I'd waded through the frigid shallows in jeans and sneakers as far as the southwest corner of the lake, where a high yellow cliff blocked my way. Then I looked down into the water, and a wave of vertigo grasped and shook me as if I had been climbing the face of the cliff itself.
There was a touch of sharp fear also. How far down into that lapping, bottle-green water could I see? Fifty feet, a hundred? Those white and fibrous ghosts of ancient spruces that the refracted light made shift and roll, how deep were they? And what could live under the ledges, in the gouged-out caverns of the underwater cliff that fell away close to vertically?
It was a far less rational fear than the one I was entitled to feel, that suddenly the willows behind me would snap and crash and a bear materialize: There were grizzlies enough in the snow slides around the lake, those verdant lanes down the mountainsides where spring avalanches had smashed through the trees and cleared the way for the sweet young growth the bears relish.
If I tossed out the little Swedish spoon again, something Jungian was asking me, what aqueous horror, unknown to biologists, would slide from its lair and absorb it as it twinkled through the depths? Until now I had waded across a broad, knee-deep shelf. But here the drop-off was almost immediate. I had a couple of feet of standing room at the most.
I shook off the foolishness. Away at the far end of the lake I could see a patch of bright red, the little inflatable boat we had packed into the lake and which could only take two. Even now, I reckoned, Cranston, the guide, would be unloading Begg and the fly-fishing gear at the stream mouth, and then he would be heading back for me. Any moment now I would hear the motor start up. Then I would take off the small, slim, silver and brass spoon and head for the landing place, but meanwhile there was time for a cast or two. The vertigo, the chill of fear had gone. All there was in front of me was deep water with some dead trees and rocks in it. I swung the spoon back over my shoulder, flipped it out, let it sink a touch and started a slow, fluttering retrieve. It must have traveled two-thirds of the way home when it was hit with a violence that made my fantasy thin-blooded.
The reel sang its high, screeching obbligato, on and on, and then this marvelous silver and rose beauty was breaching clear of the water once, twice, three times, and I could see the plastic of the reel spool showing through. That meant almost 200 yards of line had been ripped away and the smash would come any second. Still I yelled across the sounding board of the lake for a landing net—not that anything we carried would have encompassed the biggest trout I had ever seen. And, shaking as I was, there was time for a fleeting thought: This was the Balmoral Trout, the one that should have been for Charlie.
This story, it should be understood, had its real beginning in London, in Buckingham Palace if you are willing to stretch a point, but more properly in the Flyfishers' Club on Brooke Street, where, earlier in the year, I was lunching with an old friend, Michael Begg. He is a TV producer for the BBC and he was looking more haggard than usual. He was not reticent about the reason. Upon his shoulders, he had just learned, had been put the responsibility of covering the wedding of the Prince of Wales in July. The way he talked, it was like being granted the honor of being the first man to try to climb Everest in tennis shoes. "Sixty-eight cameras," he was saying, "and me in the middle." He could be knighted, I suggested lightheartedly, if all went well.
"Or unemployed," he said, moodily pushing his Dover sole around the plate. A silence fell. Then—a man seeing the first crack of light at the end of the tunnel—he thought of something. "You got any plans for Afterward?" he asked me. "Fishing plans?" Time, for Begg, was clearly divided between the gray Now and the rosy Afterward.
It happened that I did. I had been in touch with a Vancouver lawyer by the name of Greg Cranston who was running an operation in northern British Columbia which he hoped would be different from the fly-in, booze-it-up, fly-out deal that so many wilderness fishing camps too often turn out to be. I told Begg about the packhorse train that we would be taking into the mountains, the mighty Dolly Vardens, the incredible grayling and the secret lake with the giant rainbows. "Can I come?" Begg asked pitifully.
The man had to have something to live for. "Sure," I said. We left it that we would meet in Vancouver, not the day after the wedding, as Begg urged, but very soon afterward. We would iron out the details then; Begg, I reasoned, would be incapable of coherent plans before that. I was mistaken.
A week before the wedding he called me. He had been at Buckingham Palace, he said, taping an interview with the Prince of Wales. It had gone well enough, but he hadn't called to tell me that. The interview over, Charles had relaxed. He seemed to realize that Begg was under some strain also, and had asked him if he planned to take time off once the wedding was over. So Mike told him about our B.C. trip.
