Magazine article The Spectator

Catch and Realease

Magazine article The Spectator

Catch and Realease

Article excerpt

Fly life

They are an odd lot, these Vikings. In Iceland, anything that moves, swims or flies is fair game, and for a British bird-watcher it was particularly grim to watch my guide killing a pair of great skuas, although the fact that he was 6ft 4in, built like a brick cludgie, and had a shotgun made my protest a rather muted one. Still, it does mean that when you catch an Icelandic salmon you get to take it home, allowing your dinner-party guests to eat the finest fish in the world at the price of being bored to death with the details of how you caught it.

Today's Norwegian Vikings are far too eco-sensitive for such behaviour. If you're lucky (or rich) enough to fish on the River Alta, home of the world's biggest living salmon, you're not supposed to keep any of the fish you catch, unless they are too damaged to survive. The Alta, an ink-black snake in a canyon which ends in the Arctic Ocean, is a Norwegian national treasure, and the salmon fishing is allowed only through the pretence of calling it research. Each fish caught is measured, weighed, tagged and released.

So you spend all day trying to catch something, knowing that if you do it's got to go back. If that's weird, then consider what happens when, instead of a salmon, you catch a grayling. They can often weigh 3lbs, big enough for a mention in the Grayling Society's books back home. To the local Vikings, these fish are vermin, and only go back with their heads broken.

To recap: catch the fish you are after, and it must stay alive. Catch one you're not after, and it must be killed. The Norwegians see no paradox here, but then the whole business of catch and release is distinctly odd for a game fisherman. I don't know whether such feelings are widespread, but I find getting a salmon onto the riverbank provokes strangely mixed emotions.

Here is this magnificent wild creature which your combination of skill, patience and luck has hauled from the environment it dominates. Salmon don't eat in fresh water, which sounds odd until you consider that if they did their size and speed would ensure they devoured everything that moved, including their own offspring.

Having persuaded this non-eating fish, against its better judgment, to take your fly, the last thing you want to do is put it back, but there is a moment of tristesse as you administer the coup de grace. …

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