Fishing Lines: Hooked on a lady of the lake

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I FELL in love with a beautiful blonde fisherwoman last week. Sadly, our budding relationship is already under severe stress. The more I investigate, the more I discover she is not the woman she appears to be.

It all started as I browsed idly through a copy of a 1994 brochure put together by the Swedish Travel and Tourism Council. I suppose I was really hoping to find a few tasteful shots of well-built Valkyries emerging from a woodland sauna. Instead, I found something far more exciting. Pictured wading waist-deep in water is the woman of my dreams. Her right hand grasps a spinning rod, while her left deftly lifts a thrashing pike clear of the water.

Bear with me while I describe the scene in more detail. There's no denying that she's a fine-looking woman, but this scene transcends physical beauty. Here, surely, is that rarest of creatures, a woman who knows how to fish and enjoys doing so.

For a start, she is wearing sensible clothes. No impractical silk blouse: instead, a sturdy short-sleeved cotton shirt in muted beige, showing an understanding of watercraft and a jaunty disregard of the elements. The two bulging pockets reveal she has all the extra tackle she needs at hand (though I may have misinterpreted this part of the photo).

But look at how she holds that rod. It's easy to spot a set-up fishing photo. The fake always grasps a rod at the extreme end as if holding a walking-stick, which no angler would ever do. My beloved has the rod at the correct angle, her fingers locked round the reel in the right position to stop line peeling off.

And the confident way she lifts out that pike. They have needle-sharp teeth and gill covers like a razor, but she is gripping that fish so it will not slip from her grasp nor be damaged by careless handling. It's about 10lb and it's thrashing the water like a washing machine on full load with maximum wash, but her face shows no sign of strain or alarm, merely a small smile for a job well done.

I can't get over the fact that she's standing so confidently with the water lapping her waist. Waders or not, my experience of Swedish rivers is that they are uniformly freezing cold. Anyone brave enough to risk hypothermia by paddling in these icy waterways deserves admiration and every fish they get.

I was searching for a hint of her name when the picture caption raised a maggot of doubt in my mind. No clues to her address or angling club, alas: just five words saying . . . '160 different types of fish . . . ' Suddenly I felt as cold as the time I fell fully-clothed into the river Ljusnan near Sveg.

Alwyne Wheeler, former keeper of fishes at the British Museum, confirmed my suspicions. 'You would have to work very hard to get more than 100 species,' he said. 'They must be including some very strange fish to get to 160.' I checked the record fish list compiled by Fiske Journalen. It shows a mere 42 sea fish and 29 freshwater species. With a sinking heart, I phoned the tourist board, hoping vainly that perhaps a sudden diversion of the Gulf Stream had brought an influx of warm-water species to Scandinavia.

A charming woman on the other end said she would love to help, but all the key people were attending a conference in Sweden until Tuesday. So were the marketing people. Should I phone Stockholm? Sadly, they were all at the same conference.

'I'm just looking after the office,' she said. 'But let me see what I can find out.' She was back soon afterwards.

'I tried to contact the fishing authorities in Sweden - but they are closed until Monday. They're at a personnel conference. The people who printed the brochure: they would know, but they're at a conference too. I'm sorry I can't help, but I'm sure it's true. There are definitely more different types of fish in Sweden than anywhere else. I've read that somewhere,' she said helpfully.

Hmmm, probably in the same brochure. She came back later with an even more astounding fact. 'I managed to get the Fisheries people, and they said the actual figure is 222 types - but there are only 160 at any one time.'

So here you have it. It could be true, but only if you include species like the dark-flank pipefish, Kolombatovic's goby and Eckstrom's topknot, which have never been caught on rod and line and are about as common in Swedish waters as reindeer in Oxford Street.