A piece of my mind in Canada

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
AT FIRST it sounded like the sort of assignment that journalists dream about. "We're looking for someone to write an article on fishing abroad, and we are told it's the sort of thing you specialise in." You bet - especially as the caller was commissioning editor on an upmarket magazine, one of those titles where the staff all have names like Ysenda and Tarquin. Still, at the rates they are rumoured to pay, I'd have accepted a commission from Gordon the Gopher.

And there was my undoing. Smarter readers will have spotted that my commissioner had cunningly failed to mention the venue. So it came as a bit of a shock, when I casually asked where I was heading (dreams of sun-kissed beaches, giant marlin, rum punches served by dusky maidens), to discover the subject was... Manitoba.

I have to confess that my reaction was: where? All right, I know it's in Canada, but how many of you could honestly turn to a map of the world and pinpoint Manitoba within, say, 500 miles? The other thing that struck me was that it's not what you'd call close in Canada at the moment. A quick glance at the world weather confirmed this. Montreal 2 degrees, Calgary -2. But they wouldn't be wanting me to go there at this time of year, would they? "So when do you want me to go there?" I asked.

"Ah, I'm afraid the only problem is that we would like the piece fairly quickly," I was told. No worries, I thought. On classy magazines, a bit of a rush generally means before the end of the year. Except in this case. "We, ah, need the piece by the third week in February."

I pointed out that this left me little time to get out there, scout out the fishing and write the article, especially as most of the waters would be frozen - but of course I could do it. "Well, we were rather hoping that you could write it without going there. We've rather overspent on our budgets, and we've had a bit of a rocket about it, so I'm afraid we can't actually send you there. But if you could write it in the first person, as if you had, that would be jolly nice."

In vain I protested: "I've never been to Manitoba. I'm not even sure where it is, let alone what fish are caught there. I can't..."

"I'm terribly sorry, got a call from Bali on the other line. I'll get everything in the post today. Thanks a lot."

But you know how it is. The accountant called last week with some unhealthy news about my tax bill. He mentioned a figure so huge that I thought he'd got my accounts confused with Keith Richard. He put it very well: "You appear to have given yourself an unlimited budget - and exceeded it." So I'm in the market for any sort of commission, no matter how tricky, as long as it pays well.

Well, I've found out a bit about Manitoba. The capital is Winnipeg. Half of its 650,000sq km is forest. It has the world's largest caesium deposits. Churchill, in the north-east, is known as the "polar bear capital of the world". And it has 100,000 lakes, as well as a place that sounds a surefire bet for good fishing, called God's River. Not a place to be caught poaching.

I'm up to speed now on how much wheat they grow, the best place to see caribou and what proportion of the population speak French. When it comes to the fishing, however, my article (10 days and counting to the deadline) is a few herrings short of a barrel.

I have amassed just two tales so far. One concerns a businessman who caught a carp of about 20lb within walking distance of his Winnipeg hotel room, the other involves a friend of a friend who worked there as a lumberjack. He went fishing and caught a great northern pike, which promptly bit him. The bite turned septic, and he had to come home.

Scarcely the stuff of great angling adventure, is it?

Of course, it's now hit me that I was not first choice for the Manitoba article. I have yet to discover which of my writing friends passed on this little beauty (no travel, no information, article by tomorrow, please). But I shall find out and have my revenge. Anyone need an article on paint polymers? I will shortly know just the person.