Fishing Lines: Is the tale of the whooper a whopper?

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The Independent Online

No night fishing for me during the next week. As you read this, I'm taking the big silver bird to New Brunswick, Canada, to fish one of the great salmon rivers. But you won't catch me on the bank when darkness falls.

The Miramichi isn't just prolific; it produces nearly half the rod-caught salmon in North America. At this time of year, the river is full of big salmon, with plenty over 30lb.

Normally, I wouldn't be able to afford even a day on its hallowed banks. But my friend Neil Freeman has just bought a lodge on one of the prime stretches. "Fancy coming to try it out?" he asked.

"Can you give me five minutes to pack?" I replied.

It sounds pretty wonderful. As well as great fishing, the area is packed with spectacular wildlife (moose, bears, beavers, otters, eagles, ospreys). On the other hand, I won't be coming back with sackfuls of salmon. Much of the river's success is because anglers must return pretty well everything they catch. If you decide to keep a fish, that's your angling over for the day.

Cheat at your peril. Get caught with an unregistered fish and the bailiffs confiscate not just the salmon, but your tackle and car too. That's before the court case. There are even rewards if you snitch on those who cheat.

I've never believed in ghosts, even though I live in a 600-year old house that's supposed to be haunted. It's old. It moves. It makes odd noises. My daughter, on the other hand, is convinced that something bigger than Fred the spider lives in her bedroom. Last week, the local vicar exorcised the house.

Load of nonsense, I said. But everyone seems to have stories that would leave the Most Haunted team screaming in terror. Even my Miramichi revels have suddenly taken a serious turn.

"I hope you don't meet the Dungarvon Whooper at night," said a Canadian friend. And he proceeded to tell me a tale more scary than any grizzly.

Ryan worked as a lumber camp cook. He wore a money belt around his waist, packed with dollars. He was popular at the camp, especially for his ability to holler loudly, which, it seems, is the sort of thing that impresses New Brunswickers.

As chef, Ryan was first up. He prepared breakfast, and let everyone know it was ready by giving his ear-splitting holler. After breakfast, the fellers would head off.

One morning, the camp boss stayed back at camp. When the men returned, they found Ryan lying dead, his money belt gone. The camp boss said Ryan had suddenly fallen sick and died. No one dared to question his unlikely tale.

That night, they buried Ryan in the forest, but as the men walked back in the dark along the river, they heard terrifying whoops and hollers. Though it happened years ago, Ryan's cries can still be heard along the riverbank, locals say.

Ghosts? Stuff and nonsense, of course.

But just in case, my salmon fishing will finish well before the light starts to go.