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South West Memories.
28 Oct 2018 at 2.01pm
In reply to Post #317
Sorry it's been such a long time since I added to this thread. What with one thing or another things have been pretty ****ty since the last time. A couple of health scares, some financial worries and of course, getting old! Result? Could not be arsed to continue. But I have got my sh*t together for the time being so here goes with some more of my ancient history, starting with the time we stumbled over a lake that was well on the secret list. It would have remained so to this day had it not been decimated by a team of sh*t bags stealing carp on an almost industrial basis in order to stock a previously devoid (of carp) private lake. The 'Team' as they liked to call themselves plundered lakes and river all over the south of France but eventually they and the owner of the lake into which they were putting these fish were outed and publicly named and shamed. They say that sh*t sticks…well sadly in this case it didn't and today he goes on his merry way without any apparent stain on his character.
The lake has since been restocked but the magnificent carp that once put smiles on the face of one of the greats of modern carp fishing (Rod) are now living in the aforementioned private lake that costs a bomb to fish nowadays. However, the little bit of Paradise that we stumbled upon still does the occasional biggie and its magic is not reduced by the fact that the angler is now fishing for smaller fish. The lake owner has changed and the place has been renovated to a good standard and it now welcomes campers of all kinds to its site. My mate Nige, who figures large in these tales, has been back and, like he does, caught a whacker so maybe the phoenix has risen from the ashes. PM me and I'll give you a link.
Anyway, that is ancient history and most folk say to forget it, move on, water under the bridge. Me, I'll never forget or forgive and if you read on you may see why.
St Louis Blues - May 1995.
Some of you guys might remember a few of my old Carpworld articles wherein I transcribed my audio diaries addressed to the missus, nickname, Tat. They took the forum of a more-or-less verbatim transcription of micro-cassettes that described the day to day goings on of me and whoever happened to be with me on trips to France. These were pretty popular at the time so I thought it might be an idea to reprieve one of them as part of this thread.
You may have read the posts describing the 'Nightmare' trip and will have noticed that that it was not blessed with an abundance of good humour. Sure, we caught some nice fish but the weather almost drove me to suicide and, at times, I felt that my company was at times as welcome as a fart in a phone box and I know that I tried the patience of my fellow anglers to its limit. It says much for their patience and forbearance that they didn't just drive off and leave me!
By complete contrast, this story tells a very different tale, one of the best fishing trips to France ever, even though I caught only a few singles and one lovely linear. So, though the fishing was crap, the craic was fantastic. It takes a lot more than a few slimy old carp to make a trip.
Once again, I was joined by my mate Nige Britton and again we were indebted to Nige's boss for the use of the company van, an ageing Maestro diesel with a couple of hundred thousand miles on the clock. Those of you who were around at the time will know that the Maestro was a Devil's brew of a vehicle, one of Leyland's worst, made at a time when the factory was on strike more often than it was working and you were lucky if anything made therein made it to its first birthday. Clearly Nige's tender ministrations with a spanner had meant that this particular vehicle mostly ran like clockwork. Here Speedy empties the old beast on a campsite somewhere in France.
Joining us for his first French carp fishing holiday was young Colin Stephens, a very likable ex-Army Signaler and general nice guy. Being the newcomer, Colin got the unenviable third seat option in the van - that being a Low chair wedged among the mountain of gear - a position he bore with great fortitude, uncomplaining and undemanding. I could not have said the same had our positions been reversed. The fact that such a seating arrangement was highly dangerous and would actually have voided the van's insurance mattered not one jot to Nige! After all, where else was the guy supposed to sit.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.28pm
In reply to Post #316
On the ferry home there was talk of a pike trip, maybe a bass fishing trip. Me? I wasn’t interested. I’ll stick to carp fishing for now. There were places to go and people to see, and I had heard this whisper about a lake in the Vendee where you couldn’t fail to catch thirty pound commons! I bloody wish!
I would return to this lake the following year with Bill Cottam. We were plagued by muskrats diving on the baits. Bill even reeled on in whereupon it tried to take lumps out of him. We blanked but Bill claims to this day that he saw the biggest carp in his life while drifting about above the emerging pads. "It dwarfed the boat," said Bill. Another monster for another day.
Before I leave this particular memory, let me tell you the strange story of the funny dream about a throwing stick.
Throughout the trip Nige and I had been using the heavy metal Cobra throwing stick to get our baits out at range. Bill looked intrigued, not having seen that uniquely shaped Cobra before. I offered him a go with mine. He put a handful of boilies in his pocket and one by one tried to fire them out into the lake. Each one landed with a great big splash right at his feet. "They take some getting used to," I told him. "Take it back to your swim with you and have a practice. In fact you can keep it as I've got another at home." Bill thanked me and trudged back along the towpath to his bivvy.
The next morning I was standing looking at the canal while drinking a cuppa. A canal boat passed and bobbing in its wake I saw a small black object about four inches long floating upright along the canal. It looked remarkably like the plastic-covered handle of a Cobra throwing stick, more or less awash with water, floating upright gently down the canal. I walked up to Bill's bivvy. "Alright, mate?" I asked. "How you getting on with the Cobra?"
"Pretty good, thanks," Bill replied.
"That's good," I said, "Coz I had a funny dream last night. I dreamed that I saw the end of a Cobra throwing stick bobbing about in the canal…I'd hate to think you'd chucked it in!"
Bill grinned sheepishly. "Stupid ****ing thing," he said!
Bye for now!
5 Apr 2018 at 3.14pm
In reply to Post #315
I stuffed it straight into a sack and sat down, shaking. Then, when I got my breath back, ran up to Bill to get the scales. He was fast asleep! Though I didn’t want to waken him, I was desperate to know the weight of the fish for I had a niggling feeling that it was over thirty, but without the scales the weight would have to wait until morning. Still, I was a very happy chappie! Another fish for the Book of Dreams.
