An odd challenge, this. "We have a special winter skiing, ice dancing and snowballing issue. Can you write your column on that theme?" What my section editor had signally failed to spot is that snow means it's so cold, water freezes. And if a lake freezes, it's a fair bit harder to catch the fish.
You can always drill holes in the ice, but that's seriously weird fishing. Participants frequently carry out earnest conversations with their gloves, as if they are real people.
The other point is that fish are cold-blooded. When it gets cold, their temperature drops. They become listless, and need less energy, so they don't eat as much. So why freeze your bum off on the ice when you won't catch anything anyway?
That said, veteran writer Clive Gammon, a rich raconteur of tall tales, has a wonderful yarn about taimen. The largest member of the salmon family, which can grow to at least 150lb, is found only in Siberia and Mongolia, two places where it becomes a little chilly come wintertime. When I was over there in September, the river started to freeze. I asked a local when it was summer-time. He replied: "The first of August." Rivers freeze solid in the shallower areas, and the temperatures drop to -50.
According to Clive, one family found a huge taimen entombed in a frozen section of river. Fresh fish is in short supply come December. It was an unexpected bounty. From that time, until the river started to thaw in late June, the family cut off slices of the frozen fish, preserved in a giant fridge. And (so Clive relates) it lasted them right through winter and spring.
You may find this a little hard to believe. You will certainly be a little sceptical about Clive's punchline, which is that as the river thawed, the fish swam on, none the worse. Taimen are tough fish, but not that tough.
But that's my only decent winter fishing story. To tell the truth, anyone barmy enough to fish in sub-zero temperatures deserves to catch zilch. You won't find me dangling a line when you need glycerine on the rod rings to stop them freezing up. Fishing should be pleasure, not punishment. So while those daft skiers are whizzing down mountainsides to test their winter-sports insurance, I shall be fishing... as far from cold weather as possible.
In January, I'm off to Bangalore to fish India's famous River Cauvery. Its appeal is mahseer. Called the Indian salmon, they are so strong that when British sportsmen in the days of the Raj cast a line for them, the mahseer shattered rods, reels and line. Furious colonels wrote to Hardy's, the Northumberland company who were the world's top tackle-makers, complaining about shoddy workmanship. Hardy's sent replacements. They got smashed too. In the end, they had to build extra-strong tackle, just for mahseer. They are big, growing over 100lb, tough and, best of all, they live where it's hot.
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