So why, in my life as a fisherman, have I been arrested, (well, all right, detained by force majeure) five (count 'em - 5!) times?
Happened to me once on the Red Sea, on the Egyptian bit of it, that is. How was I to know that the Yom Kippur war was about to start up and things were getting tense in those parts?
This is how it went. After a lot of trouble, I'd managed to charter a boat - not one of your million dollar Bertrams or Hatteras's but a beat-up old Arab boat - so that I could go after the sailfish reputed to be around in big numbers. And I was about to board it when a truckful of Egyptian police pulled up on the quay, yelling at me.
It didn't take long to establish, however, that I was not being charged with espionage but, er, proceeding to sea without naval permission. And what do you think the fee for that was? Why, 10 US $, it turned out. Which, when I paid up, led to smiles all round......
The next time it happened was when some hard men from Nicaragua - in a gunboat - came up alongside the boat I was on in Costa Rican waters (I was trying to catch a tarpon at the time) , and boarded us a gunpoint. They weren't after me, it turned out, though, but the famous Commandante Zero. He was the leader of the rebel Sandinistas who at the time were fighting the troops of the dictator Somoza in Nicaragua. The baddies, though, had been tipped off that the Commandante was paying an undercover visit to his girlfriend who lived over the border in Costa Rica in the village where our fishing camp was. And, naturally, they assumed he was sneaking back home in our boat....
When they found that this was not the case they bullied us for a while, stole our cameras and wallets then took off. As they did, I wished them the worst of luck. Worked, too. They lost the war, right?
Then there was a brush I had with the Spaniards. I was fishing out of Gibraltar (blue sharks) when their patrol boat, known as Smoky Joe by the locals, came alongside, claiming that we were fishing inside Spanish territorial waters. As indeed we were. They were very polite, actually as they searched the boat. And, since we'd caught nothing - not even the bait at this point, - there wasn't a lot that they could do.
(Smoky Joe, I'd learn later, was a local legend, like the Victory Brothers, a couple of local fishermen I'd meet, who, to infuriate the crew of Smoky Joe when they were stopped and boarded, as they often were, each described his occupation on his (Gibraltarian) passports as 'contrabandista'. Which, of course, is Spanish for smuggler.
Then there was the time I was fishing off Rathlin Island which lies in the North Channel between Scotland and Northern Ireland. It had been a good day - there'd been a big run of haddock which we'd hammered and we were on our last drift of the day when we were loud hailed by a Royal Navy corvette which send a inflatable full of marines, armed to the teeth, over to board us.
They took their time searching us and the boat. They didn't smile, not even when our skipper said, "Hey, lads, take a box of fresh haddock with you." In fact, that made them look at us with even more suspicion. They left unsmilingly too, without apology. And, dammit, they were supposed to be on our side, weren't they?
In terms of sheer terror, though, none of these events outweighs what happened to me very early in my fishing career. I must have been about 13 or 14 - can't exactly remember now - when I'd gone up on my bike to fish the River Towy in West Wales. In those days, the fishing was governed by the local River Board which issued three types of licence - for brown trout, for seatrout and for salmon.
I, naturally, had opted for the cheapest - a brownie licence - and I was happily fishing away when from behind me came the voice of the bailiff who, naturally, wanted to see it. I handed it over and he examined it.
And then he said, "What's that you've got at the end of your line?"
"A devon minnow, sir"‚ I said,
"Let me see it"‚ said the bailiff. He examined it with care and then he
examined me. "Boy"‚ he said in a quiet, frightening tone, "that is a
seatrout-sized minnow. Come with me".
I followed him. Where was he taking me? Jail? I almost broke away and ran for it. My bike was in the bushes, wasn't it? But I wasn't bold enough for that, so I kept following him, right into Llandeilo town. Was there a jail in Llandeilo?
It wasn't a jail that we reached eventually, though, but the tackle shop.
"This boy"‚ said the bailiff "requires a seatrout licence."
I can't remember now how much it was. By the mercy of God, though, I still had a lot of my birthday money left and I handed most of it over.
I'd like to say that I went straight back to the river and caught a 6 lb seatrout. I didn't, though. I got onto my bike and headed home, still shaky. Come to think of it, that River Board bailiff scared me a lot more than in later days, would Egyptian sailors, Nicaraguan fascists and both the Spanish and British navies......