More days have passed than I need mention. I’m gradually beginning to merge with the things out of which this place is made. Falling leaves gather in yellow and gold clusters on the roof of my bivvy. The mud is thick soup on the ground, over my boots and on the mat. It cakes the small doorway separating me from an icy chill which has for days slipped through stark skeletons that not long ago resembled summer. Yet, I am content and warm, like a hibernating fox in his set. I am glad of the season’s foreboding quality; without it I couldn’t enjoy viewing the world as I do now; through the aperture of a small flap in the canvas.
Not much dampens the soul of a carp gypsy. Wherever there is water, and perhaps a fish, I am, on the whole, very happy. Even when Philippe, a local angler with a superiority complex, walks the lakeside path accompanied by his exceptionally rotund K9, I dig deep and summon a genuine smile. Calling on my best French I greet him and ask how he is. But it only ever contributes to his infinite grimace as he heads off down the track with a demeanor that suggests it’s fried shit sandwiches for a second week running.
One particular afternoon something was odd about Philippe. His usual poisoned looking face was absent. He almost had a skip in his step and I could have sworn his down turned lips confronted gravity to form a small frail smile. I was surprised to say the least when he marched right up to me and announced his good news. He pitched the shit right into the fan and I paled visibly. “No longer would anyone be allowed to fish at night,” he chortled. My heart sank. He’d studied to become a gard-pêche and that morning had received his official documents which he took pleasure in showing me. Arse hole sprang to mind but it didn’t convey enough malice to mention; besides it would not have helped matters. The small mouth noises he was so engrossed in making merged into a distant concoction of senseless noise as I began to grock the meaning of his petty self-serving triumph.
This was bad news. My attempts to entice the only fish I have ever focused on catching had, in a single moment, become restricted to daytime angling only; frustrating considering many of the fish I’d had the good fortune of landing arrived during the slow hours preceding dawn.
Philippe danced off into the distance allowing me to deliberate the conundrum in silence. Over the afternoon I came to terms with the rather unfavourable card I’d been dealt. It was time to try my luck elsewhere. I had to forget about the goliath carp.
As the day unfolded I became entangled in reverie. A robin temporarily brought me to my senses as it pecked at stray grains of maize trodden into the thick mountain mud. He had a determined look in his bright inquisitive eyes. Turning to face me, he announced a rhythmic sequence of rapid flourishes before darting off through tangled fronds of bramble and buddleia. A good omen, but the rods remained poised and lifeless.
An electric chill juddered through my body moments before the night swallowed the remains of day. It was time to say a farewell to somewhere I’d grown deeply fond of. The lake had offered more than just fish over the months I’d frequented its abundant banksides. As I begrudgingly wound in the first rod, an undeniable sensation surged through me stopping me in my tracks. Something internal or external was forbidding my departure. Whatever it was seemed to have a hold over my rationale. I had to stay one more night.
In the cover of darkness I slipped out over a mirrored surface glimmering like star filled space soup. Only a faint trickling sloshed from the outboard causing stars to dance and boil amongst emanating ripples behind me. Rods carefully positioned, I dozed in my sleeping bag under a pristine November sky; thick ground fog wrapping all in a wet dewy blanket.
I barely slept knowing any moment my foolish determinism could backfire. But it didn’t, in fact quite the opposite. As the cold hour before dawn beckoned, my rod tip ever so slightly bounced and then arched over showering my ears with a series of high-pitched beeps. I blocked the dewy reel lunging backwards in order to prevent the fish inching any closer towards a submerged oak on the far margin. It felt solid, almost unmovable. I could only hold and hope that whatever I was attached to, obliged. The mono chimed through the rings as I heaved more than a daring angler should. I gained line, only a metre at first. Winding down hard I applied steady pressure until the fish was well away from gnarly oak catastrophe.
Out in the middle it wavered under tension. I grabbed the net before it made a long, slow, determined run, stripping line from the spool out into the darkness. Again, I made some distance and again it surged away, each time coaxed a little nearer. In total darkness I pushed out the net and drew it laboriously over the mesh. It wasn’t until I lifted it that I knew for sure it was of exceptional size.
A hefty mirror lay glistening under the feeble light of my head torch; a moment for quarry to endure and angler to marvel over. She was as good a farewell gift as anyone could wish, I thought, as my eyes came to rest on an iridescent cluster of petal-like scales scattered at the fish’s rear. When all was said and done she slid through my hands effortlessly out over the gravel margins amongst the pale reeds like an apparition.
In a supremely contented frame of mind I fished the remainder of the clear blue day until the sun dipped behind the mountains, blazing a luminous farewell.
