Years before I lived a mobile existence, my fishing exploits were somewhat limited, especially trips further afield to places such as France and Italy. Opportunities that arose from the background of my chosen busy life were regarded as convenient glitches in the matrix. One such glitch transpired when I was kindly requested to work as a sound designer for a project in the French Alps. Having been to the area several times before, I immediately knew I must extend my trip to allow for a few days fishing. I crammed rods, reels and tackle into a snowboard bag alongside my necessary music equipment, which was the only way I’d avoid extra baggage charges at the check-in desk. Shortly after arriving I was ushered to the belly of a dark theatre, where I consumed the best part of a week daydreaming about my return to a wild and mysterious lake.
With the theatre trailing in the rear view mirror of a borrowed car, I felt a weight lift. Out into open country, alongside meadows, cascades, ravines and grand towering mountains. The grandeur and immensity of the landscape instantly liberated me into a state of deep appreciation. The road led me through orderly maize fields, down to a small village and then along a short country lane before veering onto a dusty track. I could feel the excitement well up inside me as the last few hundred yards rattled past; the thick perfume of alpine mud rousing my senses. When I finally came to a standstill, I gazed spellbound over the rippling water; an intense golden light glimmering across millions of tiny wavelets.
Near the middle of the lake my attention was brought to see a series of good-sized carp shouldering and crashing one after the other. At that time I’d not borne witness to such a display of big fish activity, and it had me tripping over myself down the muddy forest track. As I ambled the overgrown path something caught my eye. Strewn amongst the bushes was what appeared to be an abandoned bivvy. Not having had the space to bring a shelter, I rescued it immediately. With modification, elaborate patching techniques and a bit of a clean, it became my temporary home.
A deep sense of gratitude reverberated within as I sat perched behind my rods. The fish had since calmed and even though I was drifting elsewhere among autumnal hues, I felt I’d chosen wisely. All around me the undergrowth teemed with life and it pulled on the strings of my soul. Quickly, it became apparent that of all the things a person can desire, none compare to the riches that pour from the life-giving bosom of the earth. While I confess to knowing little and no doubt not everyone will agree, it seems that today’s society lures many of us away from knowing of these riches. We’re reprogrammed to seek fulfillment in other mostly meaningless outpourings in the name of survival or entertainment. To my mind anything that draws a species away from its habitat to the point where it no longer recognises it, and actively destroys it, is surely pathological. By no means a cure but angling does offer a powerful ritual reforging with the natural; more than anything else it is an opportunity to register the mood of the season, smell of the air, gauge the feeling of the land and orientation of the moon and stars. It is the unfolding authenticity of nature, and the deep meaning imbued within its rhythms, that I think allow most of us to nurture back to health this most vital of relationships.
The evening outspread through a series of pastel magenta and orange, gradually dissolving into darkness. Orion drifted beyond the forest canopy, causing a sense of wonder. In the face of such magnificence I felt humbled and drawn to ponder the meaning of it all. Behind me, many sounds echoed through the undergrowth. Boar, fox and chamois all gave themselves away, yet there were other sounds unfamiliar; strange murmurings beneath the forest canopy. I lay there listening in, drifting from thought to thought, unable to sleep but contented.
Beyond witching hours the night felt eerily calm and its serene quality endured right up until lunchtime the following day. I’d not had a touch and was about to reel in when my right-hand rod curiously eased over. Hands at the ready and heart thumping in my chest I was adamant it was about to happen, but it didn’t. Some moments latter, I noticed the mono slackening slightly through the rings, and so immediately I grabbed the rod, hitting it into a low-lying tree. Shaking it free I connected with something determined below.
The previously calm surface boiled and swelled in all directions, its strength superior for what I could tell was no leviathan. I eased it towards me, hopeful of avoiding the bushy reedbed to my right. With net in one hand and rod in the other I married the two; a spectacular yet pale looking mirror lay catching its breath enclosed by mesh. Whispering a quiet thank you, I held him in the margins gently tickling his belly; strength regained he dissolved through the bronze water.
Before my three days of bliss became but a memory, I was fortunate enough to get a few more bites. One of which came at a rather inopportune moment whilst creating a vector for life in the woods. The shrill from my detector resounded through the birch and alder alerting me to the situation. I knew the fish was out in the open so unhurried I made for the swim; reel endlessly buzzing.
As soon as I connected I knew it was bigger than anything I’d hooked before: solid, powerful and ponderous. Slowly the fish kited left to right until it was 20-metres in front of me. As I tried gaining line it powered right towards a half submerged tree. Obviously a cunning fish! I piled on a serious amount of pressure, heaving to beyond what I thought I was capable. It drove harder and harder until dumbstruck I was wielding a disappointingly rigid rod. Poetry of an expressive nature bellowed from my open mouth into the trees, at passing birds and the sky. Years later I can recall the memory with fondness but at the time I was gutted. There was no doubt that a rather special fish had escaped me.
It was through the recalling all of this to Patricia during our most recent exploration of Italy that I became curious about the Alpine lake once again. It was almost five years to the day and I had a hunch that the carp would be active like before, perhaps catchable in the same open water.
Once back in France we paid a visit to Patricia’s parents. It was obvious Patricia was still distressed about Norman’s departure as she recounted the story to her mother. Even I wondered if he might still be out there somewhere by the waterside.
Later that evening I ventured outside into the garden, a halo of cloud hovered over the mighty peaks where I’d often spent the winters snowboarding. Silently I stood bartering with the universe for Norm’s return. If he’s still alive then bring him back to us were my exact words. Not surprisingly I did not imagine in a million years we would receive an answer. Nevertheless, shortly after turning on my phone I received a message from an unknown number; news that concerned Norman! Having long since decided Norm had been eaten, it came as a bit of a shock, not least for Patricia who burst into tears when I relayed the news.