At the mention of fishing, Begg said, Charles became considerably animated and pulled out his desk drawer, which proved to be crammed full of fishing tackle.
"Try this one," he said, selecting a fly. "Got it from New Zealand."
"Red Setter," Mike said, recognizing the pattern. "They make 'em from the tail hairs."
"Looks like the whole damn dog to me," said the future monarch, and that was that.
"Do you realize," Mike now said to me on the phone, "if one of us catches a huge rainbow on that, I'll report back and maybe we'll get invited to fish Balmoral." The royal stretch of the River Dee at Balmoral is perhaps the most delectable beat on one of the most delectable of Scottish salmon rivers.
"Look after it," I told him.
And indeed the fly was the first thing he produced when I met him, eventually, late at night in a Vancouver hotel room. He was jet-lagged, his body clock was eight hours adrift, but he was wedding-free at last and he had the Red Setter scotch-taped to the inside of his passport. Naturally, we couldn't keep calling it that. The Prince of Wales' Feathers? Too formal. Charlie's Angel? Too flip. In the end we settled for just Charlie. "Should I put it in the hotel safe?" Mike asked.
He was only 25% joking, though, and Charlie was kept under tight security when, later, we headed north to Fort Saint John. In Vancouver we had bought other flies, local patterns, but Charlie was not expected to mingle with them in the fly box. We had bought a heavy, sinking No. 9 fly line also, to get Charlie down deep to where the big trout might be. Would a big Dolly Varden, which is really a char, or a trophy grayling count as a Balmoral fish? Possibly, it was decided, but a mighty rainbow had to be the true target.
On the 450-mile flight to Fort Saint John, Begg had his first opportunity to study the fishing prospectus that Cranston put out.
"This is not a drinking camp," he read starkly from the sheet, and went on to quote a prim phrase about a glass of wine at dinner being permissible. "Thank you very much," cried Begg, whose family name is an honored one among Scotch whisky distillers.
Not altogether oddly, a couple of months earlier I had myself quoted the same words to Cranston over the phone. He had never intended them to be taken literally, Cranston said. They were there to put off the sort of outdoorsmen, common in hunting camps, who fly in with cases of the hard stuff, get their moose the first day and spend the rest of the week stumbling from stupor to stupor. I could see the point. In particular I recalled a week in a Costa Rican fishing camp made miserable by a crowd from Macon, Ga. who caught two fish all week and breakfasted on vodka.
So I was able to calm Begg, who was pointing out that he had not flown 6,000 miles to vacation at a health farm. "A couple or three stiff ones after fishing have been cleared with the management," I told him. "And if Charlie scores, the bar stays open late. We have time to stock up in Fort Saint John."
There seemed to be plenty of time indeed. This was Aug. 3, and the floatplane that would take us to Cranston's base camp, deep in the Canadian Rockies, was not scheduled to ferry us out until the following morning. It even seemed possible that the local liquor store might have a bottle or two of the appropriate thing, genuine 12-year-old Begg's Scotch whisky.
If it did, we didn't come near it. Let future travelers to the Far North be advised that Aug. 3 is British Columbia Day, whereon every shop in Fort Saint John is locked up tight. Short of constructing our own camp distillery, it looked as if any victory of Charlie's would have to go untoasted. We might have had a shot at stocking liquor the following morning, but, as if by inexorable fate, we had been in our hotel for only an hour when the floatplane pilot called up to say he wanted to ship us out to camp immediately.
And so, boozeless, a couple of hours later we were bounding in the thermals over the high peaks, and the small deprivation dissolved as we projected into the green-glass lakes and the cotton-thread rivers below the grayling, trout and char that dreams are made of. And then we were sliding low through a pass and slapping down on the water. Home Lake, Cranston calls it. "Call it that when you write about it," he had told me. "The real name would bring the meat fishermen in."
Cranston was just coming in from fishing when we landed, a short, plump man of 33, who, it turned out. had plotted for a year and a half for his two months' guiding in the bush. "I didn't book any trials from June to September," he told us later. Which may account for the fact that he is probably the only criminal lawyer in Vancouver who drives a '66 GMC pickup.
The floatplane left and the silence settled in. We were 200 miles from a road, as the golden eagle flies, and the evening air was just taking on its first chill. The greetings over, Cranston left us for some unnamed mission, which gave Begg the chance for a swift survey of the cabin shelves. "Only sherry," he reported, "and not even dry."
