Wilson's World Class - It's Official!
Britain's favourite angler 'Uncle John' Wilson is to be honoured by the International Game Fishing Association later this year as an inductee in the Fishing Hall of Fame. We talked to the man himself.
Probably best known for monitoring World Record catches worldwide, the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) headquartered in Dania Beach, Florida also runs the Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum along with the E.K. Harry Library of Fishes.
Nominees sent forward to the Hall of Fame have to have made "significant and lasting contributions to the sport of recreational angling" to even be considered and we are very pleased therefore to announce that this year John Wilson is being honoured by inclusion in the latest group of inductees. He joins a very select group of only 3 other Brits who have ever achieved this honour;- Dame Juliana Berners (inducted 1999), Izaak Walton (inducted 1999) and Lord Baden-Powell (inducted 2002).
In the official IGFA news release John's bio was given as follows;
John Wilson - a British angler, has been a TV personality for 20 years covering big game and deep sea fishing. Voted “The Greatest Angler of All Time” in a 2004 poll by readers of Angling Times, Wilson has published nearly 20 books and authored a column for the newspaper the Sunday Express until 2009.
IGFA President Rob Kramer adds - “The primary criteria for induction into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame is that the individual has made a meaningful contribution to the sport of recreational angling over an extended period of time. Clearly, John’s efforts to educate the public on our sport through print and television media over the last 30-plus years places him in an elite class of fishermen. We are grateful for his contributions and delighted that he has been selected to join the other great men and women in the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame.”
To celebrate this well-deserved accolade we asked John a few questions about his career and obvious passion for all things fishy.
Fish&Fly: You’ve had a pretty good start to the 21st Century scooping “Greatest angler of all time” as voted by the Angling Times readership in 2004, picked up an MBE last November for your “outstanding contributions to angling broadcasting and literature” and now are being inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame later this year for your “meaningful contribution to the sport of recreational angling”. Has it all sunk in yet and where do you go from here? What’s next for John Wilson?
John Wilson: Well, yes, I guess so and like so many nice things in our lives, angling accolades tend to come to us ‘older’ anglers simply because we have been around longer and gathered a wealth of knowledge and experience along the way. And been in a position to put it all to good use. Sadly, I won’t be able to collect the IGFA induction in Florida personally in October, of which I am immensely proud, because at the time I’ll be out in Canada taking a party of Brits salmon and sturgeon fishing, and cannot leave them to swan off to the ceremony. But that’s life eh?
As to where we go from here, I’m never really sure. Things always seem to happen which sets me trotting along a new or different route. Perhaps it will be a new book, a new country to explore for big, wild fish, or maybe I’ll be spending prime time with my two new grandchildren [twin boy’s] teaching them to observe the countryside and to fish. But they are just three weeks old at present.
F&F: I have just received your new book - My Way and it looks like a fascinating collection of your thoughts and experiences from over the years. Is this something you have wanted to do for a while and what was your ultimate aim when putting it together?
JW: My Way had been in my mind for some time I guess, for quite a few years at least. But again you need to be around some time to have experienced so many different angling techniques, and visited so many countries. I really enjoyed putting this particular volume together because it gave me licence to not only have a bloody good moan and provide readers with the facts about subjects that infuriate me, like cormorants, otters, celebrity angling presenters and TV commissioners etc, but also meander through a broad spectrum of favourite subject matter such as angling photography, angling abroad, throwing artificial lures, stalking stealthily, long trotting [my very favourite technique] fly-rodding and natural history etc.
F&F: In the book you make some lets says ‘pointed’ observations about the state of fishing television today which I am sure many will agree with. After providing the benchmark for fishing television for so many years, which programmes/presenters do you now enjoy watching yourself?
JW: Fishing on Television will I guess always be a contentious subject. Basically, because every angler seems to want something different, and his sport ‘portrayed’ how he likes to see it. Which is why in all the programmes I made I purposefully aligned angling with natural history.I think it’s impossible to separate them, and anybody who tries to is on a loser and doing angling a miss-favour.
I very much like the way Paul Young presents angling on TV and I think Hugh Miles with Passion for Angling and Catching the Impossible has set unbeatable heights in so many ways, especially lately with the amount of fascinating underwater photography actually filmed on the bottom of a lake or river and not in a tank as so many past angling series have done. I feel immensely proud of Martin Bowler’s angling achievements in working with Hugh, and that he will keep angling presentation in the Wilson-Bowler family. Martin’s granddad ‘Joe Bowler’ was my uncle Joe and took me river fishing during those early years in North London where I grew up.
F&F: Given the benefit of hindsight, are there any crossroads in your angling career where you would you have taken a different direction?
JW: No not really. I once lived in the West Indies on the Island of Barbados [for three years] and I guess I could have gone on to be a charter boat skipper, and even be still out there. But then I could not have experienced so many wonderful escapades around the world nor met so many interesting friends. Looking back with regret is not in my nature.
F&F: You describe yourself as an all-rounder but do you have a particular or perhaps several favourite species of fish above all others?
JW: Yes, I certainly do. Were someone up there to put back all the lovely roach that once swam in my local River Wensum [the main reason for coming to live in Norfolk 40 years ago] and I had but one day left, it would be long trotting for big roach using my centre pin reel on a mild winters day when the river was nicely scoured and just fining down after flooding. But as there’s no chance of that,[ thanks to Cormorant predation and a ‘gutless’ Environment Agency] certainly before I plop my clogs, spending the day at Murchison Falls in Uganda where the full force of the River Nile falls over 100 feet into a huge, foaming pool [the size of 20 football pitches] would be my first choice. For in addition to the exotic wildlife which includes several raptors overhead and some of the world’s largest crocs, amongst these dangerous, evocative, swirling waters live three species that grow in excess of 100lbs. Sementendu and Vundu catfish, plus the monstrous and legendary Nile Perch.
