Fishing: Beware a full bream ahead

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The Independent Online
THE BIGGEST delight of fishing with the veteran Oxford angler Peter Stone is that he uses exclamations straight out of PG Wodehouse. He is the only person I have ever met who says things like: "Well I never!" or "Just fancy that!" Some years ago, during a press expedition to the wilder parts of Russia, I would set him up, just for those delicious moments when he came out with phrases straight out of Ripping Yarns.

Funnily enough, I can't remember what Peter said at the moment during the trip that shocked him most. We were staying on a game lodge somewhere near Rostov, and the cooking was done by a burly housewife, who did a sight better than those Moscow hotel characters laughingly called chefs. She spoke no English, we spoke no Russian. Meals were guessing games to see if we could identify what we were eating.

One evening, she served three types of fish. Gutted, scaled and sauced, we could not identify them. With sign language, I asked her to show me what they were. From the rubbish bin, she retrieved the heads and skins of a pike, a zander and two very large bream.

Now, at the time Peter was famous in angling circles for his mighty bream catches from the Thames. This in itself made him unusual, because bream have the charisma of a week-old sock, and about the same smell. But Peter loved them. Well, you've guessed it. I couldn't resist getting Peter to work out what he had just eaten. When he discovered it was his favourite fish, he looked as if he was going to be violently sick.

He's still around, in his 70s now and pretty frail, but still fishing. And I thought of him this week, when I read the peculiar tale of Harry France.

France, too, was a keen bream fisher. He spent much of his time on the river Witham in Lincolnshire. In fact, he liked the Kirkstead stretch so much that when he died of a heart attack, aged 69, he left very specific instructions. This week, on the first anniversary of Harry's death, his son Alan went fishing with his father - literally. He took the ashes down to the river, mixed them up with a bag of groundbait - and threw the lot in.

His son said: "I know it sounds morbid but when we had the lid off the pot, it was like a massive release of tension and emotion. And by the time I'd mixed the groundbait, the family was having a right laugh." Alan had never been fishing before. "I never could stand fishing because I didn't have the patience," he told Angling Times. "But dad adored it, and always joked about having his remains sprinkled in the river, so we couldn't let him down."

By all accounts, it was not a flashy ceremony. Resisting the urge to blend his dad with one of the modern groundbaits featuring special ingredients, Alan chose a bag of plain brown breadcrumb. "We thought about catapulting him in, but the elastic had broken so he went out with an underarm lob." A touching moment, I think you'll agree. No doubt the river's bream shoals appreciated it. It's not often they get the chance to get their revenge on anglers. Pike can bite you, but the best a toothless bream can hope for is a nasty suck.

One thought has been worrying me. Just suppose that Alan, though uninterested by fishing, nevertheless likes the occasional fish dinner. Just suppose that Alan's wife was looking for a bit of fish for her husband's supper, saw a fresh-looking bream on the slab, and bought it. And just suppose that particular fish had been caught from the Witham, and had been enjoying an unexpected snack earlier that week... would that mean Alan could end up eating (gulp) his own father?

Is it that far-fetched? After all, another strange story came to light this week, about a keen angler-photographer who bought a roll of old film in a junk shop, developed it, and discovered that one of the pictures featured himself 50 years earlier, fishing on the Oxford Canal.

Oxford... where Peter Stone lives. The fishing gods may be trying to tell me something. I shall have to phone Peter and tell him the story, if only to hear him say: "Well, goodness gracious me!"