It may have started in earnest for me when I saw early photographs of Dick Walker wearing a battered Trilby hat that looked as though it might have suffered from the previous ownership of several generations of seaside donkeys; so decrepit and misshapen was it. Clearly, I was easily impressed, because I took to wearing one of my fatherís hand-me-downs. That hat saw several seasons of hard use, but it came to a sad end. I was fishing the Thames at Hampton Court on a day when it was blowing old boots of wind. A really squally gust ripped my umbrella from its moorings, and as it sailed over my head it ripped off my Walker look-alike Trilby. Out and across the river my expensive umbrella sailed, blown like a skidding autumn leaf, finally coming to a halt on the Palace side, where it sank, along with my heart. The old Trilby, without the full mainsail set of the umbrella, dropped into the water in front of me, then sank slowly as it was swept downstream. Poor thing, to come to such an ignominious death at sea.

My shallow impressionability continued. Next came a ridiculous-looking deerstalker that I think Iíd seen first sported by filmstar Robert Donat in some pre-war epic (39 Steps, was it?). At my then tender age is took a certain amount of self-assurance to wear a deerstalker on club coach outings, so it didnít last long.

Iím afraid modernity and peer-pressure took over for a few years. I can remember wearing a bobble hat for a while. It was particularly suitable for windy shore-fishing expeditions, because it clung tightly to the head. But style was not that bobble-hatís best point, although I was totally obsessed with the idea of casting from Dungeness to the shores of France at that time, so perhaps personal appearance was low on my list of priorities.

Anyway, in recent years, through a mixture of my usual pathetic guru watching, and the realization that I donít actually give a tinkerís cuss what anyone thinks of my style quotient, Iíve been at the hats anew. To the distress of my wife, and the creaking protestation of the cloakroom shelf on which they all live, I have any number of the things in various states of disrepair. Thatís the main problem with anglersí hats, they donít stay new, or even vaguely respectable for very long, because with their lives of wet-weather bliss, they are wont to shrink. Even our most loved hatty companions have a tendency to become unwearable. Not being able to bear the prospect of chucking out these old chums, they have simply accumulated in depth over the years, to become the homes of our household spiders, and the odd mouse.

About twenty-five years ago, in one of my more profligate periods, I sauntered into Holland and Holland, and bought a wonderful flat tweed cap. It did great service over many years, and once saved my thinning scalp when a plummeting shot pheasant hit me square on top. But, like all the others, it got smaller and smaller. I rang H&H, and they suggested that I should take it to the top folksí hatters Locks, who might be able to stretch it a bit. I figured that an exceedingly posh shop like Locks would charge me more to stretch the hat than Iíd originally paid for it, so I didnít bother. Still, the idea of hat stretching struck a cord with me.

Anyway, salvation for my store of reduced-size hats has arrived in the shape of a 1950ís American hat stretcher. It is, as Baldric might say, part and means of a cunning plan. This remarkably clever little engine is slipped inside the sweatband of the shrunken hat, and wound out by degrees until the original size is restored. Hey-presto, itís new hats for old. I discovered that it pays to dampen the hat a bit first, and then to allow it to dry on the stretcher. My old friends have been thus raised from the dead, and I have an embarrassment of hat riches.

Surrounded by choice, I been wondering just what constitutes the ideal anglersí hat. When doing carbon rod things in foreign climes, I tend to wear a big floppy sun hat, or a baseball cap. I donít consider fishing beyond our shores in the same way as my life-preserving traditionalist fishing life here, so it doesnít matter much that these new hats have no character or style. In Britain, I think style does matter.

Since fatherís and Walkerís Trilbys, I been a bit of a fan of this style of hat. Some recently-unearthed editions have met the stretcher. Version A has real has seen some serious mileage, and has a Somerset turnip harvesterís air about it. Version B Trilby is a Walkerish sort of thing. Iíve had it for about twenty years, and it has the kind of patination that can only be found on hats that have seen action in the front line of the trenches, or inaction on the parcel shelf of a car. Trilby C is a stunner, made by Waddingtons. This is so posh it may be too smart for fishing, other than on the Test, or the first day of the coarse fishing season.

