A freshwater diet and a cod's gruesome appetite

A great e-mail arrived in response to my last column (about the types of fish you can eat that are not endangered - almost none). It was from a reader in Finland asking why we don't eat more fish such as pike, perch or bream in this country as they do in Finland. I've asked a number of people and they've all said "because they're bloody disgusting".

A great e-mail arrived in response to my last column (about the types of fish you can eat that are not endangered - almost none). It was from a reader in Finland asking why we don't eat more fish such as pike, perch or bream in this country as they do in Finland. I've asked a number of people and they've all said "because they're bloody disgusting".

The Finnish reader (no name given) speculated as to why such fish weren't readily available here. "Perhaps it is a hangover of the dissolution of the monasteries, when, presumably, large numbers of fish ponds were abandoned and the practice of eating freshwater fish fell into desuetude. All wild speculation. Perhaps, as is more likely, it is just English lack of imagination in these matters."

Well! Two things - I felt rightly stupid at having to look up a word as told to me by someone whose first language isn't even English; and as for him insulting others (since, of course, I am not English) about lack of imagination. Tsk! Just look at your high streets, there are oodles of imagination swimming around out there. Of course, Mr Finland is wrong that the practice of eating freshwater fish has gone out of fashion, since we eat tons of trout and salmon.

Then news reached us that the head of a man had been found in a cod - these fish can grow big. This was a gruesome discovery, but not, I'm sure, a sign that the cod has turned predator (anyway they have no teeth, the loves). However, it makes you wonder, in view of what man has done to the cod, whether nature isn't turning. Either way, best not dangle your toes overboard.

One of the most special rivers in the UK, the Dart in Devon, became the 14th river to be affected by pollution last month. More than 250,000 fish have died so far in these various 'incidents'. This time it was due to 50,000 gallons of slurry from a local farm that spilled into the river. Part of the problem is that the fines imposed on people responsible for such pollution are tiny in comparison to the damage they cause: a couple of thousand pounds, yet in effect these pollutors have killed a river - some rivers take a decade to recover. This year, we've had sheep dip, cynanide, pesticides, sewage, detergent, chlorine and "unidentified white opaque matter" dumped into our rivers. Yum.

Let's move on from all this death. In the September and October issue of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying, which is quite my favourite fishing magazine, there is an excellent 'casting clinic' piece by Oliver Edwards. Regular and devoted readers may remember that it was Edwards who made my casting all fall into place one day some summers ago, when we were on the Test, and I've never looked back since. He lists six cardinals sins committed in casting, and says that only a beginner should make all six at once: 1) breaking your wrist on the back cast; 2) not accelerating smoothly into back/forward cast; 3) not being snappy enough at the end of the cast; 4) not coming to applying the brakes quickly enough on forward/back cast; 5) not pausing for long enough on the back cast; and 6) 'pushing' on the forward cast. Well, if you haven't got an inferiority complex by now...

These are things we've all done, I would imagine. I've done some of them to Olympic standards, except breaking my wrist, which, strangely, is a habit I never acquired. Certainly now, with my fancy wrist braces, I couldn't break my wrist even if I wanted to. Anyway, if you do commit any of these errors - if you're normal - there are lots of pictures and tons of detailed advice, which would make good reading over the winter.

There are quite a few competitions this month, none of which I'm going to enter. I hate competitions. Loads of fish caught - for what? There is something particularly distasteful about a man or woman fishing like a banshee for some title or trophy. I just think: 'Oh, stop showing off'.

Fishing should be about one person, one fish and several hours. It should be about taking time to think, looking at your surroundings and respecting them. The cliché 'quality not quantity' is, of course, on the tips of my fingers. But to me, this parading of big bags is akin to a man (or woman) boasting about how many sexual partners they've had. Only like-minded twats are interested. However, I love watching competitions of skill - seeing how far and how beautifully someone can cast is awe-inspiring.

I'd like to dedicate this column to my dearest friend Maureen, who died recently and who cared much for the environment and for fish.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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