The big mirror was the climax to what was, for me, a somewhat traumatic fortnight. At times I felt like I’d been in heaven, at others I might have been trapped in a hell on earth. There were long, dreary periods of mind-numbing boredom, trapped for hours on end in the zipped-up confines of a mouldy-green bivvy, but that fish put me in seventh heaven. It’s amazing what a fish can do!
I lay awake through most of the night, checking the sack at regular intervals. I searched around in the confusion under my bedchair and found four bottles of beer that I didn’t know I had, so I celebrated the capture as the night passed slowly by. I had my prize!
Friday morning. A bright and sunny morning. And I felt pretty bright and sunny myself. The big mirror was a thirty, as I’d guessed. 31lb 4oz, again! Lovely! A thirty from two different waters for me this trip. I was going out with a bloody great bang rather than with a pathetic whimper. I couldn’t ask for better than that could I? The sun was shining, God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the carp world!
The last day was something of an anti-climax. In the evening Jean-Yves ran me up to the bar on the back of his scooter. Seventy mph along the towpath! He insisted on buying me a few more beers. Who am I to refuse! I said my goodbyes to the locals in the bar - the ancient rugby fan was there with his old cronies, and they kept buying too. Then the patron and his wife pushed the boat out, insisting I drink some weird Belgian concoction called, Sudden Death. It wasn’t as bad as Special Brew, but it was bad enough. It was really good to laugh again after what had felt like purgatory at times.
Jean-Yves bought a crate of beer for Bill and Nige and we brought it back to their swims on the back of his scooter. I hate to think what might have happened if we’d come off. Canal one side, lake the other, carrying 24 bottles of beer! In spite of that, I had a very pleasant glow on as we rode along the towpath to my bivvy. Nothing like as scary a trip as the journey up to the bar. I can’t think why! What a nice day! And a thirty as well. The nightmare had passed to become a fading memory. The afterglow of the big carp was much more memorable. I can still recall that tremendous fight. The rain and the mud and the purgatory were long forgotten. The brain has a way of eventually putting bad memories behind it.
It had been a strange old fortnight. Some good fish landed and some not so good. The weather had cramped our efforts I am certain and I wondered how we would have fared if the weather had stayed fine.
That was it for another year. I suppose in retrospect I could look back on the trip and say I was pretty happy with it. I’m sure both Nige and Bill would say the same. Yet somehow there is a feeling of, I don’t know, call it anticlimax, call it failure. No, that’s too strong. Not failure; more of a let-down, I guess.
I had expected more, fished badly, yet still been rewarded. All the same, I’d experienced a darker side to my French fishing than I’d previously known. As I said at the beginning of the previous chapter, I had never expected to come so close to packing it all in before, especially when fishing in France. But I had looked my own personal purgatory in the face and laughed at it after coming out on top. True, I’d come perilously close, but if the Gods thought they’d got the better of me this time, they’d have to think again, though I have suffered with my back ever since.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.12pm
In reply to Post #314
Once again I trudged up to Bill’s swim, and found Nige and Bill sharing a coffee. Bill had caught another carp during the storm, this time a mirror of just on 21lb in weight.
The day passed quickly with a return visit to the bar at lunchtime. Steak and chips and ice cold beers gave a whole new meaning to the word, contentment. Jean-Yves, the French fly fisherman we'd met when we arrived, came to see us and brought some of his home-tied trout flies along to show to Bill who also ties his own trout flies. He was full of praise for Jean-Yves’s efforts which certainly looked good to me, but then, I don’t know one fly from another. It helped pass the time though and the afternoon soon slipped by in a welter of beer and conversation.
When we got back to the bivvies we had a few more beers to round off the day then sat around in the cool of the evening and watched the stars come out. For once it wasn’t raining. Isn’t that typical. Here we are, coming towards the end of the trip, and the weather looks like settling down.
As the light left the sky that evening I baited up heavily once again. I was casting into three quite distinct separate areas, though all three were in or close to the pads. By hedging my bets in this way, I hoped to cover more fish that might be cruising in and out of the pads during the night, and in order to stop them dead in their tracks if they entered a baited area I wanted to give them a meal worth lingering over. So each area was filled in with five hundred boiled baits and the hookbait was accompanied by a five-bait stringer.
I sat in the darkness of my bivvy as the night passed, drinking beer and eating chorizo sausage, listening to countless owls calling to each other through the still air. Unlike the previous night, this one was cool and calm, the sky full of stars with a huge full moon to light up the glittering lake. Out in the pads a carp jumped noisily setting the coots screeching in angry protest.
It was just after one in the morning when the orange LED on the middle rod glowed in the darkness. No tone, just the light. That was the buzzer that had been playing up all week: was it a fish or another fault? I got off the bedchair, pulled on my boots and stood outside by the rods in the cold night air. It was perfectly still and eerily quiet. There was an almost tangible air of tension in the air. Suddenly the middle buzzer gave a brief water-soaked squeak and I heard the faint click as the reel gave a few inches of line.
I picked up the rod, clamped down on the reel, took three or four strides backwards and struck. The rod was almost wrenched from my grasp. Out by the pads a huge swirl showed at the surface as a good fish fought against the pull of fifteen pound line. It was the start of a fantastic fight from one weedbed to another. I think the fish found just about every weedbed in the lake; it was a bit like playing “join the dots”. Even when I got the still very angry carp in open water in front of me, it continued to fight like a maniac, but at last I got it into the net. It was a stonking fish, golden and long with massive shoulders, so like a Leney fish, it could have been from Savay. In the breathless torchlight I took a good look in it’s mouth and was pleased to see that it was pristine with no bruising or obvious hook marks left by previous captures; a fish that doesn’t get caught a lot. That gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.10pm
In reply to Post #313
The two days rest and relaxation had done me the world of good and the pills had made me feel like I was floating. I have no idea what they were but they did the trick. Now on this new lake in a nice flat swim with NO MUD! I felt as if the trip had only just started and I was full of enthusiasm and eagerness for a carp. With just two days left to go, I felt I had to prove to myself that my zest for fishing hadn’t floundered in the sea of mud that I’d left behind at the other lake, and this was just the place to do it. This was bliss compared to the previous lake (though admittedly this pic was taken the following April when I went back to the lake with Bill Cottam).