As it turned out, Norm had flown all the way to a nearby campsite where he was fortunately discovered by a holidaying pigeon fancier. The gentleman took care of him for nearly three weeks until chancing upon Patricia’s missing poster. Needless to say, the next morning we were heading back to Italy and by afternoon Norm was affectionately pecking our faces after a long absence. We were both relieved to have him back and there was no doubt the feeling was mutual as he cooed and pranced franticly around us.
We set off once again. Patricia and Norm headed south and I straight for Alpine water. After all the years of absence it was better than I could have hoped; temperate and full of autumn charm. Out in open water, carp rocked the surface and this time I had no time constraints to dampen my spirits.
I felt a rush of contentment venturing off on my own, by boat, fully equipped for a substantial outing. Not only that, but seeing just how active the carp were, made me brim with optimism. I settled in my chosen hideout and enjoyed a brew as the first stars emerged. The soothing trickle of water and the inescapable tranquility of the mountain landscape poured into me. Closing my eyes permitted me deeper passage into the night; every tiny nuance growing until it danced melodiously around me. Subtle scratching among fallen leaves, a secluded owl, flittering of fish in the margins and distant clock chimes became my music, and it eased me into a heavy sleep.
I awoke just after twilight feeling decidedly groggy, but by the time another brew had passed my lips I was well on my way to feeling human again. The day was warm and overcast. Oak leaves fluttered in the dim morning. Out to the middle where my baits rested were gatherings of pinhead bubbles, and by the time I’d rolled a ciggy, several carp had rocked the filmy surface. With eyes firmly fixed on my rods I stared optimistically until lost in thought. Unexpectedly I was snapped back. My indicator pulled tight and a wild run ensued. Without hesitation I dived into the boat and tackled it far from the perilous submerged tree. A good fish, I thought, as bubbles boiled to the surface all around me.
Following a few self-takes among the gloomy undergrowth, I cheerfully lowered perfection itself back into the dark mud-infused water. My enthusiasm was brimming but I didn’t rush to reposition my rod. Instead, I made an entry in my diary half expectant of another bite. Not one, but two beautiful fish slid over the mesh before the day slipped fluidly into night, one of which soared into the forties. I couldn’t have wanted for anything. I was in abundance.
The following morning my friend Dexter popped his head around the front of my bivvy. He’d driven all the way from Normandy to join me for the week. We chatted away in the soft morning light until crashing carp averted our attention; they were topping non-stop all over the far margin. In an instant Dexter was gone, reappearing amidst the tall reeds opposite where hungry carp jostled.
As the chimes of midday echoed from a nearby village, I duelled with a powerful mirror. It felt colossal as it hugged the lakebed without much sign of fatigue. After lengthy disagreement it gradually appeared but netting it was not so simple. The first few attempts resulted in unstoppable surges beneath despite apparent lethargy. I did finally land it though. It was an incredibly wide and muscular fish and I managed to get a great shot with him, mountain backdrop just visible through the trees.
By the end of the week I’d captured some remarkable carp; a dozen or so including several forties and a staggering fifty common, something I had dreamed about for years. Dexter was not quite so fortunate. He lost several good fish out in front on snags, unable to use his boat as it was temporarily out of action with a gaping hole. He did net a couple from the bank though and despite the losses seemed contented. After catching the common I was so enthralled that I did something against my better judgment. I even spoke aloud to myself not to take the risk, but I was blinded by ambition. That evening, as the light faded, instead of reeling in I held on into dusk. I was sure I would get another really big fish. Dexter turned up in my swim for dinner and we chatted away, oblivious as to what was about to befall me.
Out of the darkness two head torches beamed and a chilling voice called out. “Garde de Peche”. My heart sank. I knew instantly I was in trouble. I’d never been caught before and I guess it was fair to say I’d relaxed a bit too much. Fortunately for me, after I’d been made aware of the consequences, the gardes were quite friendly. Not a quality associated with many guards and for a good reason no doubt. Dexter and I departed shortly after. It was as good a time as any. We’d both hooked enough fish, which is something that certainly causes me concern when the going is good.
As Dexter chugged away in his old Escort and I in my truck, I couldn’t help but notice the calm tranquility that the lake had instilled within me. It seemed painfully obvious to my mind the only true laws in life are the ones that nature attends to. Anything outside of nature’s laws is only really attempted control. It’s saddening that any self-appointed power should have a say in what another is permitted to do, where he or she is permitted to live, what foods, plants or herbs fall into a prohibited program of ingestion. Yes, yes of course a moral code is essential and without some sort of wisdom, teachings, and sense of belonging it is possible to fall by the wayside, but it stands to reason. That said, I don’t think there is a person who walks the earth today who can honestly say that they are happy with what is happening in the world. As the only species on the planet responsible, I feel that my part in it all is to become that change which I seek, for that is the only way, on an individual level, that I can become a part of the solution.
On a final note, I want to express a heart felt thank you to all those who have enjoyed reading these articles. The response has been truly humbling as have the kind messages we have received. I want to say a thank you to Dexeter Petley who has been a great mentor. Check out his latest book Love Madness Fishing. A fantastic read! And thank you to CARPology for allowing me the opportunity to share my journey with you all. We are soon to start a new chapter of Operation Freedom so I am sure you will be hearing more from us in the not too distant future. True happiness exists by the waterside.