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  • A review of the BBC's latest attempt at televising angling - The Big Fish. Success or stinker?

    Earth's Wildest Waters - The Big Fish

    I approached the idea of watching the new BBC angling programme Earth’s Wildest Waters - The Big Fish with some trepidation. There have been many attempts to put fishing on telly, some great some, not so great.

    I first heard of the programme a year or so ago and like many angling friends and colleagues around the country sent in my angling CV - more in hope than expectation. There was little detail on offer and even discreet enquiries to the production company produced little more useful information. The idea was the production company wanted intrepid and experienced anglers of all disciplines to apply so they could choose a small group to fish in some of the most challenging fishing conditions on the planet.

    When it comes to Angling programmes there are various formats that have been tried over the years. There’s the Robson Green/Jeremy Wade model which involves turning the whole venture into dramatic tale of derring-do with high production values and potential prime time appeal.

    Then you have the slightly whimsical nature based Passion for Angling type format, there have been magazine programmes (like Tight Lines), the “Celebrity goes angling” programmes and of course the more prosaic instructive stuff - something I have been involved with making for Sussex Angling TV over the last few years which really only talks to the committed angler and is generally shown on sports or internet channels. Then there was Screaming Reels – which doesn’t really fit any of these categories, entertaining though it was.

    So where would this new programme fit in to this? Well I was surprised and somewhat dismayed when I heard that it had been formatted as a kind of reality show pitting anglers against each other with eliminations at the end of each programme – A sort of Bake Off for Angling as one fishing friend put it. And let's not forget those of a certain age are all scarred by the Great Fishing Race.

    So I was very concerned, mainly about how angling would be portrayed for a prime time BBC audience?

    The end result though rather surprised me.

    Firstly the judges: Matt Hayes, a brilliant angler, great angling programme maker and one of the nicest “celebrity anglers” you’ll ever meet, teamed with Valgerdur Arnabottir, professional Icelandic fly fisher and a woman to boot. They were both watchable and did a great job of not over dramatising the whole situation. Second they seem to have chosen the anglers well with a representative gender mix and all with a seemingly interesting back story. They seemed engaging and interesting with a wide variety of fishing backgrounds and skills, and crucially none of them seem to be what we’ve all come across – the know it all fishing bore (although that may have been skilful editing). The only weakness was the co-host, Ben Fogle, great guy but he seems to be destined for these out door BBC programmes – and while doing a decent job he didn’t convince me he cared a lot for fishing.

    The production values were high, the camera work was very imaginative using underwater shots, great scene setting and lighting, the editing was crisp and generally making the whole experience very watchable. And yes even my non fishing family members watched it all the way through.

    There was a clear attempt to inform non-anglers with some rudimentary information about fishing techniques while taking care to show the fish being well handled and put back (where appropriate) – although I’m not sure about the commercial jigging.

    My big problem is the elimination format, it seemed a bit contrived and I wasn’t sure on what basis they actually ejected the first contestant, Geoff, because there wasn’t much to choose between them in those harsh conditions. It was an incredibly tough decision.

    I am not entirely sure how interest will be maintained for non anglers over the next programmes beyond seeing what fish they catch and some of the locations. There is a danger it could turn into a travelogue or that the X Factor format might just become a bit repetitive. Worse we could see the anglers getting a bit over competitive. Now anglers are competitive and angling competitions are part of the fabric of the sport but I am not sure this will work in this situation.

    Is it a reality game show or a new fishing programme? We’ll see over the coming weeks and of course watching Matt Hayes talking fishing is always worth switching the telly on for.

    Tim Macpherson

    Publisher

    Sussex Angling Media

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