We spent a very enjoyable three or four hours with the locals up at a nearby bar. They were amazingly friendly and went out of their way to make us feel at home. It was so typical of countryside France and the attitudes of rural Frenchmen. I must say we’ve always been lucky in this respect whenever we’ve fished in France. We met a French rugby supporter up at the bar who must have been eighty in the shade if he was a day. He told us that he’d been to Twickenham three times to watch the internationals and he’d had such a good time that he decided to show us that the French can be excellent hosts too, and we all got a little bit here and there on the strength of his memories of English rugby’s hospitality.
By Wednesday evening the weather had deteriorated once more. Heavy rain swept towards me down the full length of the lake, carried in the teeth of yet another gale-force south-westerly breeze. But now I was dry, warm, rested and relaxed. The weather could get stuffed! I couldn’t give a damn. I fell asleep early that evening, just as darkness fell. A deep, dreamless sleep on cloud nine. As so often happens when you crash out too early, I awoke in pitch darkness, groping for my watch. Just after midnight. Is that all!
It was still raining, and the wind was beginning gust quite strongly. I wandered up the bank to Bill’s swim to find him and Nige sitting in the darkness under the shelter of his bivvy, sharing a few beers. Bill had caught another common that he’d sacked up but if the truth were known, they were both a bit on tenterhooks having been up all night looking out for the Garde-Peche. We’d had several guarded hints during the course of the day that the enforcers of senseless French laws were around, but I couldn’t for the life of me see them coming out in all this rain. Still, for all that, I wanted to get my rods in as soon as the storm passed.
The storm didn’t pass. In fact it got worse. By two in the morning it was blowing a hoolie, nine, maybe ten of wind, I’d guess. The bivvy was shaking about like a mad thing and the noise of the rain pounding once again on the bivvy roof was deafening. I was sitting in the darkness of the bivvy, the door zipped up, holding onto the brolly pole for extra security, when all three of my buzzers went off at once. Not fish, that was for sure. I unzipped the door and shone my torch at the swim. No rods, front bar lying drunkenly at an angle. Bother - or words to that effect. A huge gust of wind had blown the rods right off the rests and carried them three or four yards along the bank.
Luckily nothing was damaged, not even the buzzers which looked to have taken the brunt of the blast. A large tangle of branches clutched the line and the indicators in a tangled mess. I bit through the lines at the reels and dragged all three sets of tackle in by hand, then threw the whole shebang into the back of the bivvy, climbed back into the dry, warmth of my sleeping bag, said, “sod the fishing!” and crashed out into a deep and contented sleep. Carp fishing? You can keep it!
What I didn’t know at the time was that I had slept blissfully through one of the worst storms France had suffered in years, completely unaware of the turmoil going on around me. The fury had passed by the time I awoke at about seven o’clock, though the radio was full of tales of destruction, damage, even death. I was glad I’d slept so soundly. I dug the rods from the back of the bivvy, re-tackled and cast out as the sun once again graced the water with a shimmering kiss that sent shafts of bright sparkling light dancing across the surface. It was a morning to savour after a night to forget. This is looking up the lake from the inlet end.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.09pm
In reply to Post #312
I think I was on my third or fourth beer when the drenched pair of Nige and Bill, appeared dripping copiously over the bar, the carpet and everything in their vicinity. “Enjoying yourselves?” I asked. “Sod off!” was the reply.
They ordered beer and a bite to eat and told me that they had set up at the far end of the lake where the large bed of lily-pads dominated the lake. It was an obvious carp-holding area, one which Jean-Yves had pointed out during our tour of the lake the previous day. They seemed quite sympathetic towards my back problems, and I felt a little bit less of a **** when I decided to spend another night in the hotel. That evening I splashed out on a great big meal and a bottle of Bordeaux, followed by a few brandies. I slept like a log for another nine hours.
The next morning, Wednesday, dawned bright and clear. I drew back the curtains to a strange sight. The sun was shining. Bloody hell! Another night on a decent bed had returned my back to something like normal. I grabbed a quick breakfast and almost ran the two to three miles down the bank to the far end where Bill and Nige were fishing. By ten o’clock I was all set up. It was a lovely morning, hot and steamy with little or no wind. A far cry from the deluge of the past week. I even managed to get everything dried out, including my sleeping bag, the bivvy and the groundsheet.
I set up right at the far end of the lake looking out on the same patch of lily pads that Bill and Nige were fishing. They were quite a way further up the bank from me. I suppose it was just possible that they might cut me off from fish, but I couldn’t help feeling that there were a lot of fish that never moved far from the sanctuary of the pads. Why should they? Bill was to my left, about two hundred yards away, and Nige was another seventy or eighty yards further on again. Bill had an easy cast to the pads but Nige? Well, I just didn’t know why he chose to set up where he did, as it didn’t look as if he could reach the pads.
The lake was constructed in the Napoleonic era at the same time as a long transport canal that ran alongside it. The water in the lake was used to supplement the canal and help operate the lock gates. This is how it looks today, though at the time we were there the pleasure beach on the north side of the lake was not there. We set up like this.
Here you can see Bill and Nige set up on the towpath that runs alongside the canal, though I don't think horses have plodded their way along it for a century or two!
They had both caught fish during the night. Bill had had four takes, loosing two fish in the pads but the two he had landed were both commons of close to twenty pounds apiece. And while Nige had caught only the one fish, it too had been a common. The carp were all long, dark fish, with a good deal of wildie about them. The Nottingham lads had enjoyed some action too, but they were being a bit cagey so it was hard to be sure what exactly had happened. Sadly the fish were not the pristine, uncaught virgins we’d been hoping for or expecting. Most were showing signs of having been caught before with varying degrees of bruising around the lips, and though we were slightly disappointed about this, in a way that was no bad thing. At least it showed that they knew what boilies were.
