iscorose was in a vale of low-lying mist as we rattled down the long road toward the pêche de nuit zone. Even with the scene obscured there was the intense presence of open space. A needle in a haystack chance, I thought; well three to be precise, but I’m not sure more lines would have elevated my confidence levels. What the hell was I doing there? An underequipped optimistic chancer, hopeful of instigating some kind of miracle.
For three days we watched a magnificent inland sea slowly devour the soggy shoreline. I soon realised I hadn’t a hope in hell but it was too beautiful to pull myself away. ‘You never know’ was the ongoing internal dialogue. During the second evening I was certain I saw a carp tail out in the distance. In a moment my confidence rose, riding the wavelets until they dispersed into an ocean of doubt. Doubt that I had seen a carp at all. It was time to try a water that posed a more realistic chance of fish.
A mile down the road rested petit Biscarose, a shallow sandy water of about 80-hectares. Our truck was a touch too wide for the barrier at the lake entrance. I tried anyway, but when there was only a centimeter clearance on each side I lost my nerve. Instead, I opted for lugging the gear a long hike down to an open looking swim at the mouth of an inlet. I was informed that Biscarosse, petit Biscarosse and Sanguent all converged through a series of waterways. Fish were known to pass through Petit Biscarosse on a regular basis, so my chances of being amongst a few fish were improved.
The air was charged with promise of bad weather, a welcome storm after a prolonged dry spell. Confidence was tangible. I imagined a carp eyeing my baits as I lowered them to the silty lakebed.
A deep yellow moon rose on the horizon illuminating a blanket of silvery cloud. Bright glimmers danced on the distorted surface like a gathering of fireflies. I watched it intently as if trying to unravel its magic. How curiously beautiful it appeared in the half dark, slowly consumed by an angry swelling Nimbo stratus.
A fine rain saturated the air; even my sleeping bag was damp to the touch as I slid beneath it. I lay there wide-awake, a myriad of thoughts flittering through mental space. The past few months had been so dreamlike. It seemed as if something beyond my rational apprehension was at play. Too many coincidences, too many moments of good fortune for it to be happenstance; as if the gears of mind have intentionality of their own and are able to reach out and touch the world in ways I can hardly conceive.
I thought about a book I’d recently read examining alchemists of old and what motivated them to dwell beyond the fringes of society, immersed in forgotten literature and magic. The book hinted that perhaps the true alchemist was not interested in transference of lead into gold after all but, more likely, alchemy was used as a metaphor to describe a process of inner transformation. Maybe the alchemist knew that real gold, real riches are not physical objects at all, but in fact are a series of internal happenings which lead a person to apprehend the connectedness in all things, the realization that we see the world not as it is, but as we are.
Leading up to Operation Freedom, it struck me that if I was viewing the world through the lens of my own conditioning, then I must have the ability to adjust its focus. The more I saw someone else’s dream impacting on my life. The corporate dream, the bankers dream etc., the more I felt drawn to awaken my own vision. Since a small boy I have associated happiness with being by the water. My class books were tattooed with depictions of carp and all the associated paraphernalia. Lunch breaks were a chance to converse endlessly with friends who shared my infatuation. Even when a school week passed with the grinding idleness of an oil tanker, my mind was awash with mental images of a mysterious realm far from the trappings of brick walls, white boards and fluorescent strip lighting.
The day broke leaden and subdued, my heart pounding, arms burning; I was soggy as a leaf in January but for a good reason. A long dark mirror powered in every conceivable direction around the boat. A cascade of bronze and gold ingots caught my eye as it rolled and hurtled off into a nearby reedbed. The shallows boiled and fizzed as the carp ploughed through rotten silt. All I could think about was getting it in the net. Pilling on the pressure it zigzagged back towards me, then turned, kiting along the edge of the reedbed until it reached an inlet. The clutch jolted along with the flexing rod tip, but I quenched the spool and drew the fish out into a shallow silty bay. After that I knew the hook hold was good and proceeded to play the fish for what felt like a very long time. Even when it seemed totally spent it thrashed its way into the bottom of the net.
I sat back for a moment, my breath slightly visible in the twilight. Leaning forward I peered into the mesh to observe its contents. A sequence of gleaming iridescent bronze scales armoured the length of a wild looking chestnut mirror. It was an alchemical moment of sorts, out of the mercurial lead water came forth gold. I for one was extremely pleased. I didn’t even fuss about repositioning the rod.
As the day grew, clouds parted to reveal a glassy space filled chasm. The stars were hard and un-glittering as I scanned the motionless surface. I fought my tiring eyes, and as I did so I could have sworn the stars arranged themselves to form an image of the chestnut mirror.
A warm orange glow woke me to the new day. I felt my pupils physically contract as the blissful morning sun poured into my squinting eyes. It had been sometime since I had witnessed such a spectacle. It must be a good sign, I thought, if not for the fishing then at very least for my soul. The next opportunity bumped off at the net, another fine looking mirror from what I could tell. Then the lake slid in to silence for two days. I felt so contented being by the water and in good company that I barley noticed it pass.
The evening before we were due to leave I had a bite. I’d placed the baits a hefty distance and was fortunate in seeing the tip pull over slightly under tension. Not a single bleep! I followed it out beyond small reed islands and lily beds until the fish skirted the boat. It made a turn just below the surface flashing me its polka dot flank. The markings were similar to the markings I’d seen on sizable crayfish up and down the margins. It wallowed languorously in the warm soupy water. I inched it closer to the net, it dived again to the right then resurfaced. Again I drew it close until it passed over the drawstring, surging into the mesh.