It would be good for Charlie, though. We'd be putting in a lot of fishing hours. A small creek ran alongside the cabin and emptied into the lake not 50 yards away. It looked a perfect spot for a fish and maybe for the baptizing of Charlie. I suggested this.
"What do you reckon?" Begg asked sardonically. "Twelve-pound leader?"
"Fifteen," I bid.
"Wire," raised Begg. Clearly we had hit on a problem we should have anticipated. It would be anticlimactic to lose Charlie on the first evening, indeed on any evening, to a weed bed or a sunken branch. So how to fish it then without taking out absurd insurance in the way of heavy tackle?
The problem stayed unsolved because now Cranston was back. "Sauna before supper?" he asked. And, by heaven, he led us to the back of the cabin—which had no plumbing or electricity—where stood an improvised hot room sealed off with plastic sheeting, with a massive wood stove burning. "How about the cold bit?" I asked, though I had guessed the answer before Cranston pointed to the turbulent, glacier-fed stream.
"Pass," I said.
"I had a shower in the hotel this morning," said Begg. You have to put your foot down, or before you know it you are on a health farm. In such institutions, though, they rarely serve up moose steaks and fried potatoes, such as Cranston now had sizzling, nor is the after-dinner entertainment rich and gaudy fish talk such as followed this meal.
In the morning, Cranston said, we would fish Home Lake, on our doorstep. We would not look for monsters, though there were very big Dolly Vardens and who-knows-what in the lake depths should we wish to haul a heavy spoon around on a down-rigger. That would be a shame, though, for the shallows were full of free-rising native rainbows, up to three pounds, mainly.
It would be the right kind of workout for us, he went on, before the serious fishing started, the long horse trek over the mountains to what we should be careful to refer to as Don Lake, though that was not the name it was known by. There we might find such fish that would spoil us, cause us to put our rods away forever, because we would never hope to find their equal.
Or it was something like that he was saying because by now, moose-satiated, I was dozing at the table and great, heraldic trout, all rose, mauve and silver, rolled at a bountiful hatch of flies. The next thing I clearly recollect was the morning light pouring into the cabin and Cranston with coffee. "No hurry," he said. "The fish are gentlemen here. They start to rise around 10 a.m." It figured, of course. The nights were very cold and the sun would have to warm the lake shallows before flies would hatch and cause the trout to move in.
The weather was gentlemanly, too, with no more than a wisp or two of cumulus hanging over the snowy cap of Cloud Maker, the peak that towered above the cabin. We pushed the boat out from the creek mouth and headed for the western end of the lake. Long before we reached it we could see the rings of rising fish.
"There's one for Charlie there." I said to Mike, but already in his eye was the fanatic gleam of the far-gone dry-fly junkie. Royal as it might be, Charlie was still a wet fly, a lure if the truth be known, to be fished subsurface. As Cranston cut the engine and we drifted closer to the trout, it was plain to see that they were taking surface insects.
It was a benign moment for dry-fly fishing and for Begg, who had learned his angling on the classic chalk streams of southern England, on the Kennet and the Test, where the art of the dry fly had been born and nurtured to its ultimate sophistication.
Not that much sophistication was needed on Home Lake. The hatch itself was a raucous parade of mayflies and sedges led in its various stages by an occasional, enormous, silver-winged salmon fly. And the rainbows loved all of them. They loved our imitations, too, in particular Begg's big Yellow Sally, a mayfly tied for those English chalk streams, and, though there were pauses, the action went on until the sun was low.
The fish were extraordinary fighters, even for rainbows, the true Kamloops strain that are almost pure silver, very late in developing the pink flush along the lateral line. Each pound-and-a-half fish was three pounds until you saw it, each two-pounder fought like a trout twice its size. We kept the first three fish, an adequate supper, and lost count of the releases.
In one of the pauses I urged Mike to give Charlie a shot. Although it was somewhat flamboyant, sunk deep and inched back it might draw a fish larger than the two-pounders which we had been catching in indecent numbers. "I put it in my wet-fly box," he confessed, hauling that article from his fishing vest and opening it carelessly.
At that very moment, from the sides of Cloud Maker far above us, came a puff of wind. The boat swung at its anchor. Mike's arm jerked and about half the contents of the compartmented fly box flipped into the lake and sank out of reach. "My God, it's gone!" he shouted.
