Canada by train whets the appetite

Annalisa Barbieri on Fishing
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The Independent Online

Just back from western Canada where unfortunately no fishing could be done since I was on non-fishing four-day train trip and the train hardly stopped. This was tough; people on the train, people I saw afterwards (in America where the train terminated), people I met on my return to the UK, all said, "the fishing in Canada is amazing". Well, thank you. I had half hoped that I could somehow persuade the train driver to stop off somewhere, hire a couple of rods and wangle a few hours fishing, but of course this was impossible, most of the time anyway we were in the middle of nowhere.

Just back from western Canada where unfortunately no fishing could be done since I was on non-fishing four-day train trip and the train hardly stopped. This was tough; people on the train, people I saw afterwards (in America where the train terminated), people I met on my return to the UK, all said, "the fishing in Canada is amazing". Well, thank you. I had half hoped that I could somehow persuade the train driver to stop off somewhere, hire a couple of rods and wangle a few hours fishing, but of course this was impossible, most of the time anyway we were in the middle of nowhere.

One of the train's conductors was once a fisherman and when I was at the "front end" as the driver's cabin is called, we passed a good half an hour talking about fishing in between watching suicidal folk running across the tracks in front of the train. The funny thing was the number of girls I met who fished. Although they didn't think they fished. One [girl] said, "Oh no I don't really fish, I've caught a salmon, some brook trout, a couple of steelheads. Next week I'm going fly fishing off a kayak with my uncle, he's a fisherman." And she looked so normal.

There are only 41 known species of fish in the Rockies and not all of them are indigenous. Somehow, stupidly, I had thought this intensely natural looking place had not been trifled with, but in parts of course it had. The aptly-named Maligne River in the Jasper national park had no fish in it until the late 1920s when brook trout were introduced. Forty years later they plopped in some rainbow trout too. Then there's the ridiculously named Splake - which were hatched in Banff in 1946 by crossing a male brook trout with a female lake trout. They now live in a lake called Agnes.

So I had to content myself with watching for fish off the train. This was particularly hair-raising when we crossed huge great lakes or rivers that were so wide they looked like lakes. Don't ask me their names, I asked at the time but I was so intoxicated by the scenery that all names rolled into one and all rivers seemed to be called Kicking Horse or Bow. Out on the observation deck, I would look out and see the water underneath the tracks, no "proper" bridge, nothing, just the tracks and then deep, deep water, usually emerald, or that blue that middle-aged men's jeans always seem to be.

I saw no fish, though who can blame them, it was freezing and parts of some lakes were frozen (the season for most things out here tends to last from May to October).

In Alberta, where the scenery was particularly spectacular, game fishing is divided into cold-water sport fishes, all from the salmon and trout family - of which there are nine species in Alberta.

Then there's cool-water sport fishes which include yellow perch, northern pike, burbot and lake sturgeon which are fascinating and so ugly they become beautiful. Lake sturgeon are the longest-living of all of Alberta's cool water fishes. They can live for as long as the Queen Mother and instead of scales these fish have a leather-like skin. They only spawn when they are teenagers - at about 15 and then only every five years. There are only about 6,000 lake sturgeon left so, not surprisingly, fishing for them is heavily restricted and you need a special licence, which only costs $5 but only allows you to keep one sturgeon per year. The heaviest caught on record in Alberta was 47.7kg (work it out... we're all supposed to be metric now).

I'd be very interested in hearing from anyone who has been fishing in Canada, where they've been, where they recommend and so on, as I'd love to go back to fish.

Bits of news: One reader, Mike, e-mailed to ask if I knew that Bernard Venables, whose book I gushed over two weeks ago, had made documentaries for the BBC that were shown in the 1960s and '70s. Does anybody else remember them? Is there no big-wig from the BBC who is reading and could get these repeated? Come on! Give us a break from Keeping up Appearances, great though it was the first time round.

The Game Conservancy Trust auction is at Bonhams this Wednesday and I'm going with my hands tied behind my back. And I'm toying with the idea of meeting the editor of a fish farming magazine. What do you think? And what would you like to know from such a man if I do decide to go? Questions, please, on a postcard to: The Right Fantastic Annalisa Barbieri, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 (new address, please note) or e-mail me at a.barbieri@independent.co.uk">a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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