Fishing lines: Blonde babes and salmon, here I come
Sunday 14 September 2003
What does the name Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall mean to you? A champion of the organic movement? Country living? The Good Life with bad hair? Master chef, with emphasis on the offbeat (badger burgers for breakfast, slug soufflé for supper)? Especially the latter.
Imagine, then, my apprehension at being invited to join the great man on a fishing trip to Iceland, the land where they eat seal blubber, puffins and thousand-year-old eggs.
I have never cast a line in Viking country. Several of my well-heeled friends do so regularly, though their accounts tend to major on the price of alcohol, with beer at £10 a bottle. This may reflect their desire to keep the angling potential secret; it may be they know my love of après pêche.
Persist in asking about the fishing, and they say the weather was too hot or too cold. So why do they keep going back every year if it always means fishing in 6ft of snow, or with Hurricane Thorbjarnardottir blowing?
If fishing is the prime industry, can the angling really be so rotten? It sets a chap wondering: could they be feeding me a load of old Reykjaviks? So I did a little research. Imagine my surprise to find that information on the places where we are angling, the East and West Ranga rivers, was prefaced with words such as "incredible", "wonderful" and "extremely successful".
Last year was terrible on the West Ranga. A mere 728 salmon were caught, which was 1,800 fewer than the previous year. Locals agreed that with another year so bad, it would scarcely be worth wetting a line. (I ought to add that in Scotland, most rivers would be ecstatic to have produced 700 salmon.)
So the Icelanders built pyres and offered prayers to their Viking gods. They also released a lot more young salmon. And by all accounts things are back to normal this year. There are oodles of salmon everywhere. And this is prime time. No wonder my so-called mates have been keeping schtum. I rang one and casually asked if fishing was any good on the East Ranga. His reply - "How the hell did you wangle your way to the best fishing in Iceland?" - confirmed that this could be some trip.
My only worry is regarding Hugh F-W. He doesn't strike me as a man who, given the choice, would seek out the easy life. It's unclear whether this is one of those luxury trips every journalist dreams about, with ash-blonde maidens scrubbing my back when I return from a hard day hauling out salmon - or if I'm going to be shivering away in a flimsy tent, Hugh yelping with delight when he finds a rotting guillemot.
Icelanders reckon a delicacy of the country is soured ram's testicles. It's said to be a seasonal dish. I can only pray that we're travelling at the wrong time of year. However, you just know that Hugh will be eyeing up every passing sheep. I think I'd better pack a few Pot Noodles.
When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires
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