Hooked on munchies

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
Most non-fishermen assume that the word "dope", used in an angling context, refers to the sort of idiots who sit on a river bank in this weather. They are absolutely right. But in piscatorial parlance, it also means a small brown seed that some clubs still ban because, they claim, it drugs the fish.

The seed comes from varieties of the cannabis sativa plant, whose name will not be unfamiliar. However, the stuff that fishermen buy is irradiated to stop less scrupulous people than anglers buying a pint or two and using it for nefarious purposes. In theory, the treated seeds will not grow. In practice, one or two seeds escape the zap gun and the result can sometimes be extremely embarrassing.

Only this week, Angler's Mail reports that an off-duty policeman spotted a crop of cannabis plants at a fishing spot on the Great Ouse in Buckinghamshire. A drugs squad raid took away about 200 plants, which had flourished when a farmer planted a mixed batch of seeds as cover for his pheasants. Unfortunately, the seeds included some hemp, a police spokesman said. Unfortunate for whom?

A couple of years ago, I built an aviary in my garden and regularly fed the resident lovebirds with hemp from my fishing stock. Some while afterwards, bushy plants appeared. I didn't realise what they were, of course, but a less scrupulous friend spotted them immediately and pointed out that lovebird poo could serious damage the plant's medicinal qualities.

Hempseed is certainly a fine bait for roach, dace, barbel and chub, especially in clear water. It is boiled until the seed starts to split (add bicarbonate of soda to turn the seed black) and the cream-coloured kernel starts to protrude. The boiling process produces a distinctive, sweetish aroma which, some say, is as heady as a 30-year-old burgundy. It also gives my two springers an appetite, for some reason.

Throw a few seeds in to attract fish and they will often come right to the surface to feed. If conditions are right, it is even possible to make fish swirl just by pretending to throw in free helpings. One spot on the Thames at Richmond was known as Hempseed Corner, because locals believed it was impossible to catch a fish there on anything but the little seeds.

The feeding frenzy it can provoke has prompted some clubs to say it is drugging the fish and should be banned. However, this theory goes to pot because hemp does not always work. Certain fish - trout, eels, perch, pike - never get hooked.

In the interests of research, I have tried eating the seeds and even drinking hemp-tainted water to see what the attraction is. Rating: not as good as a bacon sandwich. Still, there is obviously something about it. My lovebirds would always pick out the hemp seeds first, and the mice that raid my garage every winter adore the stuff. I now keep it in a locked dustbin or they would eat their way through a 20-kilo sack.

Inevitably, a few nutty anglers take this several stages further. Last week I heard an amusing story about a well-known fisherman who was known to use another hemp product for non-angling purposes. Musing about the properties of cannabis, he hit upon the idea of making up cannabis-based baits, on the theory that fish eating them would become hungrier and hungrier, and be easier to catch.

I haven't yet found out what happened to this idea. Knowing the person in question, I suspect he ended up eating them himself.

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