Risks of the frisk business: Fishing lines

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The Independent Online
I JUST can't understand it. My wife should be an adoring but exhausted wreck by now. Going outdoors should be a risky venture because of wanton approaches from members of the opposite sex. Being in a crowded place with women should be riskier than testing cheap parachutes.

Instead, females rush for the door when I walk in. My wife is spending a fortune on those poncy room sprays with names like 'Midnight Honeydew'. The children offer me garlic cloves instead of sweets. Don't they realise, I'm a walking powerhouse of testosterone, a man who could make Errol Flynn seem like a one-minute wonder?

It's all the fault of Yvonne Coull, senior home economist at the Seafish Industry Authority. Ever since she gave a glowing testimonial to the sexiness of oily fish, I've been stuffing down kippers, bloaters and mackerel fillets - with disastrous results.

'Eating herring and mackerel really will improve your sex life,' Ms Coull claims. 'They are packed full of Vitamin E and zinc, which are known to make you more fertile.' I was suspicious. But her words were confirmed by Eddie Leedham, from the Herring Buyers' Association. 'Eating herring and mackerel has long been thought to improve your sex life. Herring roe is especially good for what goes on in the bedroom, and the Japanese swear by it,' he says.

So, ever since, I've been living on the MH Plan Diet. It has lots going for it. Mackerel and herring are still the cheapest fish you can buy, and the diet is not as limiting as it sounds. Smoked, baked, poached and even cold, their taste is hugely underrated. You can eat the roes in various ways, while sprats and whitebait also qualify. The trouble is, I can't quantify the benefits because nobody will come near enough for me to find out.

Fishermen know well how the mackerel can turn from the most beautiful fish in the sea to the smelliest. It decomposes at a remarkable rate, as any angler who has accidentally left one in a car boot overnight will testify. But eaten fresh, it has a glorious taste, and is easily filleted, unlike herring. (This diet is costing me a fortune in dental floss, digging those fiddly bones out.)

For anglers, a mackerel-based diet is very cheap because the fish is probably the easiest of all to catch. Total duffers can hook them out by the bucketload on hand-lines from those fishing boats that run trips round the bay. Mackerel were once so prolific that I've even picked them off the sand in southern Ireland, when they beach themselves in their greed chasing small fish. Factory trawlers with seven-mile nets capable of scooping out shoals have put paid to those days, but it's still easy enough in less than an hour to feed a 12-person dinner party.

Herring have suffered the same devastation by trawlers, but they're much harder to catch on rod and line. At one stage it was thought that they wouldn't take a bait. Anglers in the West Country have been catching them on fly tackle in recent years, but as kids we used to take them by a far less sporting method called snatching. This involved putting a dozen silvered treble hooks on a line and yanking it through herring shoals, hoping to snag them. Unsporting, of course, but when you're 13 years old and you believe the family will starve without your fish-catching talents, any method becomes acceptable.

And here's another strange thing about mackerel and herring: though they are seafish, they are the best of all baits for our freshwater predators. The main one is pike, and every pike angler will have mackerel and herring in the family fridge - not for the MH Plan Diet, but to tempt larger than average specimens. Even though pike, chub and big trout have never seen a mackerel or herring swimming around, somehow they know that there's an invisible Good For You sticker on the side. Perhaps some heady mix of amino acids tells them that chomping a herring will make them more attractive to pike of the opposite sex.

Well, it might work for pike, but I'm having severe doubts about the benefit to humans, and especially to me. Two worries beset me here. The first is that all those hormones dancing a jig inside me could be counter-productive, so to speak. Ms Coull is reassuring on this point. 'Mackerel and herring are also full of Omega 3 fatty acid, which is good for your heart,' she says. Ah, yes. But I'm no longer sure I want to get the Queen's telegram if I've got to spend my whole life smelling like I'm 100 years old.

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