Fishing's just as bad as foxhunting and hare coursing, it's hunting fish. Such is the mantra of the world's biggest animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which at present spearheads the campaign against us.

While more moderate campaign groups like the RSPCA and International Fund for Animal Welfare are unlikely to fall in with the US-based, celebrity-backed PETA, that doesn't mean we won't have a fight on our hands when hunting goes. Until that happens, we can either shrug our shoulders and tell ourselves they'll never stop us, or we can use what time we have left until Parliament finally blows home on the hunters to get organised and clear the decks for action.

Whether you agree with hunting or not, there's no denying one thing. Those who ride to hounds have acted as a buffer zone between those of us who fish and the unholy alliance which would stop us ever since the animal rights movement found its feet in the 1970s. Since then we have seen the rise of powerful, well funded lobbying groups campaigning against bloodsports, animal experiments and meat eating, and the emergence of a direct action movement which graduated from disrupting hunts and rescuing animals from laboratories and fur farms, to incendiaries and letter bombs.

In a way, it's surprising that both wings of the animal rights movement have left angling alone for so long. Threats of disruption from hunt saboteurs have failed to materialise, beyond a handful of isolated but well-publicised incidents. While powerful campaign groups with memberships in five figures campaign against vivisection and the meat trade, the only anti-angling group, Pisces, has a tiny membership, an amateurish website and as much political clout as a pint of maggots. The situation is likely to change dramatically once hunting stops. If we underestimate the threat or carry on with our heads in the sand, we're in for a bumpy ride.

Like hunting, fishing depends to a large extent on goodwill. Despite the rise of the commercial fishery, most coarse anglers still belong to clubs which rent waters from riparian owners, public bodies like local councils and the Environment Agency, and private corporations like the massive mineral firms which dig gravel pits.

Just as councils and Britain's largest landowner, the Co-op, became the focus of the political campaign against hunting in the 1970s and 80s, such organisations are likely to be high on the hitlist. Councils have already been targeted with pictures of birds caught in discarded tackle, dead fish and litter left behind by anglers. A few have already banned fishing on municipal ponds and some stretches of river. A pond in the middle of a housing estate here, or a few hundred yards of town centre towpath or riverbank may not seem like the end of the world on the face of it. There are plenty of other places to fish after all. Yet once you look at who actually owns a great many waters, it's obvious this could easily become the thin end of a very big wedge. And how many towns or cities have anglers ready to write letters, organise petitions and lobby councillors to defend their sport? Publicity and image are all important these days. Soundbites are the currency of modern political life.

Yet when news broke that PETA planned to target angling earlier this year - or rather when an old story got rehashed by a Sunday paper on a quiet news day - how many anglers were on hand to give local radio interviews, or issue rebuttals via the local media?

Angling has a good, positive story to tell. But our national bodies weren't geared up to tell it. The average hack on your local paper has never heard of bodies like the NFA or ACA, and probably doesn't even have a contact number for anyone in angling, who can give our side of the story. If ever there was a recipe for a crop of unbalanced, negative stories that has to be it. And have the bodies' anglers expecting to defend their sport got the briefing materials needed to tell the media our side of the story on demand? To nip negative coverage in the bud before it gets into print, or the contacts to make it happen? I won't bore you with the answer. The media is going to be a very important battleground in the years to come for obvious reasons. The general public has at best an uninformed and ambivalent opinion of us.

Fly fishing with JR Hartley, John Wilson laughing his head off and a line of blokes under those green umbrellas. That's about the extent of it. If we don't get there first, there are going to be a string of exposes because we lack the media-savvy to mount a pre-emptive strike.
Live fish stolen for bait horror.
Fish killed by stress shock.
Would you like a treble hook in your mouth.
I can see the headlines now. The battle for public opinion over hunting was won many years ago. Cats torn to bits in the high street, foxes killed in school playing fields, deer shot at bay in front of coachloads of tourists - it's hard to think of ways the hunters could have given themselves a much worse press.

Angling still has time to make a difference. The jury's still out on us. But it won't stay out for ever.