Fishing lines: Hands up if you want to be duke for a day

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The Independent Online

Salmon were once a real nuisance to fishers on Hampshire's river Test. Silver visitors were so abundant that keepers were instructed to extract them from the water by any means, fair or foul, and bury them in pits.

Salmon were once a real nuisance to fishers on Hampshire's river Test. Silver visitors were so abundant that keepers were instructed to extract them from the water by any means, fair or foul, and bury them in pits.

Hard to believe, isn't it? But in those days, back in the Victorian era, brown trout were considered far more desirable. Salmon snapped with ease the light line needed to tempt trout and frightened away proper fish.

Times change. The status of salmon soared. Land bordering a salmon river, especially in Scotland, climbed to ridiculous prices. But that was when salmon were plentiful. Over the past few years, stocks have collapsed. Timeshares that once sold for £50,000 a week can now be bought for less than a fifth of that. Once- great rivers such as the Wye, where Robert Pashley caught 678 salmon in 1936 alone, are a chilling lesson on how easily we can fritter away our natural resources.

There are few better guides to the state of game-fishing today than the annual auction run by the Atlantic Salmon Trust. This postal auction raises funds for conservation and research work. Once upon a time, you could put in a bid to cast a line on the Queen's stretch of the river Dee. No more, alas. But the latest catalogue, which is free, still contains nearly 250 lots on Britain's best rivers and lakes.

They include waters owned by clubs with a waiting list longer than an NHS hospital; others belong to individuals such as the Duke of Westminster, who don't really need to earn a few quid from selling day tickets. For a week's fishing on the Duke's Soch Stack in Sutherland in July or August, you will probably have to bid at least £700. But a day on the Spey at Kincraig could be yours for as little as £22.

For those who don't want to travel so far, the Arundell Arms fishery at Lifton, Devon, has offered two days for two on the river Tamar and its tributaries, including a night at the hotel and dinner, for around £285.

For many, however, the attraction is the chance to fish on the Itchen and Test, arguably the most famous trout rivers in the world. There are four lots on the Test, three on the Itchen, and to give you some idea how sought-after the fishing is, a day for two on the Itchen Stoke Mill water at Alresford is expected to sell for at least £300. You can even keep a salmon if one comes along.

However, the very best bet is a chance to cast a line on two of the most prolific waters in the world, never mind the British Isles. There are two places in Ireland where you can stand on a bridge and watch hundreds of salmon at a time. One is Galway Weir, the other the Ridge Pool on the river Moy in Ballina. Last time I fished the latter, I landed five salmon, more than I caught all year in Scotland. The record is something ridiculous like 72 fish.

It's not always that easy, but if you get bored with salmon, the trout fishing's not bad either.

Catalogues from the Atlantic Salmon Trust, 01796 473 439

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