I drove directly to a local town where I passed several hours drinking tea while engrossed in e-mails. In the midst of my digital trance I chanced upon a page that noted the moon was waning at 22%. I lost a few moments pondering what effect it might have on the carp’s nocturnal habits. Closing time arrived, forcing me to consider my plan for the night. The camper was parked on a busy road so I wouldn’t be kipping there. I supposed the nearest quiet place was back at the lake. I would sleep there one last night and head off early the following morning.
I crept down the bumpy, puddle-laden gravel track, frosted branches sparkling in the headlights. Arriving at the waterside and noting the hostile chill, I went about collecting wood for the wood burner. Everything I found was sodden from a recent heavy downpour. Once I’d conjured fire, I prepared a hot meal and a much-needed cup of tea. It was quite pleasant just being there without rod and line to think about, until something exalted and omnipresent, which had been lurking in the shadows of my mind, rose up and consciously observed the particularly resplendent evening through the window; a window of opportunity no less.
At midnight I crept down the frozen grass verge to the water’s edge. Locating a small clearing in the reeds, I carefully placed two rods, both a small underarm flick from the bank, scattering them both with handfuls of tigers and maize. Traps set, I retreated back to the warmth of the van. A heavy sleet began pattering down on the metal roof as I descended into deep sleep.
At 4:30am I awoke suddenly. The rain had passed revealing the starry heavens through the skylight. I must have sensed something from the depths of sleep because as I waited to drift off my rod signalled a slow run. I jumped up immediately, snapping the latch on the door, pinning it shut. Losing vital seconds I grabbed a knife, prised it open and rushed out into the alpine morning. The fish erupted metres away, then powered slowly out into the lake with seemingly unstoppable force. My rod arched round, serenaded by the wonderful ticking of my spool.
A pale yellow moon loomed behind a small assembly of cloud casting its light directly where the fish was headed. The occasional splashing and screeching of my reel was all that echoed in the serene morning stillness. The realisation dawned that I was attached to another good fish. Heart pounding. Head spinning. It rolled and crashed on the surface trying to eject the hook. Each time I winced in anticipation of disaster. It crashed through the surface showering the undulating lake as it bored down at an alarming rate. A quick blast of the headlamp was a bad idea. The fish bolted up the margin toward the gnarly fallen oak. I applied the brakes and for a moment everything went solid. With my heart in my mouth I eased the fish back out into open water and remembered to breathe.
Crouching between the reeds just before a drop-off, I coaxed the fish nearer until I saw it hover over the folds of my net. For a moment I thought it was smaller than I had anticipated but when I gazed down into the mesh it was far bigger than I could have imagined.
Time seemed to slow to an excruciating crawl. It was as though I was dreaming and by some grotesque coincidence I’d caught the one I had been seeking in this final moment; some kind of appalling subconscious trickery. But it was no dream.
Hands trembling I knelt down to slip the hook. It just seemed to keep growing in front of me as I sobered from a giddy adrenal stupor. I retained the fish in the margins and realised I had to tell someone. Anyone! I rang my friend back in the UK but he didn’t pick up, being around 5am. Surprisingly he called back. “Have you got it?” he croaked, knowing there would be no other reason I would be calling at such a time. My simple “yes” reply echoed throughout my being, forcing me to comprehend the miracle that had just befallen me. He said he had an intuitive feeling I would catch it.
I had hardly a moment to take note of the synchronicity of events. My energy was focussed on lifting the fish for long enough to capture a photo. It was humongous! Never did I imagine that I would cradle such an enormous carp, neither did I imagine that it would have such personality. Just from looking into its eyes I could tell that something was in there looking right back at me, aware of all that was happening and making its mind up about all who had congregated for the spectacle.
From an aerial view, detailed interlocking patterns weaved across its broad back like an intricate line drawing, within which form after form presented itself. Weightless in its watery domain, it slowly passed my numb fingers, through the crystal margins vanishing over a drop-off; a moment I shall never forget.
Given the circumstances, the capture was incredibly fortunate. Some unknown force had lured me back for one last go and amazingly my call was answered. To call it a coincidence is to do it an injustice.
“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.” Terrence McKenna
That was the last time I fished before winter’s grasp sealed a lid over any potential haunts. The synchronicity continued and in many ways still continues. My relationship with Caroline took a new turn, in that we decided to take different paths. It wasn’t without tears and heartache, but then nobody worth loving ever is.
Winter set in 1600m above sea level. I was no longer able to tell where the van ended and the snow began. All was deeply quilted in white and would remain so until the spring when I would be desperate to dig myself out of the last of the winter snow in search of new and exciting liquid frontiers.