Or, I’d be on the wonderful Cauvery River in South India where the swirling waters between fingers of jagged black bedrock, just might provide me with one last hour-long battle with what is arguably the most exciting freshwater fish on this planet. A big [60-90lbs] golden mahseer.And I’d have faithful guides Bola and Suban [now sadly passed on] at my side.
F&F: Angling overseas continues to grow with new destinations and new fish to catch. You yourself have of course filmed in many locations but do any stand out as particularly memorable? Where would you go back to given the chance?
JW: As I have already portrayed, the River Nile and Cauvery River are amongst my very favourite for big, hard fighting fish. I should also love to return to the mighty Rio Negro in Brazil which though itself is up to 12 miles across in places, is just one of the Amazon’s 1000-plus tributaries. What with it’s fascinating rain-forest margins, parrots and pink porpoises [yes-pink] it contains monstrous catfish to 400lbs and one of the world’s most spectacularly coloured and hard-hitting species - the peacock bass. You can hear then slamming into baitfish or another angler’s surface popper from half a mile away!
There are also plenty of industry figures lining up to add their congratulations to John Wilson on this achievement and recognition.
Dick Tallents - MD of Masterline Walker Ltd who John has famously worked with for many years had the following to tell us;
"I was very pleased to hear that the IGFA want to recognise John Wilson for I can think of no more deserving candidate for this great honour. Over the years John has shown himself to be one of the world’s most accomplished saltwater anglers demonstrating an enormous passion for his sport and a great respect for his quarry. In addition to recognising John as a truly outstanding fisherman I am sure that the IGFA wish to draw attention to John’s role as an ambassador for our sport. His many television programmes, his fishing safaris and his books have encouraged thousands to broaden their horizons from fishing their local streams and rivers to fishing for big game fish around the world. John’s role as an ambassador extends much beyond that however. John is prepared to stand up and be counted whenever he perceives a threat to his sport. He devotes a lot of time and energy into promoting the interests of fishing and countering threats both from predators such as Otters and Cormorants or from the misinformed who believe fishing to be cruel. John is truly passionate about promoting fish welfare and ensuring that fishermen treat their catch with respect.
John first started working with Masterline in the early 1980’s before his first television programmes were screened. I well remember the sales meeting at which we announced the first John Wilson rods and were greeted with cries of “John who??”. John has always been keen to have a big input into the design of tackle that bears his name. From the start he set about designing brand new products with innovative touches that demonstrated his unique approach to his sport. In those days there were barely any twin tip rods on the market and his Avon Quiver went on to become probably the best selling rod of all time. John has always encouraged young people to take up fishing and has been keen that we use his name to promote, not just technically advanced designs, but also entry level products suited for newcomers. John will often take entry level products out with him and give them a good bending just to make sure that they are entirely “fit for purpose”! As John’s fame has grown his personality has remained unchanged, forever the approachable and likeable person that he has always been. Whenever he attends a public show his enduring popularity is demonstrated by the hoards of fishermen young and old (and their womenfolk!) queuing up to have him sign an autograph or pose for a picture.
Integrity and loyalty are rare qualities in an age when prominent personalities choose to switch their endorsement from brand to brand according to whoever pays the largest fee. Over the years many tackle companies have beaten a path to John’s door waving big cheques but all along John has remained loyal to Masterline and for that I am very grateful.
Congratulations John on this well deserved award."
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust;
"John Wilson has done a huge amount to bring the joy (and despair) of angling into the nation’s consciousness. His television programmes have been very popular with anglers and non-anglers alike and they have I’m sure inspired countless people to take up angling, and countless lapsed anglers to dust off their kit in the garage and get back out on the bank or beach once again. All this work and more have been recognised by him being awarded a well-deserved MBE for services to angling in recent years.”
John Bailey - himself an acclaimed angler, author and presenter but most of all long-time friend;
"I’ve been saying this for over twenty years. If I had to choose anyone to fish for my life, then it would be John Wilson. I first fished with him back in 1974 and even then I could see that he was exceptional, a one-off, dare I say it, a genius?
This is the thing with John: it doesn’t matter whether the fishing is bait, fly or lure, he’s a master. He’s a fish catcher. He has that innate ability to assess any situation, on any water, in any country in the world and make the right decision at once. Every time.
In some ways, I guess that’s why he was such a successful maker of programmes for angling TV. John caught. But more than that, John’s personality always bubbles through, whether on camera or merely in conversation. John loves and lives for his fishing and that is apparent whenever you’re around him. He’s generous. He’s genuine. He appreciates the bigger picture, always.
John will go down as one of the all-time angling greats and I count myself lucky and privileged to have known him so well for pretty much all my adult life."
The Fish&Fly team add our hearty congratulations to 'Uncle' John and hope to see him back on the box sometime soon. It's not the same without him!
The last word must go to the man himself;
"No one in this world can benefit and get ahead without considerable help and guidance from others. And I’m certainly no exception. Indeed, it would take almost a book in itself to mention all those guides, friends, fellow angling writers and presenters and other’s who have throughout over a half century of fishing, offered their help, encouragement, advice and knowledge in forming the angler and person I am today. Not least my lovely wife Jo.
So many people have been unbelievably loyal in religiously watching my TV programmes during these last 25 years, as have those who have read my articles and books during these last 40 years. Blimey! I’m getting to sound bloody old here. But thank you everyone for making me tick."
Great Witchingham 2010
Please add your own congratulations and thoughts in the comments section below and we'll make sure John gets to see them.
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