We were back on the road in search of new places to fish. Finding waters that are more or less unknown to the wider world has always excited me, but it’s not always plain sailing. There have been instances where I would have been much better off casting into the trees because there were no fish to speak of. Days of solitude I happen to enjoy, but days of solitude by a fishless lake is a doorway into a dimension of madness.
Catching the odd carp we flitted from lake to lake, until by sheer good fortune we found what we had been looking for. A miraculous pool set deep in a coniferous forest and sandy heath land far from civilization. Shallow bays containing jagged tree stumps pierced the water in their hundreds. The water, so beautifully crystal clear, looked good enough to drink. Huge fish were reputed to haunt its mechanically-dredged depths. At some point, this paradise had been an open wound scarring the surrounding countryside. But like a broken bone, the landscape healed stronger than before. So beautiful, it was hard to believe that it was ever any other way.
I went in search of carp. I gazed amongst the tree-filled bays, down into deep margins and across the surface but it brought me no closer to my quarry. On June the 7th I made this entry in my diary: Time seems to have no relevance here and in this timeless tranquilly, I have done much exploring. I am beginning to appreciate just how tricky making contact with the other side is going to be. The rods have not budged, only the ravenous crayfish have made their presence known. My only hope is to keep moving until my fortune changes. Even if I do not manage to make contact this time, at the very least I am here as an apprentice, observing, waiting patiently in anticipation of something magical.
The session soon came to a close but I was back within a week and this time the weather aided my confidence: winds, interspersed rain, sun and low pressure. Unfortunately, the only other angler on the lake was in the swim I wanted. Instead I cycled the gear bit by bit the long haul to a snaggy bay where I knew some fish would be hiding. I took great pleasure in setting up, excited by the prospect of hooking a carp. Once again, time halted. The stillness and tranquility was almost intoxicating and certainly mind altering. In a utopian-like daze I sat watching the world around me, totally mesmerised by its unbridled intricacy.
That night the rods did not move, neither did they move the following day. I knew there were fish close by and I waited until the cover of darkness to position one rod by boat, out beyond a small island. I could hear fish crashing amongst the safety of sunken trees. As the sun glinted through the conifers, casting tiny rays throughout our swim, I pondered on the lack of activity. In the midst of racking my brains for an answer, the rod tore off.
It hit the surface and kited left, behind the small island toward a cluster of snags. The moment I lost sight of it, I thought it was over. I instinctively slackened the line hoping the fish would not wrap me around catastrophically. Caroline (my partner at the time) rowed us out 60yds to a shallow bar beside the island. I climbed out of the boat and put pressure on the fish. It had just passed some rather intimidating tree stumps. Heart in my mouth, I led the fish back through the snags and out into open water. I could tell by the way it was slowly plodding that it was of good size. For twenty minutes or so I tentatively played it until it surfaced in front. Caroline carefully lifted the net around the fish and I gasped with relief. A pristine common lay beaten, reflecting the subdued silver morning.
Gliding back to shore I silently thanked the lake. It looked even more extraordinary in light of my capture. Placing the fish gently into the sanctuary of my mat, each scale flexed effortlessly along its wide flank until it came to rest. I lost myself in its intricate beauty: bronze flecks intertwined with gold, each detail a world of its own. This is what I had come for – a connection with the mysterious, a reawakening of primordial values and a moment to clasp the shimmering gold of the water goddess. The camera clicked as I lowered the fish gradually into the margins, but it wasn’t important. The image ingrained into my mind was firmly fixed.
The lake gleamed. All that encompassed it was filled with vigour as if the sun tugged at each colour. The change in my internal state had actually brought me a truer image of the world, everything glowing and fully in focus. After an entry in my diary, we moved swim to one that gave me a better vantage point. 150yds away, fringing a series of islands and pointed tree stumps, the carp jostled. I placed two rods a healthy distance from them; this was no time for taking risks.
An unerring silence filled the air around the lake. Not a single bird called out as the sun descended through the heavy evening mist. It was eerie. As darkness fell, a waxing moon cast long shadows through the woods behind us. I was contented by the morning’s capture and I hoped that perhaps I could winkle out one more before we headed East, back towards the Alps. Three more attempts came and went. Two hook pulls, one at the net and one whilst playing the fish. The final fish, the smallest, did make it to the net: a beautiful dark mirror to serenade us the morning of our departure. I was sad to say goodbye, knowing full well that I may not venture that way again for some time.
Spending most of my days out in the woods or by a lake over the past year and a half has certainly brought me much clarity. Nature’s magic, her intricate complexities confer wonder on a daily basis. Each time I gaze into an oak leaf or follow an ant, it is though I am seeing it clearly for the first time. For me it is a must to go beyond the linguistic template in which I find myself; it is too easy to reduce the world and it parts to words. If I can say anything at all, it would be that we humans, for the most part, have learnt to see the world through a series of linguistic descriptions. If we truly want to know of the world then we must venture into it; to gaze upon it with our own eyes: feel, hear, smell, taste and sense its very being. Whether it is in order to seek fish or to marvel over the geometry of a spider’s web, it is imperative that daily ventures into nature are taken. Not only does it make us better anglers, but it also helps to maintain a bond with the natural world, something that the humdrum of daily living so easily snatches from our conscious grasp.