Hooked by Marco's smile

"Hello, this is Marco Pierre White and I hear you're into fishing." Of course I did not believe the caller was genuine and so I said, "I'm sorry but I don't believe you. What do you call a one sea-winter salmon?" This question, I knew, would filter out any pretender. "A grilse," Marco replied.

"Hello, this is Marco Pierre White and I hear you're into fishing." Of course I did not believe the caller was genuine and so I said, "I'm sorry but I don't believe you. What do you call a one sea-winter salmon?" This question, I knew, would filter out any pretender. "A grilse," Marco replied.

After a few more too-ing and fro-ing phone calls, (including one in which I am sure I was talking to Marco, although he was pretending to be a French member of his own staff, the accent was quite poor) we arranged to go fishing for salmon on the Test. Marco arranged to pick me up at 7am. He had promised "a green Land Rover" which made me rather overexcited, but in the event he arrived in a dark saloon car.

Marco is very tall - 6'3" which, as I told him later, must be useful whilst wading. He said that he puts his sons on his shoulders and crosses the river with them, "and they love it". Which I rather imagine anyone would. He was wearing very nice thick navy cords, green wellingtons, a navy polo shirt and a green quilted jacket. He has big hands that look like they get washed a lot, and short nails. He also had a hat which he put on to fish in. We chatted, about fishing mostly. I told him that I had gone to school with his girlfriend, Mati, although she had been in the year above me so would not remember.

At 9am we arrived at Testwood and met the guvnor of that stretch, Graham. Marco took a flask of frozen shrimps and went to the other side of the bank to start his shrimping. I had scarcely put on my wellingtons ("nice wellies, girls always wear navy don't they?") and Marco was already into a fish. It was a very handsome salmon of 8lbs which went back (all the salmon here get put back). A big grin crossed Marco's face, which he tried to stop, but came out in his eyes. He is quite competitive. I started spinning (with a rod, not in an Exorcist kind of way) with Graham by my side.

We chatted so much so that I missed four fish. I kept missing takes. We went back to Marco, who was fishing away. When I told him that I had missed four, he pinched my arm and said with another grin, "that's not very good, is it?" Then, everyone started watching me which was horrendous. Of course my casting and everything went to pot. I wanted to say "really, I'm quite good at this".

The moment Graham went in to do breakfast I hooked and landed my first ever sea trout which went straight back. At noon, we had breakfast: egg, bacon, fried slice, beans, tomatoes (although Marco did not have these), mushrooms, tea and bread and butter. Marco likes the "culo" of the bread and pours a nice cup of tea. We talked quite in depth, about having Italian mammas (his sadly died when he was six) and how, as a little boy, he would come back from fishing and leave his bucket, with fish swimming in it, on the doorstep. And, after putting him to bed, his mother would return the fish to the river rather than see them suffer. I think we both nearly started crying at this stage, so I got up and had a look at the wooden fish on the wall and saw that a ten pound plus seatrout had been caught in these waters three years ago.

After brunch, again when all eyes were diverted, I caught another seatrout, which Graham said I could keep. Then it was time to go home. "So what are you going to do with your seatrout?" he asked on the journey back. It was only really then that I remembered I was with one of the country's top chefs. "Well! What do you recommend?" "Grill it," he said "and have it with some salad". And mash, I added.

Of course, on my return, no-one wanted to know about the fishing, all they wanted to know about was Marco and what he was like. Well, he is an extremely good fisherman, and also, I would say, a very lucky one. Whilst his brothers are going bald, he still has a very fine head of hair. ("My God,", I said, "they must hate you. Rich, successful and you have all your hair.") He was utterly charming with lovely manners but then, I would not have tolerated any other type of behaviour from a fellow fisherman. He also has the sort of smile that, I can imagine, people do all sorts of things to see.

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk

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