The words came back - vividly - to me last month when, at the invitation of Sweden's Tourist Board, I headed to Swedish Lapland with Keith Elliott, the Independent on Sunday's fishing columnist.
The plan was that we'd make our way northwards, ending up by helicoptering well into the Arctic Circle, on a kind of whistle stop tour that had us fishing six different waters (two lakes and four rivers) in six days. Not what we'd had wanted ourselves, but, as they say, it was the only game in town.....
So we loosened up for the trip with a late flight out of Heathrow, which meant that we missed our upcountry connection out of Stockholm, giving us seven fun-filled hours of, er, leisure at Arlanda Airport. And when we did get to Lapland, the Hertz car rental man had gone home for the night......
Nevertheless we got our car in the end, called the fishing camp, and told the manager we'd be very late . Never mind, he told us, your reindeer soup awaits you....
As indeed it did, and delicious it was. But we'd missed our first fishing session, scheduled for that evening, and it looked as if we might be out of luck next morning also because, en route, our gear had gone missing...
It showed up next morning though and guided by young Jurgen Bergkvist (all guides and gillies look young to me now) we headed to a lake to flyfish for what he promised were large pike. Only half of that last phrase was true, though. There were pike in quantity but they were small, seriously small. Meantime, Jurgen was clearly out to impress up with his flyfishing skills. His technique recalled Nureyev, the great Russian ballet dancer: on his backcast he snapped his head through 180 degrees in time with it, then snapped it back again as the line went forward....
I did manage, though, to catch a nice perch - pound-and-a-half maybe - on fly before we went back to camp. It was, I have to confess the high spot, trophy-wise, of my trip.....
That evening, though, a rare treat had been reserved for us, so we were told. Right here, in this very region of Lapland, they'd just held the World Flyfishing Championships and now, hey, we'd be given the chance to fish the self-same waters where Czechoslovakia had won the title. The individual winner, Jurgen enthused, had taken 47 grayling only yesterday! All returned to the river! And we'd be fishing the very stretch where he'd triumphed!
Now in fairy tales, when wishes are granted there's always a drawback and it took Elliott and me a full five seconds to figure where this one lay. Having been caught and put back, those 47 grayling would now be cowering under the banks, right? - vowing never to look at another fly again. Nevertheless, though, true Britons as we were, we showed willing.. And the river did look attractive from the road when we pulled over. At closer range, though, it looked, well, unwelcoming. It was fast, heavy, boulder-strewn, and the banks - well, there weren't really banks at all, just more boulders. It would need, as my friends on the Deschutes would have said, aggressive wading, very aggressive wading.
And so I played my get-out-of-jail card. A year ago, I had this bad fall out in Malaysia, smashed up my knee so that I'm still using a stick. Regretfully, then, I told Jurgen, that I have to pass up on this one, and I knew I'd made the right decision when he entered the water - aggressively, of course - and suddenly skidded and went down on his bottom, fortunately managing to get up again before he was carried away. I, meantime, went back to the car and listened to maybe an hour of Swedish rap on the radio before Elliott and our guide returned. Elliott had narrowly escaped total immersion, he told me. Neither one of them had moved a fish. And how could they have, after the World's Greatest Fly fisherman had hammered the stretch the day before?
Next morning, before we left to drive north to where the helicopter awaited us to take us up to the Arctic for what else but Arctic char, I walked down to the lake to a wooden jetty, the boards of which were covered with scales - roach scales and big ones. When I asked Jurgen what sort of roach catastrophe had happened there, he told me curtly, 'Poles'.
It was blueberry harvest time, and, since berry pickers wages didn't appeal to Swedes, they shipped in people from cash-strapped Poland to do the job. And, to make sure that they took home to Poland as many Swedish Kroner as they could, they economised on food by catching roach, and grilling and eating them. I've never knowingly eaten roach, but I imagine you have to be pretty strongly motivated to dine on them . What also struck me though was that the Poles must have been pretty damné fine roach anglers and I was sorry I never met 'em. Might have picked up a few tips, might I not ?
Meantime, at least Elliott had stopped talking about burbot - you know, burbot, a sort of freshwater mini-cod now extinct in British waters. Ever since he'd heard Jurgen say that in winter they fished burbot through holes in the ice, he'd wanted to try to catch one to boost his all-time fish-caught list. Mercifully, before we could spend hours anchored out in the lake, fishing for burbot with a chunk of reindeer meat or whatever for bait, now it was time for us to head north.
Away back in the '70s, when BBC2 had made the second series of the Fishing Race, I'd fished Sweden's Arctic and found wonderful grayling fishing. Maybe I'd find it again.
(to be continued)