Just what do we want from our fishing shows on the television?

TV crews film John Bailey passing on his expertise. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com

TV crews film John Bailey passing on his expertise. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com - Credit: Archant

To have your favourite sport on television is both good for you and for the sport itself, writes John Bailey.

John Bailey is used to the glare of the television cameras. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com

John Bailey is used to the glare of the television cameras. Picture: www.mrcrabtreegoesfishing.com - Credit: Archant

In fact, in this modern media age, it's probably true to say that a sport that is not on TV is going to be sidelined, often weakened and sometimes in complete decline. Just look at football. Because it's saturating all the channels now it's never been cooler, never more popular.

I'm going to mention my own TV CV, if only to give validity to what I'm going to talk about afterwards. In the 1980s I worked on the Channel 4 'River' series and most notably filmed an hour-long ITV special on angling for mahseer in the Himalayas, called exotically, 'Casting for Gold'. In the 90s, I worked for four years on BBC Two's Countryside Hour and was a consultant and presenter for the same channel's 'Tales from the Riverbank'. In this century, I've filmed two series of 'On the Fly' for the Horse and Country/Sky channel, made two series of 'Fishing in the Footsteps of Mr Crabtree' and I'm on the point of discussing more regular appearances on Sky's 'Tight Lines'. Throw in a lot of guest appearances and angling DVDs and I reckon I know a fair bit about the industry.

First and foremost, the whole structure of television has changed beyond recognition over the last 25 years. The plethora of channels has certainly given us more choice, but by spreading the money thinly, it has in many cases reduced the quality of what we tune in to see. This is particularly the case when it comes to fishing programmes.

Until about 10 years ago, if you had an idea for a fishing programme, you could go to one of the channels, pitch the concept and, if you were lucky, get it commissioned. The channel would pay for the film or the series to be made and you would actually make some money out of it! That is not the case today.


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Today, in the vast majority of instances, a TV company will expect you to make the series yourself and finance the project from start to finish. This is why the Crabtree Project, for example, has yet to make a cent for any of us, apart from the camera crews, of course. This means that increasingly anyone wanting to make an angling programme is dependent on sponsorship of one sort or another and this inevitably has an impact, often negative.

There's an even more bitter twist to come. Of late, it's become a normal procedure for a TV company to ask for a fee to actually air the programme in the first place. This means that they do not pay to have the programme made and it also means they get money for putting it on the screen. A win-win situation for them perhaps, but a real knife in the heart for any angling production company.

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This brings me to ITV 4's current series 'The Big Fish Off'. I happen to know, like and respect former Olympian, Dean Macey, a great deal. I think he struggles manfully to keep the series afloat which always looks to be sinking financially. A great deal is made of the fact that the programmes are made and sponsored by Korda, but even this tackle giant must have found the money for the series tight. In the last episode, Dean and his co-presenter went to Spain to fish for catfish and quite a few of my friends have complained that nothing bigger than a 'kitten' was caught.

I don't think the anglers should be held responsible for this. My gut feeling is that finances only stretched to the shortest period out in Spain and they just weren't given the time to land a monster. I have to say, too, that the production values in what I've seen of the series so far are extraordinarily low as well. There is nothing in the way of top camera work and the whole thing looks as though it could have been shot by a group of students.

But this is what we are now going to get increasingly. This is what endless channels all paying a pittance or nothing at all have created. This probably doesn't matter for those of us who love our fishing on the box in any shape or form. My deep concern, however, is that children and potential newcomers will look on angling as very down-market, very drab and very much the poor relation of most other sports out there.

We all know that fishing is the most magnificent and beautiful of sports that there is. It really does deserve more than we are generally getting on our televisions sets.

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