My swim was very comfortable, being both level and lump-free and just as Jean-Yves had said, I found three prominent and distinct hard patches of gravel close to the pads in front of me, which I baited up with boilies and a small scattering of tigers. It was a week since my last fish and I was getting twitchy for a take and now I felt very confident that this was where I’d get one.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.08pm
In reply to Post #311
I looked across the road and there it was. Heaven, in the form of a flickering, beckoning neon saying `Augerge du Lac`. I asked, “How do you fancy some of that? We can make a fresh start in the morning after a decent night’s kip with a few beers and a bit of decent grub down our faces - become a bit civilised after all the muck and bullets. It will do us the world of good. What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” said Nige. “I think I’ll stay on the campsite. What about you, Bill?”
"That'll do for me," said Bill.
“Well it won't do for me…**** the campsite!” I exclaimed. I was beginning to feel like a right pariah but I was buggered if I was going to fart about in the pouring rain on a sopping little six-quid a night campsite when for a tenner I could get a decent night’s kip in the hotel. Sod you lot!
So, leaving the others to do as they pleased I lugged my dripping holdall across the road to the hotel, where the evening and the night that followed were spent luxuriating in comfort and Joy the proprietor! (Only kidding, Tat.) It was absolutely wonderful. The bed was so comfy I slept right through the night for about ten hours solid in the comfort and warmth of the hotel room. And though I felt a bit of a **** for doing so, my back was desperately grateful, for a few hours at least.
The relief didn’t last. In the morning when I awoke m y back had gone completely. It took me ten minutes to get out of bed, and a further half an hour to straighten up. I was really struggling. I could neither sit down properly, nor could I straighten up. I was lurching about the place like Quasimodo. From the big French windows of my hotel room I could see the lake stretched in front of me, a furious rain-lashed gale sweeping its full length, the branches of the trees along its banks whipping viciously in the teeth of a storm force south westerly. So much for the forecast.
Across to the left of the lake, behind the sailing club, Bill and Nige were packing up their bivvies on the campsite. Bill was throwing gear into the van with gusto, or was that fury! It was raining, a torrential downpour, and blowing a good nine or ten of wind to boot. Isn’t that lovely! There’s no way I’m fishing in that lot, I thought to myself. So I ran myself a brim-full bath of scalding hot water, grabbed my book and for the next three hours or so I soaked away the aches and pains of the past eight days. It was magic and afterwards I could even walk upright!
It didn't last and within an hour I was bent over like an old codger. I asked at reception desk for directions to the nearest chemist. There the pharmacist examined my back, said, "does that hurt?" and prised me off the ceiling after my agonised response. He told me that I had slipped a disc and that he had manipulated it back into place but it would hurt like hell for a few days, and I should go home and rest and then rest some more. I explained that I was 600km from home and was on a camping/fishing trip with my mates. He advised against it but saw that I was determined to carry on regardless so he gave me some really strong pain killers that did exactly what it said on the tin Bliss!
By midday the rain had stopped so I went down to see if I could find the others. I noticed four bivvies parked in a row at the top end of the lake and went over for a chat. The bivvies belonged to a party of four lads from Nottingham, friends of Rod Hutchinson, who had asked them to give the water a try to see what it was like. According the Rod it was one of those waters where you have to wade through the small commons to get at the bigger fish. I don’t mind wading like that, even in France, though I accept that it isn’t what everybody goes to France to find. Mind you, wading was hardly what the Notts. lads appeared to be doing for they’d only had a couple of fish between them in the five days they’d been there, and neither had been anything special.
I talked a while but when it started raining again I went back to the hotel, sat in the bar and got started on the ales. I was on holiday to enjoy myself, and that didn’t include any more fishing in the sodding rain, thank you very much! I wasn’t interested in big fish, small fish, ANY bloody fish. I just wanted to enjoy myself and sitting in the rain in the most appalling conditions doesn’t qualify as enjoyment to my way of thinking.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.06pm
In reply to Post #310
An hour or so later the others were packed away. The boat was lashed securely to the roof rack, the back of the van stuffed full of dripping fishing tackle, clothes and gear. We went up to the bar for a farewell coffee, (in my case more beer and a couple of cognacs) and after bidding `au revoir` to all and sundry, we set off for pastures new.
“Anyone any idea where we are going?” I asked.
“Leave that up to you, Ken,” was the reply. Thanks a bunch, chaps. That’s nice of you. What am I? A bloody tour guide! Hey ho. Where to now?
“How about Foret d’Orient?” I suggested. “Joe’s swim might still be free.”
“Anywhere but there!” they said.
I listened for a spirit message. Go west, young man, it said. We turned onto the motorway and followed our noses. As we drove out of the valley the sun came out. The promised clearance had arrived. A hour later and we’d have packed up in the dry. We headed in the general direction of north for several hours and I dozed to the drone of the engine and the tyre noise. Next thing I knew, we were being flagged down by some very menacing traffic police on dark blue BMW bikes. They shepherded us into the next service area and as we stopped half a dozen plain-clothed officers surrounded the van. They were from the customs bureau; what on earth had we done to upset the customs service?
They questioned us briefly, asked us all to get out of the van, to open up the rear door. They took an despairing look at the mountain of gear jam-packed every which way into the back of the van and exchanged exasperated glances. They were in for a long job if they wanted to search that lot. When a flood of turgid rainwater fell from the sill, accompanied by the stale, dank aroma of long-stay, soaking wet carp men, they decided that we hadn’t done anything wrong after all, and we were waved on our way.
Yet more pounding miles along the motorway led us, eventually, to a new water. It was one that Rod had mentioned to me after he'd heard rumours that it held some decent fish. It was on the way home for us so why not?
