Fishing lines: Gone fishin'? I'd rather go to lunch...

Things have progressed a fair distance since the memorable day an Irish hotel supplied me with the previous night's wedding-party leftovers as my fishing lunch.

Working on the "waste not" principle, the staff gave me two vast carrier bags stuffed with about 40 sausage rolls and vol-au-vents, a mess of curled-up sandwiches, eight chicken legs and a huge lump of wedding cake, plus (I kid you not) two half-drunk bottles of red wine with the corks pushed back in.

On the other hand, my finest fishing lunchbox was at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland: salmon, ham, chicken breasts stuffed with haggis, a mixed salad, a selection of cheeses, a piece of whisky cake plus a dram of the hard stuff, shortbread, mineral water, and a quarter-bottle of Baron de Rothschild Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

It came with proper glasses and cutlery, of course, not plastic knives and forks that break as soon as you try to cut a lettuce leaf. Bad news is that the top-of-the-range Gleneagles lunch costs £35 (you can get a lesser version for £15), and you don't really feel like fishing much afterwards.

As you get older, your expectations of a decent riverbank snack seem to be higher. Gone are the days when I could survive for 12 hours on a packet of crisps and a bottle of Tizer.

I was thinking about this on Cornwall's River Tamar last week. The Arundell Arms packed lunch wasn't quite as good as its five-course evening meals, but it was still pretty good: a home-made cornish pasty, a smoked salmon banquette with cream cheese and dill, a baguette with apricot chutney and cheddar, plus a choice of wines. Trouble is, when the lunch is that good, it's all gone by midday.

For too long, fishing hotels provided poor lunch packs. Evening meals weren't much better. You would come in tired, wet and probably fishless, to be offered some microwaved mush or dried-up leftovers. One nameless hotel refused to feed me because I got back from fishing at 9.30pm. Wouldn't even give me a sandwich.

Now you find plenty of fishing hotels in the Good Food Guide. If the fishing isn't much good, at least you can look forward to eating and drinking well. A couple of bottles of decent claret eases the pain of failure considerably. It also encourages wives and families to come along, which may be a good thing for domestic relations, but rarely boosts your catch rate.

Small wonder that hotels such as the Arundell Arms have their own "duffers' pond", where your spouse and sprogs can catch a few dumb trout, while you set about the serious business of exploring seven rivers around Dartmoor. And whatever happens, at least you know the pudding that evening won't be leftover wedding cake.

The Arundell Arms, Lifton, Devon: 01566 784 666, www.arundellarms.com

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