Fishing lines

I'm off to the Minnesota ice follies
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The Independent Online

My dreams of fishing Afghanistan's mountain lakes may have to go on hold for a few months, it seems. It could also be a little while before I can try for the giant mahseer in the rivers of Myanmar, Burma as was. And I may have to toughen up with a few army assault courses before I can hope to cast a line for the sea-going taimen of Siberia.

Tromping round the World Travel Market last week was instructive, as much for the countries that weren't represented. As well as the ones I mentioned, Iran and Iraq are supposed to have excellent fishing. But they are not for the faint of heart.

I would love to fish the Congo river if it wasn't so dangerous. Anyone going into the country these days, armed with just a fishing rod and a happy smile, would need a full-scale sanity check. A friend who experienced its delights in the late 1980s says that his second greatest moment was sitting on the plane as it took off from Brazzaville.

"Every day I thought, 'I wonder if I'll be alive tonight,' " he recalled. "People looked as me in the way a cat looks at a goldfish."

You might say spending months in a country rated as bad for your health as asbestos is just asking to be robbed by river pirates (as he was). The silly sod did it not once, but three times, in his quest for a special fish.

Despite being threatened with knives and guns, robbed, contracting malaria and living in the most appalling conditions, he reckons it was all worth it. He eventually caught what he went there for, a goliath tigerfish. But that's extreme angling for you.

My adventures these days are of the less dramatic kind. I have little desire to be robbed, raped, shot at, stung to death or incur some life-threatening disease. Which makes me wonder why I'm so keen to go somewhere that is freezing cold, with primitive accommodation and mediocre fishing.

On the other hand, a few days on Mille Lacs lake in Minnesota seems likely to provide me with enough stories to keep me going at dinner parties for the next year. I've just found out about the lake's unique attraction – and it's not the resident population of walleye, a fish like a washed-out pike.

Come winter, when the lake freezes over and the ice gets really thick, locals move on to the water to fish. When I say move, I mean just that. They take huts there, and settle in for weeks.

Some huts are luxurious, with several rooms and all mod cons, including television. Soon there's a whole town, including a couple of hotels. Street signs are erected, dances held in the evenings. The "residents" even elect a mayor.

The secret, it seems, is to get off the lake before the ice gets too thin. But a couple of stubborn Minnesotans always judge it wrong.

Now this sounds like my kind of adventure. Little danger, plenty of drink. In the interests of angling journalism, I hope to travel there to take part in the town's big ice-fishing competition early next year. Who knows? They might even elect me mayor.