It took some finding and we spent a couple of hours going up blind alleys and taking countless wrong turnings before we got it right. Even then we couldn’t believe that we were in the right place. By the time we’d found the lake the bloody rain caught up with us again and the heavens opened. Just what I needed.
I got chatting to a short, stocky French guy who was walking the banks in the rain. He seemed very pleased when I replied to his questions in French and I think this broke the ice as he soon volunteered to show me the way down to the far end of the lake. He drove me around on the back of his motor scooter, my back protesting at every bump, then he drove me back to the cafe where I’d arranged to meet Bill and Nige. By now the rain was really belting down, and the thought of setting up in the rain did not appeal one little bit.
To make matters worse my back was now giving me some serious gyp. The prospect of struggling to a swim in the rain in the gathering dusk, setting up a soaking wet bivvy, then climbing into a sopping wet sleeping bag was not one I relished. I was almost ready to call it a day mad head for home, but what I really fancied most of all was a hefty meal, a few beers, a long hot bath and a good night's kip. Tomorrow I’d wake up to a decent breakfast and - maybe - a few more beers. See how I feel about the world after that lot!
5 Apr 2018 at 3.05pm
In reply to Post #309
I had not had so much as a twitch for over three days now, but I suppose I should have expected no less: I was hardly what anyone would call 'going for it' as my enthusiasm levels plunged lower with every twinge in my back!. The weather wasn't helping and now I had the bloody boat anglers to contend with.
Later that day Bill caught a small double that he didn’t weigh, just unhooked it in the net and put it straight back. Nige blanked, I blanked. The boats full of pike anglers got in my way all day, and it rained hard, and the forecast was terrible yet again; my buzzers started playing up and the reels filled with water. I could hardly move and then as if I needed any more hassle, the elastics on my bed chair gave way. All in all I rather wished I was somewhere else. Anywhere else!
Saturday morning dawned still, overcast and very damp. The boat anglers were pretty fair with their attentions dividing them equally between the three of us. By mid morning they'd wiped out each and every rod. The rain fell all day; the flood level rose in my bivvy; the drowned-out buzzer refused to work, despite all attempts to dry it out - though in truth these were never really likely to succeed, given the torrential rain; my back was killing me; the bed chair sagged alarmingly; the bivvy started to leak along the door seams, and when Bill dropped a case of bottled beer as he was carrying it back from the van, the catastrophic events of the day reached their climax. We could only try and laugh it off, but it was hard work! Just one of those days. I should never had got out of bed!
We went for a drive around in the rain and looked at two other lakes nearby. Both were deserted, which spoke volumes. The whole valley simply wasn’t fishing, full stop. It was go-though-the-motions time. Another blank twenty-four hours followed and even Nige was coming round to the idea that we should move. I was now in pretty savage pain as my back had become decidedly dodgy and I could hardly stand up, let alone pack up and move. But I felt that we simply HAD to move if we wanted to keep our sanity. The rain was interminable.
Monday morning crept up on me in a wave of apathy. It had rained hard all night, and though Nige and Bill fished, I wasn’t up for it for the pain in my back was becoming almost unbearable and I lay awake all night unable to sleep. I took a few too many pain-killing tablets, and eventually they began to have an effect. I listened to the radio and at last found some good cheer, the French station’s forecast finally announcing an improvement in the weather. Not before bloody time either!
The pain-killers slowly worked their way to the seat of the pain in my back and I began to drift off to sleep on the Jerry-rigged bedchair. It was bliss, but I was not to sleep for long. At a touch after eight o’clock in the morning I was woken by a tapping on the bivvy and the door was unzipped. Nige and Bill were standing there in the pouring rain. The promised improvement had not yet arrived.
Nige said, “I think we should move.”
“Thank Christ for that, but let’s wait until the rain stops, though, eh?”
“No, we want to move now!”
“In this f...... lot?”
“Might as well, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop.”
“But I’ve heard the forecast on the radio,” I said. “They’ve given sunshine and showers for later on and we’ll be able to pack up in the dry. Dry bedding, dry tent, dry-ish clothes.”
“Nah! Let’s do it now and get it over with.”
“No way, guys!” I was adamant. “I’m not packing up until this bloody rain stops. We’ve been here at least two days too many as it is. Another couple of hours won’t make any difference, will it?”
“I thought you were the one that wanted to move,” said Bill.
“Damned right I do!” I yelled, beginning to really lose my temper. “I’ve wanted to move for the past four days. We’ve been wasting our time here, that’s for certain, but I can’t see the point in getting soaked packing up, when in all probability, if we wait a couple of hours, we can do it in the dry and with a bit of sunshine to cheer us up. In fact the only way I’ll be unpacking my gear again if I have to pack it away while it’s soaking wet is if the sun comes out and it’s nice and warm. And if that means that it doesn’t get unpacked again this trip, then so be it!” I was wet, angry and in a lot of pain.
There was much muttering and gnashing of teeth. Then Nige stomped off saying, “I’m going to pack my bloody gear away and I’ll just leave my bivvy up until you can be bothered. You can do what you like.” Bill said more or less the same, but in actions that spoke deafeningly louder than words. All of which left me with no choice. In the midst of a fairly hairy thunderstorm we started to pack up. An hour and a half and two hikes back to the van later, urged on by a seething rage at the world, I was all packed. I rowed the boat across to the other side while Nige and Bill packed up and wandered up to the bar - yes, at last our wandering barista had returned. About time to…just when we were leaving.
5 Apr 2018 at 3.02pm
In reply to Post #308
We were all absolutely soaking wet, very damp and, speaking for myself, a bit depressed. I’d been picking up the local French radio station on the radio, listening to their weather forecasts. There was no sign of an end to the storms that were sweeping all of northern France.