The Africa Special has been resuscitated. This acquisition resulted from my reading of Hathaway-Capstickís wonderful hunting adventure, Death in The Long Grass. It tells of the authorís days as a white hunter in East Africa. For a while I dreamed of traipsing through the Kenya grasslands with a 7mm Rigby rifle, and a trusty blue-skinned Massai bearer. The nearest I got to the dream was an excellent cotton safari jacket, and this fine fur-felt ĎOut of Africaí hat. Rather less romantically, both were bought from the Banana Republic Store in New York. Itís witnessed the downfall of many a good chub, but no rhino charges, so far.

That flat Derby Tweed is a really good one, from Wathen, who are based somewhere north of Watford. It has some special breathable waterproof material in it, so itís a comfort of showery days. It shrank dreadfully, but having been attended by the stretching engine, itís as good as new. I always keep this one in the car.

Then we come to the more wacky stuff. These days Iím brave and ridiculous enough to wear such hats on occasions when I know for certain who will be in attendance, to laugh at me. The Panama straw might have been seen as eccentric a few years ago, but its approval by traditionalist high priest Yatesy has rendered it almost normal wear now. They cost very little, and last for ages, provided they are loved a bit. Mine came from Oxfam in the Kings Road about fifteen years ago, and although it has a fair covering of tench slime (which may be a preservative) and barbecue fat splashes, about its one-time blonde virginity, itíll likely do another fifteen years. After a dowsing, it stretched back to its original size very easily.

Wacky hat number two is my lovely boater. I bought this new from Gieves and Hawkes in 1978 when I owned a vintage Rolls Royce, and wanted to cut a dash at the Charterhouse rally. This is really a good thing, and itís easy to see why it was considered to be essential headwear up to the 1930ís, and at some of the better schools since. Real boaters like this are quite thick, and surprisingly heavy, but they have a wonderful Three Men in a Boatness about them, which ought to fit well with a Thames punt fishing occasion, or a lazy morning after sunlit tench. They donít quite go with dowdy green shirts, so Iíll have to smarten myself up for the occasions when it seems to be the right hat.

So leaving aside the possibility that I might one day wear a black stovepipe topper (which I do actually have ready for that occasion) the wackiest hat I have is the bowler. Once, decent fellows all wore bowlers to the office, and long after these hats had fallen from everyday grace, guards officers wore them as Ďmuftií uniform. Very smart, very John Steed, very British. Is it all right to say British, or am I offending someone? The other day I watched an old newsreel of King George VI walking behind his late fatherís coffin, being drawn on a gun-carriage. He proudly wore his bowler, and it looked so grand. Well, I know bowlers have gone out of fashion, but I did for a short time wear one to work. For some reason, I was taken onto the staff of Friedmanís Accountants, in the City of London. Mr Friedman looked me over on the first day and sent me off to buy a decent Parker pen with my name engraved on it, and a good bowler hat to go with the three piece grey suit he passed on to me. A few weeks later Mr Friedman decided that I would never quite make an accountant (absolutely right) and required me to leave the firm. But rather uncharitably, he made me leave behind the second-hand suit, the engraved Parker, and the bowler hat, because I couldnít afford to pay for them. My current bowlers are ready for use, and Iím summoning up the courage. It would help if someone else was bold enough to wear another one alongside me. Itís all a bit mannered I suppose, but the old-time fishermen used to wear their bowlers to the river, and it would be so much nicer than a baseball cap advertising Mudsluggers Boilies, or Macho Muncher Zirconium pole elastic. Bowlers channel off the rain, and defend against falling twigs. They also sit tight in a breeze. Fashion coordination is a consideration. They seem to go with long Barbour type coats quite well. The downside for some is that they go badly with team shell-suits, striped jogging pants, camo warrior jackets, and bait launchers. Now then: I warming to my bowlers by the second.

If you fancy a bowler, youíll need to measure your head circumference (usually between 22" Ė 23") and then head for the charity shops, or Ebay auction pages on the net. Are you brave enough? Incidentally, members of the more prestigious angling clubs might feel them particularly appropriate, and Sowerbutts pole fishermen should regard them as essential uniform. And Sir, if I see you on the bankside sporting a bowler, I promise shall lift my hat to you.