Fishing lines: Don't be silly - hire a ghillie

Anyone thinking of bidding for Lot 256 in the Atlantic Salmon Trust's annual postal auction needs to be very, very careful.

It offers two days' fishing on Lough Corrib, County Galway, for two people, and includes two nights' B&B in Oughterard (pronounced Ooterard), plus the use of a boat. You can fish any time in April or June, and a guide price suggests it will make around £250 in the auction, which closes on 3 February.

Well, spring or early summer is a great time to fish Corrib. April is a little early for salmon, but there will be some swimming through the lough in June, and in any case, most people fish on Corrib for brown trout. The official record there is 23lb, but bigger ones have been caught.

There is one teensy catch: the booking does not include a boatman/guide, or ghillie. Lough Corrib is huge. It is 33 miles long and comprises 65 square miles of water. It contains 365 islands. Locals say: "One for every day of the year", though quite what you do on a rocky island with a few gorse bushes is unclear.

I'll tell you what the local fishermen do: they stop on one for a lunchtime cup of tea. Brewed in a blackened kettle from water straight out of the lough, and using proper tea leaves, Corrib tea is special. And the ritual is rigidly observed. It's no good protesting that trout are feeding wildly. In such circumstances, if you're really lucky, your boatman may delay the lunchtime cuppa by 10 minutes, but not more.

Ah ha, you think. Then I will do without a boatman, and fish merrily through the day, pausing occasionally for a quick swig from a flask. Bad move. Though the boats are sturdy as a lifeboat and about as heavy, trying to find where fish live in the huge lough is like trying to find your contact lens in Trafalgar Square at midnight on New Year's Eve. Many areas are devoid of fish. Some are 40 feet deep, others two feet. You don't want to find those shallow spots while crossing the lough in a gale.

I'm speaking from experience here. Having watched boatmen manoeuvre into position and noted where they fished, I decided that anyone could do it. Maybe anyone who's lived on the lough for 30 years and spent every day in a boat can, but I couldn't.

Nor could my companion, who ran his own boat in Kenya (and who, I have to confess, had asked: "Don't you think we need a ghillie?"). Fortunately, he understood when we caught two small trout, while others had masses of whoppers.

Proper men work things out. Proper men don't admit that they don't know the way. (We got lost and came ashore at dusk, four miles from where we meant to.)

So from now on, though guides may be for cissies, I'm having a ghillie when I fish Corrib. And I advise the winner of Lot 256 to do so as well.

More details of the AST's postal auction next week. Catalogues are free from the AST: 01796 4734 349.

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