I was getting pretty fed up and every twist and turn caused my back to protest angrily! The rain had by now turned the once-grassy banks into a thick and muddy morass and the dreadful weather was beginning to get to me. And the poor fishing wasn’t helping either. By Friday, after a particularly severe storm that had been accompanied by twenty-four hours of torrential rain, I was feeling pretty miserable. The lake had risen several inches and the deluge of rainwater had turned the once crystal-clear lake into a thick, chocolate-brown soup. The stream at the top end of the lake was rushing through over its banks, flooding lake and putting the kiss of death on the fishing in the process. I wanted to leave and leave right now!
Earlier, in a (probably vain) attempt to improve the fishing in my swim I had introduced a widespread carpet of groundbait to cover a roughly circular area some fifty yards in diameter between seventy and one hundred and twenty yards out in front of me, and marked it with two markers at each end. The ploy had not worked and my rods remained lifeless in the rests. My swim had definitely died completely on me, as had Bill’s down the bank to my right. We both felt it was time to move.
Bill moved a bit further to the left into the mouth of the bay, while Nige shoved his damp and dripping gear into the van and drove around to the opposite side of the arm, more or less opposite Bill's new area. At least it would be handy for the bar if Jan-Francois ever returned! That's our trusty Maestro van across the other side with Nige's bivvy below it. Meanwhile Bill set off in the boat to see if he could find his little hotspot from last year.
Me? Well I fancied anywhere but this ****'ole!
We still hadn’t risked fishing at night, though so far the Gardes de Peche had been conspicuous by their absence. I’d almost have welcomed a tug, if only to get the adrenaline flowing once again. Bill moved again during a brief lull in the downpour on Friday afternoon, this time into the arm itself. The ground was a lot harder here and at least the slightly less muddy bank held some obvious attractions. The bar was much closer for a start.
It was a move that paid off almost immediately in the shape of a twenty-five pound mirror taken on a bait rowed out into the centre of the arm in about ten feet of water. He didn't weigh it, just put it straight back, as it was again pissing down.
I had by now started to attract the unwanted, yet considerable attention of several pike and zander anglers who seemed to be using my markers as homing beacons. Whether or not they were acting deliberately or not, their antics soon put paid to my fishing while they were on the lake. Once, when I had just got back from rowing my baits out, a pike angler made a beeline for the same baited area and dropped anchor right on top of it. In next to no time he had caught my lines with his spinner, sending the frantic Frenchman into a gesticulating and highly volatile tantrum.
Eventually he simply cut through my lines leaving me the best part of six hundred yards of nylon adrift. As if the wasn’t enough Mr Angry was soon joined by another couple of boats and their presence finally brought the fishing in my swim to a complete halt. It was totally impossible. The occupants of the three boats appeared to take considerable pleasure in their bloody-mindedness leaving me fuming helplessly on the bank. There was nothing I could do about it but wait for them to go in for lunch then remove the markers. That might confuse the buggers!
5 Apr 2018 at 3.01pm
In reply to Post #307
During the night the wind shifted yet again, this time round to the east. I emerged from my bivvy shivering with cold to be greeted by the sight of white horses galloping up the surface of the lake. The wind was cutting, blowing a gale or more along the length of the valley, and with the east wind came the cold as the temperature dropped ten or twelve degrees in less than a couple of hours, though for a while it did at least stop raining. We spread our damp gear on the roof of the bivvies in the hope that the wind and a pale watery sun might dry things out, but it was a forlorn hope.
The respite was cruelly short and soon it was raining harder than ever. Most of my gear was soaked through from a torrent of rainwater that had found its way into the bivvy. It came in under the rear right-hand quarter and flowed out at the left front. There was mud everywhere and it was thoroughly unpleasant. For the rest of the day the rain kept everyone cooped up in his bivvy feeling sorry for himself.
All through the following night the rain poured down in a continuous deluge. The river running through my bivvy became a flood and the mud seemed to find its way into the most impossible places. Later that night the most ferocious thunderstorm I’ve ever experienced crawled overhead with agonising slowness. The lightning conductors on the barrage and the village church were both hit, and the forest on the far bank was also struck as the storm tracked right over the top of us. At its height, the thunder and lightning were accompanied by a frightening hail-storm that left the ground carpeted with stones an inch across, to a depth of three inches or so. It looked as if it had been snowing!
At one stage my bivvy was shaken around in a whirlwind of hail and wind as a ferocious storm battered the region. It felt as if it were being savaged by a pit-bull terrier. I didn’t know whether to be scared or simply to marvel at the awesome power, the brutal, almost primordial forces that unleashed themselves upon us. The lightning was incredible, as if thousands of strobe-powered flash guns were going off on the other side of the bivvy door. Countless times a second, hundreds of separate flashes. An amazing and very awesome experience, and in the middle of it all, Nige had a run!
He didn’t hear it of course. He was sheltering in Bill’s bivvy while the worst of the storm passed, but I doubt if he’d have heard it even if he’d been in his own bivvy. By the time he got back to his rods the carp, if carp it was, had created a cat’s cradle of his other two lines and left, laughing!
Thursday dawned to a scene from hell. The thunderstorm was still rattling around the heavens; in fact it hardly seemed to have moved at all. The rain was back with a vengeance and the mud was thicker than ever. A tree was hit in the woods less than sixty yards away behind me, leaving a long white scar, savagely burnt at the edges, to mark the path of the bolt to earth. The woods on the far bank seemed to be smoking in the early morning light. There was a peculiar smell in the air - metallic, sinister. Is that what brimstone smells like? I asked myself. And to cap it all, I had put my back out during the night. It was agony!
There were a few fish crashing out, but it wasn’t what you’d call hectic. The surface had become mirror-calm as the wind died away leaving heavy rain falling straight down from the thick, grey clouds. I wasn’t exactly hoping for a take as my back was killing me. I could hardly move and never has the phrase 'bedchair back' been more appropriate. I lay on my back with my knees up - seemed to relieve the pain a bit - and listened to the rain and watched the thunderstorm rattling around the valley, lighting up the overcast sky with savage flashes of sheet lightning.
