Water, water everywhere and not a rainbow in sight

Annalisa Barbieri on Fishing

Hands up who has been fishing as much as they'd like recently? Not me. I've had three fishing trips cancelled due to flooding or because of our shameful railways. This week I was meant to be writing about my trip to Northumberland where I was going to fish at Sweethope Lough and go and see the new fish ladder at Dilston.

Hands up who has been fishing as much as they'd like recently? Not me. I've had three fishing trips cancelled due to flooding or because of our shameful railways. This week I was meant to be writing about my trip to Northumberland where I was going to fish at Sweethope Lough and go and see the new fish ladder at Dilston.

So this column was meant to be all "and I arrived, in time for lunch, at Newcastle... put my hat on for it was a bit nippy on the lake at Sweethope... and then I had a fish on, he was a beautiful rainbow of approx 3lbs... The next day I went to see the new fish pass at Dilston... and another salmon went through... ended the day with a nice single malt as the train slid away from the Tyne and took me, on time, back to London."

Alas, no. People laughed when I told them I was hoping to travel by train and expected to get back within the week (despite having got to Paris in three hours on the fabulous Eurostar). The rail enquiry line couldn't even give me times of trains until about five mins before I wanted to travel. Pete - he's in such a grump due to lack of fishing I even offered to get a stripper in for him - and I have tried to go fishing more times than I care to mention. But, like an old married couple who only have sex on holiday, somehow we just haven't managed it (the fishing!). The weather's either not right, fishing conditions are crap or I've been too busy/tired/headache (those last two are a joke I'm not that much of a wuss).

It's at times like these I really envy people with fishing on their doorstep. I've been looking rather more keenly than usual at properties for sale that offer such a thing. This morning, over breakfast I tried to convince Pete that we wanted to live in Inverness-shire where the "Old Farm" is for sale for £640,000 - on the banks of Loch Ness and the River Moriston, with trout and salmon fishing and a whole heap of houses, plus 50 acres. Or that the spare £535,000 we don't have could buy us a house in Gwynnedd which has salmon and sea-trout fishing on the Eden and Mawddach. Only seven acres there though.

On to really serious news. You know things are really bad when governments start making big changes. Just yesterday the European Union agreed dramatic cuts in the North Sea fishing quotas. Cuts of up to 74 per cent in hake, 56 per cent in cod and 47 per cent in whiting with plans for others too. (Cod from the North Sea is the best of all although much of our cod comes from outside European waters.) There have been cuts before but they made little difference, hence these huge ones now. "The real problem," said the aptly named Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, "is that without drastic measures we don't have a chance anymore."

"This time," added Elliot Morley, the Fisheries Minister, "there is no argument, the industry absolutely accepts there is a serious problem. The only issue now is the most effective way of dealing with it."

I feel sad for the fish, I also feel sad for the fishermen whose livelihood will be affected by this. Even without these cuts, however, most of them would not have caught their quota - there just ain't enough fish in our seas anymore. Before this latest news hit, Conran restaurants had decided to drop all cod from their menus.

Another very sad piece of news to reach me this week was that Conrad Voss Bark has died, aged 87. Married to Anne Voss Bark, of the Arundell Arms Hotel in Devon, he was once the angling correspondent of The Times. I met him once a few years ago. We didn't speak - he was quite deaf at that point - but I had been terrifically nervous of meeting him. I thought he would say "think you know about fishing? How do you tie an Elk-Hair Caddis" or some such. In truth, he waved at me sweetly from the other end of the bar at the Arundell Arms and I wished I could have had a conversation with him. His last book, The New Encyclopaedia of Fly Fishing (Hale) came out just last year. His A History of Flyfishing (Merlin Unwin) book taught me that the word angling comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "angul" meaning hook. Which put paid to those smart-arses that sometimes say "if you fish from a boat you're an angler, from the bank you're a fisherman" (or, possibly, the other way around, I never remember as it's rubbish).

a.barbieri@independent.co.uk www.independent.co.uk/news/

Sport/Fishing

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