For a moment, as we scrabbled through the flies left in the box, it seemed as if Charlie had indeed been lost untested. But then I looked down to my feet and saw that some of the missing flies were in the bottom of the boat, swilling about in that little pool of muddy water that collects in every fishing craft. I put my hand in and dredged up Charlie. It was locked in a close embrace with a Connemara Black.
We had both been fishing long enough to recognize an omen. The old Indian gods up on Cloud Maker were telling us to hold Charlie for another time, and we obeyed them. Charlie was destined for Don Lake.
That night, Don Lake was all we talked of. It had been named for Don Peck, Cranston said, a respected Fort Saint John hunting outfitter who had died a couple of years before. Peck, it seemed, had ridden by the lake on hunting trips. It was 1,000 feet higher than Home Lake and barren of fish, for the simple reason that its outflowing stream spilled over the mountainside in a waterfall so spectacular that no trout had ever been able to push up from the Peace River system and populate it.
Which seemed a shame to Peck. So much so that one day, around 10 years ago as far as Cranston could recollect, Peck horse-packed in a water container with a dozen Home Lake rainbows swimming around in it. The trail he took was the one along which we would be heading the following morning—the Bedaux trail.
Which led the conversation to Monsieur Bedaux, who, it seemed, was a latter-day voyageur who in 1930 conceived the outlandish notion of leading a caravan of Citro√´n half-tracks from the Alaska Highway across the Rockies to the Pacific. Naturally enough, he ground to a halt, somewhere in Peck country, and among many other things he abandoned were several copper-bottomed metal panniers filled with gas that he had loaded on the ponies that accompanied his expedition. Fittingly, it was one of those old containers that Peck had used for his rainbow-seeding operation.
"Can't recall who caught the first fish up there," Cranston said as he served up a Waldorf salad to go with the trout. "Could have been Don himself. But it was big, how big I don't know. That lake up there proved to be full up with Gammarus, freshwater shrimp, and all those 12 lucky trout had to do was open their mouths and browse. They reproduced fine, too.
"There's a drawback, of course," he went on. "The Don Lake fish are very hard to catch. Too well fed. We got nothing the last time I was up there, and just two the time before. But one of those measured 28 inches long."
"A Charlie fish," I said.
"Right on!" said Mike. "Tomorrow we hit him!"
But Cloud Maker vetoed that. We awoke to gray curtains of rain sweeping in from the Pacific and the entirely credible information from Cranston that a four-or five-hour horse trek in that would be misery. We headed up to the far end of Home Lake and there was no hatch. In the afternoon we were reduced to trolling for the supper fish and Begg dropped his Swiss Army knife in 50 feet of water. We hit our lowest point when we hung strips of bacon fat on the hooks of our spoons and hauled Dolly Varden out of the creek mouth. But even at this low ebb, no one suggested similarly adorning Charlie's hook point.
The gray, wet night was what Scotch had been invented for, but we could look for no consolation there, either. "I was going to give you fellas lemon meringue pie tonight," said Cranston, who was beginning to prove that if he hadn't two professions already, he might well hire out as a five-star chef. "I had two lemons saved for tonight but somebody must have been in here and used them."
In the end, it was the radio that saved the evening, when we tuned in to the forecast. The front was going through, it said: Tomorrow would be blue skies. If we'd had the means we'd have drunk to the weatherman.
And toasted him again in the morning, because he was absolutely right. We loaded up the boat and headed down to the foot of the lake, where Ray Watkins, the wrangler, and his wife, Mickey, had their corral of horses, and where I met Switches, my mount. She was a sorrel Appaloosa, ugly as a mud fence, as Watkins rightly said, and she began our relationship with a sneer. Begg's four-legged friend seemed no improvement, a big, pale, lazy horse named Buckskin Jesus for reasons that were explained but remained obscure. "They stay out here all winter," Watkins said proudly, "feed with the moose and the caribou, fight off the wolves and the grizzlies."
"I thought they looked tired," Begg said, sotto voce, but aside from us dudes everybody was busy with the intricate and highly skilled business of loading up the horses so that the panniers balanced perfectly and the ropes never slackened.
