Learning my lines

The end of an enjoyable day's fishing

The end of an enjoyable day's fishing - Credit: FAO Andy Cooper

A catch and cook course proves a real delight for ANDY COOPER, even though only one element of the day could truly be considered a success

Living as I do, in the delightful West Devon village of Lifton, it’s hard not to be enraptured and enthralled by the sport of angling.

Centred on our very own centre of excellence – the Arundell Arms Hotel – the village and its surrounding rivers are considered a true ‘Mecca’ for anglers from the UK and beyond. Pocketed in and around the village are reminders that we live and work in a place where angling is taken seriously and treated with affection and respect in equal measure.

And yet, dear reader, in the middle of all this angling stands I, the novice ingénue. Aside from a rather hideous experience when a company I worked for once sent us on some spurious and somewhat silly ‘team-building’ exercise, I had never held a rod in my hand seriously.

So, when Adam Fox-Edwards, owner of the Arundell, invited me to take part in a ‘catch and cook’ experience – a fishing lesson followed by one’s catch being served up from the hotel’s kitchens – it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Standing in the familiar and welcoming lobby of the Arundell as Tim Smith, my instructor for the day, readied himself, it’s clear that if one is going to learn how to fish then there can’t be better places to be. The Arundell simply oozes angling, from the magnificent antique rods and lines hanging from walls, the superb specimens of fish caught in nearby rivers cased around the bar to the modern day gift collection featuring ‘all things angling’.

To me, approaching my first angling lesson was a little how I felt when attempting golf for the first time – a feeling that although it looked simple, there was a mystique, craft and etiquette to it which meant expert tuition would be necessary.

And how expert Tim was. From the initial filling in of the fishing rod licence with an explanation of how the system works, he took me through the process clearly and enthusiastically.

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After being kitted out with rod, line and a rather fetching waistcoat which meant I felt I at least LOOKED the part, it wasn’t long before we were at the water’s edge. Initially, that water was the impressive lake which the hotel owns at the bottom of the village. Tucked away in this sheltered, private spot, with only one other angler for company, this was certainly the kind of ‘classroom’ in which it is fun to learn.

Tim clearly has a passion for angling which comes through in his teaching manner. Calm, considerate and patient (a virtue put to the test by my initial ham-fisted efforts at casting) he brings authority and fun to the lessons.

He explained to me the hotel is able to cater for all manner of class sizes and lengths of course. For my brief introduction it was an afternoon, but I’d imagine after a week’s instruction no stone would be left unturned – or fish unfished – given the amount I took from my session.

Tim clearly not only loves the sport of angling, he also has a passion for countryside and conservation which comes through in his instruction. His advice is just as much about the etiquette and education as it is the actual catching of the fish.

Talking of catching the fish – you are dying to know the answer to the obvious question, aren’t you? Well, I can report success…but on a small scale! Having gone through the rudiments on the lake, Tim drove us off to one of the hotel’s many fishing beats – in a beautiful spot on the river – and there, after a period of concentration, gentle instruction and a few casting ‘glitches’, your correspondent did indeed, catch a fish.

It might have ‘only’ been a salmon parr – and therefore too small to be considered for the kitchen – but it was my pride and joy until we let it go back into the river. Naturally, it was “this big” once I returned to the hotel for a de-brief!

Returning to the hotel for a catch and cook demonstration day without any catch might be considered a disaster, but not when Steve Pidgeon is in the kitchen. The Arundell’s head chef is a consummate professional and he was able to raid his existing stocks to produce a truly memorable Summer Tasting Menu.

And, to prove how innovative and flexible he is, once Steve learned the GFP* would be accompanying me for dinner later, he nimbly altered the menu options to cater for her tastes too – meaning we both enjoyed dinners to remember.

Certainly the crisp rosti potato cake with wood mushrooms, summer baby vegetables, courgette flower and beetroot served up for the GFP nearly – and I say nearly – made me look away for a moment from my fillet of duck with rosti potato, beer onion purée, smoked bacon, creamed leeks and a peppercorn sauce.

We both were also enthusing wildly about the lemon balm parfait with apricot jelly and marinated oranges served to us for dessert, which meant there were no squabbles over who received the better option!

Reflecting with a G&T on a hazy summer evening outside the hotel’s ‘cockpit’ tackle shop in the garden later, I was able to look back on a day of achievement, learning and fun. The fruits of my labours may not have found their way to my plate on this occasion, but that is to miss the point…those who seek to go angling ‘just’ for the fish are missing out on an experience and sensation of being at one with nature which the team at the Arundell understand and promote with passion.

* The Glamorous Fusspot accompanies me on all my food reviews.