My pal Vic set it all up. He's going to hunt wild boar and asked if I wanted to string along. Having been to Russia before and got the T-shirt, or at least the little dolls that fit inside one another, I wasn't all that interested until he slipped in the fact that he's staying on Gorby's hunting lodge.
Now I happen to know that Mikhail likes a spot of fishing. It seemed logical to assume that his dacha would have a river or two nearby. Why, it may even have been a factor in ending the cold war because Bush is also a keen angler. Perhaps they sorted out the world over a spot of trout fishing. Anyway, I signed up for the trip.
My initial reluctance had nothing to do with the economic situation. It's just that last time I fished there, more than 10 years ago, the pernickity programme we were rigidly forced to obey spoilt what would otherwise have been a memorable trip.
Others in the party included Fred Buller, the world's foremost authority on pike and author of the definitive Freshwater Fishing, who said afterwards: 'I believe Russia could probably produce record fish of every species.' A more liberal approach to foreigners has recently allowed fishing in unexplored parts, and over the past year alone, giant taimen (an Asiatic salmon said to grow as large as 150 lb) and sturgeon to nearly 500 lb have been caught on rod and line. But we didn't catch anything like that.
It started well. We stayed in a remote hunting lodge about 150 miles from Rostov, and it was a wildlife paradise. We saw more rare butterflies than people, and left to our own devices, we would certainly have discovered some wonderful fishing. But we soon discovered that everything had to be done to an army timetable. Boats took us up the giant Veselovskoye lake, which runs into the river Don, and brought us back, despite our protestations, at 12.30 pm for lunch. Out we went again at 2 pm, but the boat men clocked off at 5 pm.
I felt sorry for the locals. Their protein was supplied by the fishermen who were also our guides. The poor peasants must have seen fish as often as truffles if the days we spent there were anything to go by. I asked our gloomy companion in my best schoolboy Russian if he had the bait. He replied: 'Da,' and brought out a mini-yoghurt carton, containing about six worms and two tiny fish like whitebait. He obviously wasn't expecting to catch much. Or maybe I had asked if he had any lunch with him.
We got round the bait shortage by using sweetcorn, bread and spinners. These captured loads of fish, including over 70 pike in a day. But our 'expert' hooked just one, and that fell off. We were not allowed to explore, but had to fish the places we were allocated. Goodness knows what we could have discovered.
I'm also a little apprehensive about flying Aeroflot. On my last trip, I followed the pilot up the stairs, and he had a huge hole in his sock. You just can't have confidence in a captain with a big potato in his Argylls.
I'm hoping that glasnost will mean I can go fishing for Gorby's tame trout, whether he's there or not, rather than being forced to chase pigs. I'm also hoping it means the aircrew can now buy M & S socks without fear of compulsory holidays in Siberia.Reuse content