It was two hours before they had the loads right, and then the trek to Don Lake began, at first through swampy, gently rising ground, through thickets of stunted willow enclosing the mouth of a small valley, where, Watkins now lightly informed us, a grizzly had chased an Indian boy and him a couple of weeks earlier. Until the wrangler described it, I'd had no notion of the terrifying speed of such a huge animal over the ground, hind legs reaching forward like a greyhound's to overtake the front pair. Taking his word for it, I kicked on Switches until his nose bumped Buckskin Jesus' rear end.
Later, under the high midday sun, we began climbing steeply through the silent, birdless spruce woods, gigantic dun and mahogany fungi sprouting from the tree roots. Then we were over a crest and dismounting, leading the horses down steep wet rocks and hearing, ever so faintly, the distant roar of the river in the valley.
It was another hour before we reached it, though, and right away all thoughts of stopping to fish went from our minds. Grayling we'd hoped for, but this river was opaque white from snow melt and silt. For three miles we followed it, crisscrossing it, fording as deep as the horses' shoulders sometimes.
Then there was another mountainside to climb and another long descent, the horses picking their way over endless tree roots, down miry slides. Altogether we had been going more than four hours when suddenly we were out of the trees and into a sunlit alpine meadow with long sweet grass and an extravaganza of wildflowers—the blue of larkspur, the bold red of Indian paintbrush. And beyond the meadow, under the still un-melted snow of the mountain slope, gleamed Don Lake.
Something else gleamed also, though, and our hearts sank. The sun flashed on a lurid red never seen in nature, on white and on silvery chrome. We rode on. Yes, there was a floatplane moored by the far shore of the secret lake, and I thought ironically of something that Cranston had said the previous evening: "Twenty years from now, not many people will be able to say they ran a pack train. There'll be airstrips cut out everywhere in the bush, floatplanes on every lake."
He also had explained his own hope that he could keep fishing in the old way. "I could easily put a gasoline stove, a propane fridge, a generator in camp," he said. "Hell, you can arrive in the wilderness these days and there's a TV blaring—there's a diesel generator in camp." He liked hot cakes over the fire, he had said, and the satisfaction of catching trout that you had paid for with the aching muscles of a five-hour ride over rough country. Cruelly, it seemed now, he was being shown how anachronistic his notions were.
At the lakeside, though, the conflict faded from my mind. I sat on a tree stump knowing that I would never fish again. Or possibly even walk. Switches, I was convinced, had permanently shifted the lie of my pelvis. Also, there seemed something gravely wrong with my knees. The Watkinses and Cranston got the fire going and rigged the bivouacs as if they had been on a half-mile stroll. Even Begg was actually moving around, putting his fishing gear together.
The inflatable we had packed in, I knew, would only hold two. It was no self-sacrifice to say to Mike, "You go down the lake with Greg first while I put a few things together."
They were gone a long time, though. I got the glass on them and saw that they were stopping to investigate each little bay they passed. Then, little by little, I realized I could walk again. I might just as well pass the time, I thought, tossing a spoon around in the deeps close to camp until Cranston came back for me.
And that was how I came to encounter the biggest trout of my life, and why, a half-hour later, I was standing deep in freezing water, all aches vanished, and freely cursing the smart-aleck clerk in the Vancouver tackle shop who had sold me what proved to be the wrong-sized spool as a spare for my spinning reel, the spare I had intended to fill with 12-pound test for such an encounter as this.
Instead I had had to use the regular one with the arbor clipped on it so that it held barely 200 yards of wispy 8-pound test. That arbor was showing through right now, and I was all set to lose the fish of a lifetime. With my rod held high, I scrambled back along the ledge, trying to reach the broader shallows and to put a little bit of sidestrain on the trout.
When it turned, I don't think there were more than five yards of line remaining on the spool. I was trembling all over and I kept up the yelling, "Net! Net!" though I knew that I would have to play that fish until it was close on dead so that I could slide it onto the pebbles and get a hand under its gills.
It was more than 30 minutes before I saw it clearly again. In the interval there were three more major runs, though none as far as the first, each ending in a heavy surface roll instead of a jump. Later the fish sounded, going for the deep logs, bulldogging it like a big tuna. I felt no obstruction, but later, just four inches up from the spoon I could see how the monofilament had abraded shockingly.
It was lucky I had no idea of that at the time. Otherwise I would never have had the confidence, in the end, to put pressure on the fish and see him come up and roll five yards out in a way that said he was hard up, nearly gone. And then, with infinite care, to slide its head and shoulders out of the water.
