Fishing Lines: Still waters and old ways

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The Independent Online
AS YOU read this, I shall be trying to guess where the trout live in a water 27 miles long and seven miles across at its widest point. This should give you a clue that I am at present in southern Ireland, where such a daft idea appears to be part of everyday life.

Ah Ireland, scene of my first holiday abroad] We spent two weeks touring round in a Morris Minor, three hefty teenagers trying to cook on a two-legged Primus stove and sleep in a two-berth cub tent. I drew the middle, and was forced into a foetal position between the two tent poles. The others had the choice of sleeping with their legs or head outside.

We saw ourselves as wildly sophisticated, compared with the simple Irish. But they were not so simple . . . One day, we booked a boat to fish on Lough Ennell for trout. The bigger Irish lakes are like small seas when the wind blows, and we looked alarmingly at waves crashing on the shore.

We had planned to take a motorised boat but the owner assured us we would not need one. The huge wooden craft was so wide that it took two of us to row, and after 40 minutes battling against the wind, we were far enough out to start fishing. Within minutes, however, the wind had blown us back to where we started. This routine continued all day, because we had no anchor. It was only when we gave up, our arms aching from all that rowing, that we discovered our enterprising Irishman didn't actually have any boats with engines.

We had been fooled because earlier, when we had asked him where we could get fresh water, he had directed us to a well at the end of the road. We couldn't find it, despite searching everywhere. All we found was a small stream.

'Did you get your water?' he asked as we returned.

'No, we couldn't see it. All we found was a stream with fish swimming in it,' we replied.

'Are there fish in it? I never knew that . . .' he said.

Being in Ireland is a salutary lesson for those who rush everywhere. I went sea-fishing near Cork with an Irishman, who directed me through the back roads. After a while, I recognised the route, so on the way back, I decided go a different way.

'Why are you coming this way?' he asked.

'Because it's about five minutes faster than the way you brought me,' I replied.

'What are you going to do with the five minutes?' he asked.

After the scurry of England, it's hard to adjust to a life at 33rpm. After a leisurely three-hour lunch in a country pub, talking to a local about the area, I asked if he went fishing.

'Oh no, I wouldn't have time for that,' he said seriously.

It's true. The country Irish really believe that their life is wildly hectic, and few of them fish. It probably explains why the fishing is generally far better than in England. At this time of year, the ferries are full of British anglers, and fishing is Ireland's most important source of tourism, greater even than golf. In the circumstances, you would expect the country to take greater care of this asset. But it allows salmon farms to wreck the west-coast sea-trout fishing, and also indiscriminate salmon-netting to take place on the high seas when those fish are worth far more if they swim back up the rivers.

Still, it is hard to get too dispirited about such things when you drive along and see, in diametrically opposed road signs, directions to the same place. And if you drive through Waterford, on a straight road with no turn-offs, you see arrows painted on the road, directing you straight on. I've never understood that one.

I am writing this from Currarevagh House, a beautiful country house at Oughterard in Galway, surrounded by 30ft rhododendrons and looking out on Lough Corrib, where tomorrow I shall try to catch trout by the oldest known method of fly- fishing.

Somehow I feel that the week will supply me with a further fund of stories. Walking past the tiger skin on the main stairway (the poor beast looks as if it has been caught on the wall by a giant paint-roller), I found it difficult to locate my room. Not surprising, really.

The numbers start at 4, followed by 8, 14, 10, 9, and then my room, which is number 5. There is no key to the room, which has a bell inside.

It's great to be back in Ireland.

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