By mid morning the breeze had shifted yet again, back into a more southerly direction. In the UK you expect all these shifts in the wind to blow away the clouds, but not here. Having more or less boxed the compass in the last twenty-four hours, the wind brought with it even more rain, more hail and yet more thunder and lightning. The rain relented briefly later that afternoon, allowing Nige and me a few hasty minutes in which to move our bivvies to less muddy areas.
5 Apr 2018 at 2.59pm
In reply to Post #306
We wound the rods in at about eleven o’clock that night and had a few beers to round off the day. Night fishing was a dodgy business as the Gardes-Peche had a well-deserved reputation for being tough on the rule breakers in the area. It simply wasn’t worth the risk. Last year Gary had been caught and let off with a comparatively light fine: this year we’d heard horror stories about tackle confiscation and heavy fines. Just before I turned in I topped up the bait carpet with the usual mixture of ready-mades and fishmeals in equal proportions; about three hundred of each.
The threatened rain and wind arrived at about one in the morning and it rocked the trees and shook the bivvy like a dog with a rat, but come the morning it had stopped and the clouds drifted on their way north. I slept only fitfully and was awake before dawn. I unzipped the bivvy door and the sight that greeted me away to my right scared me half to death! The land was black, the sky the same, with a fire-red strip of sunlight between the two. Talk about a red sky in the morning.
As dawn grew into a grey morning, dull with a fresh SW wind blowing towards the dam I felt certain we were in for a deluge. In the chilly morning air I cast out then put the kettle on. The others were not up yet so I sat on my jack drinking the cuppa and eating breakfast. It was noticeably colder than previous mornings but it still looked pretty carpy. I sat in keen anticipation of a repeat of yesterday morning’s performance, though I felt less certain of a take as the night had been very different to its predecessor. It had rained hard for much of the night with a fresh breeze from the south-east blowing straight into the bivvy door. I slept fitfully, and so, it turned out later, did the others. None of us heard so much as a single splash during the dark hours, whereas the previous night we couldn't sleep for the noise of carp crashing out everywhere.
I noticed that the lake had come up a few inches so we must have had a real downpour of rain during the night, and I didn't much like the look of the sky away to the south either. I made more tea, lit a fag and got back in the bag, as it had turned suddenly very chilly. A few loud crashes of thunder echoed down the valley and the tense atmosphere of an approaching storm hung heavy on the morning dampness. Dark, almost black thunderheads built up in the valley away to the south, moving slowly but surely towards us. The stillness was oppressive, even the birds fell silent. The comforting swoosh of a breeze in the trees died away and the air crackled and rumbled in electric anticipation. By seven in the morning the storm had arrived, with driving rain and thunder and lightning. There was no wind to push the murk on its way, the dirty weather was obviously set in for the day.
I zipped up the door to the bivvy, climbed into the sleeping bag and went back to sleep. If the carp were feeding, they’d soon wake me up for I had the extension box right next to my ear. Later that morning Nige had a fourteen pound mirror and Bill opened his account with an eleven pound mirror. The shoal must have been going through my swim to get from Nige’s baits to Bill’s but I never had a sniff. Mind you, the last thing I wanted was a run in the torrential rain that fell for most of the morning. The weather certainly wasn’t conducive to pleasurable fishing and I lay on my bed chair praying that the big lump could hold his hunger in check until it eased off a bit. He could pick up my bait then, by all means.
The rest of the morning passed slowly in a welter of heavy rain, thunder and occasional flickers of lightning. The sun popped out very briefly to shine on a twenty-one pound mirror that picked up one of my baits during the afternoon…
…but then it started raining again, this time heavier than ever. It was a miserable day that lowered all our spirits. I think we’d all have benefited from a trip to the bar for a meal and a few beers, but that sod, Jean-Francois was still on his holidays.
5 Apr 2018 at 2.58pm
In reply to Post #305
Then just when we thought his swim had died, a lovely, pale Italian-strain mirror just a few ounces short of forty pounds fell to his rods. I don’t know what happened to the tennis elbow, but he wasn’t complaining any more.
Fat old beastie isn't it!
Nige was pretty happy with it, though!
After all that action, it was inevitable that it should slow down, and as the afternoon wore on so the fish moved up towards the barrage away to our left. In the lull, Bill and Nigel went out in the boat, searching the bottom with the echo sounder. It was very hot and the fish were obviously making the most of the autumn sunshine, for there were no signs of any substantial marks on the echo sounder to indicate the presence of carp still on the baits.
The afternoon was quiet, calm and peaceful, and, given our hectic morning, I don’t think Nige or I were complaining that the fishing had slowed. Bill still waited patiently for a take. He wasn’t in any rush. There was time to relax and lie back to watch the world go around.
The lake is a wildlife paradise to those occasional bird watchers like myself, who have only a passing interest. The grey and rather drab bird life of Cornwall pales alongside the magnificent red kites, ospreys and black storks that prowl the skies above and the banks beside the still waters of the lake. I’d heard from Jean-Francois that there were wild boar in the woods behind the west bank, where we were bivvied. I wouldn’t have minded seeing one of those, but not at close quarters. A herd of wild boar had driven two Dutch friends from their tents on the banks of the Foret d’Orient to stand up to their necks in water while the forest pigs destroyed their camp, rods, everything. That was one good reason for our earlier cowardice.
It was a lovely, peaceful and relaxed afternoon. Little did I know that it would be the last I’d enjoy for some time. Happy though I was with my success so far, I couldn’t help feeling that we were missing out by leaving Foret d’Orient. Before I’d left the lake at the weekend, I’d arranged with Joe that we could slip into his swim when he left for home that coming Saturday, and there was a nagging sensation in the back of my mind that this is exactly what we should do. It was hard enough to get a swim on that wild and woolly lake; to be handed a swim on a plate - and a damn good swim at that - was an offer I felt we should not turn down. I voiced my feelings to the others but Bill and Nige felt that there was more to come from this lake.