I was still shaking when Greg arrived. By then I had given the great trout its quietus with a heavy stick. At that point, there was no way in the world that I was going to return him to the lake: It was pure atavism which made me hold him aloft and grin like a wolf as the inflatable approached shore.
Cranston was awed also. It was the biggest rainbow he had seen. For the record it was 30 inches long, 17 inches in girth and weighed—in three sections because our scales were inadequate—a little under 15 pounds. The odd ounces we granted it for the blood it lost in the cutting-up process, so we called it 15—I had no plans to enter any trophy competitions. It was a cock fish, crammed with shrimp and, for heaven's sake, chironomid pupae, smaller fish food than which can hardly be found until you get down to the diatom league. It cut as red as a salmon, and it was delicious.
It was quite a time before the weighing was done: We had waited for Mike to be ferried back first, and I could see that the same unworthy thought was crossing his mind as it was mine. So easy, it would be, to stick Charlie into the jaws of the great trout and snap the picture. Then, heigh-ho for Balmoral on the Dee! Unspoken, though, the unworthy thought passed, and then Begg was reporting on his fishing.
At the far end of the lake, he said, where the stream tumbled out, the trout were as crazy for the dry fly as they had been on Home Lake, only they were bigger. "The finest dry-fly fishing I have ever experienced!" he was babbling—but he in his turn was cut short by Greg. "Look!" he said, and there, heading toward us across the lake at taxiing speed was the floatplane. "They had binoculars on you all the time you were playing the big one," he said. "I know, because I had my glasses on them."
So we walked down to the shore, the three of us, as if it were High Noon, except that I was wearing a fishing cap with a piece chewed out of the bill by a Labrador I once owned. Then the floats were touching shore and two men got out. "Must be a pretty proud fisherman," one of them said to me. "How much did he weigh?"
From the corner of my eye, I could see Cranston glaring at me. "Five pounds," I said brassily. I got a long, cool stare. That evening, the hospitality code of the wilderness was broken: No invitation to camp was issued, no viewing of the trout permitted. The confrontation ended awkwardly and the plane left. "It'll be all over Vancouver by the weekend," Cranston mourned.
But Begg and I were already thinking of other things. We had one more full day at Don Lake and it had to be dedicated to Charlie. We would spend it, we decided, at the stream mouth rather than under the menacing cliff where the monster had hit. You could fish a week there and not see another fish like it.
Next morning it took a lot of resolution to ignore the free-rising rainbows and put on the sinking line and use Charlie, but it was done, and it worked fine. Those marvelous cold-water two-and three-pound British Columbia rainbows loved it, ate it, leapt high in the water with it, and dutifully we snapped them as they were netted and released.
It was well after midday, indeed, when the Balmoral Trout came along and hit it so hard that the rod stopped in Begg's hand as if a grizzly had come out of the willows and grabbed his wrist. A heavy, deepwater take.
There might, you think, be only two endings to the story here—the triumphant landing of Charlie's Rainbow or the tragic loss of the royal fly as the big fish parted the leader.
But neither actually happened. The reel screamed as the trout surged away. Then, suddenly, the line was slack. Begg reeled in. Charlie was still there, but he had no barb. Somehow, probably on a careless back cast, the line had dropped low and the barb must have snicked off on a stone.
In a way, though, it was an acceptable ending. Begg had a story to tell back in London. He could even present the somewhat tattered remains of Charlie to the Flyfishers' Club.
As it happened, that turned out to be impossible. Nowhere on the hallowed walls of the Flyfishers' Club will Charlie be mounted as part of the club's imposing collection of angling memorabilia, which includes the leather creel that Izaak Walton carried his catch home in. For there is a sad postscript to the story.
Mike flew back to London, picked up his car at Heathrow and drove home. He went inside for a moment, then returned to the street to unload his baggage. No baggage, no rods, no reels, no Charlie. London, they say, is getting as bad as New York.
So Charlie's fate will never be known. Tossed away contemptuously in some garbage can, no doubt, with other unsalable items.
I have a better theory, though, just within the realm of possibility. Charlie was thrown into a gutter, was flushed down a storm drain and fetched up in the Thames estuary where a salmon—yes, salmon are coming back to the Thames—caught the glint of its tinsel, swirled, grabbed it....
Well, stranger things, indeed, have happened.