be available in major supermarkets. Until that happens angling will struggle.
If you had a time machine is there one moment in fishing you wished you could go back and change? i.e. a dream fish coming off at the net or a decision in a match that’s cost you a title?
I’d rather not have missed the keepnet with a pound chub on September 27th 1980, when Peter Burrell beat me my less than 2oz to win the Div One National where it would have meant so much to me…on the River Trent, where most matches were won by great anglers.
Have you got one piece of advice that will help the readers put more fish in their nets?
Yes, definitely: fish to enjoy it. The more you catch, the more you enjoy it…and vice-versa, the more you enjoy it the more you catch. On a more practical level, it is all about bait: good bait will catch you more fish, simple as that.
Well thank you for giving up your time but before I let you go, here’s a few more quick-fire questions,
What’s your favourite drink?
I don’t like alcohol much so I’ll have a really good quality Americano, as it comes with no milk.
I’ll have grilled mutton snapper please, well seasoned, with garlic mash, broccoli and roasted onion. Preferably in a small, family restaurant close to the sea in the Florida Keys. And I’ll have caught the fish.
Do you support a football team?
Arsenal, by default. I was born half a mile from the ground. I saw my first match, a reserve game against The Cobblers in 1954.
By no means a cinema fan but the Director’s Cut version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a movie I’ve watched lots of times and always enjoyed it.
Currently Family Guy. I think Seth McFarlane is a genius.
What music do you listen to?
Almost everything, my iPod is about as eclectic as it gets. I particularly enjoy Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Natalie Merchant.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Waking up hearing nothing but the sigh of the sea, eating a bowl of fresh fruit then walking down to the dock and boarding a boat for a day tarpon fishing in Key West.
Many thanks again Keith, from Against Men and Fish
*All images courtesy of Keith Arthur