Maybe I put the jinx of the lake by hoping that action would die off which should encourage the other guys to move. Was it wrong of me to pray that the place fished like a pudding from now on? I suppose it was, especially when it looked as if my prayers would come true as later that afternoon a dark, menacing blanket of heavy cloud moved relentlessly towards us from the south. The heavily laden clouds soon threatened to block the sun completely and we could hear the rain and an increasing wind hammering the forest behind us. This was going to get nasty! Little did we know that as the sun bade farewell we would not see it again for several days.
5 Apr 2018 at 2.56pm
In reply to Post #304
It didn’t take the carp long to find my baits. The rods had been out less than three quarters of an hour when I had my first run, the buzzer playing its wonderful tune. That take came right in the middle of a downpour. Doesn’t it always! Still, who cares! It’s a fish. So there I was getting a drenching while a strong fish put distance between itself and danger. After the first headlong dash the fight reverted to a predictable give and take pattern and eventually I shook the meshes up around a fat, dumpy mirror carp that went a fraction over twenty. It was almost round; we could have played football with it!
The noise of the run and the splashing of the fish in the margins brought Nige and Bill out to play and soon the bank was a hive of activity. Strange how a fish galvanizes people into action, there were rods and baits flying everywhere!
As dawn came, the fish stopped showing almost completely, but they hadn’t stopped feeding. Less than a hour later I had another run from a fish that came straight off the pages of the Book of Dreams. I have always yearned for a monster common carp and the image of Gary’s long, lean beastie from the previous year still flitted across my sleeping moments from time to time. Now I had my turn, a dream no longer but the spectacular reality of a thirty pound common, 31lb 4oz in fact.
And what a fight, from an unbelievably powerful fish. It was one of the most magnificent carp I’ve ever seen, though as usual I only had a fleeting impression of it while the honours were performed. We took a roll of transparency film of the gorgeous fish, including several of it going back. It wasn’t until I got the photos back that I realised that it was actually the same fish that Gary had caught almost a year to the day previously. Same pose too!
Meanwhile, Nige was suffering severe and crippling pain. A savage re-occurrence of tennis elbow was playing him up badly and he couldn’t use a throwing stick to get his baits out. I have had my fair share of tennis elbow having cortisone injections in both elbows three time in each one. This is a problem that all carp anglers need to be aware of. Throwing sticks, especially the metal variety, are bad news for elbows. So I baited up his swim as well as my own, dashing too and fro. In fact, I was in his swim, waving the Cobra around, with boilies shooting off in all directions, when I heard another run start again on my rods. Middle rod. Great! Another great big mirror of just under thirty pounds, a long solid fish, a proper carp!
What a brilliant morning’s fishing I was having, so far I’d landed three fish. A twenty pound tub, a thirty-one common and a late twenty-nine pound mirror. I was all of a quiver. I put the kettle on for a cuppa, while my three rods rested uselessly against the bivvy. I wasn’t in any rush to re-cast. Let the others have some action for a change!
Which is exactly what happened, at least for Nige if not for Bill. The fish must have moved through my swim and up to Nige’s, for in the next three hours he landed an further three fish. A common at just under 12lb, a dark almost red mirror that looked much like Gary's from the previous year…but wasn’t…
Here the lovely creature goes back.
5 Apr 2018 at 2.55pm
In reply to Post #303
The level was down quite a bit from last year, revealing three of four yards of thick, gooey mud at the water’s edge. Apart from that not much had changed by the look of things, though our little French carp-fishing pal was missing from his usual place on the point. We set up in roughly the same spots as last year put a bit of bait out and then went into town to get permits for Bill and Nige and to do some shopping for food, wine and beer, returning as the light faded, just in time to put the rods out for a couple of hours. We were arranged like this:
As the evening drew in we ate a dinner of the by now customary Boeuf Bourguignon with new potatoes and carrots, all washed down with a bottle or two of very cheap, yet ever so cheerful claret. Very civilised. It was a very cold, clear night with not a breath of wind. The sky was filled with stars, its clarity at least promising no rain. A few fish were moving splashily away to our left towards the dam, but all in all it wasn’t looking terribly encouraging, especially after a day of very strong, cold east winds. Then, just as it was coming in truly dark, at about ten o’clock, Nigel had two bleeps on one of his rods. He struck, and there was our first carp of the trip. Not big, a mirror of perhaps fourteen pounds, but what it lacked in size was made up for in its significance. It told us that the lake was fishing after all.
That beautiful little fish really lifted all our spirits, for I think we were each feeling a bit low. After all, here we were, Monday night, having been in France for over sixty hours, driven God knows how many miles, spent precious francs on wasted fuel and food and until this afternoon, not so much as wet a line. Yet with our baits in the water for just a couple of hours, we’d already had a fish. Now all they needed to do was get bigger! I couldn’t forget that huge fish that Bill lost last year. Hope we see a few like that on the bank this time.
I awoke at about four o’clock the following morning. It was still pitch black in a wet and soggy pre-dawn drizzle. Thin tendrils of damp penetrating mist clung to the tree tops nestling on the steep wooded hillside opposite, cloaking the valley with a damp stillness. Though it was legally still too early to cast out, the temptation to do so was irresistible as there were fish lumping out all over the place. Dawn was well over an hour or more away but I figured if we were going to get visited by the Garde de Peche they would have arrived around one or two in the morning, not now, just an hour before dawn.
The weather had changed completely during the night, turning cloudy and warm. The breeze had gone and the surface of the lake was mirror-calm. It looked grey and a bit forbidding but there were fish moving just about anywhere we looked. Even as I cast out, ripples came lapping onto the shore at my feet, caused by fish crashing out all over the lake, and especially over my baited area, where huge splashes marked the whereabouts of some of the lake’s giants. It was a magic sound, though the darkness meant that I couldn’t see the culprits. After Nige’s fish last evening it all looked very hopeful.
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